John Simpson Wedge
United Kingdom
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Hello all.

I am currently developing a new card game called Republica de Bananes



Republica de Bananes is a 3-8 player card game which uses hand and action management along with social interaction as its main mechanics. The game is currently in a closed playtesting stage with eight different gaming groups around the UK. All in all it has been in design and development for about 3 years.

Some Background Context
A few years ago I hosted a 'Banana Republic' themed roleplaying game/party based exceedingly loosely on the mechanics of Junta. This was a great success and enjoyed by all, but required a GM/Ref to keep the game running well. We decided that a more pick-up-and-play version of the game might be fun and so I began to work on something which included the social interaction of a party game ala Werewolf or Secret Hitler, but with more substantial gameplay mechanics as well. I also like games with individuated or asymmetrical win conditions ala Ankh Morpork as it means that while everyone is playing to win, the chances of a stalemate as everyone rushes for the same outcome is greatly reduced.

Introduction
Victory! The year is 1957 and Republica de Bananes has thrown off the yoke of colonial oppression.
A new government has been appointed and you have taken your rightful place in the ruling council.

You have a clear plan for the future of the nation. Unfortunately your fellow politicians have plans of their own. Many factions are fighting for control of the government, while the USA and USSR are watching from the sidelines, eager to extend a hand of 'friendship'. Everyone has an ulterior motive. If you are to achieve yours you must keep your friends close and your enemies closer...

How the game works
At the beginning of the game each player is dealt an Ulterior Motive.


This is their win condition- it might be to plunge the country into a civil war, to steal a huge chunk of its national wealth, to rally a particular faction of the populace to your cause and become Presidente, or to force the nation into becoming a puppet state of a Superpower.



During their turn each player takes 4 actions which they can use to help further their cause and hinder their opponents, but that isn't all that happens.

The Turn Structure
1. Form the Executive
Each turn begins with the current Presidente appointing their Executive Committee. These are the other players who have been given special Authority and a particular role within the government. The Generalissimo is responsible for the nation's armed forces, the Minister of Finance its Budget, and so on. There are always at least one fewer Executive Positions than players, and the Presidente is responsible for issuing them, so if you want a particular role it's a good idea to keep in the Presidente's good books.



2. Actions
Each player takes four actions. The sequence of these actions is based on the player's Authority, and they snake back and forth in Descending then Ascending order twice. So in a 4 player game the action sequence goes;

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Presidente
Generalissimo
Minister of Finance
Junior Minister
Junior Minister
MoF
Generalissimo
Presidente
Presidente
Generalissimo
Minister of Finance
Junior Minister
Junior Minister
MoF
Generalissimo
Presidente


The reason for this unusual play sequence is so that certain actions can only happen at certain points in the turn, it also means that the most junior ranking player gets two actions one after the other twice- this is potentially quite valuable and represents their ability to move around or under the red tape used to tie up people with actual responsibility. Likewise the Presidente gets the first and last actions- they set the tone of the turn and also get a chance to respond at the very end.

Players can perform a number of different actions including activating abilities, banking cash, buying arms or power cards, playing supporters and attempting to trade cards with one another.

Abilities are pretty straightforward- they enable the active player to do something which alters the game state, this could be drawing more cards, forcing opponents to discard, arming supporters (more on this later) or changing the stability or international influences within the nation (again more later).

These abilities come from a range of sources, such as Power Cards, Executive Position, Influence levels and Stability. Some are tiered and vary in effect depending on the strength of the player.




Budget is also managed during the action sequence, players can draw cash, spend it or bank it for later.




The other major resource (and main hand management aspect of the game) are supporters. Supporters represent the player's power with a particular demographic. There are three groups of supporters- Economic, Religious, and Popular. Each supporter card has a Strength (1-4 noted by the number in the corner). This is used during elections and coups to represent votes or armed might and is very important. It is also used for determining certain Ulterior Motive win conditions. Players are looking to collect a set of support from a single faction.





Supporters are generally unarmed, however a range of abilities and actions allow players to arm them. Armed supporters are flipped around so the armed head is face up. Armed supporters can take part in both elections AND coup attempts. Speaking of which...

3. Elections
After the actions have all been carried out, an election may occur. This is an opportunity for players to make wild promises and accusations, as well as activating special abilities which can only be used during elections, such as increasing the strength of voters from a single faction, bribing ballot officials or putting opponents under house arrest!



During an election players vote (with their eyes closed) for the next Presidente. When a player wins an election they recall all the executive position cards and set about making policy changes.

