It was at this point that I started to really focus on perfecting the game.
The artwork was pretty well in hand with Scott working the cover:
And Margarita working the Key Card artwork:
I had whipped something up for the Rune Card Artwork (I do sometimes dabble in art):
Overall the game was starting to look stunning but that was when an avalanche of tweaks came in. As a designer there is an interesting point in your project when you couldn’t pay people enough to care and then all of a sudden everyone starts caring. And it is important to remember that all of the feedback you are receiving is because everyone wants to see the game succeed. But it is also difficult to remember that when you are being told that not changing the shirt color of a character from green to purple ruins the game. Okay, that was an extreme example, but I hope you take my point. And like I said, it is important to remember that everyone cares otherwise they wouldn’t bother saying anything.
So then I sought some help. Using the game crafter, I hired a couple of editors to walk through my rulebook forward and backward. After months of revision I had the rules down solid and the artwork well in hand. But there were still some outstanding issues. For one, some of the cards didn’t play well with eachother. The Vampire Key, for instance, was once designed when the game had paths (a la String Rails). This no longer worked that way. The Key of Ra also had a path rule. These rules had to be updated with the new key sharing mechanism in mind. Also, the iconography needed a bit more tidying up. It was no small task. Some icons were eliminated entirely so as to simplify gameplay. Others needed to be expanded upon.
Ultimately, the uniqueness of keys made it very difficult to read the key abilities upside down. And this was the beginning of the Dominion problem. Dominion is a deck builder game whereby players build engines out of their card decks. Each unique set of cards have their own varying effects. The card itself makes use of an extensive amount of text. My card were originally setup this way. Small paragraphs on each key. This worked well when there were 2 of you or 3 of you crowded around one side of the table. As the game ballooned to support 5 players this was unacceptable. The solution was to incorporate icons. Players, using the icons were able to reference cards from across the table using a personal crib sheet. This managed to solve the problem in the short term, but the problem again flared up as more unique key abilities were introduced. Ultimately, the key abilities needed to be trimmed to 12-16 unique icons. Anymore and I would lose new players. Any less and the game may become stale for veteran players. Not everyone was happy with this decision. Some of my developers fought hard to have text on the cards. In a few extreme examples the text was impossible to put on a card without making it 8 point or less (Chimera Key). The other contingent argued to keep the icons because they couldn’t read upside down. Ultimately I found that the icons made more sense. It would lead to a rough first few rounds, but any game with 12 or more icons usually do. It is part of learning the game. I call it the Dominion problem because the same is true of Dominion players. New players must familiarize themselves with each of the available cards. Unlocked is no different. A player must read through the available abilities for them to determine what cards are best for their strategy. Memorization of the icons simplifies the task in the future if and when new keys are added.
With that decision made, everything fell into place. The game design was done. The Artwork was done. The only thing left was Kickstarter preparation… And that as they say, is another story.