Sunday, 11 February 2018

Act of Treason Design Journal - Part 3

Why aren’t there more Examinations in the game?
I’ve deliberately put many opportunities to gain Examination Blocking and few opportunities for players to examine other players in Act of Treason for very good reason. If too much information is given out as to the loyalty of the players then the mystery and tension of the game is stripped away. Players can narrow down the suspects and simply make a plan to win, eliminating those they need to - there is no more unknown - The fun gets sucked right out of the game almost instantly and the game becomes an accounting exercise to wrap up an who wins.

If you know too much, then Act of Treason is no longer a game of intrigue and deception, and the whole point of the game is lost. I’ve witnessed this effect many times during my early playtests, and because of this, I’d rather have too few examinations than too many. You need to keep the suspense of who is who right up until the very end of the game for the maximum fun.

As it currently stands. Act of Treason has a good balance. You won't get too many examinations to reveal too much, and it's highly likely you'll get one or two - enough to encourage suspicion, interaction, and added conflict.

Why are there lots of ways to get Examination Blocks?
Sort of the inverse question to the one above. Examination Blocks gives both the Heir and Traitors the ability to pick up these cards without being too suspicious - after all if there are so many it's tough to avoid them... right? This makes getting an Examination Block less suspicious.

Added to this, you don't want the game flooded with Examinations, as noted above. Players will have to adapt their examinations to the blocks that are currently in play - It just makes getting clear information that much more tricky, which is a plus. In my opinion, there definitely isn’t too many examination blocks. I’ve never seen full saturation of Examination Blocking - there’s always been at least one person at the table who can still be examined by the end of the game.

Depending on your loyalty, the trick is trying to get an examination block as inconspicuously as possible! At the very least you may want to try to stop others from getting them, or use the opportunity to throw suspicion on them if they do!

Why do players gain Examination Blocking if they Examine?
'Chaining' examinations is a very powerful strategy that has been used in previous editions of Act of Treason. What is 'chaining'? It’s when player A examines player B and then Player B examines Player C. By 'chaining' examinations in this manner you gain an extremely strong sense of who is who, to the point of sometimes actually knowing for certain. A can’t be lying unless C is on their team, and so forth, The larger the chain, the stronger the information. This is very bad for he game as mentioned in 'Why aren’t there more Examinations in the game?' The fun gets sucked right out if you know too much!

As an added negative, this gives examinations so much power that players were incentivised to get Examinations at any cost. Worse still, the strategy was only dominant for the loyals, and yet the Traitors would be forced to go along with it or risk exposing themselves as a Traitor! This created a terrible dominant strategy that removed all meaningful choices from the game and replaced them with "buying Examinations so that you can chain them".

Examination chaining was removed from the game early on. Now, Examinations are both scarce and they can never really be proven to be correct because 'chaining' has been removed. This keeps the mystery of the game going. In the current iteration of the game, players who examine others or who get examined gain examination blocking - this is what prevents examination chaining. I trailed this in a few games a while back and have never regretted my decision to add it to the game. This is a very good mechanic to have because it keeps distrust and intrigue going, and if anything it adds to it!

Why does the Steward get to reward a Court card if the Quest passes?
The Court is where players can go to purchase cards that give them additional powers and effects. A Court card must be purchased buy spending Knowledge. Since Knowledge is used to pass Quests, players will be lowering the chance of the passing the Quest that round, and potentially subsequent rounds.

This has mostly been covered in parts 1 and 2, but simply put, the Court is restricted to put a limit to the amount of damage that players can do when acquiring cards from court - knowledge spent on court card can't be used to pass Quests for instance. Likewise, allowing the Steward to reward any left over cards in Court is a nice free bonus that rewards players as a group for not just buying cards outright.

Without these mechanics in play, new players have a strong tendency to purchase cards without knowing why it’s the wrong time to buy, or what it means. Then some new players may blame the game rather than realise the fault was with them. With these mechanics in place as well as the tips in the rulebook, players are more likely to build up the understanding that buying without solid reason is the reason for their downfall, not the game or anything else.

