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Subject: [WIP] Witches' Sabbath- A 2 Player skirmish game rss

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Thomas O'Halloren
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Witches' Sabbath
An easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master 2 Player Skirmish Game

Designer: Thomas O'Halloren

Overview: Witches' Sabbath is a 2 player card-based skirmish game in which players control their own coven of witches; casting spells, wielding brooms, and shifting the terrain to their favor.

# of Players: 2

Game Summary: A skirmish game that ditches the traditional battle map for a token take on skirmishing, with a more abstract system of movement focusing on the Witches' relationship to the air, earth, and water around her.

On a typical turn, a witch under your control may tackle an opponent before hurling her broom at another exposed witch, transforming into her rabbit familiar and leaping into heavy cover, and ending her turn with an energy sapping spell she was able to cast using ingredients found in the swamp.

Suggested Playtime: 30 - 45 mins

List of components as of 12/2017:
15 5" by 7" Witch cards
10 3" by 5" Familiar cards
12 HP and AP counter tokens
50 terrain tokens
1 Rule booklet

Proof of Concept/ Pictures:


Concept Artwork by the game's Designer:



I'm so happy to be at a point where I can share more about this game I've been working on since finishing up my first game ever, Sugarplum Chronicles. Witches' Sabbath is a game I set out to make in order to recreate the feeling of a fast-paced down and dirty skirmish game that allows players to really imagine their witches flying through the air, plunging into the water for a deadly attack, or launching their broom as a projectile. I think, at least at this point in the design process, I have been successful in that goal. I wanted to create memorable experiences, with stories that players could tell afterwards.

At this point I have completed the alpha copy and am spending most of my time in a massive spreadsheet leveling out the 15 different witches and their powers in order to make them equally competitive.

Terrain: Terrain plays a big role in Witches' Sabbath because witches have such a close relationship to the natural world. Every witch has a circuit made up of three terrain tokens. Those three terrain tokens determine the attacks and special moves she is able to pull off as well as her vulnerability to other witches' attacks.



There are five different types of terrain- Rami(branches), Bole(tree trunk), Soil(open earth), Zephyr(open air), and Palus(water). Each witch also has a unique number of action points each turn, so they must choose wisely whether they want to heal a sister witch, heal themselves, go on the offensive, or hide behind a pair of sturdy tree trunks.

Cover: Cover is another important component of the game because these witches love to project their brooms through the air as a damaging projectile, so you will have to consider your placement carefully. Heavy cover (protection against 2 damage) is provided by Bole tokens, medium cover (protection against 1 damage) is provided by Rami and Palus tokens, and no cover is provided by zephyr or soil. Every Player will have to balance their witches' need for cover with the placement they need to find in order to pull off special attacks or movements.

Spells: Spells add a small card collection element to the skirmish game with witches finding spell ingredients in the area they occupy. For instance a witch near water might find a lover's ring, while a witch on land might find toadstool. Collect and combine these ingredients to pull off turn-changing spells that will surprise your opponent every time.

Designer's Note: I am still working on explaining the various elements of the gameplay and so would love to clarify anything or answer any questions anybody might have. I am currently planning to put the game out as a print n play prototype at some point in the next six months. Thank you very much for reading my first post on Witches' Sabbath.
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Thomas O'Halloren
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Still plugging along on Witches' Sabbath and I'm happy with all the progress made since my last post. The artwork is well on its way to being finalized. In fact, I just finished all 15 of the Witch portraits which will be featured prominently on the face of each character card.



I also am coming much closer to the final design of the character cards. Some things have changed with respect to what I want to include, but each witch will have a set of moves and attacks based upon a number of factors, both overt and covert. This variety of options allows each player to form a team of three witches tactically, and adds to the replay value because there are so many potential combinations. Both players also choose a familiar, which allows for a whole other set of maneuvers that heir entire team of witches can perform. Here is a look at the witch card currently-





Movement

Movement in the swamp is still determined by tokens on each witch's card, however I have turned those tokens into three six-sided dice, with the type of terrain listed on the dice sides. So for instance, if you want to move a witch fully into the water, you would rotate the Palus (water) side of each dice face up.