4. Coups
Alternatively if there isn't an election there may well be a coup. Again this stage often begins with promises, threats, tears and begging. Players assess the strength of their armed supporters and play any 'coup only' ability cards.



Players then decide what their Allegiance will be.






The Presidente can only be a Loyalist or Neutral. During the coup each player secretly decides their allegiance then all players reveal them simultaneously. If they are all Loyalist or Neutral then the current Presidente retains control of the government. If they are all Rebel then the Rebel with the highest Authority becomes the new Presidente (thus a rebellious Generalissimo is a very dangerous thing for poor old Presidente, while the Junior Ministers are not so close to the centre of power to grab much from rebelling).

If there are players on both sides there is conflict, with the winner being the side with the highest strength. Again the winning player with the highest Authority becomes (or remains) Presidente. This is followed up by either an amnesty, arrests or purges which reduce the number of supporters on the losing side. Often remaining Neutral is the safest option however there's no chance of any glory if you never get stuck in.

5. End of Year checks and clean up
The players check to see if anyone has won the game, or indeed if they have all lost. If neither is the case the game begins a new turn. Other actions like hand size reduction/discarding ready cash also occur.

Things to watch out for
As well as managing their own resources players must watch out for the overall state of the nation, measured by Stability.



Stability starts at 6. If a turn ends with Stability at 0 its game over! As Stability decreases (due to destabilising actions like murder, arms proliferation, and general political unrest) it becomes easier to arm supporters, and harder to stay neutral in conflicts. Certain things can improve Stability, like free and fair elections, or special abilities. In larger games the Minister of Public Affairs can also appeal for calm, or insight panic and outrage!

Secondly players must navigate the minefield of international relations. Both the US and USSR start on 0 Influence, however these increase due to players requesting foreign aid or military intervention. This isn't entirely a bad thing- the more closely aligned Republica de Bananes is, the greater the gifts from its benevolent big cousin. However if their influence level is at 5 at the end of a turn then the country loses its independence and basically becomes a puppet state for the Superpower.







So where am I at?
So for almost a year I was using blank playing cards with stickers which was great for the initial prototyping. However with (I think) the main core of the game worked out I have decided to move on to the next stage of development. Working with the great team at Sally 4th I have produced a prototype for blind playtesting with a group of playtesters across the country. I currently have 8 groups signed up, each with 5-15 players who have agreed to playtest a minimum number of games and record their results and impressions.


Seven prototype copies boxed up and good to ship out.

I'm also producing a couple of tutorial videos to help players out.

The plan is to build on the playtesting results and make amendments in April/May time.

If there is interest from the BGG community I'd be very happy to share the rules as they currently stand, for feedback and critique. However because the game is entirely card based (180 regular and 32 jumbo) it doesn't make for a great p&p game.

Keen to hear your thoughts, and will definitely be updating this thread as the design progresses.

John
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Quentin N.
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You made a game that sounds tipically like one I would buy. I always liked this kind of games, and the mechanics you build are promizing some intensive yelling at the table. Do you have any estimated cost to give us? And are you based un the US or EU?
 
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John Simpson Wedge
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Glad you like the sound of it. So far there's been a good mix of pleading and yelling!

I'm based in the UK (so without getting too political I guess for the next few years that is EU!). At the minute I'm producing the prototypes for just over £20 but that's because they're printed in a very small run. I want to get much further into the designing before I look at costs for production in larger batches.
 
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Quentin N.
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Ok! Tell me if you are releasing the complete rules one day or another. Even if your description is exhaustive, getting to view some cards effects gives a good idea of the game and its balancing.
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John Simpson Wedge
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Sure! The current version of the rules can be found here
The Jumbo cards (Stability, Executive Positions, Play aids, Influence cards) here
And the regular sized cards (Ulterior Motives, Budget, Power, Allegiance)here

Although as mentioned it doesn't really work as a p&p game because of the faff of card printing, but you are welcome to give it a try or just give feedback on the rules.

If you do give it a try I'd really appreciate it if you could fill in the playtesting survey I've posted up here. That'd be really helpful!
 
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John Simpson Wedge
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General update.
Unfortunately there's been a delay with the printers in getting the last of the cards done, so I still haven't sent out the next batch of prototypes. However the non-blind playtesting is going very well and I've ended up making minor amendments to a couple of the ability cards for balancing.

Also, more excitingly, having entered the Cardboard Edison award, because why not, I have created an overview video. Although I can't help but feel it would be more exciting if narrated by someone with a South American accent!
 
