Belle of the Ball - Prototype K

» Download the Current Beta Rules PDF [Prototype K]
» Download the Print-and-Play Cards PDF
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Phew! Wow, it's been a busy few weeks for Belle of the Ball. This prototype introduces a lot of changes. Mostly these come from playtesting Prototype J with several different gamers of varying experience levels.
  • All changes noted in this blog post.
  • Reduced the guest deck to 72 cards, which meant re-arranging all the attributes.
  • Reduced starting hand size to two cards.
  • Players start with two random guests already in play.
  • Removed ribbon cards.
  • Reduced the point values for popularity and group bonuses so they're a bit easier to tally and stay under 100.
  • Added tertiary iconography to make it clear when a guest is royal or when they're wearing a sash, glasses or a hat.
  • Removed Dueling as an action. 
  • Added the "lobby" to make draws a little less blind.
  • All "Powers" are now called "Charms." They now have an affect on your clique and on the other players' cliques.
  • Some guests now have "Insults" which are instant effects that can be triggered by discarding that card along with 2 or three others.
  • Increased Belle cards to eighteen.
  • Totally revised the bonus structure for Belles. They now reward points if you have a particular guest in your clique. They also reward points if you have exactly a certain number of guests with a particular symbol. You get a half-reward if you have over that number.
My main concern? I worry that the game is too complicated now. The rules effectively still fit onto a single double-sided page, but there are a lot of new options available now.

Because my target market is couples, there's a tension between wanting to satisfy the casual gamer and the strategic gamer. The Charms should appeal to the strategic gamer who wants to build optimized action-sets. The Insults should appeal to the casual gamer who likes instant effects and "take that" mechanics.

Only one way to find out how this works out. Playtest! Please give this game a shot with your group and tell me what you think!

Quickie Alpha Cards for Dung & Dragons/Dragon Ranch

On the left you see what it looks like when I sketch out cards by hand. I usually just plan ahead for the kind of info I'll need on the card and watch out for space issues. On the right, you see how that translates to an alpha prototype with stock illustrations and vector icons courtesy of The Noun Project.

In its current state, the game is about workers at a communal ranch. They raise dragons for valuable poop. Yup. Each round involves the players performing various ranch duties.

The whole deck is 48 cards divided into six alphabetical suits representing the duties you'll do around the ranch. The suits are
  • A-Shovel: Take X cubes from your dragon and put them into your supply.
  • B-Feed: Deposit X brown cubes onto dragons.
  • C-Shop: Spend blue, red or yellow cubes to draw X, Y, or Z extra cards from the deck.
  • D-Breed: Add a dragon to your ranch. The total Love in your ranch must be equal to or greater than the new dragon.
  • E-Expand: Add a staffer or building to your ranch. Doing so costs you X coin discards.
  • F-Sell: Exchange blue, red or yellow cubes for points.

Each suit is ranked 1-8. The ranks 1-5 have a coin background. The lower 3/4 of the card shows a dragon, a building or a staffer for the ranch. Below their picture is a description of some special effects that they have.

In a round, you'll bid and reveal cards from your hand at the same time as the rest of the group. Also draw cards from the deck until there are six cards revealed in total. Arrange them in a row by ascending rank. In case of ties, arrange them alphabetically by suit. These are all the chores that need to be done in the ranch. (Basically the same as Libertalia.)

The player who bid the highest card will get the first turn, followed by the next highest bidder, and so on. On your turn, when you take a card into your hand, immediately resolve the effect noted along the top of the card. In the example above, the card says:

"When you take this card, take up to two cubes from your dragons and everyone else takes one cube. If this is the last choice, take up to three cubes and everyone else takes nothing."

Thus, each player takes a card and performs actions along with the other players. Play proceeds over several rounds, with players gathering resources, placing new dragons and earning points.

Now, about the dragons! In the example above, this dragon is a Baby Green Leaf dragon. Along the bottom, the description of its power says:

"When you take cubes from this dragon, they will be either brown, blue, red, or yellow. If there was only one shovel in the auction, these cubes will be brown. If there were two shovels, these cubes will be blue. If three, they'll be red. If four, they'll be yellow."

