Ahoy there! I sort of semi-mentioned Café Carnage in my last Friday blog, but since I’ve now had some time to think more about possible ways the game could be improved (as well as getting a few tabletop gaming friends to play it and see what they think), I’d like to document the results of playtesting of Café Carnage v2.0 and offer some thoughts about what changes could be made. These game dev blogs are primarily a vessel for me to screw around with ideas and develop concepts, but hopefully that’s interesting to you guys, too.
So, in that spirit: onwards!
So, essentially, Café Carnage is a party game. A light, card-based game with minor elements of strategy and push-your-luck but, at its base, it is a party game (albeit – at the moment – only a party that only four people are attending). The version of Café Carnage [v1.0] that Marco, Dickson and I developed as part of the Global Game Jam 2015 (#SotonGameJam) was a very simple, party-game for four players; stripped of some of the more fancy ideas that we came up with, in order to get a workable, fun game completed in the 48 hour time limit. To download the Print ‘n’ Play version of Café Carnage [v1.0], take a look at the link below:
Print and play files: Café Carnage – Global Game Jam 2015 game by Marco Caldarelli, Simon George and Dickson Chui // Ages: 8 and above, playtime: 15-30 minutes.
In its primitive state, it’s a short, no-brain, luck-pushing game that essentially boils down to picking the right time to run from your bill-paying responsibilities: basically, picking the right day (of five) to play your “Run!” card and hoping that none of the other players play theirs at the same time – it’s a slightly amplified version of the famous Unscrupulous Diner’s Dilemma. There’s some slight more complexity and decision-making as to when to pick the best time to run, but, in essence, there’s a fairly clear way to victory that sort of becomes obvious once you’ve played it more than once.
But that’s fine: Café Carnage is intended as a party game; one in which you quickly bash out a playthrough in 15-20 minutes, call your friends “bastards” and perhaps have a chuckle or two along the way (results may vary).
The difficult problem now lies in how to develop Café Carnage [v2.0] and take it one step further into a more robust, more interesting game. After last week’s jamming, I’d sort of identified three key areas that I wanted to develop further in Version 2.0:
- More players (5+)
- More player interaction
- More variation in the points/cost balance (and penalty for going over budget)
During #SotonGameJam, we only really tested and balanced Version One with 4 players. The idea of the game was, initially, to be a party game that could be played with a group of up to (say) 8 people who then debate over the bill; much like a large group meal IRL. The main logistical complication in adding more players lies in supplying sufficient number of cards such that, over the five rounds of the game, you’re not endlessly shuffling the discard piles and that there’s enough variety in the various dishes that diners can eat. Adding more players does, however, screw with the rules governing how diners can “Run!” from a meal and how only the ‘slowest’ diner (i.e. the player that consumed the most food that day and hence is the most out-of-shape) gets caught and all others escape without paying their bill – in a four-player game played over five rounds, the chances of 3+ players choosing to “Run!” at the same time is unlikely (in testing, rarely did more than two diners choose to “Run!” at the same time), but in a game with 6 or more players, you’re going to get multiple runners every round. How to ‘fix’ this such that one single diner doesn’t end up having to pay for 3-4 other meals (from successful escapees) is still an open question.
Regardless of any increase in players, a way of stimulating more interactions between the players is an important task. At present, players simply choose their three dishes (starter, main course, dessert) secretly from other players, and then the card showing what they choose to do when the bill arrives, before there is any engagement between the players in revealing what dishes they ate and revealing their chosen SHARE BILL/PAY SEPARATELY/RUN card. That there’s so much time spent simply doing your own thing means that there’s not only the potential for Analysis Paralysis (AP) to creep in, but also that the players are silent through this phase; which is not so fun. In Version One, what players choose to eat and choose to do when the bill arrives is in no way based on what anyone else is doing – you essentially do your own thing regardless of what other players might do, so you may as well be playing a solitaire game or playing against a droid. For Version Two, I’d love there to be more ways in which you can actually play against the other humans; be it by forcing engagement between players and revealing something about what everyone had to eat that day (perhaps, while everyone is eating their dessert, diners can choose to ‘grill’ [pun intended] a particular player about how much their starter or main course cost?), or more directly through bonus action cards or special powers that allow players to sabotage other diners’ meals.
One other thing that became apparent during the #SotonGameJam testing was that, even though Café Carnage Version One was incredibly well-balanced for four players (due, largely, to luck more than any tactical game design decisions), games would often end quite close in terms of the final scores of players. While this is not necessarily a massive issue, it does mean that games can be lost or won based on a single, minute decision (for example, choosing a one-star Starter dish rather than a three-star one); or worse, sheer luck. Furthermore, this also penalises heavily any player that is involved in an unsuccessful “Run!” attempt, because the requirement for them to pay for their own meal in addition to the meals of all other players who successfully escaped means that they’re near-guaranteed to end up way over their budget and heavily out of the running.
Aside from Version Two addressing the problem of multiple (3+) runners during a meal, it is fairly clear that a better cost/star ratio needs to be manufactured: in Version One, a one-star meal costs one ‘money’ (there’s no set currency for Café Carnage yet); a two-star meal costs two ‘money’; a three-star meal costs ‘three’ money, and so on. Because of this (and because any remaining budget at the end of the week contributes to Victory Points), points at the end of the game tend to vary between 35 (for winners) and 25 (for losers) – considering that players start with 30 ‘money’, this is not a huge variation (although not an unreasonable one).
There are some options for making this more interesting, and for elevating the tension as to whether the gluttonous diners successfully share the bill (thereby forcing other diners to share the burden of your expense): one is to modify the “exchange rate” between stars and ‘money’ – e.g. a one-star dish costs one ‘money’, but a two-star dish costs two ‘money’ and a three-star dish costs five ‘money’; but at the end of the game only stars count as Victory Points (not your remaining budget), but you lose Victory Points if you end up in debt at the end of the week. Alternatively, there’s the ‘Tastes’ variant that adds additional ways to earn stars/Victory Points as bonus value-for-money – each player is dealt a ‘character’ that appreciates certain types of food (e.g. Pepper Grylls likes her food to be vegetarian and/or healthy; Josh Rogan enjoys spicy foods, etc.), and bonus stars can be collected by choosing dishes that meet your diner’s requirements.
I don’t know what the solution is to this problem yet, but it’s good to have ideas.
Anyway, last Sunday, I gathered a bunch of my gaming friends ‘round my place to give Café Carnage a few rounds (with differing variants) to bash out some new ideas and brainstorm. I’m still thinking about the findings and feedback of that endeavour so I’ll leave those thinkings to the next post; but suffice to say that, after playtesting, I would like to add the following goals to the initial three that I laid out earlier in this post:
- Less downtime/AP/potential for decision-making (and less shuffling time)
- Action cards and during-dinner hijinks (e. stuff happening between courses)
- Physical money (instead of a money-track)
So yeah, there you have the basis for Café Carnage Version Two. I’m still working hard on thoughts for Penny Black and my binary game, Bit Pattern, but I’m fairly pleased with the progress with “café game” as well 😀 Until next time, then. Godspeed!