Different kind of game — soliciting ideas

Hi folks!
Lately I've been doing less writing and more coding. Sometimes my brain's just in that mode. But I feel like I also need to work on something creative, so I've got something in the pipeline that might be able to make me money.

One of the things I was thinking about was a card game. Now, I know that's very different from a text adventure, but there's still the effort of balancing mechanics against story; making something that both plays right and feels right. And I thought maybe I could ask here, to see if any of the creative types want to help me out.

I'm thinking of a game based on the world of Inside the Box and Unboxed. There are a whole bunch of magical and weird items hidden around the world, any one of which could cause trouble if it fell into the wrong hands.

I'm thinking that there are some artifacts "in the wild" that the players need to capture, and some that they already have control of. It's mostly a case of matching types, but some cards will have special effects that come into play on one side or on both. Cards could be anything from a tent peg with the power to ground magical energy, to a genie's lamp; an experimental robot or a lucky pack of cards. The same kind of things that show up in Warehouse 13, to some extent.

So, I'm wondering if anyone out there has some interesting ideas for artifacts to go into the deck; or maybe some folks who can help me brainstorm the rules. For the most part I'll be relying on Adobe Stock for images, as I can't afford to hire an artist. But I think I should be able to do this.

Thanks; and sorry if I'm rambling a little.

I never heard of Inside the Box/Unboxed, but sounds like one of those urban-fantasy sub genres that deal with keeping supernatural stuff off the public's eyes, à la Sanctuary, or the SCP Foundation.

I do have some experience with card games (mostly TCGs/CCGs, to be fair), and i have enough understanding on how games should be created in order to be fun. I'd gladly help you via PM if you want to be more specific, but beware: i tend to have awsome, yet unfeasible ideas :P

Still, when you're talking about money... I think you know better than me about copyright of the "Box"-verse, but i want to point out that making online card games is a tricky thing to get cash out of. You either go f2p and hope you can nail the asian market with microtransactions, or... you get by just barely, if at all.

Yay, Zescian negativity. Because i can't just say i actually like your idea and you beat me on this concept.

I hadn't thought about playing online; and the need to monetise it would likely make that a pretty tough proposition.

I was more looking into the gard manufacturers who do POD sets. The prices are pretty reasonable now; upload the files, and get a percentage of the cost every time someone orders a copy of your game.

Eh, that could technically work, but i think the focus group for this kind of problem is rather low. (Read as: at the current point, non-existant.)

Seems like i understood your intentions wrong... i was thinking about a virtual CG, not a physical one (although my offer still stands). I didn't expected someone in a Textgame Forum to brainstorm for ideas for a physical game.

Interesting concept. How would this game be played?

Is it one player or multi-?

What would some of the non-artifact cards be like?

Random artifact ideas -- lightning in a bottle; an ever-mutating virus; Einstein's brain; ectoplasm from a famous ghost (Caesar, Macbeth's father, etc.); the source code for Quest 6.0 (j/k)

More ideas for artifacts -- religious artifacts like the Holy Grail, dust from the Ten Commandments a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, the DNA of Jesus, or the dream of Buddha; some of the "Holy Grails" of physics like an undiscovered element, or the Higgs boson, the graviton, dark energy, superstrings, an extra dimension, or maybe a quantum singularity; mythological artifacts like Excalibur or Lewis Carroll's vorpal sword, or Pandora's Box (a box within a box?), or maybe even Hope itself...

I'm getting a bit out there, I know.

I'm thinking this would be semi-cooperative multiplayer.

Each player has a team of custodians, attempting to recover and store these items away safely. The "winner" is the person who recovers most; but artifacts that aren't dealt with fast enough can lead to a catastrophe (in which case everyone loses).

One thing that bugs me about collaborative games is that there's usually two decks of cards: one for the players (useful stuff) and one for the non-player adversary (bad stuff). And I was thinking it would be interesting to have one where there's less of a distinction. Cards in the player's hand represent things you've heard rumours about, artifacts that are out there somewhere in the world. If you can pay the cost listed on the card (whatever form costs take) you can put it into play in your control. But there's a limit to how many cards you can hold in your hand, and at the end of your turn you have to discard any excess. Discarded artifacts don't just go away; they appear "in the wild".

