I now have a few playtests of Channel A under my belt, and I’ve made a few refinements. The biggest and quickest of these was letting the Producer draw a hand of 5 Premise Cards and pick two. After that, I’ve got a lot of things where I have a ton of options and it’s hard to discern which is the best.
One rather interesting thing I found out recently was the story of The Big Idea, a game originally from Cheapass Games that Funforge later re-released. Not unlike Channel A, a major part of the game is putting cards with words together to make something, in the case of TBI a silly invention. I’d played the Cheapass Games version with my brother-in-law (the one who has a wall of board games), and I hadn’t known that the newer version, along with non-cheapass production values, simplified the rules considerably. The game originally had an “investment” phase where players put currency towards different inventions, rolled dice, and got dividends if the investment/die roll worked out. The new version cuts out the investment phase entirely, making it into even more of a party game. (Is there a term specifically for card/board games that revolve around using the components to springboard into saying stuff?) It has an extra set of scoring cards, so that each player has blank cards and a medal card to hand out, face down, and that’s the extent of the evaluation/scoring mechanism.
The article also mentions that Apples to Apples was more complex before its publication, and I think that’s a good lesson to take working on this game. It’s easy and tempting to add more complexity to Channel A, say a thing where you see how your series fares on TV, but I’m increasingly sure that what I need to do is refine the core of the gameplay I already have. Aside from expanding and refining the decks, the big thing I’m considering is whether to stick with the Producer setup or make what I currently have as the “Anime by Committee” variant rule (which coincidentally is closer to The Big Idea) into the default. I made a set of Voting Cards to try out the TBI method, though on paper it strikes me as a little cumbersome. I’ve updated the rules with that and some other ideas, and there’s a PDF below. I have entirely too many ideas for new Title Cards and Premise Cards, but I’ll get into that stuff later.
Update: I made a Channel A page and posted up another revised set.
My friend Suichi made a rather interesting observation about me as a designer, which is that where he thinks in terms of numbers and hard mechanics, I tend to think more in terms of the human interactions and how they shape the game. It’s why I came up with a game like Channel A where he never would have. I think I play RPGs for the interaction and in-the-moment creativity as given a springboard by the rules, which goes a long way towards explaining why the card games I really like, and the one I’m designing, are basically just vehicles for that.
Last week I got together with some friends for what turned out to be an afternoon of board gaming. We played Cards Against Humanity, playtested Channel A, and then played 7 Wonders. It was really, really strange playing a Euro board game on the heels of CAH and CA, since we went from “Make an anime about vampires racing!” to “So I need to spend 2 Gold to buy lumber from Aaron.” It was very much the polar opposite, a thoroughly mechanistic if incredibly well-designed game, and in the Ewen/Suichi dichotomy definitely more of a Suichi type game.
There’s also the possibility of later reskinning the game to have it be for video games or American cartoons, though I don’t know of anything with titles quite as over the top as anime.