The dragon's love rating of 3 means you need at least 3 Love in the ranch to put it into play. There is also an Adult Green Leaf Dragon in the deck which has a 6 Love rating. That means your ranch must have at least 6 Love to bring out this dragon OR you can play it for free if you have the Baby Leaf Dragon already in play. The Adult Green Leaf Dragon has some extra bonuses on top of the Baby's ability.

The staffers and buildings each have their own effects, too. Some increase the Love in your ranch, others increase the output of other dragons in your ranch, some make costs lower or allow you to score extra points.

The game ends when one player has nine-face up cards in her ranch or when the deck runs out. Score bonus points from cards in your hand. You'll automatically score one point per coin. Also score bonus points for straights and matching suits. The player with the most points at the end wins.

So yeah, there's a lot going on in the mechanics, but I'm pleased that it's managed to fit into a very small deck that is information-rich without being overwhelming. At least I hope so! A cuddly approachable dragon should help make the complexity easier to swallow.

Experimenting with the blind auction mechanic from Libertalia

Playing Cards
I pitched a loose game idea on Twitter yesterday and someone said it already exists. Care to help identify the game in question?

It's kind of inspired by the Libertalia discussion yesterday, but uses a standard deck of playing cards. At the beginning of the game, deal five cards to each player.

Each player chooses and reveals one card from his hand. These cards are arranged in a row in numerical order. In case of a tie, hearts are higher than diamonds, which are higher than spades, which are higher than clubs.

In descending order of rank, each player takes turns taking one of these cards into his hand. A player cannot take his own card.

At the end of the game, players total the values of all cards in their hands and score that many points. You'd also score some bonus points for building strong poker hands, too.

So, you want to keep the high-value cards in your hand, but you may not get the best choice if you bid low-value cards. Bidding a low-value card almost guarantees that you'll get at least *something* better. Meanwhile, you're also trying to build a strong poker hand for those bonus points, which might require a specific card regardless of its value.

So, does this game exist?

A Review of Libertalia, an elegant action auction card game

This weekend I had the pleasure of playing an early release Libertalia, a pirate-themed blind auction game. It's an elegant game with lots of replay value. It was only available in Italy until the English release this year (hence the Italian language cards below).

I don't normally do board game reviews, but this game has left such a strong impression on me that it will no doubt creep into some future game design discussion. So, I post this review mainly as a future reference for those later posts. That in mind, here's a quick overview of play.

Each player is competing to score the most doubloons. At the beginning of each round, random booty tokens are drawn from a bag and placed along six spaces, one space for each turn in a round. The whole game lasts three rounds.

Character cards arranged according to rank. Photo: Mario Brunelli via BoardGameGeek

Each player has an identical deck of ranked pirate characters ranging from The Parrot all the way up to The Captain and beyond. In the first round round, players draw nine of these cards to their hand, so each player begins with the same nine cards.

In each turn, players simultaneously choose and reveal one character card from their hand. Arrange all the revealed cards in numerical order in a row. (A smaller number on the card breaks ties.)

In ascending order of rank, the characters get to perform a "Day" action if it is noted on their card. These abilities vary and can be very useful for some disruptive strategies.

One each of the booty tokens. Photo: Eric Franklin via BoardGameGeek

In descending order of rank, each player gets their choice at the booty tokens. Most booty tokens represent a number of doubloons you can collect at the end of the round. Some tokens force you discard your character or to force another player to discard one of theirs. There are also "cursed" tokens which cost you doubloons at the end of the round.

Photo: Eric Franklin via BoardGameGeek

Lastly, your character card goes to your "den," a personal tableau board for each player. Each character then performs a "Night" action noted on their card. Like the "Day" actions, these abilities can be very useful even if you had a bad turn.

You'll play six turns in each round. At the end of the round, any characters in your den who have an "Anchor" action will do that ability now, which can again provide some nice strategic opportunities.

