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Designer Diary: Simultaneously Designing Silver and Silver Bullet

Ted Alspach
United States
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Board Game Designer
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Board Game: Silver Bullet
The card game Silver was almost named Silver Bullet.

During development of Silver, once I determined that I wanted a silver token in the game, a silver bullet was the obvious choice as it's the silver item most associated with effectively getting rid of the werewolf menace that seems to plague so many of my games. I even purchased an actual silver bullet from Amazon and that was used for hundreds of playtests. It was solid silver and cost about $30. Of course, it wasn't a real silver bullet as any gun enthusiast will tell you; it was a combination casing and bullet design, similar to the half-bullet design in the final game.

Designing for a Series of Games

Board Game: Silver
Once I decided that Silver was going to be a series of games, I started using A, B, C, etc. designations for the different decks under development. It would be strange for the first token to be a bullet and not an item that starts with A.

Why did I use A, B, C designations for the Silver decks? Well, a lot of testing involved using totally different combinations of cards than the Silver Bullet recommended rules for mixing decks (i.e., replacing all of the numbers from one deck with those from another deck), and that required rules for how cards with the same numbers from different decks were ordered in various instances (like discarding two 2s from two different decks). If you look closely at the lower left of the cards, you'll see a bullet (whereas Silver cards depict an amulet).

From gallery of toulouse

I tried all sorts of combos, some of which you'll see once the fourth deck arrives in 2020. In those situations, there might be cards with the same number from different decks, and I needed a rule for how they would be discarded (and later, for what order they would affect scoring at the end of a round). Since I already had numbers on the cards, letters were an obvious choice. Even though those rules aren't in place yet, the letter system applies to all Silver games. (The first game is technically Silver Amulet, even though the title of it is simply Silver.)

Overlapping Development

Both Silver and Silver Bullet were developed at the same time. With dozens of cards to choose from for each set, it required a ton of playtesting to determine which cards would work together well for the first two sets. There are all sorts of cards that I personally love playing with, but they didn't make sense in the base game or even the interactive-themed follow-up.

As many game designers will tell you, taking things out of a game is often what makes them better, and while that's certainly the case here, it was made a lot easier by limiting myself to 14 abilities in each game. Those kinds of constraints are useful when developing games, and in this case, an entire series of games. There are currently more than one hundred different cards that have been finalized or are in various stages of development, anywhere from a finalized card being shipped from the manufacturer at this moment to a brand new conceptual card. Here's a look at some of the cards I was working with over the summer:

From gallery of toulouse

The strange thing about Silver development is that I'm both designing and developing individual cards as well as determining the correct combinations of cards for each set. Even when I think I have the right set of cards, tweaks to any one of those cards (which happen regularly) can make me rethink the cards that are in that set. "Final" playtesting of each set has been amazingly time consuming because it seems as soon as a card is modified slightly to make it work just right, suddenly one or more of the other cards in the set doesn't work as well because of those changes; I then either have to rework those other cards or replace them, triggering the entire process to start yet again.

By the time Silver and Silver Bullet had shipped off to production earlier in 2019, I was already hard at work on the third game in the series, which again had to stand alone yet also be able to be combined with the first two games. That one is already off to production, and now I'm busy finalizing the fourth game's cards and doing testing on several sets of cards after that.

Finalizing the Silver Bullet Cards

So the second game was going to be Silver Bullet, and with that came a challenge: how to offer cards that felt similar, yet made the playing experience entirely fresh. One of the great things about Silver is that once you learn one of the games, you can jump right into the other ones because the core mechanisms are all the same. Only the abilities of the cards change, which makes each successive game simple to learn. While you can run through the abilities of the new cards before the game starts, you can just start your first game and learn about them as you play, which is much more effective and makes the game much more accessible.

At the same time, though, the number and complexity of the new abilities can be overwhelming for players, so there's a careful balance that has to be struck. Silver Bullet has cards that I've divided into three sets of abilities to make this balance work as well as possible: enhanced, similar (yet different), and totally new.