Why are the Quests ordered?
This is highly related to the point above, and why it is recommended that advanced players play with the Quests unordered and randomised.

For beginning players, playing with ordered Quests is somewhat like playing with training wheels. In blind playtesting some players would leap into tactics that were quite destructive without realizing. This could lead to them blaming the game for their actions, not realizing that they were "playing the game wrong". Now as a designer I don't believe players can play a game wrong, so I needed to provide a clearer incentive and push for players to play in such a way  I covered this before with the social contract as discussed before.

I've found that using ordered Quests help to keep the kingdom nice and controlled in the early game, with some of the more dangerous cards coming out near the end game to help facilitate conflict. This guides players into the the social contract and tactics that keep the game on course. When the Quests are unordered, players will have to organise themselves to ensure that they stay on track and that Quest and the Court cards aren't misused by the other players.

Why do you have a Deception Phase?
I've played a lot of games both with and without a Deception Phase, and with many different groups. The consensus is that including the deception phase is more fun and allows for more tactics with your Traitor friend. That said you don't have to include it as stated in the rule book. Optional rules exist that allow you to play without it. In fact for the five player game it's mandatory that you play without it.  Both ways of playing are equally viable, and in my opinion.

Why do you not reveal Loyalties after a player dies?
This keeps the suspense of the game going until the very end of the game. As discussed above, revealing too much can take away the suspense, and locking down a players loyalty after they die so that they cannot be examined adds yet another factor into if killing them is a good idea.

Tune in next time for the following:
Why is the Quest phase before the Action Phase?
Why do you discard down to 4 Knowledge cards each round?
Why is the cost of Court cards variable?
Why is there a Town Watch?
Are the Court cards balanced?
It seems way too tough for the Traitors/Loyals to win Tribute/the game?
Why do you not reveal Loyalties after a player dies?

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Development Diary #9 - Less than 24 Hours to go

Hey Y’all,

Under 24 hours to go until Act of Treason launches on Kickstarter. It all just feels so surreal.

The Update

Let me take you through some of what I’ve been up:
  • Updating the Act of Treason website ( and prepping it for the Kickstarter launch. It’s mostly new art assets and concept images, but the biggest update was adding the rules for Act of Treason, which are all sitting online now at
  • Created a press release, and sent it around to various bloggers and board game related news sites.
  • Act of Treason is now up on Board Game Geek. If you've played it, feel free to create an account and post up your review.
  • The Kickstarter page has seen a ton of work and is looking very swish now. I’ve included a mixture of text and what I’ve been calling “long tiles”, which are basically just images. I call them long tiles because they are tiled down the page and are typically quite long. A fair bit of work went into Photoshop to make sure they all look good and they covered all the needed information.
  • I created my own company called Saffron Entertainment. It doesn’t have an identity of itself yet, or website, or anything really - right now it’s basically a holding company for Act of Treason, but it will be getting its own unique personality & all the frills sometime after the KS launch.
  • Prepared some blog posts to come out before and during the campaign. A recent one went up for those who are interested in learning more about me and my future projects. You can read it here. Also, expect posts to come up soon for both The Dominant Strategy as well as parts 3 and 4 of the Design Journal.
  • I created an Act of Treason video with some basic animation for the KS page. It's embedded below. It took me roughly three days out of a planned two. First was getting the VO right, cutting out the background noise proved both necessary and more difficult than I had anticipated. That was most of Day 1. Days 2 and 3 where on the visuals, first half and second half respectively. I had most planned out ahead of time, but winged a couple of parts when I arrived at them. I think it’s important to stay adaptable for situations like that - you can sometimes stumble upon an easier and/or better solution if you stay flexible and open to it.

Personal Stuff

So about two weeks ago, windows decided to push updates on me really hard, and so I decided to go ahead with them. The next thing after I boot back into windows - my screens are glitching out and artifacting, flashing gray for a frame or two. Thanks Windows update! I trouble shoot to try resolve it via updates etc, but it keeps happening. The graphics card is the likely culprit - Gigabyte GTX980Ti for the tech nerds out there who are interested. So I decided to take my graphics card out and clean it. That's when I notice that it's boiling hot. I'm beginning to suspect overheating.