Between rounds, each player moves their marker along a doubloon track. Then each player draws six more of the same card from their deck. So, you know each opponent has at least six of the same options as you do. However, some day and night abilities allow you to put characters back in your hand, so there could be some surprises late in the game.

The player who has the most doubloons at the end of the game wins!

Art Director Review: All the information is presented clearly and evocatively. The art is superbly executed by Benjamin Carré and Stéphane Gantiez. I do wish there was less stereotypical representation of the few minority or female characters. As for the box art, the upper-third promises ship-to-ship combat, but that has no presence in actual play. The lower two-thirds are more accurate, showing a group of pirates divvying up treasure. The game definitely fulfills on that promise!

Game Designer Review: This is one of those games that scratched an itch I never knew I had. It's approachable as simple blind bid auction, but the tactical effects, varying turn order and long-term strategies really deepen the game. The whole game plays in a breeze and leaves you wanting more. I'm already thinking of ways to mash this up with 6 Nimmt, Hive and Guillotine. I definitely look forward to playing this again.

Step Right Up: A Push-Your-Luck Game about Snake Oil Salesmen in the Old West

Halloween 2009 Snake Oil Salesmen
I've been mulling over a push-your-luck game about snake oil salesmen in the old west. I imagine these hucksters rolling into town, setting up shop on a boardwalk and selling as much of their questionable product as possible to duped bystanders. All this before a mob of angry customers comes to collect a refund.

This isn't fully formed yet, but I wanted to get some notes down so it's not knocking around in my head as much. Feel free to comment or adapt as you wish!

The game is comprised of 13d6s, a Noun deck of cards, a Descriptor deck of cards, several Goon meeples and some coins. The Noun cards show words like "Owl" "Chair" or "Underpants." The Descriptor cards shows words like "Sharpener" "Reliever" or "Strengthener." Each card also shows one or two dice results.

To set up the game, deal three Noun cards and three Descriptor cards to each player. Deal three coins to each player. Keep the dice in the center of the table. The last player to sell a product goes first.

On Your Turn
You'll play through three phases: Product, Pitch, and Sale.

Product: Here is where you find out what you're selling to the gullible rubes. Choose one Noun card and one Descriptor card to reveal to the group. For example "Owl Sharpeners" or "Underpants Strengtheners."

Pitch: Time to shout your product's benefits to whoever will listen. Roll three dice from the general supply. Set aside any dice matching the Noun card. These are potential customers. Also set aside any 6s, these are police. You may roll again. If you roll again, you must roll three dice, drawing dice from the general supply as needed. Repeat this process until:
  • You choose to stop rolling.
  • There are not enough dice left in the general supply.
  • You have three or more police. This is means you got arrested. Skip the Sale phase and proceed directly to Jail.
Sale: You almost have 'em, now seal the deal! Roll your potential customers all at once. See if any results match the Descriptor card, you earn coins based on the number of matching results.
  • 1 Match : 1 Coin
  • 2 Matches : 2 Coins
  • 3 Matches : 4 Coins
  • 4 Matches : 7 Coins
  • 5 Matches : 13 Coins
  • 6+ Matches : 20 Coins
Any 6s continue to count as police. Gasp! They were undercover! Add these police to any police from the Pitch phase. If you get three or more police, go directly to Jail.

Each result that matches a previous round's Descriptor card is an angry customer demanding a refund. For each angry customer, pay one coin.

Jail: If you got three total police from both phases, you went to Jail. Ignore earnings or losses from this turn.

