• Andrew Jonhardt

Crisis of Theme

How do you get your players to understand a theme you don't fully understand yourself? You don't.

My card game, I'm just going to call Project Redline, has a theme problem. I've been trying to talk myself into one version of the same theme after another and, no matter how hard I try, I can't make psychic street racers work in my head. The concept feels simple, like something I should be able to picture just by closing my eyes yet, every time I try, the racers and the society they live in falls apart in my head.

My players appear to be having the same issue. A few have complained that the current theme is detracting from the racing fantasy. They usually understand the fantasy as something close to regular street racing in a city at night (possibly a futuristic city), and the cards that deal with mental abilities confuse anyone who doesn't automatically think of Akira.

I will admit, the opening biker scene of Akira is one of my favorite anime openings ever. However, even in a movie like Akira, almost all of the biker racing is handled by normal kids without abilities. The abilities, when they do appear, more or less trump the mode of transportation so much that bikes become irrelevant.

There are 2 paths forward that suggest themselves to me:

  1. Flesh out the world, and include more details of it in cards and the rulebook.

  2. Change theme.

Given the amount of struggle I've had with my own theme for the entirety of this project, I think it needs a change. I don't have anything specific in mind, however. I'm going to contemplate themes all of this week and hope to have a new one decided on by next week.

Here's a quick breakdown of everything else that came up during testing:

The Good:

  • Base mechanics are still fun.

The Not so Great:

  • The board continues to be a problem. Some say it doesn't do enough, others say there's no need for a board at all so much as a string, or circle, of event cards.

  • The existing card combos don't suggest themselves to players.

  • The rulebook is better than it's ever been, but is not complete. 1 player suggested adding examples to make getting into play easier.

The Bad:

  • Power gamers start tuning out fairly early and consistently, as they see the game as too simple. The suggestions I've received are: Shorten the game through smaller decks or rule changes, add more combos, do something to differentiate the mid and end game from the start ("The beginning feels the same as the end").

  • A player who falls into 4th place rarely passes 3rd by the end, and is almost always a player who complains about their cards "not being useful."

I don't believe a new theme would magically fix all of my problems. However, themes do have a tendency to suggest solutions on their own. For example, I helped test a game recently about marrying off your daughters in a very Pride and Prejudice-inspired setting. The game had a real problem at the end, when players who had successfully been marrying off daughters ran out of options. The theme helped us suggest possible solutions: bring lesser brothers of the bachelors into play (once the bachelor in question is married), or leave marrying until the end of the game as part of tallying score (retain drama of "will they won't they").

On the Godot front, I'm happy to say I now feel competent enough to make a 2D platformer. However, additional tutorials remain, so I will keep going.

I've got alot of thinking to do. Until next week.

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