Explaining the Game

I am still struggling to explain the game, and would appreciate any feedback or any questions I can answer to help me clarify. I'll also include a link to the current Witches' Sabbath rule booklet, which is still an early draft. Please check it out and let me know what you think- https://drive.google.com/file/d/1d19RlOHp1z05gFKNdTi8tOKe_bF...
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Thomas O'Halloren
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I've had a really productive week working on Witches' Sabbath clarifying some of the keywords and improving the way I communicate the game to newcomers.

I can't recommend the Card & Boardgame Designers Guild highly enough. I posted a question about the clarity of terms in this infographic:



After tons of conversation with fellow designers I am still conflicted over whether to keep the Circuit, Space, and Post keywords for the parts of the game's tactical system. I think a small change to Circuit, Path, and Post might make things more clear but it still depends on whether I make other changes to the game. A few things are clear:

The three dice that determine stance in the swamp do not 'rotate'. Instead, you change their faces to change a witch's positioning. This is an important keyword change that will go a long way toward clarifying the most important mechanic in the game.

It's also been suggested to banish the word 'movement' from the game as this seems to imply a physical board or tiles that the players will move around on. I was also using the word 'tile' to describe each of the three spaces that form the entire circuit. I have decided that the word 'space' is a much better fit to describe these... spaces. It's for this reason that I'll need to change the Spaces in the circuit to Paths or some other word.

It was also good to hear from fellow designers that I had a genuinely "unique mechanic" with the Circuit system of determining attacks, and cover. I really cannot wait to get this game into the hands of more and more people because I believe the game really fits its role as an easy to learn/ difficult to master 2 player, half hour, skirmish game.

In fact, this past week I had a blast playing with a friend of mine who was kind enough to jot down some notes about the game. Here's what he had to say:

I had the awesome experience of playing this game for the first time with creator (and friend), Tom O'Halloren. A few takeaways, comments, opinions, etc.:

1) If you are a lover of games that involve much more decision making the chance (think Magic), this game is for you

2) Cards you are dealt: At the beginning, you choose 3 witches and a familiar. It was my first time and I chose randomly. I loved this idea, as you are figuring out dynamics, strengths, weaknesses, etc., as you go. You could choose witches that work well in tandem with their familiars and with the other witches, but I love the idea of having to work with what you are dealt with. It can be potentially more of a challenge.

3) Teamwork: After a few rounds, I realized that using the witches abilities or assisting the other witches is a vital part of the game. Aside from just casting an immediate spell or using an ability, learn to think a couple steps ahead: how you can help the next witch or two, etc.

4) Defend/Heal: Offense isn't always the best thing. If you have the ability, keep up that defense and force the opponent to burn energy to turn your tiles. Also - don't neglect your hurting witch. Knock them up a point or two to keep them in the game

5) Kick 'em when they are down: Your first witch did damage. If you can, tag team and blast away at their wounded warrior. Taking away one witch from them asap makes a huge difference in their ability to win

6) Don't neglect your familiar: Check out those abilities on your cat, dog, bird, lizard, etc. to help you with some cool abilities. You'd be surprised how much they can help.

I'm itching to try this again and was really hooked, once I latched on to the moving elements and gameplay.
Tom did a fantastic job with his research and his creativity and illustrations continue to amaze me. I also love the fact the he is so open to other ideas for the game. This has ALOT of potential and will appeal to adults AND kids

One more thing: If you worry about gametime (which I never do), this will consume about 30-45 minutes, so multiple options of playing multiple games!

Peace
Terry




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Thomas O'Halloren
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Excited to have gotten Witches' Sabbath out to it's first playtest event which was hosted, on International Tabletop Day, by UnPub at New World Manga here in NJ. Had 5 playthroughs with different players, and a few who wanted to play the game a second time after learning the ropes. I'm happy to say that most of my feelings about how the game would be received by tabletop gamers proved to be true with this group of insightful guys who played the game.



It was also helpful to explain the game to new players, because the game is pulling mechanics together in new and interesting ways it's been difficult for me to clearly explain the game to first timers. It's funny that the first time a player approaches your table you almost always get the same simple question.

"So, what is this?"

My answer was "It's a 2 Player skirmish game called Witches' Sabbath. You wanna give it a try?"

It's amazing how great it feels to have a quick, fun game that you know people are going to enjoy. I was much more confident showing the game to players than with my last game, which I was less sure about.

