Further Ramblings on Dung, Dragons, and Collectivist Simultaneous Action Drafting

Dung and Dragons Vector Background
Dung & Dragons is one of those long, slow marinating ideas that occasionally needs to be stirred before being put back on a low heat. Right. To catch up newcomers: The game tentatively titled Dung & Dragons concerns a hippie collectivist farm that raises and cares for dragons, who in turn poop gold that keeps the farm self-sustaining.

The whole idea came from an episode of Firefly where the crew was bartering various chores as currency. This struck me as a very cool idea for a game, trying to get the jobs you like while also maximizing the effect of those jobs by negotiating with the other players. Love it.

I've gone through a few different models for how to design a game around this idea, but this week's exploration of trick-taking games has me thinking about a new way of doing things. Let's run through the basics.

ActionCards


Above are the nine basic action cards. There should be one of each per player in the action deck. Shuffle and deal a hand of nine to each player. Each player takes turns choosing one card from her hand and playing it face down in front of her. Then all players reveal their choices.

Each player gets to do the action noted on his or her card, in numerical order from lowest to highest. Actions may also get a bonus if the sum of numbers on all chosen cards is greater (+), equal to (=) or less than (-) the Pivot. The pivot is a big number in the center of the table, which varies depending on the number of players.

TippingPointTiles


At the end of the turn, discard chosen cards and pass the remaining cards to the left. The round ends when seven cards have been discarded from each hand. (This represents a week's worth of labor on the farm.) In the new round, shuffle and deal the action cards all over again. The game lasts four game weeks.


BUILD/UPGRADE/HATCH/RAISE

Most of the actions are simple resource acquisition, but Build and Upgrade refer to creating and improving structures. Each level of improvement has a cost, noted below that level. The costs vary depending on whether the sum was +, =, or - in that turn. Hatch and Raise are similar, but they refer to dragons.

DragonsandBuildings


I imagine there would be plenty of Dragons and Buildings available. They'd add the variety and replayability to the game.

Anyhoo, that's where my head is at right now.

A Trick-Taking Card Game in Search of a Theme

Women Playing Cards on New Year's Eve
Tagging on yesterday's game mechanic, I had another idea for a hand management game, but this time using trick-taking mechanics instead of area control. This one is really nascent, but I think a good strong theme would give it some direction to deal with any problematic bugs.


SETUP
2-4 players
A deck of playing cards.
4 Players: Deal 13 cards to each player.
3 Players: Deal 17 cards to each player and put the remaining card in the center of the table.
2 Players: Deal 26 cards to each player.


PLAY
On your turn, play a card from your hand onto the table. The next player does the same, and so on, forming a pile of cards.

When a player plays a card that brings the sum of the pile over 10, she decides which suit will be scored at that time. Cards without a number (A, J, Q, K) do not raise the sum, but they have other value as you'll see below.

Then all players have a choice of discarding as many cards as they wish as long as those cards have a matching suit. Your score is the number of that suit in the pile plus the number of cards you discarded.

For example: You just pushed the pile over 10 and decided to score hearts. There are three hearts in the pile. You discard two from your hand. You score 5 points. Bob discards one heart, so he scores 4 points. Sarah discards six hearts, so she scores 9 points.

After scoring, the pile is discarded and a new round begins. Play continues until the first player loses all her cards. The player with the most points wins.


THEMES
Here are some themes I'm considering:
  • Poseidon: Each player raises the sea level by playing cards into the pile. The player to raise the tide over 10 decides which city-state will be favored.
  • Potion Making: The idea being that you're trying to decide the "active ingredient." This one comes from Grant Rodiek. Thanks, Grant!
  • Lobbying: Each player is a lobbyist pushing an official to support their cause, but the official has a short memory and only favors the last lobbyist who made a donation.

Happy to take any other suggestions, though!

Odd Idea for Hand Management and Area Control Scoring

Complete District Example
I have this odd idea for a scoring mechanic that combines hand management and area control in which each one is as important as the other for maximizing scores. If you'd like to test this out yourself, download PnP tiles here. Here's the gist:


TILES
There is a supply of randomly shuffled map tiles. Each tile has an arrangement of streets and four types of districts: PARK, MONUMENT, RESIDENTIAL, and BUSINESS. These would be replaced with icons in a real game.