Hiring Employees between Rounds
Each player takes one turn in a round. Once the round is over, each player may hire up to five employees for the following price.
  • 1 Employee : 2 Coin
  • 2 Employees: 4 Coins
  • 3 Employees: 7 Coins
  • 4 Employees: 13 Coins
  • 5 Employees : 20 Coins
  • Goons tussle with the police while you're plying your wares. Each goon lets you ignore one police result. You must still set aside that die, but it doesn't count towards your limit. Each goon can only be used once in a turn.
  • Lawyers deal with unsatisfied customers. Each lawyer lets you ignore one refund. You must still set aside that die. Each lawyer can only be used once in a turn.
  • Shills are employees who pretend to be part of the crowd, but are actually working for you. Each shill lets you adjust a 1-5 die result by one increment, higher or lower. (6s are still police results.) Each shill can only be used once in a turn. Several shills adjust a single die result several increments or you can spread your shills across a several dice.

Endgame and Victory
You'll play three rounds. Whoever has the most coins at the end of the game wins!

Vote for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple in the Ennies!

Hello, Ennie voters!

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is nominated for two Ennie Awards: Best Interior Art and Best Game! Now it's up to you to vote. We're in competition with some very prominent and great products, especially in the Best Game category. I want to thank all the Ennie judges for the hard work they do in making their selections.

Okay, down to business. We have a small retail footprint compared to the other entries. When something like Do goes to a public vote, most voters will understandably overlook the product they don't recognize. The Best Game category will be tough for that reason.

So, I want to focus your attention on the Best Interior Art category. Flip through the page spreads shown above. Young illustrator Liz Radtke poured everything into this project over several months. We paid as fairly as we could afford, but she deserves so much more. It is gorgeous and we have Liz Radtke to thank for it.

I also want to thank Kristin Rakochy, Dale Horstman and Jake Richmond for their contributions to the art.

If Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple ever caught your eye on a game shelf, even if you never bought or played it, please vote for it. I want Liz Radtke and the rest of the team to get all the recognition they've earned.

Thanks very much.

P.S. For a limited time, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is 10% off! P.P.S. I'll add a link to the voting page as soon as it's up.

P.P.S. Voting is live!

Project Ninja Panda Taco [Kickstarter]

Jenn from Jennisodes has designed her first game! Project Ninja Panda Taco is designed for fans of Despicable Me and Pinky and the Brain. Jenn describes it thusly:

Project Ninja Panda Taco is a game where you get to play a Mastermind trying to take over the world. Along the way, you’ll compete as a Nemesis against other Masterminds and as a Minion who loves to help, while receiving rewards for their hard work. 

I played this on Monday night and it's a hoot. I really want to lay out this book but I can't unless the project is fully backed. So kick it, minions!

3io - A Match Three Space Exploration Tile Game [In the Lab

Disk Around a Massive Baby Star (Artist's Concept)

3io - A Match-Three Space Exploration Tile Game for 2-4 players.

Welcome to the distant future, where you can create new planets, stars and even galaxies! You and your fellow players will fuse stellar dust to create new habitats for your galactic civilization. Each player competes to create the most ideal cosmic environment for the civilization. Let’s play among the stars!

» Download Boards and Tiles

Your goal is to have the most points by the time the board fills up with tiles.

The Tiles
The space tiles show features of the universe, ranging from dust to whole galaxies.
The civilization tiles show features of a spacefaring civilization, ranging from probes to singularities.
Each tile has a dark side and a light side. When you initially play a tile, it will always be on the dark side first. Later in play, the tiles may flip over to the light side.

The Board
The board is a 6x6 grid depicting the vast expanse of space. Each cell is called a sector. There is also a point track running along the outside of the board where you will keep track of your ongoing score.

The Crew
Each player has four meeples representing the scientists who help cultivate each sector of space.

Bonus Tokens
Occasionally there will be a call for bonus tokens in play. Keep these easily accessible for the whole group.

Place the board in the middle of the table. Place one meeple on the zero space of the score tracker. Keep your remaining three meeples. Deal one dust tile to each player. Shuffle the tiles in the box so they can be drawn blindly. The last player to fly in an airplane (or go to space) takes the first turn.

You may expand or score.

1. Draw: Draw a tile and put it in front of you.

2. Play a tile: You now have a choice between two tiles to play this turn. When you play a tile, place it on any unoccupied sector of the board. Remember, play the dark side face-up first.

