Unlocked – The Mechanical Mansion (part 2)

Previously I had discussed how the original idea came to be. In this part I will discuss the artwork, the playtesting, the development, and then what happened.

The artwork was fairly tragic for the first iteration. It was a first draft and I was honestly more interested in the game play rather than the artwork anyway. I took a thick line and dashed it through each cards artwork. Then I photoshopped abstract alien fonts (arguably one of my favorite abstract fonts). With that, I gave them 5 different colors: Green, Yellow, Silver, Red, and Blue.

The objective was simple: try to get points. There would be several keys out in the center of the table. Players would race to build their key as quickly as possible. To do this you’d have to build your key from the base of the key to the end using pieces of the key (bittings). The keys in the center of the table would indicate what shapes and in what order the keys needed to be. They also indicated how many points they are worth. A bonus would be granted doubling your points if you could build the entire key using one color (silver color was a wildcard color). So a player would build a key using red and silver and still acquire the double points. There were also special cards where a player would secretly place a ‘0 point card’ under the key and reduce the value of the card to zero. There was also a +5 card that could be added under a key to make the value of the key a little bit more. There was a steal a bitting card as well that would allow you to steal a card from another player’s hand or their keys they were working on.

All in all it actually played fairly well. There were some balance issues as players needed to start their key with a key handle. And of course key handles were dispersed randomly through the deck. But all in all it kept players on the edge of their seats. The game only played up to 4 players smoothly. 5 players ultimately lead to one player being shut out the whole game, unable to obtain a handle or multiple players struggling to acquire the same bittings.

And so the development of the game began. Immediately I noticed that the key handle was a problem. Some players would struggle with not being able to even start a key. They would hold onto the bittings necessary for other players to build a key as well which exacerbated the problem. As such, I changed a couple of rules and added a card. For starters, I added a new card that would allow a player to discard X amount of cards from their hand to draw up that many cards. Ultimately it would allow them to get through the deck quicker in the hopes that it would allow them to stumble upon a key handle faster. In further playtesting this worked rarely. Ultimately it was the player who already had key handles who would then use this to steam roll the other players, picking up points faster than before. I had successfully kingmade winners. This was nixed in subsequent games (and then brought back in). The other two methods I attempted to employ were that players could draw from the discard pile and that handles could be discarded so as to draw 3 cards. This would allow some players to discard their handles and get a bonus of more cards. Then players who were waiting on handles would draw up the handle discarded. Unfortunately, savvy players saw a way to continue to block their opponents by discarding one of the bogus cards onto the discard pile after they discarded the handle. Then I changed the rule so that the handle needed to be given to a player who currently wasn’t showing a handle. This worked moderately but nobody liked it. Players receiving the handle felt like they didn’t earn it and players that gave it often just didn’t. They saw that shutting people out was a far better strategy than getting a mere 3 cards. To their point, they were right. Why would a soldier give an enemy a gun if it gave them 3 more bullets? A dramatic change was necessary to end this escapade…

At the same time, I was looking to improve my artwork. I tried doing some hand sketches. I tried looking for vector shapes. I tried hiring artists. None of these were quite striking enough. At the time I was hoping for a victorian steam punk theme. Sprockets adorning the keys and the like. But the Steampunk theme was non-sensical and being overdone with bad games. It was time to move on… and so I did.

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Board Game Designer. Board Game Reviewer. Award winning Brewer & Oenologist. Purveyor of Nerdery and Shenanigans.

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