SETUP
Draw a random tile and place it in the center of the board. Each player begins with a hand of two tiles. Hands are kept public, visible to all other players.


PLAY
On your turn, draw a tile into your hand. Then, play a tile from your hand onto the table, adjacent to another tile.

A district is considered complete when it is completely surrounded by continuous street. If a tile completes a district, all players immediately score points in the following manner.


SCORING
Check if you have icons in your hand matching icons in the completed district. Score ([Number of an icon in the district) x [Number of matching icons in a player's hand]) points.

For example, the tile in outlined yellow has just been placed, completing the district outlined in magenta. All players may now score for this complete district. Here's an example of how you would score.
  • The complete district has 4 PARK, you have one PARK in your hand, so you score 4 points. (4x1)
  • The complete district has 5 BUSINESS, you have two BUSINESS in your hand, so you score 10 points. (5x2)
  • The complete district has 1 RESIDENTIAL, you have three RESIDENTIAL in your hand, so you score 3 points. (1x3)
  • The complete district has 3 MONUMENT, you have no MONUMENT in your hand, so you score 0 points.
In total, you score 17 points this turn.


FINDINGS
We playtested this until we went through about half the deck. Score at the time was 76-74 in my favor. I spent much of the game trying to get a hand in which I had at least one of each type of district in my hand, thus scoring a bit when any district was completed. I wasn't always successful, but our scores always stayed suspiciously close.

I fear two cautious players could turtle if they get a pair of complementary four-icon tiles in hand. Scoring would be even every time, too, thus resulting in rather dull play.

I see two courses:
  • Cut hand-size to one tile would reduce the score inflation and cut down on the need for mid-game multiplication. However, that multiplication is probably the one gimmick that makes this more than a standard abstract tile game.
  • Or keep the current hand size and add more one or two more district types. In addition, adjusting the tiles distribution such that it is impossible to have every icon in hand in equal amounts in one hand. I need to guarantee the absence or overabundance of at least one icon. (Preferably both.)

Clearly I lean towards the latter course. We'll see where it ends up!

POLL: Kickstarter/Crowdfunding Delivery Survey

It's time for another Kickstarter/Crowdfunding poll! This time, we're focusing on the delivery/fulfillment timelines for crowdfunded projects backed between January 1 and August 31 of 2012. Answer in the questions below and I'll put together an infographic next week.

Happy Thanksgiving, Pilgrims!


It's Thanksgiving here in the States, when we gorge ourselves on mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and, of course, a lot of turkey. Here's a new letter for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple from one special turkey's perspective.


Dear Pilgrims of the Flying Temple,

Gobble gobble. I'm a turkey. I'm to be served to the farmer's family for the upcoming holiday! I have mixed feelings about this, as you can probably understand.

This family has been so good to me through the years. When I was just a featherless chick, they kept me warm and plumped me up. Together, we won all the county fair turkey fashion shows. Oh, what a sight I used to be on the runway!

Unfortunately, my feathers aren't so glossy these days. My confident stride is a little wobbly. I just need a favor from you before I head to the dinner table.

I'm only a turkey, so I can't really talk to Mr. Farmer. Could you express my thanks for all the care he and his family have given me? Thank you! I hope I am delicious.

Gobble gobble.

Turkey



Goal Words
Turkey
Turkey
Turkey
Fashion
Stride
Feathers
Family
Family
Mr. Farmer
Mr. Farmer
Dinner
Dinner
Thanks
Thanks
Gobble


Enjoy the holiday, friends!

Black Friday: Racing Auction Game

Black Friday: Racing Auction Game It's Thanksgiving week in the states! A time for plenty and gratitude for food, friends and games! Alas, most board games take up a lot of space on the table, leaving little room for the bountiful meals. Here's a racing auction mashup that should only take up a narrow sliver of space in the middle of your table.