Some artifacts will have a specific ability that triggers when they're in the wild. For example, the genie's lamp might cause you to draw an extra card every turn. Some cards might have an effect that helps you when you have them. For example, a crusader's holy armour might make you immune to the negative effects of 'occult' cards. Some artifacts might have both.
(Most common effects would be adding a point to the catastrophe meter, or giving a boost to whatever kind of stats are used for capturing a wild artifact.

The capture mechanics, I've got a few different ideas, but I suspect that whichever I go for, it would need a lot of fine tuning. Probably the simplest is to have a bunch of character cards for 'Custodians'; each custodian has a couple of stats (knowledge, brute force, quick thinking, persuasion), and an artifact needs certain values in order to capture it. But I'm worried that would either require quite a lot of icons, or would make the cards quite dense with text.

Another thought I'm less sure about is how to represent the boxes themselves. I'm thinking maybe they're a special kind of artifact; a White Box can't be captured, but if you meet its stat requirements you can open it and put other artifacts inside. Then you could say that each custodian can hold 2 artifacts at a time, after which they need to start putting them in boxes.

You could have different play modes:

  • Play for a certain length of time (highest score wins)
  • Play for a specified number of turns (highest score wins)
  • Avoid catastrophes until the draw pile runs out
  • Play until there are no wild artifacts in play (when the draw pile is exhausted, you stop drawing cards)
    (these last two could be made easier and less time-consuming by randomly taking about half the full deck, or similar)

I realise this is pretty vague so far; mostly just a set of ideas. I think once I've pinned them down a little more, it would still take a lot of playtesting to fine-tune the details.

In the books, there's a mention of 'Unusual Resources'; a dozen artifacts that are so powerful they must never be brought together. They were scattered around the world, and are the most carefully guarded items in the white boxes. Inside The Box includes a situation where one of them gets loose; a few others are mentioned, but the characters only have rumours about what or where they might be. Suggestions include the Holy Grail, a teleporter, an entity (maybe a demon, maybe a super-powerful AI sent back from an apocalyptic future) which spreads like a virus through electronic systems, a harp that confers kingship on anyone who plays it (rewriting history if necessary), and the original White Box (a glorified bag of holding that seemed like a great place to seal away dangerous artifacts until they learned about some of its quirks).
I have no idea if these things should show up in the game; but I'd suggest probably not.

Anyway, I'm rambling again, and I'm not sure if there's anything else I should have included. Thanks for reading :) And any help with the brainstorming would be much appreciated.

Eh, that actually sounds like a concrete plan to me. But keep in mind "semi-cooperative multiplayer" means the players spend more time messing up each others turn than actually forward the objective :P

Regarding playmodes: it is usual (and imho a good choice) that many players with a "catastrophe-meter" have some sort of "progression-o-metre" which should outrun the other one.

Considering game mechanics of discared stuff appearing in the wild and you wanting only one stack of cards... have you considered having only one stack ever? Which is recreated by shuffling the discarded things again? Many great games (Dominion, Not Alone, etc.) use this mechanic, because it recycles cards, and aloows for strategic planning without making the randomness of a shuffled pile void.

Given stats for custodians: i doubt having 4 stats is "to much icons". I can't think of any game that has less than two characteristics (excluding name) per card, most have around 4, and complex games go as far as 7 and more.

Boxes could, at the other hand, also be represented by randomized cards. And not every box can hold every artifact (no idea if this suits the story's canon though), which would spicy up the capturing. Players must act opportunistic, or invest resources in drawing more boxes, etc.

Yeah, just some feedback. Hit me up if you're feeling masochistic and want some cross-interaction ideas and/or wierd artifacts for boxes.

I've worked out a tentative skeleton playing structure for the game. It is by no means complete or set in stone. Please take it for what it's worth:

I. Optional Random Event (could be good or bad) is determined at beginning of round (round = all players have done their turn once).

II. Each player does their turn -
  A. Draw 1 card from the good stack (or 2 if 2 cards were played last turn (see henchmen, below)).