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Quentin N.
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After reading the rules and the cards I must say I am really interested in the game. I might assemble it with a time-saving technique:
buy 2 sets of card sleeves(5 euros).
Buy 3 cheap poker decks online (aliexpress 10 euros).
Print the cards front (no back) and put it in the protections while using a a card as a hardener.
I still fear the cutting of all those cards, as I have nothing but a pair of scissors and a cutter. Is a A4 paper ready file available?

And did this game https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junta_(game) inspired you for your design?
 
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John Simpson Wedge
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Mimolette wrote:
After reading the rules and the cards I must say I am really interested in the game. I might assemble it with a time-saving technique:
buy 2 sets of card sleeves(5 euros).
Buy 3 cheap poker decks online (aliexpress 10 euros).
Print the cards front (no back) and put it in the protections while using a a card as a hardener.
I still fear the cutting of all those cards, as I have nothing but a pair of scissors and a cutter. Is a A4 paper ready file available?

And did this game https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junta_(game) inspired you for your design?


Sounds great give it a go!
The newest card files and version of the rules can be found here (regular cards), here (jumbo cards) and here (the rules). The cards can just be printed 3 by 3 onto regular A4 paper in the print settings of your pdf reader (make sure you set it to print odd pages only just to get the card fronts). I don't know how many jumbo cards you'll get on one page though.



Junta was indeed one of the original inspirations for the setting in a roundabout way. I enjoyed playing parts of it as a kid, but we didn't use the full rules, just the stuff about stealing money and sending assassins after each other.

About four years ago I decided to host a Tropico themed birthday rpg party for a bunch of my university friends and got out Junta again. However I realised that lot of the mechanics were horribly clunky or overly complex, and it didn't really do the theme justice in my opinion. Especially because of the symmetrical win conditions and the weird mini wargame stuck in the middle of it.

So I made a massive rpg game using my own rules, that was all about making political decisions and trying to resolve crises and dilemmas while also trying to either fill your Swiss bank account, win the support of the people, or just be a straight up dictator for long enough.

We had a lot of fun and a lot of drinks and fancy dress, and I decided to try and bottle the experience back down into a pick-up-and-play card game, rather than something which needed a referee, 8 players, 400+ cards and lots of supervision!
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John Simpson Wedge
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Today I got a lovely email from the folks at Cardboard Edison saying that unfortunately Republica de Bananes has not been shortlisted for the Award finals. It did however come with some really useful observations from the judges who looked at the game. This feedback, combined with that of my playtesters is leading me towards the latest version of the game.

The judges feedback was as follows;

Anonymous wrote:

What was the game's strongest aspect? The game takes the popular mechanisms of hidden roles and social deduction and attaches them to a mid-weight card game that provides many opportunities for negotiation, discussion and clever play. By separating the player's "ulterior motive" and their "executive position" (many games in this genre simply give each a player a single "role"), lots of fun thematic elements are introduced that bring a developing narrative to the game.

What was the game's weakest aspect? There is enough complexity in the game that I can see some players not clicking with the system for half a play or so. This could be a problem in a game which requires so much player discussion and deal making. I wonder if some slight simplifications to elections, coups, and the various abilities on the stability/influence cards could be worth investigating.

Any additional comments? In a way it is hard to judge this game without playing it many times in varying groups, but my initial impressions are really positive. This could be an excellent addition to the genre and I hope it makes it to publication. Your video was great too!


Chris Zinsli wrote:

What was the game's strongest aspect? This looks like a very fun social game, with lots of opportunities for sneakiness.

What was the game's weakest aspect? I have a slight concern that there's just a little too much going on (resources, actions, things to track, turn structure) for the weight of the gameplay experience. Can it be streamlined to make it easier to get into, without sacrificing fun?


Erik wrote:

What was the game's strongest aspect? The complex interweaving of processes does seem to match the theme of a banana republic.

What was the game's weakest aspect? The changing turn orders and different sub-phases will seem to require constant flipping back to the player reference and make it easy to miss details.

Any additional comments? Tn the voting phase, the revealing of abilities before the vote seems contrary to the surprise nature of voting results. The Ulterior Motives may be unachievable or not fun for some players. Perhaps having a default win condition?


James Griffin wrote:

What was the game's strongest aspect? The switchback turn order, with variable offices. Creates opportunity for catchup, and complicates (in a good way) the selection and assignment of roles. And the combination of co-op and secret divergent goals. That's got a lot of potential for replay-ability, expansions, and interesting social gameplay.