The theme is that you're racing along a store aisle on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Taking time to gather the best combinations of gifts can score big points, but reaching the finish line can double or triple that score!


You'll need
2-4 players
A unique meeple for each player.
5 sets of uniquely colored chips, 15 chips in each set.
The boards and cards in this PDF.
Each player gets a 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 card, as shown above.


Setup
Place the meeples at the start of the track.
Place a stack of randomly drawn chips beside each space of the track.
Each stack should have one more chip than the number of players.


Play
Each turn proceeds simultaneously. Each player reveals and discards one card from their hand. Each player MUST move her meeple forward on the track that many spaces. If you reach the end of the track, stop moving.

PIVOT: When a player reaches the end of the track, all players can now return to a full hand of cards. All players also now have the option of moving her meeples forward or backward along the track. Don't dawdle! The first-place finisher gets a really big score bonus.

BOOSTS: The parenthetical numbers below 1, 2, and 3, show the number of spaces you may move if this is the only 1, 2, or 3 played in this turn. For example, if you played 1 in this turn and no other player played that card, you may move two, three, four, five or six spaces instead of just one.

GATHER: Once everyone has stopped moving, you may take one chip from your landing space. If two people occupy the same space, whoever played the lower card takes a chip first. If tied, the player with the lower score takes a chip first. If still tied, the younger player takes a chip first.


Score
When two players have returned to the starting area, or used all their cards, that is the end of the lap. Score points for the chips you collected as shown on the board.

If you collected the most YELLOW chips, earn 5 points. If you collected the second most, earn 3 points. Tied players score the same number of points.

The MAGENTA chips earn more points the more you collect. Collect one to earn 1 point, two to earn 3 points, four to earn 6 points, ten to earn 10 points, and five to earn 15 points.

Every pair of GREEN chips earns 5 points.

Every trio of BLUE chips earns 5 points.

Collecting a set of all five colors earns 15 points.

If you finished this lap in first place, or closest to the starting area, triple your score. If tied, each player only doubles their score.

If you finished this lap in second place, or second closest to the starting area, double your score. If tied, neither player gets a bonus.


New Laps
After each lap, players return all but their white chips. Randomly redistribute the remaining chips along the track and begin a new lap.


End of Game
After three laps, whoever has the most white chips earns 5 points. Whoever has the fewest white chips loses 5 points.

The player with the most points wins!


Notes
Still hungry? The set-collection scoring mechanics in this game are shamelessly lifted from Phil Walker-Harding's excellent SUSHI GO!, now available on IndieGoGo. Go back it now!

Belle of the Ball - Prototype N


Belle of the Ball has gone through some big changes in basic gameplay between Prototype M and now. All for the best, though! This prototype has all the same set-building strategic fun with a much clearer set of short-term tactics and take-that offense. In case you need a refresher on the premise:

You and the other players are holding parties on the same night, right next to each other! Attract guests, group guests with shared interests and mess with your opponent’s party! The player with the most popularity chips at the end of the game wins!

[DOWNLOAD THE RULES]
[DOWNLOAD THE CARDS]

SETUP
  • Shuffle Guest cards. Discard twelve random cards. Set the rest as a Guest Deck.
  • Shuffle Belle cards. Deal three to each player’s hand. Set the rest as a Belle Deck.
  • Set aside spaces for discarded Belles and Guests.
  • Give a Start Player token to the host of this gathering.
  • Each player has implied spaces for four stacks of cards.
  • Give each player five chips.

Example of a two-player setup.

START OF ROUND
The host deals three Guest cards per player face-up in a LINE. Read each name in an ostentatious voice. For example, a two-player game has a six-card line.

ON YOUR TURN...

OPTION: Belle
You may play a Belle at the start of your turn. Follow her instructions. Belle cards allow you to ignore certain rules of the game.

STEP 1: Invite
You may take the first Guest card in line. - OR - You may take a Guest card that is further back in line by placing one chip on each skipped Guest card. If you invite a guest with chips, you collect those chips, too.

An example of inviting the first guest in line.

An example of inviting the second guest in line.


