What started off as a Noir themed role-playing game ended up a memory-ish card game with an interesting Interrogation mechanic. For this second edition of Designstorming we’ll look at how you don’t always end up where you think you’re going.
Disclaimer – The card images are NOT MINE, nor do I pretend they are mine. These Designstorms are an exercise in creating game designs and generate idea’s not to go into full development. If any of the images are yours and you would like me to take them down, let me know and I will.
I took off wanting to make a “La Noir” like role-playing game. Straight away I opened Photoshop and made a lot of cards based on my role-playing system. I wanted the players to create a detective and solve murders. Like my role-playing system I wanted to eliminate the need for a GM. But when I was done designing this proved more and more difficult. I simply needed someone who could play the NPC and who would know what the “case” was the players would be solving. Trying to solve this, I strayed further and further away from a role-playing game and started looking more at games such as Mysterium. I ended up with an interesting interrogation mechanic I really wanted to test. So I whipped up a simple paper prototype version to test that mechanic. Surprisingly enough this stripped down prototype proved a very fun game… So I sticked with it! Though I just want to focus on the interrogation mechanic and the final game, I will still briefly explain the concept which formed the base for the prototype.
The game started as a co-op role-playing game in which players take on the roles of investigators and various NPC’s. The game would have decks of cards and a gameboard with locations in a fictional city.
Each game would start off with the players drawing a random plot card describing a murder/case for them to solve. Next a random (face down) NPC, weapon and location card would be drawn from special decks. These would be the perpetrator, weapon used and location where the story of the plot card took place, like in Clue.
I then needed a way to advance the game. This would be done in the form of “leads”. A lead would instruct a player to find a specific NPC on the map to question. Once that NPC was found, another player would take on the role of that NPC and would be interrogated by one of the other players. If the interrogation was successful the players would get a new lead. Some leads would allow a player to reveal one of the face down cards getting closer to the solution of the case. Once all three face down cards are revealed the players would have to catch the NPC to win the game!
All this worked a bit wonky and left me with many questions such as; How turns exactly work? Or how does one move on the map and discover NPC’s or enemies? Now, a designstorm does not yield a finished product, and could be whatever I want it to be. I contemplated leaving the design just as is and calling it a day. However, I was set on solving the biggest problem. The fact the players won’t have any actual information about the case they are solving. They would only have the information on the plot card (if no face down cards are revealed). So how would a player know how to play a NPC and if their character would have any useful information. Or when he or she would give up that information? Solving this proved a fun exercise. The solution the “interrogation cards”.
The interrogation cards are a deck of cards instructing players on how to play an NPC. Each card has three features. First it has a “tell”. A tell is a rule the player needs to abide to when role-playing the NPC. For The Punk for instance the player will need to be “respectfully” aggressive. For The Accomplice, the player would have to deflect all questions. Of course it’s up to the player to fill in the rest of the character and how to exactly go about doing so.
Next each card has a (Fight or) Flight and a Bust section with a condition attached to it. Whenever during the role-playing an interrogator satisfies the condition, it triggers either the Flight or Bust ability. Flight means the player playing the NPC may end the conversation and the interrogation fails (Fight is there because in one version of the game fights could break out with enemy NPC’s). If the interrogator satisfies the Bust condition the interrogation is successful and the detective is rewarded.
Now say there are 100 interrogation cards with different tells, flights and bust conditions. The sheer amount of information and possibilities would make it nearly impossible for an detective to successfully interrogate a player. To solve this each character in the game has a number in the lower right corner. When that character is interrogated this number shows the amount of cards drawn from the interrogation deck. Each of the drawn cards is revealed and may be read by all players. Then the player playing the NPC will choose one of those cards in secret and discard the rest (face down off course). Now the investigators will have some idea of who they are dealing with. A character card with a higher number would therefore mean the character is more difficult to interrogate. Simply because there is more information present.
To make this all work however, some cards Flight condition should be the same as some other cards Bust conditions and visa versa. If this wasn’t the case interrogators would just be able to quickly satisfy all Bust conditions they could remember. However if some of those would be Flight conditions as well they would have to proceed with care and steer the conversation trying to figure out the “tell” the NPC player has in order to bust him or her.
While designing this mechanic I really felt like play testing it. Because so many questions and design decisions where still to be made I whipped up a quick version using a simple “memory mechanic”. Simply placing the cards facedown would hide the NPC’s and enemies instead of using a map locations. For speed I also dropped the plot and weapon cards. You would simply layout all characters (face down) in a grid and draw a lead card. Then you would try to find the character described on the lead card in the grid. If you would reveal a different character, successfully interrogating that character would grant you to turn over another character card etc. Failing the interrogation would result in turning back ALL revealed characters. If you would find the character from your lead card and successfully interrogated it you would score the lead. When you would score your 3rd lead card you would win the game!
Strangely enough (as these things go) this super simple play-test version actually proved to be quite a fun game. Something definitely worth exploring in the future. And that is what these Designstorms are all about, just creating and seeing where it ends up. Sometimes at a totally different place you though you wanted to go, something taking the freedom to design can do!
I’d love to hear all about your designstorm’s and if you ever had a game design end up somewhere totally unexpected!