What was the game's weakest aspect? I haven't seen all the cards, but I did watch the video. And there may be some tonal dissonance, with some cards & abilities playing the theme of cold war political intrigue for camp, but others taking it seriously.

Any additional comments? This game reminds me of the old game Junta, but less tongue in cheek, and coups don't turn into a micro wargame.


Eric Alvarado wrote:

What was the game's strongest aspect? I played a similar game to this and it was a blast! The politics, the backstabbing, the tension. It is a lot of fun.

What was the game's weakest aspect? The game has already been done -- Junta. There isn't that much difference between this game and Junta. Granted, this is a card game and Junta is a board game. Similar to Junta, this game is only good with a lot of players.


First off I just want to say that this feedback is great and really appreciated. Obviously the judges are coming from a different place to my blind playtesters, who are again coming from somewhere different to my first group of supporters. There are a few interesting and recurring themes which I've picked up on and want to focus on as the game continues to be developed.


1.Streamlining
What's the problem?
The Anonymous judge's comment that they 'can see some players not clicking with the system for half a play or so', is right on the button. it takes players a little while to get comfortable with the range of choices and options available, and the benefits of certain actions. It is unusual for a game with such important social interaction to also have relatively complex mechanics at play; most social games are relatively 'rules-lite' to ensure the social dynamic doesn't become derailed.Fundamentally the complexity stems from the fact that you have to pay attention to 3 global scales, your own cards, the executive powers and your opponents all at the same time, as well as handling unfamiliar gameplay mechanics like the switchback turn order.

What's the solution?
If an element of the political landscape is removed e.g. the Stability, this cuts out a whole line of play, and an Ulterior Motive. It also loses some of the risks associated with certain ability cards- killing rival supporters or taking foreign aid is balanced by the negative effects the cards cause. Unless of course they suit your ulterior motive! So I am loathe to cut a whole chunk of gameplay for the sake of streamlining it.

I think there is definitely scope for simplification in how certain mechanics (such as Executive Abilities work) and the impact of the political landscape made up from Stability and US/USSR influence.

In the first instance I think changing the base power of Executive Abilities from 'the strength of a single faction of Supporters' to 'the number of factions supporting you' is simple and elegant- you can tell at a glance how potent you are by the visual differences in Supporters, and the rule is much more clearly worded.



In the second instance by simplifying and streamlining the bonuses from US and USSR Influence that should make it more intuitive- US influence gets you Budget, USSR gets you Power, and Stability lets you do things with Supporters.





Thirdly I think there's the matter of player aids; players currently have a game mat which reminds them of the full turn order, and the order of authority, but they don't have a go-to guide to what actions they could take.

I will add a section of the rules (plus short films for interested parties) featuring tips and tricks which should stand them in good stead at the beginning of a game. This is of course only any use to players who proactively read the rules etc. beforehand, but 6-10 simple bullet points should be quite useful nevertheless.

2.Turn Order
What's the problem?
This has been a very mixed bag. Some players have found the switchback action order confusing and difficult to follow, one playtester found it annoying, but most see the value in it or have no opinion. I think James sums up its strengths very succinctly and I think there's a lot going for it. However the fact remains that it is something that you need to keep track of during the game, and it isn't always crystal clear who is next.

What's the solution?
I want to keep the mechanic of the switchback turn order, so instead of changing it I'm looking at how to make it clearer for players in the game. One solution is a card aid which is passed around for each round of actions like so;






This ought to help players keep track of who goes next (i.e. who do I pass this to) and also helps with problem 2 in that it reminds them what they can do on their action. It may not give any advice, but at least it is a clear list of the available options at the time.

3. Unachievable Motives
What's the problem?
Three of the Ulterior Motives are based on set collection. If players don't draw those cards they have no chance of winning the game. This rapidly becomes unfun.

What's the solution?
The balance of cards seems to work out as intended at present. There are 16 Supporter cards from each faction, plus 63 ability cards. Each faction has 36 points of strength.

I have lowered the victory requirement to 14 strength for each of the three solo-faction motives. I have also replaced the Presidente for Life (survive three turns in a row as Presidente) with United Front- Have five strength of support from each faction. Because Presidente for Life was proving to be a card which fluctuated wildly from being near impossible to being incredibly easy, which wasn't helpful or enjoyable.



More importantly I have added in a new action: Bribe Supporter.

Quote:
You may steal a Supporter card from a rival player at a cost of $2m per point of strength if the Supporter is unarmed, or $3m per point of strength if they are armed. Spend the money and immediately take the chosen Supporter card and add it to your supporters. Armed Supporters remain armed when they are bribed. You may only steal 1 Supporter card per action.