STEP 2: Group
Each new guest goes to one of four stacks, or GROUPS, in your collection, or PARTY. Once placed, Guests may not move to another group. You may only have up to four groups. There may be only be up to five Guests in a group. A group of five is a FULL GROUP.

Example of grouping a newly invited guest.



STEP 3: Score
If you have a full group, look for any suits, or INTERESTs, the guests in that group have in common. Earn 1 chip for each matching interest in that group. For example, if your full group has 2 hearts and 5 globes, you earn 7 chips. You may score multiple full groups in the same turn.

Example of matching interests in a full group.


Example of collecting chips for matching interests.



END OF TURN
Discard any of your full groups. The player to your left takes the next turn. Continue until the line is empty.

Example of discarding a full group.


END OF ROUND
The round ends when the line is empty. Each player draws back up to three Belle cards. (Reshuffle the Belle discard deck if it runs out.) The player with fewest Chips gets the Start Player token. Play new rounds until the Guest deck runs out.


END OF GAME
The game ends after the last round is complete. Any remaining groups do not score. The player with the most chips wins!


NOTES
One proposal for has been to shuffle the Belles and Guests into a single deck. Belles can then be invited just like any guest, but instead of going to your party, they go to your hand. Otherwise, the rules are the same as above. It's an interesting thought, as it gives more incentive to spend chips up the queue in pursuit of a novel strategy. Feel free to test it!

Rapid Prototyping vs. Reckless Prototyping: How the Sausage is Made

Sausages It's been a while since I wrote a long "how the sausage is made" post about the process of game design. Here's one! (tldr; There are big changes coming to Belle of the Ball, but they're for the greater good.)

If I'm known for anything, it's probably that I shoot off game ideas at the drop of a hat. Of course, game ideas are very different than solid games. While working on Belle of the Ball, I resisted my natural urge to make drastic changes as a result of a bad playtests. I tried to stay patient, making small changes, and testing them out with several different groups in rapid succession. Here's what I've learned over the past year.


Sausages
1: Base Changes on Feedback

Designing a proper game takes a lot of time for playtests, review, refinement, editing, and testing again. (I'm not talking about publishing here, just the design.) In January 2012, I decided I'd design a fully polished and working card game with Belle of the Ball's theme before the end of the year. I began with Prototype A and now it's finally approaching a final form in Prototype N in November.

If you're keeping track, that's 14 distinct prototypes in 11 months. You can track the changes to the project here. As you can see, it's a lot of incremental changes that, in the aggregate, make the game pretty different from beginning to end. When local playtesters sit down to play Belle, they joke about "So, is this completely different, too?" (Ironic, considering that those incremental changes pretty conservative when compared to my usual habits.)

Each playtest did offer very good insights. These led to changes to rules, card presentation, basic strategies, and point balances. All those changes were based on feedback and evidence. Still, after Prototype M, it felt like I was designing in circles. Some groups were coming back with feedback saying the game was great, others that they were lost and had no clear direction for their strategy.

The most discomforting feedback was hearing people had fun, despite problems with the mechanics. That meant I had something good lurking underneath my poor game design, but I somehow hadn't found it yet. Oy.

This led me to making small changes to address complaints while keeping anything that was getting good praise. I was so afraid of throwing out the baby with the bathwater that I only tossed out a teaspoon of bathwater at a time. (Okay, weird analogy. Moving on.)


One Hot Dog Ham
2: Incremental Changes Can Lead to the Wrong Conclusions

Case in point. For several of the most recent prototypes, players had basic actions listed on cards in their collection. These are things, like "draw a card" and "play a card." When you group cards together, you can do all the actions in that group in one turn. However, you only score points if the suits on those cards match each other, so you have to decide whether a group will be mainly a tactical advantage or a long-term strategic advantage. A pretty nice gimmick.

There were other cards whose actions are rare, but powerful, like "steal a card from an opponent" or "steal a group from an opponent." If a player got these cards early in the game, he could steal an opponent's most basic functionality and cripple them for the whole game. Because other parts of the game were getting such good feedback, I only made the smallest possible changes to address these concerns.

