### Mismatched Theme and Mechanics: Future Plans for Belle of the Ball

Hey, you remember Belle of the Ball, right? Well, to be honest, I was never entirely satisfied with how the game turned out, but I couldn't pin down what my problem was exactly. Over time... a long time... I figured out that there was just a mismatch between the theme and the mechanics.

In essence, the mechanics are an abstract tile-laying game, which is totally fine on its own. The problem is, I gotta think about the target audience here. Is someone attracted to the Jane Austen theme going to enjoy a slightly layered abstract strategy game? Would they prefer a lighter game that specifically uses cards as, well, cards?

Yeah... So, my distant future plans are to retheme this tile-laying game mechanic. That will leave the "Belle of the Ball" theme free for a light card game. Here's the basic outline I have marinating in my head for that new incarnation.

Players each have a hand of guest cards. The card shows what this guest is doing: Drinking, eating, flirting, dancing, etc. It also shows whether this guest will attract or repel other guests, based on certain conditions. Lastly, the card will show how much this card is worth in points.

On your turn, invite a guest to the party. You do this by laying a card in front of you. Over time, you'll have a row of guests. This is your clique. When you invite a new guest, that guest will immediately attract guests to your clique or repel guests from your clique.

When your guest attracts, choose a neighboring player. Take any affected guests in her clique and place them in your clique.

When your guest repels, choose a neighboring player. Take any affected guests in your clique and place them in her clique.

Note: This does not lead to chain reactions.

When you invite a guest, you can place it alone or place it on top of another to make it a couple. Some cards are more valuable when coupled with cards of a particular type. Couples behave as a single guest, with the attributes of the top card. Couples may not be split apart.

You may also invite a Belle. Belles are placed in the center of the table. They are never part of any player's clique. Belles change the rules in new ways. ("Everyone is attracted by ____." "You may invite two guests on your turn." "No one may invite ____.") There may only be one Belle in play at a time.

The round ends when one player has four couples in her clique. Add up the scores for your clique. Take note of any coupling bonuses. Whoever has the highest score wins the round. Reshuffle the guests for a new round. Do not reshuffle Belles who have already been in play. Best out of three rounds wins the game.

Suuuuper simple.

The basic mechaphor of inviting guests and cultivating cliques would still be in place. In addition, you're playing matchmaker at the party. You're inviting guests, hoping they attract other guests, maybe so you can pair off with guests in your clique. The themes are still in place, but in a much more approachable game mechanic.

1. "Couples may not be split apart."
Unless the homewrecker Belle who splits up couples is in play. 8^>

"Note: This does not lead to chain reactions."
Presumably it will happen that a neighbor repels to you someone repelled by a member of your clique. Must you invite a new guest to repel the outlier, can he be repelled to your other neighbor on your turn, or should you just be stuck with the odd duck?

This looks pretty tight. Straightforward round rules, simple end-round and end-game triggers, easy scoring. A nice light social parlor game.

Hmmm. It occurs to me that the theme works very well for card games, since card games are parlor games, and parlor games are a very Victorian trope. You've got this whole metamechaphor going on.

2. A breakup Belle would be interesting! Hm!

Re: Chain reactions: This is what I was referring to as to. It's too much of a headache to consider every possible chain reaction. So, if I send a guest to you, that guest does not trigger its own attract/repel effect. Only a newly invited guest has that power.

Re: Parlor games: Yup. That's what I was going for. A game that seems like the game that the characters in the game would play.

3. Belle of the Ball is probably your 'in the lab' game that appeals most to me, so I'm glad to see it being picked up again.

That said, now you have explicitly mentioned it, I can percieve the not-quite-right match between tile laying and the theme, and this revision sounds promising too.

In the hopes of plying feedback, and keeping this game occupying upper brain space, can I ask what the incentive is to play guests singly? If the round-end mechanic is based on couples, why should I ever play a single card?

also: if the theme is matchmaking at a party, should there be some provision for creating a couple after attracting guests to your clique - the 'strangers meet and hit it off' route rather than the 'couples arrive together' route?

4. Ooh. Excellent questions, both.

To the first: You might play singles to pace the game a bit. Say it's early in the round and you have relatively low-value guests in your clique. If you were to rush to the endgame, you might not have as much opportunity to build up a good score. Also, if you make a high value couple too soon, it might get snatched away by your opponent, thereby bringing them closer to triggering the end of the round, too. By contrast, if you have a high-value clique, you would indeed try to rush to the endgame to ensure you keep those guests in your possession. Hopefully there's enough pacing tension to keep that balanced.

To the second: Yes! That's an excellent suggestion. Any time a new guest enters a clique, whether by invitation, attraction or repulsion, the player who owns that clique should have the option of placing that newcomer as a single or on another guest to make it a couple. Going a step further, you might allow players to couple any singles already in their clique. Entirely valid, and very much keeping with the theme.

Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.