From gallery of toulouse

Enhanced Abilities

Silver Bullet's special abilities are closely tied to the Silver special abilities, with the Instigator and Insomniac closely mimicking ones that exist in the original game. In addition, the Priest (2) allows you to flip over one card in your village each turn, similar to the Empath (2) letting you view one card in your village each turn. This ends up being more useful because now you have a way to turn up your 0-4 cards once you have a face-up Priest. However, if you use the card like the Empath to view cards you haven't seen yet, you risk exposing a 0 or 1 that could make you the target of another player.

From gallery of toulouse

Similar, Yet Different Cards

New cards were added that are offshoots of cards in Silver, like the Lycan, Copycat, and Troublemaker. The Cow (5) lets you "preflip" in a way; instead of flipping a card in your village like the Exposer (5), you flip over the entire deck, so whenever anyone draws a card from the deck, it starts face up. The Cow's ability required an entirely new component to be added to the game: the cow pasture cardboard game mat, which indicates which stack of cards is the deck, and which stack of cards is the discard pile.

From gallery of toulouse

And the Count (10) can make the round come to an end quickly, but not quite as quick as when you have two Villagers (0). Instead, The Count's ability allows you to move ten cards from the deck to the discard pile. Considering there are only 32 cards in the deck at the beginning of the game, this can make things move along really fast.

From gallery of toulouse

Totally New Mechanisms

And then there are all the new cards with totally new, unique abilities, like the Hunter, Mortician, Marksman, Gremlin, and the Thing.

One of the new mechanisms is evident with Goth Girl, which solves a problem you didn't realize you had until you've played a bunch of Silver — accidentally giving away a good card because you didn't have a chance to view it before you discarded it. When Goth Girl is face up in your village, you can discard a card directly to the bottom of the deck (keeping it face down or face up), so not only is it hidden from your opponents, but you won't feel sick in your stomach when you accidentally discard a 0 (because face-down cards aren't revealed when they are discarded this way, which means that no one will know what the card is). Goth Girl also works as a way to slow down the pace of the game because you're putting more cards back into the deck.

From gallery of toulouse

How Gameplay Is Affected

The great thing about Silver Bullet is that it takes the base game mechanisms ("protection" was the theme of Silver and its handy amulet) and shows what can happen if you ratchet up the interaction to 11.

Because of the highly interactive, dynamic nature of the cards in Silver Bullet, you'll probably be a little more reluctant to call, but doing so and getting that Silver Bullet for a future round is pretty sweet...and tempting!

From gallery of toulouse

That said, Silver Bullet has a take-that feel that wasn't as prominent in Silver. It's a little ironic that the name Silver Bullet implies more "take that", but the bullet token itself is actually something you do to your own village, which doesn't affect other players directly. Instead, it's a bunch of the other cards — Instigator, Thing, Troublemaker, and Gremlin — that have an impact on your opponents.

Future games in the Silver series won't have such a high level of take that, but instead will focus on other areas, such as card flipping, scoring, and play order.

From gallery of toulouse

Combining Cards from Different Decks

Possibly even more exciting than playing Silver Bullet as a standalone game is combining it with the original Silver game. It's super easy to do (and why each Silver game comes with a Game Trayz tray that lets you keep your cards sorted by number if you'd like).

To combine the decks, remove all of the cards of specific numbers from one deck and replace them with the cards of those numbers from another deck. Because of the way the games are designed, you can increase or decrease those mimicked abilities, just include cards that provide new mechanisms to try out, or incorporate any combination of cards.

I did extensive testing with mix-and-match sets, but often I'd do an even split between decks, using evens/odds, lows/highs, and even primes/non-primes (which isn't quite even, but close). I've encouraged playtesters to try different combinations of cards and let me know what their favorites are, and of course, if anything really fell flat. And of course, during development, I'm looking to see whether any of the new cards in a deck break things when combined with other cards; this task is getting harder and harder with each deck that is produced, though focusing on the new mechanism-style cards tends to address most of those possible issues.

From gallery of toulouse

If you've played Silver already, a great way to ease yourself into Silver Bullet is by swapping in one or two numbers each game, slowly ramping up to the point where you have all Silver Bullet cards and no Silver cards. I also like playing that the losers of a game may each take out one number and replace it, which prevents anyone from honing in and using a particular strategy too many games in a row.

Silver Bullet will debut at SPIEL '19 and start showing up in stores shortly thereafter. Three more Silver games are due in 2020, and even more after that!

Ted Alspach
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