  B. Take 1 of these Actions -
    1) Play custodian.
    2) Play 2 henchmen (now idle by default).
      i) Can assign henchmen to guard custodian at no Action cost. Guarding henchmen cannot assist in Capturing artifacts until
      reassigned to be idle (again at no Action cost).
    3) Research - gain 20 research points (rps) per custodian played.
    4) Attempt to Reveal -
      i) % chance of success = rps expended.
        a) failure = nothing happens, but recover 25% rps back.
        b) success = 1 artifact in the wild Revealed to that player only.
    5) Attempt to Capture - must have custodian of same TYPE as revealed artifact (tech custodian can Capture tech artifact, etc.).
      i) % chance of success = (Capture skill of custodian + no. of idle henchmen sent) x 10.
        a) failure = nothing happens, but custodian's capture skill goes up +1 (experience).
        b) success = artifact goes to custodian.
        c) calculate no. of henchmen killed, both for failure or success.
    6) Move artifact from custodian to whitebox. Possible small resource cost.

    Custodians can have skills; using 1 counts as an Action -

    7) Spy - chance to Reveal 1 of another player's Revealed artifacts in the wild, to the spying player. This artifact can now be Captured by spying player if successful.
    8) Thief - attempts to Steal 1 artifact from opponent's custodian (but never from a whitebox); artifact goes to thief if successful.
    9) Assassin - can attempt to Kill 1 of opponent's custodians; carried artifact goes to assassin if successful. Can only be attempted once per game.
      i) guarding henchmen reduce chance of theft or custodian being assassinated.

  C. If no card played, discard 1 card.

  D. Rps go up +10 per idle custodian (custodians that acted this turn do not generate rps).

III. At end of round (all players did their turn), catastrometer goes up x amount.

I would say that each custodian can only hold 1 artifact; whiteboxes can hold unlimited.

EDIT: I started writing out some more details of my idea before I saw that post. I like what you've got there; and picking which bits I like most would probably include some elements from each.

I like the flow, but I think working with percentages might be a little unwieldy. If it was a computer game that would be fine; but my experience suggests players can get frustrated over arithmetic. I think if there are points, it's probably best to have a number of counters that you can count at a glance. I would have said that you could use a track with numbers on that you move a marker along; but we've been playing Nothing Personal here the last few weeks, and almost every game includes one or two instances of "Were you on 32 or 33 RP?" or "I lost count moving my marker".

My thought was that each player can have two custodian teams, and two investigation sites. If you have custodians in your starting hand, you can play them for free. If not you can take a pair of 'trainee custodian' cards which are kept separately (or maybe printed on the playmat if there is one). Investigation sites each start with a single face-down card in them.

One thing that came to my mind last night is having a die marked with the different type icons (tech, occult, etc). Artifacts might have an effect that triggers only if the right type is rolled.

Proposed turn sequence:

  1. Draw a card
  2. Add a custodian to any group from your hand
  3. Each team gets an (optional) "investigate" action
    • Pick a site. This doesn't have to be one of yours; sites aren't really owned by the player.
    • Turn one or two face-down cards from that site face-up. You choose before you revealthe first card.
    • If you wish, you may unreveal any other artifacts at the site which match the type of the revealed one
  4. Each team gets an (optional) "prepare" action
    • Play an artifact from your hand, if any member of the team has sufficient stats to unlock it
      • Example: If the purchase cost of an artifact is "Investigation 2, Force 3", you can play it as long as the team includes a custodian with investigation 2+, and a custodian with force 3+. The same custodian may satisfy both costs.
    • OR move custodians from this team to your other team; swap custodians between this team and your other team; and/or send a single custodian to another player's team
    • OR move the team to an investigation site (the team then can't do anything else until the start of their next prep phase, but they can be counted as part of any other team that attempts to deal with the same site)
    • OR access a white box
      • Roll the die and attempt to meet its "unlock requirements" in the same way as making a capture
        • You don't need to roll for boxes you own
      • If successful, put any number of the team's artifacts into the box, then draw artifacts at random from the box, then return any unwanted artifacts to the box, turn cards inside the box face-down, and shuffle.
        • If you carry on drawing once the team is already carrying a full complement of artifacts, you'll have to release the excess into the wild. This is generally a bad idea, but might be worth it if you're after something specific.
        • Some boxes are better organised, so will give you an option like revealing some of the box's cards before you choose.
  5. Each team gets an (optional) "capture" action
    • Pick a site to attempt
    • Roll the die. Any revealed artifacts at that site with the appropriate type activate their 'battle effects'. Cards with no battle effect will 'knock out' a random member of the team (so their stats don't count)
    • Capture any face-up artifacts that you meet the stat requirements for
      • Not sure if "capture cost" is usually higher or lower than "purchase cost"; or if they're the same but a purchase requires some kind of money
      • If some cards have activated, you can't capture other cards without capturing the active one(s) first
    • If one or more artifacts were captured, optionally reveal an extra card
  6. Roll the die. All face-up artifacts of that type trigger their background effects.
    • cards in the wild generate a catastrophe point if they don't have a specific background effect
  7. You may give one team an additional investigate, prepare, or capture action
  8. If you have more than 7 cards in your hand, choose some to discard.
    • custodians / white boxes might go into the wild, to the bottom of the deck, or be destroyed. Not sure yet.
    • other artifacts go into an investigation site.
      • When I was thinking about using a d6 for the main resolution mechanic, it was start with your left-hand investigation site and count d6 sites to the right, stopping if it passes a site without any face-up artifacts.
      • You can choose if the artifact goes face up (so you can see it) or face down (so that its effect doesn't kick in)
  9. If any of your sites has no artifacts in it, deal one face down from the deck (unless you're playing the "clear all sites" variant)

