Home > board game design, playtesting > Lemuria & Puppet Masters

Lemuria & Puppet Masters

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve been hard at work getting Lemuria ready to send off, and I’ve also been smitten with a new board game idea: Puppet Masters.

Here’s a quote from the overview, a kind of statement of purpose:

In Puppet Masters, players enter a morally ambiguous world. In order to win the game, players will have to know when to play a straight game and when to side with the traitor, know when to bribe other players to get their way, and be on the alert for unexpected opportunities to make money. Even the straight and “honest” players, in order to win, must be willing to throw their weight around if they want to be successful.

In Puppet Masters, players determine who among them is the traitor as they go, doing “research” to narrow down the suspects. Inspired by the spy novels of Len Deighton and the movie No Way Out, it’s a cutthroat game of betrayal and deception for 3-5 players.

It’s definitely the nastiest and most brutal game I’ve ever worked on. I’ve subtitled it “Heart of Darkness.”

It’s not just that honest players are falsifying their research in an effort to frame someone else, it’s that they’re also bribing others to do the same. In this game, money talks, and everyone is looking out for their own best interests.

One way to think of it is a nuanced game of high-low poker where players are given a lot of information that can be interpreted at least two ways. It is, as one of my friends pointed out, a kind of cross between The Resistance and Tobago, with a bit of a deduction element thrown in.

Once the traitor has been determined, then the player who was running that agent has to try to escape. If he can make it to the helicopter, then he and any players who sold secrets to the enemy win; if he’s caught before he can get away, then it’s the players who never sold secrets who win. It’s not just a co-op, though, since in either case one player wins more than the others.

It’s a complicated game, and I’ve done most of the design work so far in my head. My wife has very kindly played it twice with me, pulling in both the ceramic chicken and the stone elephant to simulate players three and four, and this, I think, perhaps more than anything else, is a testament to her patient and giving nature. The first game was unplayable, but the second, though rough, went much better. I’d like to try it one more time at home, then take it on the road and give it a test with four actual players. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it works.

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  1. August 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Very cool. Spy themes have always interested me, though the only games I have which are close to a spy theme are Clue and Scotland Yard, neither of which really fit.

  2. August 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    This is the first game I’ve ever designed where I’m letting the theme drive a lot of my decisions. I want it to be as immersive as possible, where players really get into their role.

    I’ve playtested the game now with 4 and 5 actual players, and it has gone over really well both times. Everyone who has tried it has said (without any prompting on my part) that they want to play it again! :-)

    • August 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      To be honest, I love thematically driven games more than not. I’m worried that games are losing that these days.Look at old games like Survive and Scotland Yard, great games driven by theme.

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