Context: Dauntless Hunters (sort of)
I'm struggling with the Dauntless Hunters project at the moment. I've had a bunch of playtests that have gone well enough, in that players seemed to enjoy the game while playing and feedback has been reasonably positive - but also a lot of people who created the print and play and didn't get back to me - which is generally a bad sign. I've been working on this for almost a year now, trying to get it to a state that it's worth playing and worth launching as a project that I'm asking for support for, but that level of investment is the enemy of perspective. What if I've done all of this and it's simply not my best work?
At times like this it's good to take a break from a project, ceasing to look at it up close and getting a bit of perspective on the thing as a whole and to consider other ways that it could be taken forward to contrast to the existing approach. "Is this better than nothing?" is a bad question, the real question is "Is this better than other things I could be doing with the same time?"
So this week I spent the time working on a game called Shootout - this is something I wouldn't do if I'd actually launched Dauntless Hunters and people were paying $1 a month to see updates - but something I want to do to explore if that's really the best way to launch that project.
Shootout is a very light game playing on the concept of the Mexican stand off. I like Cash and Guns but the playtime's longer than I'd like and the action is slower than I'd fancy - Shootout is an attempt to cut that down.
Setup is: Shuffle the cards, deal everyone a card
A turn is: Play your card or point your gun (fingers) at someone
An end is: Someone plays a card that starts the firefight or every player gets a turn with nobody playing a card
The result is: If the firefight started everyone with fingers pointing at them is dead. Each person's card tells them how they win (who they had to kill or who they had to save).
All pretty simple, can be setup in seconds, explained in a minute and played in five. The emergent effects are nice, it's tense as people switch who they're targeting trying to figure who profits from a firefight (objective: Kill X) and who'd rather avert it (objective: X does not die) - with card plays generating powerful effects at the cost of revealing a person's identity and objectives.
Recent changes are based on the "Let players do what they want" philosophy that holds that games are hard to learn when players can't do logical things that they really want to. In this case people can't shoot each other when they want to, only when a card says they can (and most cards say X other player gets the option to shoot). That contests with a goal of making sure that an individual player can't force a firefight in a way that's not fun (game ends with someone having no chance of winning or shooting starts immediately before someone has a turn).
It's a knotty problem, but there are plenty of potential solutions with different strengths and weaknesses: Banning firing on turn one, moving away from 'no shooting' as a possible ending, requiring some sort of condition to be met before someone can fire and so on.
I tried a few versions and worked through some hypothetical games (Step one of playtesting: Play on your own, helps avoid the worst outcomes when using volunteers so that they don't have a crap time and not volunteer again). I'm interested to see how it plays out.
The greater questions about whether the Dauntless Hunters project is worth pursuing or whether I should be thinking about this project in a different way is still an open question. I don't know what I'll decide about that.