I think I'd say that a team can hold as many artifacts as members, or maybe +1. When team members are knocked out, the team can temporarily hold 1 extra artifact. If multiple team members are knocked out, or if some other event happens to change the members/artifacts in a team, you may have to discard some of their gear. If the team is at a site, discarded artifacts go into the same site; otherwise they're treated like cards discarded from your hand. If a wild card's effect causes a team to lose artifacts they're chosen at random, otherwise you can choose.

As cards can be sent to a site face down, there's a chance boxes and custodians could be sent there.

  • White boxes
    • A box in an active site is blocked by the other artifacts there; it acts like any other wild card
    • When a box is "captured", it forms a new site next to the one it was found in. Move half of the face-down cards at that site into the box, and add cards from the deck; the team may then access it immediately if they wish.
    • If a box is "purchased", it goes behind the team that bought it. If a team has multiple boxes, split the team so that they have one each (this means you can have more teams). Only one of the teams gets a capture phase this turn.
  • People: (they're not "custodians" until they're in a team)
    • A person in an active site is either a bystander, or someone who doesn't know what they're messing with.
      • A person whose type does not match any revealed artifact at that site can be used as part of the team when making a capture attempt, but can't satisfy all the costs of an artifact on their own.
      • A person who contributes to a capture has natural talent, and is recruited into the team
      • If all revealed artifacts are removed from a site, you can choose to 'rescue' or 'defeat' a person at that site; removing them from the game
      • A person left alone at a site with no revealed artifacts will meddle with forces they can't comprehend. They reveal face down cards until they find an artifact, and then draw one more face down card.
        • If a revealed card matches the person's type, they're probably a villain. They draw an extra face-down card.
        • If the revealed artifact is a white box, the person might be a non-allied custodian. Move the box to a new site as if it had been captured and then roll a die
          • If you roll the box's type, you can trust the custodian to deal with it. Person, box, and contents are removed from the game.
          • If you roll the person's type or the box matches their type, they're a villain. Reveal a card from the box, turn it back into an active site, and the revealed artifact's background effect triggers.
          • If the person's type, the box's type, and the dice roll are equal, you manage to recruit them. The person and their box become a new team.
    • I would say that it's silly to have a person locked inside a white box, but this happens at least once in the books
      • Such a person can be invited to join the team that released them.
      • If the team doesn't have a box yet, they can claim it.

I know that's a hell of a lot of bullet points; but I think most of them would be edge cases unlikely to come up. The kind of thing that shows up in a sidebar on the relevant page of the rules.

I'm not sure how many teams and sites each player should start with. That's a game balance issue that would have to be thrashed out through playtesting.

Possible alternate "purchase" mechanic: Custodians and/or boxes can generate coins. Maybe a box generates coins at the start of each turn equal to the number of artifacts in it, or some custodians have an income. Purchasing an artifact could then involve spending coins, either instead of or as well as the stat requirements.

Note... (Idea)
RP... do not use a token on a track.
Use RP tokens. (Like poker chips)
The total number of tokens= RP total...
When "used" move that number of tokens to the "use" area.
Could also have a few cards that are "Research breakthrough" cards that provide bonus RP points.