I don't normally like mechanics which let you take from an opponent and add to your own success as they are extremely powerful, but I have costed this fairly highly and set a hard limit of one bribe per action to prevent uber rich players running away with the game. That said, given how adversarial the game is, and how many players have been asking for exactly this mechanic to help when they're not getting the Supporters they need, this should help give players more options. Plus it provides another thing to do with money!

4. Isn't this just Junta?
What's the problem?
Does this game already exist?

What's the solution?
I don't know if this was more of a problem for this competition, this judge, or if this really is a major issue. This game was originally inspired by me going back to my 1985 copy of Junta and realising that it was not the game I thought it was, and that I thought the genre of 'corrupt political governments' could do with a re-visit. While there are similar underlying principles you could say the same about a lot of WWII air combat games for example, but that doesn't mean people stopped making them.

What this has made me do is rethink how and why the game isn't Junta, or anything else, so that going ahead I can present the distinctions more clearly. I think I have a pretty clear idea now;

A. Secret, individual objectives- In Junta everyone's objective is the same, to amass the largest personal fortune, in Republica de Bananes players are trying to achieve a secret Ulterior Motive, which is different for each player.

B. Non-arbitrary endstate- In Junta the game ends when the deck runs out of money. In Republica de Bananes the game only ends when someone wins, or everyone loses. While this results in a variable game length, it does feel more thematically appropriate- every loss or victory is the result of something 'in universe' occurring rather than a purely abstract game mechanic.

C. Executive Positions- In Junta the Cabinet of Deputies do very little except approve or disapprove the President's budget and orders, except in coups where they control specific military units. In Republica de Bananes each Executive Position has different abilities and interacts with other players very differently.

D. Streamlined Coups- One of Junta's greatest weaknesses is that it is two games tacked together; a fun social bluffing game about guessing where people's characters will be to kill them, and a mini wargame. This breaks up the pacing horribly. In Republica de Bananes this isn't the case. The social negotiations are at the core of everything and coups and elections are simplified to a quick and easy card voting mechanic.

5. Tone
What's the problem?
A couple of people have commented on the tone of the game. Some expressing that it treads a very fine line between satire and being offensive. There's also a risk of the art, rules, and text telling different stories which leads to a disjointed feeling.

What's the solution?
I don't really know about this one. Humour is subjective, as is appropriateness. I've envisaged the game to be darkly comic- bad things happen to you and your supporters, but the game itself is fun and socially rewarding. Several people have asked for specific banana-themed cards but in my mind that's just too silly and slapstick. Likewise aside from the blood on the Stability deck the rest of the cards are relatively blood and violence free. This may just be a case that your mileage may vary, and that I can't make something that pleases all people all of the time, but I want to try and avoid any major goofs.

Stay tuned for more updates including a redraft of the rules and tweaked ability card text...
 
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John Simpson Wedge
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So following the judges' feedback and another bout of playtesting I have made some amendments and v0.16 is now live.

The major changes are simplifications to the Influence and Stability decks- the mechanic is the same but the abilities each deck unlocks is now intuitive and easier to determine if it is relevant to you as a player.

The action cards helped track turn order really easy and meant players were confident on what they could do each action (this was also the case with new players who hadn't played the game before).

Some of the wording around elections and coups has been clarified to make it clearer who can do what. I have also added in the option of the new Presidente increasing Stability by 1 after an election.

The game flows well and is a lot of fun, even with only 3 players. The first time playtesters were especially positive about their experience which is very encouraging.

The rules, full card list (if you want to make your own pnp version) and the card art for the updated jumbo cards can all be found here.

In other news I can confirm that Republica de Bananes will be at the Norwich Gaming Festival at the end of May so I have started work on some promotional and marketing materials.
 
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John Simpson Wedge
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So it's been a few months since I last posted on here, but those months have been very busy!

Republica de Bananes is now in version 0.20 and has come on a long way. Attendance at a couple of gaming festivals, and more intense blind testing has really helped shape the game.

Most of the core mechanics are identical, although I have cut elections (how apt) and changed them to an ability card that can happen during the year. I've also made more of the abilities punchy and powerful to ensure that actions always feel weighty and that you're not just freewheeling as a player. Budget is a lot more useful now, and players have more ready access to cash which they can use for bribes, buying power cards, spending on votes and so on.

The rules for version 0.20 can be downloaded here. If anybody is interested in sense checking them and giving me some feedback or insight that would be really appreciated.

Stand by for more updates coming soon!

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