At the start of the playtesting week, the feedback on assassins was alright, most people liked it but nobody was particularly enthusiastic. In the middle of the week I made a few changes, including adding unique characters and letting people pick a set of four cards to start with rather than all players having the same start and suddenly people loved it.
So here are three cards from version two, a generic hide card and two specific character cards. The "death from above" card is one of the impetuous assassins options: a character who's barely trained but highly enthusiastic and has cards that focus on fast movement and damage at the expense of stealth. The "shapeshifter" card is from the shapeshifter assassins set and allows that character to pass by guards by appearing as one of their own. These characters are both somewhat evocative, a lot of players can think of examples of both archetypes that are meaningful to them and that gets them more invested in the game. I think there's a little more to it than that.
The unique character cards consist of four of a players starting eight cards. A player focusing on deck efficiency can avoid adding any new cards to their deck, so will draw a character card half of the time. However most players end up with decks of about fifteen cards and so don't draw their character cards as often. Despite this, the character cards still contribute a lot to that players fun. Why is that?
A lot of the generic action cards describe things that can be done in many different ways. The hide card will always allow a character to move zero spaces, reduce their noise by three and give them a bonus point if they play it while within two spaces of a guard - but there are many different approaches to stealth.
The character cards are successful because they contextualise the other actions. The way in which someone imagines a shapeshifter and an impetuous ninja in hiding are very different - which leads to the hide card feeling like a character card despite being the same for both players.
So, as well as some necessary rebalancing and mechanical changes, my work on assassins this week has consisted of trying to add more evocative characters who'll contextualise the more generic abilities in ways that make them feel like a part of the character. I won't know how well it's gone until next week’s playtesting, but it feels like a step forward. I'll leave you with a teaser for each of the two new characters, a ghost and a vampire.