How do you earn/get/hire henchmen and custodian?

II. Each player does their turn -
A. Draw 1 card from the good stack (or 2 if 2 cards were played last turn (see henchmen, below)).
In most card games, the player will have ,usually, 5 cards in their hand and at the end of play, will draw to fill that amount.
Do you have a set number of cards in your hand, or are all cards played face up in front of you?

I could picture the game having different "sets" of cards:
Event: Draw an Event card, read the card to everyone, and do the event.
IE: "A lightning strike from a local storm has activated an artifact, draw 1 artifact card and apply it's effect imminently"
Some events could affect only the drawer... "An accident caused the release of one of your artifacts. Discard one at random."
(OR, an artifact is activated. Draw one at random and apply it's affect, then discard to an area at random.)
(OR, The card will affect a selected other player, or a random player. (each player will place an ID token in a box, and the player that drew the card will draw a token, and that player will receive the effect.))

Artifact: These are what you are trying to capture.

People: (If you can only hire henchmen and custodian this way.) Each person will have their own "values".
Each person could have a "hire cost"... if not hired, they return to the deck, maybe shuffled after each return.
(I guess this means you need some sort of money...)

Will the game be played "freeform"? Like Magic, the gathering? All cards placed in front of each player.
Or will there be a board that will have areas divided off to represent different types of areas?
IE: city, town, forest, ruins, underground...
The Artifact cards could be shuffled, and dealt evenly into each area. Then, as the player is search the area, they reveal 1 card per turn as they are trying to capture it. That way, an area could be "cleared" which could slow down the "Doom clock".

The problem with tokens is that you get people stopping to count them. Worse in a competitive game, because you get people wanting to know how many someone else has got, but with no easy way to conceal the fact that they're counting.

That's why I was hesitant to introduce coins; but I can see that there might be a use for them to make purchasing and capturing artifacts different. My compromise would be to make sure you're dealing with small numbers (cards generating 1 or 2 coins per turn, and costs in the range 1-5). Then the speed is back, because you can see how many you've got at a glance.

Event cards… not sure. Random events could be nice, but I wanted to avoid having multiple decks. Maybe there are event cards mixed in with the main deck, and they trigger as soon as they're revealed? I'm not sure if it's necessary, though. Something that's worth trying, but my instinct is that it adds complexity without a real benefit.

I think the core mechanic here is that players are drawing cards at a constant rate. If they can't use cards as fast as they're drawn, they end up having to let some cards out into the wild. So I'd have to say that drawing up to the maximum hand size doesn't fit with that. It's like the empty space in your hand is a valuable resource in itself, if that makes sense? Having fewer cards in your hand means you can cope with being forced to draw more before you overflow.

Playing with a board could add some interesting features. But as I was trying to hash out a system, I seem to have ended up with there being ways to add both more teams and more sites. I quite like the idea of having the 'world' of the game get larger as you discover more boxes. On the other hand, having spaces to place the cards on a board means that you can limit how large it's going to grow, and keep the table more organised. I could go either way with that.

Some ideas for negative artifact effects

  • Add a catastrophe point (default)
  • Stun a custodian
  • "Discard" a card
  • Draw a card
  • Everybody draws a card
  • Reveal (or hide) cards of a certain type
  • Send card(s) from a box back to the deck
  • Apply a stat penalty to some custodian(s)
  • Custodians of a particular type can't use a certain stat

Regarding the counting: For low values (e.g 3 or 4), there is a very elegant way to keep track of resources: Turning the card in 90° angles, so that the number of RP is revealed.

You could also use this to count the progress, and any RP that can't be spend right now are wasted. (Like in a certain obscure german-only Catan game.)

Dunno about artifacts knocking out random team members. Making it non-random (based on type of the artifact, probably knock out the member with the highest/lowest stat corrosponding to it?) would be less frustrating, imho.

Some more ideas for negative effects

  • Whenever a card is drawn, "discard" a card
  • Whenever a card is "discarded", draw one
  • Make a whole site inaccesible for a turn
  • Add more than one catastrophe point (for more dangerous thingies)
  • Lock somebody into a box
  • Every player swaps their hand with the player left/right to them
  • The next capture(s) require more of X stat
  • Next time the dice is rolled for effects, roll it twice
  • Each player must swap a random custodian with the other players

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