That brings us to a playtest a few weeks ago where I debuted a slightly tweaked version of Prototype M. The only major change was that basic action cards were unstealable. This backfired terribly. Without a take-that option, the ability to steal cards felt pretty useless in the early game. It became obvious that the other elements of the game weren't sturdy enough to support early play. This particular test went through about six rounds until the testers finally admitted that they just had no idea what they were supposed to be doing.

I called off the rest of the game and we went on to play games that were actually fun. I went home frustrated and confused. All those months of design, all the changes, and the game still fell totally flat with the gamers I most respected.


The Butcher & Larder - Post shoot meat slicing time-lapse on Vimeo by Craig Shimala
3: Sometimes You Need Drastic Solutions

I've been here before. Back when I was designing Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple I was still a novice at story games. I began the project with certain assumptions about what a story game was supposed to have: Assumptions like "Stats" and "Character Creation."

In pursuing those assumptions, my earliest drafts of Do featured an elaborate procedural part of the game where players tell small stories about how their characters first got into trouble and rescued each other. It was a lovely little experience and it got lots of good feedback, but it took so much creative energy and time that each playtest never got to the actual game. I must have gone through five or six sessions were we never got passed character creation.

Playtest time is precious. You never know when you'll get another opportunity to bring this group of generous people together. And, indeed, they loved character creation. Heck, I wanted the game to have a fun character creation experience, but that was built on the assumption that a story game had to have character creation at all. I eventually realized interesting character creation wasn't as interesting as removing character creation altogether. (Mind you, this is mainly the case for Do, not judgment on other story games.)

I stripped out that whole part of the game. Roughly 40,000 words went to the trash. What little character creation remained was distilled down to two questions: How do you help people? How do you get into trouble? This takes less than five minutes and mainly serves as an elevator pitch for the actual gameplay experience. I was finally able to test and refine the actual game itself.

The earliest playtesters sometimes ask if I'll release the character creation procedure as a separate product. I might, but I'm in no real rush. It was mainly a hack of Spirit of the Century's character creation.


Full English Breakfast, Liverpool UK
Changes to Belle of the Ball

Here's what I realized about that awkward Belle playtest. As I removed a clear short-term goal ("steal the other guy's basic actions"), the rest of the game didn't present any other short-term goals or even a long-term strategy. This was the root cause of the analysis paralysis problem present since the earliest prototypes. I was so distracted by pursuing the group-action gimmick that I couldn't see the core problem until then.

So I woke up the next morning with a very different vision in mind. Though the fancy party theme remains, the gameplay is offers very different options in any given turn. I scribbled down some notes and tested it over breakfast with my wife, then later that week with co-workers and friends. This led to further refinements over the following weeks and I'm happy to say it's actually a fully functional and fun game.

Prototype N is going to have the most fundamental changes to gameplay since the earliest prototypes. I lifted some pay-to-pick mechanics from games like Smallworld, No Thanks, and Manhattan Project. I also added conveyor belt line of cards, much like the line of cards in Guillotine. But just because the changes are big, doesn't mean they're reckless nor does it mean Prototypes A–M were a waste. All that time was spent in the service of creating a better game at the end of the process.

If you have been following the design process this year, you may regret that some of your favorite features have been lost along the way. That's the risk of transparent design. I appreciate your trust and I hope you'll enjoy where Belle ends up.

Boy, I do hope my process will be a little bit more efficient in the future though.

Mashing up Divinare with Liar's Dice

liar's dice
I had the good fortune of playing Divinare last weekend. ("Fortune." Get it?) It's about old-timey psychics competing to prove who's the real deal. It's a clever little deduction game with an element of take-that and push-your-luck in one elegant package. As much as I love Cards-with-Numbers, I'm especially fascinated with cards that only feature art and no other game information. I'll do a post on that soon.

Check out Tom Vasel's review of Divinare for details of how to play. The experience reminds me a lot of playing the classic game Liar's Dice. If you haven't played that, you should too. Here are the basic rules as I play them at home. Note that there are numerous variants, I just happen to like this one.

Each player has five standard dice and dice cups for concealment.

