Solving Design Problems by Reducing, Not Adding

Last week I tested an early alpha of Dung and Dragons that incorporated a sort of tug-of-war mechanic in which players lured dragons towards them by a number of different mechanisms. We tried making pulls a free action, but you had to push an equal number of cards towards your opponent. We tried making pulls cost you a card, sometimes a matching card. We tried both mechanisms at the same time.

All resulted in awkward emergent behavior or stalemate situations. Every solution we tried out that night would just add complications and further grit in the gears. You recall my advice on playtest hangovers, and I certainly had a small one going the next morning. Ultimately I realized that I just needed to rip out big chunks of an overly complex system rather than tape it up to justify the complexity. So here's what I'm thinking:

Instead of multiple tug-of-war steps towards getting the various components of your ranch, I figured it should instead be more like a drafting game, but one with some restrictions inspired by an old worker placement idea combined the setup drafting mechanisms from RISK: Legacy. Here's the basic idea:
  • You are building a ranch one stable at a time.
  • A stable is comprised of one dragon, one building, one food source, one handler and one special attribute.
  • There are five decks of cards, each representing different aspects of one of these components of a stable.
  • During setup, shuffle each deck individually then turn them face-up, so one card of each type is visible.

For example, a sample set of cards might say:
  • It's a Greenleaf Serpentine
  • an Old Shed
  • ...eating Ripe Pears
  • ...cared for by Sam the Baker
  • a Scenic Overlook

Now players begin taking turns.
  • On your turn, you can take one card from a stack and add it to your current stable.
    • You may only take one card from each deck, so if you've already taken a dragon, you must choose from another deck.
  • If you do not want to take a top card, you may set it beside the deck, thereby revealing a new top card.
    • You may do this until there are three revealed cards from this deck, at which point you must take the top card, whatever it might be.
  • Players on a future turn may choose from amongst all the revealed cards, or take the top card.

At the end of the round, each player will have a new stable, which awards points based on specific combinations of cards. For example, the Greenleaf Serpentine likes to eat fruit, so it's quite happy with ripe pears and awards you X points.

In the following rounds, new stables are built and the game ends after all players have built five stables. At endgame, you'll earn bonus points based on your ranch across each component. For example, Greenleaf Serpentines are friendly with Redwing Drakes, so you get X points.

In other words, you're drafting a 5x5 grid of cards one column at a time. You score columns in the short term, and rows in the long-term. All scores are based on other card types that are within the same row or column.

If I wanted to get really crazy with this, I'd remove the column restriction entirely. You're drafting your entire 5x5 grid at the same time. As soon as a row or column is complete, you score it at that time. But I tend to make simple-sounding games with a lot of analysis paralysis, so I may keep it restricted to one column at a time after all.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.