3. Option: Assign crew:  Take one of your crew member meeples and place it on the tile you just played.

4. Fuse tiles: If you have created a contiguous, adjacent group of three or more tiles of the same type, they fuse into a new more advanced feature. The tiles in that group be adjacent to each other vertically or horizontally. Diagonally adjacent tiles do not count.

An example fuse: Three DUST tiles collapse to become a ROCK tile.
     Three or more...     become...
     Dust                 Rock
     Rock                 Planet
     Planet               Sun
     Sun                  Galaxy
     Galaxy               (See “Score”)
     Probe                Colony
     Colony               Station
     Station              Sphere
     Sphere               Singularity
     Singularity          (See “Score”)

Remove all the contiguous tiles from the board except for the tile you just played.
  • If that tile is dark, flip it over to be light. If that tile is already light, search the box for a tile of the upgraded type. Place it dark side up.
  • If this creates another contiguous group of three or more tiles, then fuse this group as well. Continue this chain reaction until there are no more contiguous groups to fuse into your newly played tile.
  • If you fused four tiles, place a bonus token on the remaining upgraded tile.
  • If you fused five or more tiles, place two bonus tokens on the remaining upgraded tile.
  • If you fused tiles with meeples or bonus tokens on them, move them all to the remaining upgraded tile.
  • If you fused three galaxies or three singularities, you immediately score points indicated on the light side of those tiles.

1. Remove a meeple from the board.

2. Earn the number of points indicated on the tile that meeple just left.

3. Earn one more bonus point for each bonus token that was on that tile. Remove those bonus tokens from that tile now.

4. Note if that tile was adjacent to a civilization feature that says “x2, x3, etc.” These will triple, double, quadruple your scores as noted. Add this multiplier to your score accordingly. So, if you just scored 5 points and that tile was adjacent to a space station, you would score 15 points total. NOTE: If adjacent to several multipliers, only the highest multiplier counts. Several multipliers do not stack. Only one multiplier counts at any time.

The game ends when there are no more spaces left on the board. The player with the most points wins.

I’ve been reading a bit of Dan Cook’s rationale behind Triple Town. He insists that the game is not simply a “match-three” game, but an exploration game whose development organically includes to a match-three mechanic. Thus, I wanted to make a game that held true to those standards.

In this game, the theme is really “powers of ten.” The score of the game expands from motes of dust to rocks, to planets, to suns and galaxies. The match-three mechanic is the foundation for a much grander theme.

This is completely unplaytested, folks. Going over this again, I suspect it may be better to use the civlization tiles as a pacing mechanic rather than a multiplier. When you achieve a certain level of civilization, the game ends and then you score points.

If you play this, I definitely want to hear about it in the comments. Thanks!

Operation BSU plays Happy Birthday, Robot! via Google+ Hangouts

You remember the last time Operation BSU played Happy Birthday, Robot! right? Oh boy. Thankfully, they acknowledge that they're gleefully corrupting what is meant to be a kid and family game. And boy, are they gleeful about it. When your first line opens with eating babies, that's how you know this will be an odd session.

Set the table, tuck in your bib, and read the complete story here.

Tune in to Operation BSU on Saturday nights, 10pm EDT. and their Google Plus page. "Like a morning show, except better. And at night."

Knizia + Cosmic Encounter + Yspahan Mashup

The market place If there is one game mechanic I always like exploring, it's Reiner Knizia's "lowest set" victory condition. The gist is that you're building up several resources throughout the game. However, your final score is based on the lowest of those resources. To put it another way, you score one point for every complete set of resources. It's a clever mechanic that spreads your strategy, often because obtaining each resource requires very different tactics.

I recently played Cosmic Encounter for the first time, which has also infected my brain a bit. In the basic game, each player begins with a certain number of ships on each planet of their solar system. You win by getting one or more of your ships on five different planets outside your system. You do this with direct attacks, bribes, exceptional faction powers and special action cards. I really loved how such a simple victory condition diverges into numerous strategies.