Each round, each player rolls their dice under their cups. Each player looks at their results in secret. The first player guesses out loud a quantity and a face. This is called a "bid." The quantity is how many of the chosen face have been rolled in total on the table.

For example, "Five threes," means "I think there are at least five threes on the table."

Then the next player has three choices:

  • Raise: Increase the quantity. For example, "I think there are at least six threes on the table."
  • Challenge: You think the current bid is wrong. All players then reveal their dice. If the bid is correct, you lose one of your dice. If the bid is wrong, the bidder loses one of her dice.
  • Approve: You think the current bid is exactly correct. If the bid is correct, all other players lose a die. If the bid is wrong, you lose a die.


When you run out of dice, you're out of the game. The last player with dice remaining wins.
So, a fairly simple game of bluffing and deduction, with lots of on-the-spot permutations. One nice thing Divinare provides is four boards that visually show the likelihood of each suit in the deck, thus making it fairly obvious how rare it is. There are probability charts for Liar's Dice, like the spreadsheet here, but you don't get that tight sense of area-control like you do in Divinare. I see two options for hacking.

Area Control Boards
There is a board showing a grid of numbers and ranges. Columns represent faces, the rows represent quantities. Each player has two meeples that begin on the 0,0 corner. Instead of a bid, you have to reveal one of the dice in your hand. Upon doing so, you move your meeples along either axis of the board, landing on either a column or a row. Play continues until all dice are revealed. You can always move a meeple back to the 0,0 corner or to another space, but you cannot occupy a space with another player's meeple. In the end, players are awarded points for accuracy of their placement on the board. Correct column? x points. Correct row? y points. Exact correct? z points.

Colored Dice
This option is the same as the above, with an additional layer of deduction. Each player has nine dice: Two blue, three white, four red. When you reveal your die, you can only move the meeples on the board matching the color of that die. So, you only get two guesses on the blue board, three guesses on the white, four on the red. Blue: Triple points, White: Double points, Red: Normal points.

How about you? Any deduction games you particularly enjoy? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The Long Quest for a Cards-with-Numbers Game

Day 5 ~ Numbers
For many reasons, I've been fascinated with card games that can be played with little more than a deck of sequentially numbered cards. Sometimes there are colors acting as perfunctory suits, like Uno or Reiner Knizia's Poison. The real gems are games like No Thanks or 6 Nimmt which have no suits, just numbers. There's something so seductive about the pure abstraction there.

On that note, dice games are heavy hitters when it comes to abstract purity – Yahtzee and Liars' Dice come to mind. Heck, even dice games with custom faces can be abstracted back down to algebraic notation... but let's talk about cards for now.

I must admit, part of the appeal is from a commercial perspective. Cards-with-numbers are easy to playtest, easy to lay out, require minimal art, and can be reproduced relatively easily. I think this creates a positive pressure on the design of the game itself. The mechanics and rules presentation must be well-executed since the components could be created at home with little trouble.

And that's why I've been orbiting around so many cards-with-numbers ideas lately. I'm looking at games like Stefan Dorra's For Sale, where cards are auctioned then used as bidding. I'm looking at Libertalia, where cards determine which special effect is activated first. I'm looking at Get Bit, where the cards are used for bluffing and deduction. In these games and others, a simple cards-with-numbers deck forms the slim, strong rebar supporting a robust game.

In a fit of frustration, I tweeted this ultra-minimal idea.


This sounds really appealing at first glance. It's essentially self-balancing, with power-grabs mitigated by poor turn order in the later rounds.

But of course that just leads to the last round not really mattering. The "winner" would be determined by the turn order established in the previous round. Continuing this all the way backwards, the first round's turn order would essentially predict the endgame's winner or the final score would essentially be a tie. (Thanks to Mark Sherry for pointing this out.)

Granted, that projection is based on averages and random draws. People can be unpredictable, but with this sort of bug, you only win if your opponent makes a mistake. If everyone plays perfectly, the game simply ends in a tie.

However, if this formed the "rebar" of another game, it might be useful. Say you're trying to straights or all evens or all primes. When you toss in other information on the cards, you get even more opportunities for set-building. (I like how 6 Nimmt puts bulls on key cards in a regular pattern, so that some the pattern occasionally lines up so some have two bulls, some have three, and so on. It feels like a constellation.)