So let's get into the feedback I received about this beta version of Witches' Sabbath. A huge thanks to UnPub, which provided a Game Session feedback forms I was able to use to get feedback in writing. I really need to make my own forms to bring with me, but for now UnPub saved this unprepared designer.



From start to finish here is what I took away from the playtests we had. The numbers are an average of the five players who tested the game

Game Time: 20-45 minutes

The shortest game was between myself and a first time player in which I found a really glaring weakness in his randomly chosen Witch team. He chose two low HP witches, and I took the first turn in order to guide him through the turn. I could have wiped out one of his witches in my first turn before he even had a chance to use her... I believe this needs to change. It may involve beefing up the base stats for all witches so it becomes impossible to destroy any witch right out of the gate. Still thinking on other potential solutions.

The longest game was between two first time players who were asking many questions throughout the process, and chatting about the game. This was a fun playthrough and it was rewarding to chat with people who appreciated the artwork, mechanics, etc.

Game Rating Averages:

Length of Game Play- 4 out of 5

For the most part I felt the players enjoyed the length of the game. It allowed players to try their hand at the game, and not feeling too burned out for a second playthrough. It was awesome to see the improvement in players who gave the game a second try. They were making more connections between the movements and attacks, and using their witches' energy more intelligently.

Ease of Learning- 5 out of 5

Game Decisions- 4 out of 5

Player Down Time- 5 out of 5


This is a really interesting rating to me. i found some players taking much more time to weigh their moves before making them, while I saw their opponents also examining their cards in advance of their next turn. it would seem that when it isn't your turn you may have a lot of downtime depending upon your opponent, but when it isn't your turn I find players spend their trying to come up with combos they can pull on their next turn, so it doesn't feel like you're stopping for the other player. You want to win so you're trying desperately to use your options as efficiently as possible because their is only so much you can do on your next turn.

Interactivity- 4 out of 5

Originality- 5 out of 5


I'm glad the players found the gamer to be something original. When I started thinking about the game which would eventually become Witches' Sabbath I wanted a system of mechanics that would give players that experience of moving from the trees to the water to the sky in a swamp setting. For imaginative players it won't be difficult for them to see their witches pulling off really cool chain attacks before leaping back into cover. I think that aesthetic goal has translated to the current product.

Fun/ Enjoyable- 5 out of 5

Ultimately, it's about providing a good time to players. I think while my own tastes lend themselves to faster games with simpler mechanics I think Witches' Sabbath fits that bill while also having mechanics that lend themselves to deeper tactical decisions if you want to play competitively with your carefully selected team of witches.



The five players, Alex, Jason, Matt, Eric, and Justin also answered some questions about the game. Here's a breakdown of some of their answers.

Was the end of the game predictable?

Four said NO, one said YES. The one YES came from the player who had chosen witches with bottom teir HP, and top teir AP. Again, if you are the player starting second, those low HP witches will be in danger of being wiped out before they even get to have their turn. That just shouldn;t be possible and it's something I need to fix.

Would you play the game again?

All five said YES. I think the playtime and the tactical depth of Witches' Sabbath lends itself to multiple playthroughs.

A couple of other takeaways that seem really clear after getting the game in front of more players:

I need to update the familiars ASAP. These playthroughs used an older version of the familiars' movesets that I have since updated, but just have not had the new cards designed and printed yet. That's the next big goal before getting the game in front of more players.

The Ingredient Cards really need something else to do... I'm still not sure what. Currently Ingredient cards are collected into groups of three and used to perform spells with a wide range of effects. Still, I found that even with the newly designed Ingredient cards that showed players where they could find the ingredients they needed, there were only a handful of spells played throughout the five games. That's not enough to justify these five decks of Ingredient cards.
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Thomas O'Halloren
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We are going to GEN CON this year! If you're planning to attend as well and want to try the game shoot me a message and we'll set something up.

We are well into the playtesting and balancing phase for Witches' Sabbath and so copies are available for playtesting at FLGS's here in New Jersey. We have one copy at The Dragon's Hoard in Hackettstown, and another copy at New World Manga in Livingston. We've already received valuable feedback and we're using it to work on balancing all the witches and familiars in the game.

Our rule booklet is not in its final form yet, but we have finally created an official rule set that is available online. Check it out here- https://goo.gl/xun5Xr and let me know if you have any questions about it, or suggestions for improvements.

