A Little Bit of Bread and No Cheese – Version 4
Yet another play test. Yet more disappointments. And yet still the lure of temptation; there is a good game here, a good idea. It’s just a poor execution.
But let’s concentrate on the good points first.
The Event Cards were a new feature, and I think worked very well. I wrote them to bring a combination of medieval flavour and conflict to the game. I introduced them as I noticed that the players were more interested in the neighbourly disputes about broken fences, naughty pigs, mendicant friars, and pregnant daughters, than the details of running a medieval farm.
In the first round an event card had the Bailiff’s crops damaged by cows breaking down a communal fence after being scared by thunder and lightning. There was an interesting debate about who had to pay for this and a fair compromise was reached. Other incidents were:
- pigs breaking into a toft – a family’s garden and yard – and eating grain, this was the fault of the swineherd, one of the player’s teenage sons, who was too interested in sitting by the fire;
- one of the player’s daughters becoming pregnant and being spurned by her runaway teenage beau;
- a mendicant friar who begged food and all but one of the players gave him charity, and this player gained a reputation for being an ungodly skinflint.
This set the scene nicely for the game.
Week work and Shirking
Another new part of the game worked well. This is being the section where the Bailiff asked the players to give him two of their labour tokens, representing the “week work” that his tenants legally owed him. Most tenant farmers owed their Lord two to three days a week of work on his land as part of their feudal obligation. It was generally hated, and any excuse used to avoid it or shirk it.
After putting in their labour tokens the Bailiff literally had to walk away and then the players were able to remove tokens from the “week work” pile. This was done in full view of all the other players. A lively discussion was commenced resulting in all the players taking one of their tokens back. The Bailiff not a happy chap and I suspect he was going to fine the lot of them later. His immediate reaction was to force a “wet boon” work on the players which meant they owed him further work, though he had to give them food in return.
All this worked well.
Too much detail
What came next was the deployment of labour resources to the fields and the feeding of the animals. This is where the play test foundered on the old problem of too much detail. This was disappointing, to say the least. I did think I had simplified the game sufficiently to make it better. But I still had too much detail which was made worse by a very poorly designed game interface.
We discussed how to improve this.
All agreed that the early part of the game had a lot going for it. The conflict posed by the game was dynamic. Sometimes the disputes were between the peasant farmers, arguing over who should mend a fence; at times there were merely social pressures, and reputations at stake, sometimes there was conflict between the peasants and the repressive feudal system, represented by the Bailiff, and sometimes there was a tension between the players when they were not presenting a unified front to the Bailiff.
In game terms it is an different scenario from the other violent or political conflicts we often represent at CLWG. In a village your neighbour might be someone you need to help you later on. No one should stay angry with another. Alliances and oppositions will change very quickly. Reputation might be everything.
Some suggestions that were discussed.
- Remove as much of the complexity of the model as possible, leaving the players with only the decisions and their implications.
- Improve the design interface.
- Have cards rather than tables
- Have a central position for the village and the fields. Keep a player mat for their own cottagers and tofts.
- Reduce the level of detail in the families, by removing health and sickness rolls, and removing individuals entirely.
My next steps
I am certain I want to move this game to the game I glimpsed in the Event Cards and Week Work sections.
I know I must reduce the complexity. My worry here is that I don’t want a totally abstract game. I want to retain enough of the chrome that makes it feel like it is a game about a Medieval Village. And I want a game that puts the players’ skins in the game. They cannot retreat from their village. They cannot abandon their families. They need to farm to survive. I am at a loss how to get this level of jeopardy into a game and simplify game play sufficiently.
I am also thinking about introducing social status with the option to buy luxury food or goods.
As for the story telling aspect of the game, I might borrow from other games like “Until We Sink” a game that enables the players to create stories in a positive way that enables all to contribute.
Since writing the above I have been contacted by two of the players with further ideas and criticisms. This helps. If two people have thought about the game and gone to the trouble of writing to me… I must have done something more right, than I did wrong.