How about this:

  • Spread the numbered cards across the table, 5 per player. (If there are 3 players, there are 15 cards on the table, each numbered 1-15.)
  • Players take turns taking one card, then moving up the score track that many points.
  • The turn order of each round proceeds from the trailing player, up to the leading player.
  • Straights are worth the lowest number in the set. So a 2 3 4 5 6 is only worth 2 points. Thus, if you see an opponent has a 2 3 and a 5 6, you really want to force them to take the 4.
  • There are enough cards to play through 5 rounds. After that, the player with the highest score wins.

Even when there is a bug in a cards-with-numbers game, you can design around it to make something more substantial and satisfying.

Anyway, my quest for designing a cards-with-numbers game continues. Do you have any favorite cards-with-numbers games?

Tuning the gears: Belles

skeleton watch gears
Here's one microscopic example of some of the balancing decisions I make during Belle's development.

In the early phases of Prototype M, I decided that the basic Belle bonus should follow this rule of thumb. "Each Belle wants you to collect exactly one third of a particular suit. For example, there are 12 teas, so the tea Belle wants you to collect 4 teas."

I chose the arbitrary point value of 20 for accomplishing a Belle's condition. It's the nearest round number higher than you could possibly earn from the most well-matched group of guests. That makes it enough to be worth pursuing, but not so much that it would tilt the whole game if your opponent matched guests well enough.

Here's the problem: A guest with a red Charm requires that guest be ejected from a party in order to activate that charm. This makes a red-charm guest's suits a little bit harder to collect than others, because a red-charm guest more likely to leave the game early. Any Belle who wants those suits should offer slightly more points, otherwise they're at a slight disadvantage.

So, I listed all the guests with red charms and broke them down by suit.

Snub 18
Flirt, Book 12 each
Tea 6
Cake 0
Music 6
Sun, Gem, Moon, Shield, Fish, Tree 5 each

Harrison Gristlepav has a red charm, meaning that he might leave play early should his host decide to use this ability. Thus, any player whose Belle wants Flirt, Book or Gem guests will be at a slight disadvantage.
A guest's suits are worth a certain number of points based on their rarity. Snub/Flirt are worth 1 point per match, Tea/Book/Cake/Music are worth 2 points per match, Sun/Gem/Moon/Shield/Fish/Tree are worth 3 points per match. Multiplying those point values by the frequency of the corresponding suits being paired with red charms, we get…

Snub 18 points
Flirt 12 points
Book 24 points
Tea 12 points
Cake 0 points
Music 12 points
Sun, Gem, Moon, Shield, Fish, Tree: 15 points

At first glance, those values seem high. Especially if I add them to my baseline of 20 points per Belle. Upon consideration of the current rules, a guest needs to be paired with at least one other guest with a matching suit in order to score points. Thus, I could halve these values (rounding down) to make them a little bit less drastic. Then, added to the base 20 points, the Belles are as follows:

A disproportionate number of Book guests have red charms, meaning that this Belle should award more points if for a host who manages to keep them in her party.
Snub Belle: Collect 8 snubs to earn 29 points
Flirt Belle: Collect 8 flirts to earn 26 points
Book Belle: Collect 6 books to earn 32 points
Tea Belle: Collect 6 teas to earn 26 points
Cake Belle: Collect 6 cakes to earn 20 points
Music Belle: Collect 6 musics to earn 26 points
Sun, Gem, Moon, Shield, Fish, Tree Belles: Collect 4 to earn 27 points

These may seem like minor changes, but it can be a big deciding factor in play. At first glance, it seems like the Book Belle or the rare-suit Belles are the most valuable, but those suits are also disproportionately rare in play because they can leave the game far sooner than any other suit.

Now, does that mean the Belles are balanced? Or more importantly, do the Belles *feel* balanced? Hard to say, that's what playtesting is for. Even with all these minute calculations, nothing beats playtesting. So, I'm playtesting these changes tonight!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.