And I've been able to start a series of illustrations for the back of each witch card. Because there is not a traditional board or map I wanted to create some way of connecting the witches to the swamp visually. So on the back of each witch card will be an illustration of each witch in action in the skirmish swamp. Here is one example of those illustrations-



I have about four done already and 11 more to go. Each witch will also have her own unique broom so design of those brooms is ongoing as well.

We have an online form for playtesters as well, with what I felt were the most important questions at this time in development- https://goo.gl/forms/ero1tVxsbHd7DZXG3

Still concepting a final logo design but here's what we're working with so far, and I have to say I like the silhouette with the name of the game-


Finally, some really big news- we will be taking Witches' Sabbath to Gen Con this year! I'm so proud of this game and cannot wait to show it around at the convention. In advance of the big event we have put together a sell sheet that we have submitted to a couple of contests taking place at Gen Con-


... and I think that's all the updates for now. Thanks for reading!
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Thomas O'Halloren
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With Gen Con just a few weeks away we have made some changes in the appearance of the game, and are experimenting with the Ingredient cards that you draw at the end of your turn.

The Witch cards are receiving an overhaul with a much simpler structure we're hoping will be a bit more intuitive for players. There is still a lot of work that needs to go into making the Witch cards more aesthetically pleasing, but I think we are on the right track in terms of readability and functionality.

We also added some symbols to represent the three big ideas in the game: the space, post, and circuit. This helped us cut down on some of the text on the cards and will hopefully make it easier to introduce the game to new player.



We've spent a lot of time considering the Ingredient cards' place in the game. Currently, you draw two Ingredients at the end of each turn based on your position in the swamp, and by combining those Ingredients you create spells which can have an effect on you or your enemy.

We are keeping the 'draw two cards at the end of your turn' bit, but are hopefully spicing things up by not only making the three-ingredient spells more powerful, but also adding lower level two-ingredient spells. Ingredients can still be used to perform Broom Projections, because I think at this point it's a core choice mechanic in the game.

If we still find that players are not engaging with the spells as much as we would like, there is another option that would be a fundamental change to the Ingredients in the game.

 
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Sammyo Roychowdhury
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I don't know why this thread doesn't have more comments. The art is AMAZING and the mechanics seem clever and innovative. Good luck!
 
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Thomas O'Halloren
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Hey Sammyo, thank you for noticing the game and commenting, and sorry for the late response! I actually just got back from Gen Con and received a lot of positive feedback about the artwork and the mechanics. My next update will detail my Gen Con experience and also the changes I think need to be made. I think it's also important to dive into some of the balancing details at this point and explain where the witches' stats and abilities comes from, so please check back in the future.
 
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Thomas O'Halloren
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Gen Con 2018: Before and After

I'll split this update up into three parts, before Gen Con, during, and after.

To get ready for Gen Con we needed to make changes that we found necessary based on issues found in the playtesting up until that point. Chief among them was an issue with the economy of Action Points, and a general sense that the Ingredients were not useful. Design-wise we needed to cut down on the number of words on every card so Players could spend more time with tactics and less time deciphering grammatical meaning.

Changes before Gen Con:

The Action Point Economy: In creating the power system behind the witches' abilities I had originally underestimated the ability to deplete an enemy's AP. Several witches specialized in draining AP and one of the first things we found was that an AP-draining team almost always dominated. The fix we applied was adjust the power rating of a single AP drain, so that it was less likely you will find a witch who can deal HP and AP damage at the same time, or drain AP in such a way that leaves the other player feeling helpless. Essentially, we adjusted stats to recognize the power of AP drain within the context of the game.

Ingredient Cards: Our old Ingredient Card system had players drawing two cards at the end of their turn based on their swamp location, and then combining these Ingredients into groups of three to perform Spells. The problem we ran into consistently was that players were forgetting to draw these cards at the end of their turn, and almost never using them to actually create spells (players can also spend an ingredient to broom project). Different spells are on each Ingredient card and those spells will tell you what other cards you need to collect.

The fix we applied was to add a second, lower level spell to each card that can be performed by combining only two Ingredients. In our own testing in the run-up to Gen Con this change seemed to make the Ingredient cards more memorable and much more useful. We also experimented with some new Spells. Overall I think we are headed in the right direction with the Ingredients, but I'll touch on that more at the end.