So, naturally, these two influences mixed up in my head to this odd little idea. I have no idea if it works properly, but I'll just toss it out for you to chew on.

Three or more players are traders sent from different countries to exchange goods. Each player begins with 10 resources, randomly distributed among four categories: A, B, C, D. Your resources are kept secret.

Your goal is to have the highest score by the end of the game. The game ends when one player has a certain amount of a single resource, usually something high like 8 or 10 depending on the number of players. Your points are equal to your lowest resource. Thus, if your score was 5A, 2B, 6C, and 3D, your final score would be 2.

Gameplay involves trading resources in secret with the other players. You may each propose a trade, but do not reveal your cards to each other until after making an agreement. You may make a "dirty" deal, by lying about what it is you're actually giving the other player. Throughout each interaction, the central dilemma persists: As you pursue the endgame, you may be helping your opponent achieve a better score.

For an extra element of weirdness, you could even use the Yspahan-inspired card deck from this post. Thus, rarity becomes an additional mechanic, perhaps acting as a score modifier. The resources are the suits, but bonus points come from matching colors.

Vases, Crates, Barrels and Sacks: Breaking Down the Yspahan Board into a Card Deck

Persian vasesI've been mulling over the Yspahan game board in the back of my head the past few days. It occurred to me that each market is essentially a permutation combining two independent sets of variables: Suit and Color. The more common a color in a suit, the more difficult it is to make a complete set, the more valuable that set is. So there is an interesting set of correlations here. Being more common is actually more valuable, because Yspahan only awards points for complete sets.

Value of Suit and Color permutation, divided by number of spaces.

In the graphic above, I divided the total value of all markets in a permutation by the number of markets in that permutation. For example, two yellow vase markets are worth 6 points in total. Thus, each individual market is worth 3. In some cases, this resulted in awkward fractions, noted in red. I rounded these to whole integers, so that some markets within a single permutation would be worth more than others. That resulted in the values noted below.

Value of Suit and Color permutation, divided by number of spaces, rounded.

I was curious about the individual values of a suit as a whole, regardless of color. I divided the total values of each suit by the number of markets in that suit and came up the following results. I distributed point values as evenly as possible, with high values favoring the more common colors. Interesting to note: Sack and Barrel are both worth 21 points in total, their main difference being rarity.

Value of Suit, divided by its number of spaces, rounded.

What if we broke down the values across colors regardless of their suit? For the purposes of this breakdown, I considered orange to be pink. I assume the orange vase permutation is a unique color to highlight its high value, but for our purposes it follows the pattern of rarity established by all the other pink markets. (In other words, pink is usually the most common color in a suit.) I distributed those points as evenly as possible, with each suit getting at least one high value market and the more common suit getting first dibs.

Value of Color, divided by its number of spaces, rounded.

Sometimes it's useful to reverse-engineer a successful design. Exploring its various permutations can help you discover how another designer solved certain problems. It can also lead you to interesting ideas of your own. In my case, this gives me an idea for a deck of cards.

This is a spreadsheet for a deck of 54 cards. Each row represents a single card and its individual point value. Each card has a suit and a color. When played as a set of matching suits and/or colors, their value increases as noted. I also added six wild cards to round out the deck. Try playing Go Fish with this deck! When the deck runs out, the player with the most points wins? You could also use points as a resource towards a more strategic Euro victory condition, like Ticket to Ride. Maybe a memory game?

Anyhoo... This is what I do for fun sometimes. Have you ever reverse-engineered a game like this, or am I just weird?

Hulk PDF Download for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

Smashing news, true believers! I laid out the latest What If? download for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game, featuring our not-so-jolly green giant HULK! Hulk is so big, he smashed the  traditional datafile template, so we had to scoot Bruce Banner's stats to the facing page. This PDF also includes files on the U-Foes, a fun gang of villains for your rogues' gallery. If you dig the new content, tell the good folks at MWP on their forums!

Less than 10 copies of Do: The Book of Letters left in stock!