Sure enough I clean the card to remove the dust and then when I plug it back in I find out the fans either aren't spinning, or are making weird noises when they do spin. Sure enough, shortly after plugging in the card the fan falls off and I'm getting the artifacts again. I jam a large fan next to the case for a while until I can get my hands on a replacement - it actually worked too! No more artifacts while I had that setup. The culprit fan must have not been spinning for a while, or something came loose with it? Who knows. All I know is that I'm down one boss graphics card. RIP.

My makeshift cooling setup

Now I'm running my brothers old card, about the same power as an Xbox360 gfx card. While I wait for gigabyte to examine the card under warranty. The timing is just great as you might imagine. Right as the Kickstarter campaign is about to begin. Oh well, could be worse. I mean I could have had my hard drive fail with all my Act of Treason stuff. Instead I just had my hard drive fail with all my old movies and TV shows. Yes, you read that right - one of my hard drives failed like a few days ago! Afterwards I Immediately rushed and backed up my entire Act of Treason folder. At least I can still work and all my files are alright. That's the main thing. It is genuinely painful to work on some of my files now however. Even slightly large Google Docs documents are laggy at times!

Okay Google

So when I first started prepping Act of Treason for Kickstarter, I knew I wanted to have a website dedicated to Act of Treason. One of the things that really got stuck in my craw was that my website wasn’t appearing on google unless you typed in something very specific like “Act of Treason board game” - even then I don't think it was top of the page. Back then, typing in just “Act of Treason” had my website on page 5 or something, which might as well been tantamount to it not existing.

I’m proud to announce that when I typed “Act of Treason” into google today I got the following:

3rd result, not bad! And when I type in “Act of Treason board game” the results are even better still! It just feels good to make progress on something like that, especially when it has mostly resolved itself.

Learning From Mistakes

I was going through the Kickstarter, typing up the "Risks and challenges" section. For the unfamiliar, this is an area that sits at the bottom of your Kickstarter page. It is for the project creator to explain: "The risks and challenges that come with completing your project, and how the project creator is qualified to overcome them."

A rather important section for some projects and for backers too. It helps set the stage for what could go wrong and should be used by the creator to honestly reflect on where they could become stuck, which allows the backers to make a informed decision about the level of risk they are willing to take on.

In typing up that section, it made me realize something: It’s all about trust.

Trust is a huge part of any business interaction. If you don’t trust whom you’re dealing with, it’s unlikely that you’ll give them any money in exchange for a good or service. Why? Because you can’t be sure of the level of quality you’ll get, or that you’ll get the product or service you asked for. Heck, you could potentially not get the product or service at all. Any number of things can go wrong in a business situation, and not having trust and confidence in whom you’re conducting business with means that you might not get the outcome you want. Trust means you're confident that you'll come out okay, even when things go wrong.

Now, with all that in mind, I need to come clean about something that has been buging me.

This was not a great promotion I ran. I’m going to peg this one up to me not being so great at marketing - but even then I should have known better! Some of the things I mention in my post when I first revealed this are just straight up wishful thinking. It just wasn’t very grounded of me. I’m going to unpack it a little here for you so you can learn from my mistake. 

Let's start with the reward of this promotion - doubling the marketing and art budgets. My rationale at the time makes some sense:

“I wanted a reward that didn't detract from the product and divert attention or effort elsewhere. I also wanted a reward that all backers could enjoy. A reward that would be fair to all backers. This reward is in line with my main concern - making the best game possible.”

While I stand by this rationale, the biggest issue with the reward is that it’s vague, and not very tangible or salable. What does "double the budget" actually mean? Having values such as an increase of $4,000 for both would have been much clearer and more transparent. But even then, that’s not a very salable reward. No one is going to get excited when you tell them that they should sign up to a mailing list because they then get to increase the numbers on somebody's else budget.