Introducing more Symbols: This was an absolute necessity and something that makes the game more intuitive and aesthetically pleasing. The pre-con versions of the cards still suffered from Ability descriptions that were not always grammatically consistent, and slowed the game down by forcing the player to read and re-read an ability rather than committing a symbol to memory.

We are by no means complete in crafting symbols for the game's abilities, but we now have a solid base to build from. We now have symbols for HP, AP, HP damage, AP damage, and for the Circuit System, which is the games defining mechanic. There are now symbols for Circuit, Space, and Post.

Attending GEN CON 2018:

My first Gen-Con and it was a wild experience. My wife and I were excited to attend but nervous to see how Witches' Sabbath would be received, and so with a few copies of the game, sellsheets, playtest feedback forms, and business cards we drove from NJ to Indianapolis.

We were fortunate enough that Witches' Sabbath was chosen as one of 32 games to be shown at a Publisher Speed Dating Event the first night we arrived, and we had signed up for FEDS and FEPH. For last minute reasons we weren't able to attend the FEDS, but the other two events were fruitful.

The first night's Publisher Speed Dating really forced me to improve the way I explain the game. This is something I've struggled with as the mechanics are abstract and non-traditional and I am a noob when it comes to running games. We didn't have much interest from the ten or so publishers we met with, but I felt that the five minute time limit put me on edge and had me trying hard to over-explain. I think the event also nudged me in the direction of taking the game to kickstarter on my own, but only slightly.



The Playtest Hall was very successful and we had largely positive feedback and an overwhelming number who wanted to play the game again. I asked players how they would describe the game, since I'm still struggling to come up with that quick little summation of the game, and this is what was provided:

"Kind of a resource drafting/ management game with extremely deep strategy and replayability."

"A witch-themed strategy game for 2 players with skirmish style + HP/ Action Management."

"Your coven vs. their coven. Winner takes all-for power-out cast and defend."

"Two covens of witches battle while gathering ingredients and racing through the terrain of the swamp."

"This game is about choosing a best-fit-for-style team and then resource acquisition and energy management."

"Swamp witch battle to make your brain happy."

Some pretty interesting descriptions that will help me better explain the game. I did run into some reactions that I think came from a lack of understanding about chaining abilities into useful combos. Several players threw up their hands, feeling that they couldn't do anything on their turn before I showed them that they could at least spend a remaining action point to protect a sister witch. I fell like at least a couple of players walked away with a negative impression of the game due to this. I think that adding tactical 'Witch Tips' into the rule book will help welcome these new players to the game even though they may struggle to see the most favorable ways to spend a turn.



Overall, I would say this for beginning designers considering heading to Gen Con: Think about the costs and benefits really hard before you commit to a long drive or plane ticket and the hotel expenses. Looking back, while I am so happy to have met the awesome people I was able to meet, I think the Gen Con budget would have been more wisely spent at conventions more local to NJ. Small indie developers, IMHO, need the face to face connections to introduce themselves into the community and build a reputation. You might get more of that at smaller events.

After Gen Con: Now we need to address a number of issues which presented themselves at the convention.

Ingredient Cards: Oh boy! While we somewhat anticipated it, we were still surprised by how much the game changes when players have access to two-ingredient spells. It suddenly makes the witches who like to steal ingredients much more powerful, and in a couple of playtests Ingredient Theft became the deciding action in the game. There are a couple of changes I am going to try. First, we will try only using the lower level spells to find out whether or not you even need a higher tier. Whether or not that makes the game more fair, we need to then re-examine the cost of Ingredient Theft. It is likely that it is now undervalued based on other changes made.

Going forward, I think we need to keep getting the game in front of players. With the improvements we will continue to make it can only move closer to the ideal swamp skirmish game I was dreaming about before putting pen to paper and starting development.

Thank you for reading!

 
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Thomas O'Halloren
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Post-Metatopia Update: For those not familiar, Metatopia is an annual convention in northern New Jersey designed specifically for playtesting in-development games. It's always a huge resource for folks creating games because everything is built around feedback. This year was no different.

I actually went into this year's Metatopia with a few changes from Gen Con. The major change was doing away with Ingredients... it was a long time coming but still I have been reluctant to part with an element of the game that has been with it since the inception. I have replaced Ingredients with Spirits, and instead of drawing two at the end of your turn, you draw one.