Get Do: The Book of Letters while it's still in stock! This expansion to Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple adds many more letters and some tips for writing your own. Plus! Tons of excellent art from Amy Houser.

Adjusting Difficulty Levels in Sidekick Quests Card Game [Video]

Here's a fun tidbit from the Sidekick Quests card game development.

We recorded this video a few weeks ago, in the midst of high-intensity game design session on Lyndsay's living room floor. We're clearly very engaged. Megan's waiting for us get on with our vacation. :P

But yeah, we're discussing the difficulty levels of encounters and how to adjust them against varying player groups. Lyndsay offers up a nice iconographic solution that also allows some interesting dungeon customization. Check it!

Belle of the Ball - Reducing the Deck Size and Moderating Wabi-Sabi

Belle of the Ball - Prototype J
I began the current cycle of Belle of the Ball prototyping with a real desire to experiment with wabi-sabi card game design. I still want to pursue that goal, but in more moderation. See, for design and economic reasons, I'm considering paring down the Guest deck from 96 to 72. This should still make a 4-player game feasible, but might just barely leave no cards in the draw or discard deck by the end of the game. That's fine.

Because of the smaller deck, I would need to reorganize all the guest attributes. That means diving back into the wild world of spreadsheets. Here is how the deck would break down in a 72-card guest deck.

The deck is divided into distinct combinations of County, Interest, and Mood.
There are 6 Counties, 12 guests of each.
There are 4 Interests, 18 guests of each.
There are 3 Moods, 24 guests of each.
Each County has 4 guests of each Mood.
Each County has 3 guests of each Interest.

Each County has 6 guests of each Gender, though that's not relevant to the mechanics of the game, just the art direction.

Each County has 1 guest with popularity -2.
Each County has 3 guest with popularity -1.
Each County has 4 guest with popularity 0.
Each County has 3 guests with popularity 1.
Each County has 1 guest popularity 2.
So, each county has a total popularity of zero. This is partly to keep the point scores easy to count at the end of the game.

The 49 guests with popularity -2 through 0 get a friendship bonus:
Any guest with popularity -2 have a friendship bonus of 6
Any guest with popularity -1 have a friendship bonus of 4
Any guest with popularity 0 have a friendship bonus of 2

The prerequisites for getting a friendship bonus are randomly distributed.

7 guests have Boarbottom friendship bonus prerequisite
7 guests have Crawhole friendship bonus prerequisite
7 guests have Dundifax  friendship bonus prerequisite
7 guests have Lordhurtz  friendship bonus prerequisite
7 guests have Richminster  friendship bonus prerequisite
7 guests have Wineberry  friendship bonus prerequisite
6 guests have Any County friendship bonus prerequisite

Ten different powers are randomly distributed amongst guests with popularity -2 through 1. Guests with popularity 2 do not get powers, as they are plenty useful on their own.
7 guests Backdoor
6 guests Breakup
7 guests Draw Two
6 guests Group
7 guests Invites
6 guests Mingle
7 guests Steal
6 guests Peek
7 guests Reject
7 guests Shove

The art direction calls for some guests to wear hats, sashes or eyewear.
24 guests wear hats.
18 guests wear eyewear.
12 guests wear sashes.
All attire is randomly distributed across the whole deck.

When constructing this spreadsheet, I started by splitting 72 rows into 6 subsets of 12 (Counties), then each of those into 4 sub-subsets (Interests) and 3 sub-subsets (Mood). I randomized the placement of moods within the Counties, so we still get organic randomness for perfect matches. Some counties have several perfect matches, others have few.

There are some more predictable elements in this construction. For example, you know there are such-and-such number of Chatting guests in each county. You also know that any guest with low popularity has a high friendship bonus. These predictable elements should satisfy the card-counters.

Meanwhile, the powers and friendship bonus prerequisites are randomized within their sub-groups. Still balanced, but organic. Chasing the friendship bonuses feels different depending on the current game state. The powers you have available are totally independent of the value of the clique as a whole.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.