A better reward would be in line with all the rationale I laid out above, while at the same time being  more tangible, salable and clear. I would give you an example, but if I could do that I would have run a better promotion in the first place. Something like adding a new card or two into the game kind of works, but that comes with it's own cost. I for one am very dubious of any Kickstarter game when they do this - offer to increase the components or mechanics of the game as a stretch goal or bonus. I wonder, "why am I not getting the most complete/best product when the idea is already out there and tested?", and "Doesn't adding/removing that component upset the balance of the game?" Both fair questions.

Another smaller mistake, but a mistake none the less, is that I should have taken a different tact with the x3 mailing list “rule” worked into this promotion. I should have only applied a 1 for 1 across all social media accounts, OR only included the mailing list in the promotion. Having mailing list sign ups count for x3 followers is a confusing and convoluted message.

In marketing, I think you should treat everything that you do like you’re playing Chinese whispers - if it can be miscommunicated, it probably will. You should always aim for the clearest and most impactful message you can as this has the greatest distance - a convoluted message won’t travel very far. This is one reason that memes have the spread that they do. They are a short snappy highly shareable idea or message that provides some level of value - The messages you give out to the public should be almost like memes. Clear, short, snappy and valuable. If you can do that, then the message will share itself. In hindsight I should have gone with email signups only for a clearer message.

But by far the biggest error I made was the amount of followers needed for the promotion to be successful. 4,000!? Are you serious? In my defense, I figured that if they were to all be email sign ups which is what I was pushing for the real number is ~1,333. Added to this I already had quite a few signups which made the number of signups I needed less still. But having such a large number as the goal would have made me look like I was living in a dream world - and let's be honest, in some sense I was.

I did see an increase in the email signups at the start of the promotion. I want to thank my supporters for that, but I’m sure it’s much less than it would be had I included a sensible goal, focused purely on e-mail signups, and had a much clearer, salable, and tangible reward for hitting the goal. My bad.

As it turns out, after doing some more calculations and juggling the budget, you’ll be getting some of this reward for free anyway. I really want to see the final product have great art, even at the lowest possible funding goal. So the minimum Art budget for Act of Treason has been tweaked to just under double of what it was to ensure this. The marketing playbook has also had some rework to allow for easy scaling. I might not be doing more marketing spending, but I most certainly will if the advertising has good hit and conversion rates.

Please don’t make the same mistakes I did - focus on simplicity & clarity. Run your ideas past someone first who will be willing to challenge you.


That about covers it. I look forward to the post Kickstarter blog write up where I can break down what went right (or what went wrong).

See you on the other side.


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Myself and Future Projects

Hi all,

This is a space for me to shed some light on who I am, and some of the things I'm working on. I know that some of you will be interested in this information, and I think when using a service like Kickstarter, it's quite important.

When you choose to back a project on Kickstarter, you're not just giving money for the product (although, that is a big part of what you're doing). Your pledge has the potential to help encourage and finance future creative endeavors too! As such, It's always a good thing to know a bit about who you're backing, and I'm more than happy to share.

A Little About Me:

I've wanted to be a game designer since I was young. I love game theory and design and I believe my love of these topics stem from my logical and analytical personality. Understanding games in their totality appeals to me. I believe games can be a abstract representation of life - for example - playing team sports exposes us to fierce competition and how to handle it. It also teaches us cooperative team play, and how to work towards a common goal. These are both universal life skills.

I consider myself a creative and discerning individual. I am interested in philosophy, Truth, innovation and efficiency. My favorite movies are The Thing and The Hateful Eight. My favorite TV shows are Curb Your Enthusiasm and It's Always Sunny. My favorite pastimes are playing games, designing games, lifting weights, debates, and movies. In that order.

I am somewhat introverted, and prefer listening over talking (unless it's a topic like games or game design, in which case I can talk for hours and hours). Marketing and putting myself out there has never been my forte. It has been one of the roadblocks that has held me back on Act of Treason for so long. I hope Act of Treason is successful, but if it were to fail anywhere along the road to funding, I can almost guarantee it will be due to a lack of strong marketing.