These Spirits can still be used to Broom Project (our go-to ranged attack in the game) but now they can also be used as a free rotation of your circuit dice, and if you collect two of the same color you can change the face of an enemy's circuit dice.

This simplifies hand management system so much and makes each card much more valuable. I also found fewer instances where players were forgetting to draw a card at the end of the turn.

There were certain changes to the Witches' abilities that made them a bit more balanced, but nothing major.

And so with newly balanced Witches and Spirit cards I attended Metatopia, and had a ton of takeaways. By and large the feedback from gamers has been incredibly positive, with players really getting into the theme and gameplay in the way I was hoping they would. The overwhelming selling point of the game continues to be the innovative Circuit System that the game is built around. Any changes that I make should be to the benefit of that system of color matching to perform abilties while keeping cover in mind. Now with the amount of eyes on the game growing, I am seeing some trends that need addressing through large and small tweaks. When it comes to the changes that I feel still need to be made, it may help me to put some bullet points in writing.

-Witches' AP should no longer renew at the end of their turn, instead it should renew at the start of their next turn. There is a common feeling among players that they should use up all their AP before the end of their turn because there is no benefit for storing it. Dodging Broom Projection costs 1 AP and currently that cost eats into the actions you can take next turn. This translates into players taking a significant amount of time trying to spend that one last AP, and feeling likes they wasted opportunities if they can't find a tactical way of spending it. In theory this should change if players know they can spend that AP to dodge a broom projection on an enemy's turn.

-I want to give players something to work towards in terms of conserving AP. This may be an over-correction and I will probably find out pretty quickly whether or not that's the case, but I want to give Witches their own unique super abilities that they can save up for. For example if a Witch has 4 AP available to her in a turn maybe it would cost all 4 to perform her super ability, perhaps removing all cover from an enemy's circuit. This means that I will need to give Witches the ability to conserve AP, in theory for the entire game, so that a witch can sit in cover and power up the ability they need to break a stalemate. I think the inclusion of Super Abilities with the change to AP renewal will cut down on analysis paralysis, some frustrations, and change the flow of the game in a big way.

-All abilities can only be used once per turn, or AP is reduced for all witches. This is a big change that's also been coming for a long time, but I've been reluctant to put arbitrary use numbers on Abilities, other than the Broom Projection, which is incredibly useful but can also be overpowering if we allowed players to use over and over in a single turn. I'm finding still a lot of abilities that feel unfair and repetitive to both players and this shouldn't be the case. What may be a cool ability that changes the course of the game starts to feel sort of mean and not fun when the Witch can perform it two or even three times in a turn. The problem isn't really with the Ability but with the repetitive attack that makes the target feel hopeless. Preventing players from spamming an attack will help, again, with a frustrating feeling that players express when they are targeted.

To fix this lingering issue, I think I may first try reducing available AP. This, I believe will move the game along, and substantially change the flow of combat, especially with the other changes taken into account. Instead of a turn feeling like 'I must spend all this AP, whether it's useful or not', it will feel more like a fluid team game where one witch is setting up or assisting with the abilities of the next witch, conserving AP when its necessary or when you want to save for that High powered ability.

-Familiars will move towards more of a Support role, while Witches will move towards abilities directly impacting the opponent. When the entire team has access to an attack, via the Familiar, players have continued to express a sense of unfairness and the potential exploit of spamming that same attack over and over if it just so happens to target a certain terrain type.

There may be a few more changes that I'm just not considering right now, but after looking at my notes these are the ones that stick out. Overall though, Witches' Sabbath's reception at Metatopia was overwhelmingly positive, with a majority expressing a desire to play the game again.

One player described it as feeling like you are playing a miniature skirmish game with cards and dice. That was great to hear. I always ask players how they would describe the game to friends and here are a few of the responses:

"Small-unit strategic color matching resource management combat."

"A coven of witch sisters battle, using elements to launch attacks, and themselves. The challenge is in weighing the cost of when to attack which elements."

"Witches call upon spirits, spells, and the swamp to battle each other."

"An interesting and unique game with strategies that emerge as you play."

"A dueling tile-matching game where teams of witches skirmish for survival."
 
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