edit: There is an updated prototype for the game that can be found here.
This past weekend, my wife, a couple friends from out of town, and I took a trip to Ypsilanti, Michigan, for U-Con. We had a great time, and we went out of our way to play some new games that we hadn’t played before. Some, like Smash-Up, were games that I was pretty sure we’d all enjoy (because, seriously, dinosaurs with lasers and ninjas fighting zombies and wizards is awesome), but I also made an effort to get us into a couple games in a genre I had played before, but my wife had not – social deduction and bluffing games. I had previously played Zombie in My Pocket and Panic Station, and we tried out The Resistance and Shadows Over Camelot. Long story short – the games were a hit. We own The Resistance, and Shadows Over Camelot is now on our “acquire” list. These games, however, got me thinking about design of similar games, and this, combined with a discussion of Love Letter‘s minimalist design, got me inspired on the drive home from work the next day. A couple hours of typing later, I had the first prototype of Bread and Circuses:
The theme was inspired by Alderac’s Tempest setting, in particular the storyline of Love Letter. I reasoned that if there was a power vacuum in the city, then the common people of the kingdom probably weren’t faring well, and the nobility would do the absolute least they could to placate the peasants so they wouldn’t be quite as revolting (cue History of the World Part I quoting here). One Roman satire reference later, and I had a theme.
The core mechanical concept was inspired largely by Zombie in My Pocket – the bluffing and negotiation involved in the fight/flee option is incredibly elegant, and adding an option to abstain from the choice gives an extra level of complexity, something else to bluff over, and a thematic twist – at least some nobles would just hold out for their own profit. Scoring, likewise, was theme-driven – supply and demand for the bread and circuses would lead to the person providing the scarcer resource getting a greater reward. The Riot cards were inspired by the “event” cards that appear in both Blood Bowl: Team Manager and the Star Wars Card Game (at least, the demo version I played at GenCon 2011). I added more than the five cards it took to end the game so that the players wouldn’t know which five Riots would show up during the course of the game.
What makes this game interesting from the perspective of my personal design experience is that I’m not sure if the core mechanic – bluffing and playing the Bread/Circus/Abstain card – has much room for modification; either it will work or it won’t. The Riots, I’m sure, could use improvement, and I’d like to add some sort of secret objective mechanic so that players have a motivation to sway the negotiation in a certain direction and have an extra way to gain Gold. The win condition may need tweaking as well to get the game length adjusted, but that’s what playtesting is for.
Feel free to download/print/play and let me know your thoughts!