I have squandered a number of my younger adult years as I was trying to find my place in the world, and my goal in life. For those who are in a similar predicament I can only suggest that you work towards aiming for something. The "what" is less important than the pursuit. Your goals and aspirations will change over time anyway, and working towards something will help you to understand if you want to continue down that path, alter your course slightly, or if the path no longer interests you. The words of Jordan B Peterson have helped me greatly and I strongly suggest listening to him on this topic.

Act of Treason:

It took me over 6 years to get Act of Treason to this point. My goal from the beginning was to create the best social deduction game that I could and hit all my design objectives. After a long 6 year journey, I am confident in my self assessment that I have attained this goal. Because of this, Act of Treason will have a great deal of support from myself after the Kickstarter. I will continue to promote and market Act of Treason as long as I'm seeing positive reviews and demand for it. Depending on the success of AoT, there will likely be an expansion.

I often get asked if the game would work well online or on the computer. Since Act of Treason is a predominantly social game, I feel it could work online, but that the best application of it would potentially be in VR, where players can get a bit more sense of their interactions with the other players. All of this is up in the air at the moment of course, but the main theme I want to express here is that I am definitely keen to keep going with Act of Treason after the Kickstarter is done.

I have little interest or inspiration for any other board games at this time. Act of Treason will likely be my first and last board game. But don't be alarmed, I have other great projects you may be interested in.

Blood and Guts (Working Title):

This will be the next major project I work on. It will be a vaguely Dungeons & Dragons inspired Pen and Paper Role Playing game. Set in a grim fantasy world with Lovecraftian elements. The theme/genre I'm aiming for is horror-heroic. Your character will be powerful, but at the same time the world is a brutal and threatening place, even for a hero.

I've always struggled to enjoy PnPRPG's. There's a lot of things I love about them, but at the same time there's quite a few things that can get in the way of the fun for me. For example, being restricted to certain character types and limited character choices, or having to deal with vast oceans of imbalance between one character and another. Even the imbalances within the same character options can be too much at times, and can ruin the experience for me.

Some of my design goals for this project are as follows:
  • Brutal and swift combat - A focus on rapid conflict resolution. No more combats that drag on.
  • Narrative focused - Mechanics encourage a rich and conflict filled narrative that don't detract from the story.
  • Balance and polish - A focus on balance and streamlining the game to only the most necessary of complexity. A highly polished presentation, and a game with all the quality of life improvements it can get.
  • Embrace the unknown - Magic and the occult is shrouded in mystery in BnG. Mechanics and incentives will be in place to help ensure that some aspects of the world stay this way. True horror and excitement comes from the unknown. Blood and Guts plans to fully capitalize on this fact.
  • Rewarding resourcefulness - BnG will emphasize barter, scavenging, and adaptation. No more getting to choose the best equipment from a list, or picking the optimum abilities. Blood and Guts is about making tough choices with what you have. Making the most of any given situation!
  • One step forwards, two steps back - You don't have an interesting narrative without conflict. BnG will have deliberate mechanics to really push you and your companions to your limits.
  • Risk and reward - This will be a central mechanic. Do you take the safer option for a skill check? Or do push your luck and increase your chance of success, while at the same time increase your chance of a critical failure? 
  • All rules will be officially available online in an easy to access, mobile friendly HTML format. A offline rulebook will be offered on completion of the ruleset.
As I develop this game no doubt there might be some drift in these goals, but I think this captures the essence of what I'm going for.

I'm still drafting the rules, but play tests will be starting soon.

The Dominant Strategy:

These are my articles that sit on this blog that cover all things game theory and game design related. I’ve loved the topic of game theory and design for a long time, and I’ve loved games for longer still. I’m glad that I can finally have a voice in this space, discussing what makes games good, and what makes games bad. I won’t be able to stick with a schedule for it, and my posts will likely be infrequent, but I will be writing articles when I can.

Each post will be considered a living document and will be subject to review and updating. There are a number of core articles I plan to tackle. Rather than quantity of posts, I will be aiming for quality, with sufficient critique, and self-reflection.  There are also a number of games I want to use as examples to highlight both some of the best and worst parts of games so that we may hopefully learn from them.

You can read my existing articles on the Dominant Strategy here.