Following the White Rabbit

Image by  Fabio Valle

Image by Fabio Valle

I had a short conversation with Grant Rodiek (@HyperboleGrant on Twitter of Hyperbole Games), designer of Cry Havoc about his thoughts on being an open book regarding his game designs and prototypes and he had some very interesting things to say. It was enough to remind me what I am doing with Tricorn Games, and why I was doing it.

I started Tricorn Games because I like board games, I like designing them, playing them, creating the artwork and the rules, and all the little bits that go with it. I like working with others, discussing games, designs, and creating art. I like being able to hold a finished product in my hands that started as a vague idea and seeing it come to fruition.

I didn't start Tricorn Games to make money (though sales help offset the costs of doing this as a hobby!). With four kids and a full time career, I do not have the time or inclination to invest myself in turning this company into a multi-national, and all the travel, and marketing, and financial investment that would entail. I only started it as a banner with which to collect the product of my creativity. But so far it has only showcased the finished face of the work that I've done, with all the detritus of the process hidden from view.

So I wanted to open things up, and show you what I am working on, and the process by which I work. Going forward I plan to do this more often, by giving you a view into the various projects I have on the go and what may be coming in the future.

Down the Rabbit Hole

In the midst of running my kickstarter for Go Fish Fitness in addition to working on a handful of other projects and ideas (more about those in another post), I had an idea pop into my brain.

It wasn't a complete idea, just a name and an image. I saw an old-fashioned hypodermic needle with a glass tube and brass fittings. The plunger was half-drawn and the chamber was partially filled with crimson. The name was "Gauge". I didn't know what it was, so I scribbled it down in my list of ideas and promptly went back to finishing off Go Fish Fitness.

Fast-forward by a month and a half to yesterday. The kickstarter is over, printing will commence next week, and I was busy putting together some artistic adjustments to revision-8 of "Project Refresh" (more info on this coming soon!) when my brain decided that it was ready to discuss Gauge in more detail.

From what I have heard from a number of writers whom I follow, this is something they experience now and then. Although they might have a deadline to meet, their brain latches upon an inspiration and won't let go until they've gotten whatever it is out of their system. The analogy has passed into cliche, but the sensation is very much like being Alice and tumbling down the rabbit hole, needing to see where it goes before you can wake up again. And so I was seized by the idea of what Gauge was and needed to work through it before I could go back to what I was doing.

Therefore, I present to you the rambling, unpolished idea that is:


Gauge is an asymmetric two-player card game duel between a disease and the researchers who are trying to contain, control, and cure it. The Disease player's goal is to start a plague by creating, strengthening, and mutating Outbreaks to collect plague tokens, while the Researcher player attempts to quell Outbreaks by accumulating and spending the correct resources to overcome them all before the plague tokens run out.

The core of the game's conflict revolves around the Outbreak stack, which the Researcher player is trying to exhaust and the Disease player is trying to bolster. The stack consists of 5-10 cards (depending on balance) with different values for 4 attributes that the Disease player orders before the game starts (for reference, these attributes are Infection, Pathogen, Symptom, and Virulence). The Researcher player must match or exceed the values of these 4 attributes by playing Stations, Units, and Events to overcome the Outbreak while the Disease player plays hidden Mutations to increase these attributes.

Outbreaks and any Mutations remain hidden from the Researcher player, although they can see how many Mutations the Disease player has played on an Outbreak, until one side or the other reveals a Patient-Zero. When a Patient-Zero appears, the Outbreak is revealed though any Mutations remain hidden. In addition to attribute values, Outbreak and Mutation cards may have Plague icons. Whenever the Disease player begins their turn, a number of Plague tokens are removed from the table equal to the number Plague icons currently displayed.

The Researcher may use their cards to investigate an Outbreak (potentially putting one or more of their units at risk) in order to research one or more attributes. When an attribute has been researched, all Mutations played that improve the researched attribute are revealed by the Disease player, and the Disease player may no longer add additional Mutations to that attribute for the duration of this Outbreak. Once all attributes are revealed, the Researcher player may cure it by accumulating enough attribute points to meet or exceed the total for each attribute. If they do so, the Outbreak, any Mutations played, and any units used to cure it are discarded.

However, the challenge posed to the Researcher is that they must commit resources to research an attribute, and doing so may reveal Mutations that possess Plague icons - hastening a potential Disease player victory. A Researcher may instead choose to attempt to cure an Outbreak before all attributes have been revealed. The Researcher commits however many resources they choose, reveals all hidden Mutations, and determines whether or not they succeed. If they do, then all is well and the Outbreak is cured. If they do not, they lose any units committed to the effort, and all attributes remain revealed.

The goal of this game is to create a race effect, where the Disease player is trying to play Mutations before they are revealed and inflict as much Plague as they can, while the Researcher is racing to cure Outbreaks before they become too powerful to contain against the trickle of Plague tokens leaving their reserve.


The idea I have for Gauge is that each player will play very differently. Each has their own goals and objectives (as described above), but the method by which they accumulate and play cards will also be very different.

Disease Player

The Disease player uses a deck-building mechanic in order to acquire and play Mutations and Events. The Disease player has a board of 5 Mutation cards that they may purchase and place into their discard pile as per the normal deck-building convention. However, when those Mutations are drawn into their hand, the Disease player may either choose to spend them in order to purchase more powerful Mutations from the board (again, as per a normal deckbuilder), OR may choose to place any Mutations from their hand face-down under the current Outbreak to strengthen it - with the limitation that they cannot strengthen an attribute that has already been researched. This creates a decision conflict for the Disease player as to when and how they invest in strengthening an Outbreak vs strengthening their deck - and by strengthening an Outbreak they are also culling powerful cards from being used later in the game.

Researcher Player

The Researcher player uses a mechanic much more in line with Magic: The Gathering. The Researcher player starts by selecting a fixed number of cards for their deck from a larger set of available cards (say - choose 60 cards out of 200 provided). These cards take the form of Stations, Units, and Events (one-time effects). Stations are played and tapped to provide either Finance, Research, Supply, or Travel resources (much like MtG) that are then spent to play units or events. These units and events are used to investigate and combat Outbreaks. If the Researcher runs out of cards in their deck, or Plague tokens on the table, they lose.

Next Steps

I've already created a nice list of cards and effects that I want to see in Gauge, my next step will be to construct a rough prototype to get a high-level feel for how the two factions play, and figure out a high-level balance in terms of pacing, deck sizes, token pool sizes, and number of Outbreaks. Once I have a general idea of how it works (and whether it works at all for that matter!) then will come card refinement, distribution tweaks, and all the smaller details that require extensive playtesting to understand whether or not they will work.

I hope this first Developer Blog post has been illuminating to you - I quite enjoyed writing it. I look forward to writing more in the future, as well as telling you all about Project Refresh!

Comments, ideas, and more are always welcome.

Time to break out the Sharpies!