Passages & Plunder – Lost in the Dark

It’s been a while since I wrote here. It’s been much longer since I wrote about the game I was working on, Passages & Plunder. Years. The good news is that it’s close to being finished, and I’m opening it up for a public playtest. If that’s what you’re here for, skip to the State of the Game section, below. Otherwise, read the cautionary tale of how things can stall.

What is Passages & Plunder? The post linked above goes into some detail, but here’s the revelant bit: “…a game of exploration and greed. In it, players are in charge of a colony recently established in the newly discovered Underworld. Their task is to protect the colony, explore the dark tunnels and obtain as much treasure as they can. All the players lose if the colony gets overrun. But only the player who has brought back the most treasure will win!”

Almost Done

Ideas are easy. First 50% of the game can get cobbled together over a weekend. Then, through iteration and effort, you reach 80%. And then it gets really hard. I doubt this is a revelation to any game designer out there. I suspect that’s the stage where most projects that actually got started die.

That’s where I was when I wrote the first post, all the way back in 2013. Major mechanics were in place. Cards were written. The game was fully playable, with almost no issues as such. But it didn’t click. There was something missing, or maybe something was getting in the way. It felt clunky at times, and plain at others. I kept refining it, but not fixing it. As frustration grew, enthusiasm vaned. Apathy set in.

I stopped trying to playtest iterated versions: it didn’t feel right to ask my friends to play a game I knew was flawed, still, just as it was the last few times we played it. I kept meaning to finish it. Just… Not right now. I’d come up with other projects. Other fantasies. Hell, I started writing a novel. And I swear I’ll finish it. Eventually.

And so weeks turned into months, and months into years. My room was still cluttered with printed out cards. I’d still occasionally pick them up and flip through them. It’d feel almost unreal, like someone else had made them.

Then I became unemployed. This was seemingly the perfect time to work on the game, or any other projects I had. Instead, I settled on the vicious cycle of feeling guilty about not working on any of them so procrastinating for days. Guilt, procrastination, more guilt. Depression. A snug little hole. But that’s not what this post is about.

Every now and then, I’d return to the game. And one day I had a breakthrough – I came up with the sponsors (I’ll ramble about what they do and why they were needed in an upcoming post). I wish I could offer any insight on how I got the idea. It’s been germinating for ages, I’d considered and rejected similar approaches before. But this one seemed to work. I poked and prodded at the idea, it changed, grew, but didn’t break. And maybe, just maybe, if the idea worked so would the game.

This reinvigorated me. I redid the card layout, moving them all under a different program, something I’d been meaning to do for a long while. I settled on Squib, which was good… But maybe not really meant to do what I needed. I can’t escape the feeling I did unnatural things to it, but I got the cards I wanted, and that’s what counts. I even wrote down the updated rules. An excrutiating task, to push the ideas, a cloud of associated concepts, into the limiting, binding words. Clear, unambiguous, but still humanly readable phrases. The rulebook is something I’ll have to keep working on, no doubt.

This was the time I got Tabletop Simulator on Steam, and turned the game into a mod for it, a relatively painless process. A couple of games later, I refined the sponsors to their current state, and made other adjustments. And finally, I was happy with the way the game played. This is where you come in.

State of the Game

It’s nearly done! I don’t anticipate any major changes or new systems being added. Some wording still no doubt requires tightening, some values still need tweaking. The rulebook definitely needs work. And as you’ll immediately notice, graphic design isn’t my forte. There’s no art, either. But it’s functional. Do let me know if something was hard to read or understand.

You can download the print-and-play files here, or find the Tabletop Simulator mod here. The rulebook is here. Go, play the game. Please! Your feedback will be very valuable. And, hopefully, you’ll enjoy the experience.

Print-and-play

You are in for a lot of cutting. A cutting board, a utility knife and a metal ruler are recommended. I ended up getting a paper guillotine for the multiple prototypes I went through, but that’s probably overkill for most. There’s multiple files in the dropbox directory, to make updating them easier. Print everything as-is, without fitting it to the page. The decks are made for double-sided printing, flip on the short edge. Except I’ve had issues with one of the printers I’ve used, resulting in a pretty significant offset of the card backs. Not critical, but not great either – maybe do a test page first.

TTS mod

Barebones but, again, functional. You’ll probably want to “lock” the region tiles once you’ve placed them, otherwise placing an expedition card (or any other card for that matter) in their middle would cause them to resize and stack. You’ll probably also want each player to draw a hidden zone to keep their favor tokens in.

Questionnaire

If nothing else, please let me know you’ve played the game. At the end of the day, that’s why I made it. But if you’ve got an extra minute or three, here are a few questions for you.

  1. The most important one: did you have fun? Would you play it again?
  2. Which version did you try, PnP or the TTS mod? Any technical difficulties?
  3. How did the game end? How many players did you have and how long did it take?
  4. Were the rules unclear at any point? What did you have to double-check in the rulebook? Did you have to interpret or house rule anything?
  5. What’s the one thing you liked best about it?
  6. What’s the one thing you hated most?

2 thoughts on “Passages & Plunder – Lost in the Dark

  1. “The game was fully playable, with almost no issues as such. But it didn’t click. There was something missing, or maybe something was getting in the way. ” Describes every single game I have tried to design. I keep telling myself it won’t happen with the next one but … My theory is that people who do create Games Worth Playing somehow manage to come up with those two or three “special ingredients” (often quite novel or innovative mechanics) that make the game that way. For the life of me, I am unable to find those (or, when I do find one, I find its just recently been used in a published game).

    Will download your game – no promises about playing it!

    • I realise my method of “let it rattle around your skull for a few years” isn’t the best, but that’s all I have to offer :)

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