Playtesting went really well last night! In fact, it went much better that I expected!
In the first game the players did not purchase any relics and few intercession/sin cards. This concerned me, so in the second game I dropped the cost of these cards by 1 holy/unholy point. However, this created a situation where a player could run away with the game once they had control of all three souls in play (which seems to be a hard thing to do) and could purchase relics every turn while the other player was essentially shut out.
We changed the cost back for these card in the third game and the balance was excellent. The players were not purchasing relic and sin/intercession cards in the first game simply because they did not understand the advantages of doing so. And there are clearly advantages.
No one purchased single victory point cards, but the last game was determined by a single point, so if just two victory point cards were purchased the outcome would have been different. I think further playtesting will reveal that these cards can be an important element for the game.
Being able to draw a free intercession/sin card with two pair made for a really exciting and interesting dynamic and a few times a player had more than one hand with two pairs in a row on the same turn! This never created a runaway leader situation though, and to the contrary, it seems to be a path for getting out of a sticky situation by working to build a hand of two pairs.
Angel/devil cards are more difficult to gain then I thought they would be, but I'm not convinced this is a bad thing. They should be the most difficult thing to earn and when a player is able to earn one it brings with it a nice sense of accomplishment.
Order of play will be important, so I will need to include action order hint cards.
We also got a good sense of which special abilities were good and which were not so good, so I will be changing some of the card abilities for cards that did not make the grade, like Selaphiel's Thurible and a few others.
Now that I have a better sense of how gameplay actually unfolds, I can tweak card abilities to really accentuate the gameplay.
I am very excited about Battle For Souls after last night!
I have the first prototype copies in and the first few games of Battle For Souls have actually gone better than expected.
We did not see the "runaway leader" problem that I was worried about and in each game the winner was only ahead by 3 to 5 points.
I have updated some of the devil powers. Some of the text was just too much and caused some confusion, so I will be working on simplifying the cards as much as possible without "dumbing down" the game.
For example, Beelzebub has a completely new power that simply allows the player to draw up to 6 cards into their hand each turn instead of 5. This is simple, desirable and worked better. I am using tape on the face of the cards to make changes as we play test to see what works the best.
I have changed the card set rules and was happy with the set-building mechanic. It made for a lot of great decision points. Here are the new set-building rules. There are a lot of them, but shipping the game with a cheat sheet will alleviate any confusion for players until they memorize the rules.
Pair: Allows a player to take a victory point card for each pair played, but they must be placed in the player’s discard pile
TwoPair: Allows a player to take a Sin/Intercession card, draw up to a full hand and take another turn
Set of 3 different colors: Allows the player to add 1 holy/unholy point to a soul with a spiritual strength/mortal weakness of the same color as any one of the cards played
Set of 4 different colors: Allows the player to add 2 holy/unholy points to a soul with a spiritual strength/mortal weakness of the same color as any one of the cards played
Set of 5 different colors: Allows the player to add 3 holy/unholy points to a soul with a spiritual strength/mortal weakness of the same color as any one of the cards played
3 of a kind: Allows the player to add 3 holy/unholy points to a soul with a spiritual strength/mortal weakness of the same color
Full house (3 of a kind and 1 pair): Allows the player to add 3 holy/unholy points to a soul with a spiritual strength/mortal weakness of the same color as one of the cards played, AND/OR gain a free holy/unholy relic card
4 of a kind: Allows the player to add 4 holy/unholy points to a soul with a spiritual strength/mortal weakness of the same color, AND/OR gain a free holy/unholy relic card
5 of a kind: Allows the player to add 5 holy/unholy points to ANY soul, AND/OR gain a free holy/unholy relic card
Some of the above are new as we found that the Sin/Intercession and Relic cards were not being bought that often. Players went for souls and angels only, so the two pair and full house rewards were added to get these cards in the game more. I am looking forward to seeing how this works out. Another option is to lower the cost to buy the cards to pull them into the game more. Sets of different cards were the most prevailing, although we did see a bunch of 3 of a kind hands and a few full houses. But we did not really explore building our hands much, mostly players played what they could every turn, but discarding instead of playing may be a viable strategy to build better hands. We will see how this plays and maybe increase the rewards for 3 of a kind and above if the balance isn't there. We also found people did not buy victory point cards, but I am not convinced they won't be part of a solid strategy. The close nature of the games we played means that incorporating the purchase of victory points cards into a strategy could have resulted in a different winner. An interesting part of the game is that once you can get a single holy/unholy point on a soul it's easier to gain more points on that soul since there are more ways to add points than take them away. So any time the other side gets a point on a soul tensions rise to remove that point, or counter by getting a point on a remaining neutral soul. I have a thought that maybe we should make relic cards be what helps subtract points from the opposition? The mechanic does make for the feeling of a "battle" and fits the theme well. Also, when the other player does max out, or reap a soul, it did not seem to tilt the balance since when your opponent does this a new soul comes into play and you have first crack at it. Reap cards were also used to reset souls, which I though added a good balance mechanic. For example, if the soul draw favors your opponent because the colors needed match the angel/demon cards they have in play you can play reap to send the souls to purgatory and get fresh souls that you may have a better crack at. To eliminate a constant refreshing I incorporated a rule that to reap, the souls must have a minimum of 5 holy/unholy points in total in any combination. This seemed to work very well and I expect it will become a final rule. The game seemed complex to some and there was a lot to think about once a player got a bunch of angel/devil cards down, and will become even more complex when multiple relic cards are in play as well. There are just a lot of abilities to keep track of, and if the complexity turns out to be too much, or if it causes too much analysis paralysis I will need to work on simplifying the game. One thought is to completely remove special abilities from angel and devil cards. Their natural ability to move a matching color on a soul's track once per turn, and the 3 victory points they are worth may be quite enough. This would also make Sin/Intercession and relic cards more interesting. This is a main point of focus for me right now as play speed will be important. I hope to do some videos soon so you can see more of what it is like, please share!
Another option that players have in Battle For Souls is the purchase of Sin/Intercession cards. These cost 2 holy/unholy points and can be purchased after a player draws up to their 5 card limit. I am also considering allowing a free draw with some combination of cards (maybe a full house or 4 of a kind?).
There are two types of Sin/Temptation cards. The first type is worth 1 victory point, but the card also has a color that can be used to bring a player's hand to 6. These cards also have a special ability to add or subtract 2 holy/unholy points at the player's choice from multiple mortal weaknesses, heavenly virtues. A colored Sin/Intercession card can only be used on the current turn. In the case of the saints the cards are in synch with the spiritual path that each saint took in real life.
So for example, let's say my hand is two pair (orange and yellow) plus one green card and unfortunately, these colors do not match any of the souls in play. I can choose to pay 2 holy points for an Intercession card, which will add another card to my hand. If the card is St. Rita I would then have red in my hand as well. So for example, if one of the souls in play had the heavenly virtue of Patience I would play Rita with two different colors from my hand to gain one holy point on the red soul. I could then add 2 more holy points with Rita's special ability to this soul. These cards can only be played when drawn -- they are "use it, or lose it". After playing this hand Rita would have to be discarded to the player's private victory point pile to have the card's victory point counted at the end of the game, whether or not the card was used.
The second type of Sin/Intercession card is identified by its gray color, and these are not worth a victory point and cannot be used as a color to improve a player's hand. However, there is a trade off -- the player can choose to play the card's special ability immediately, or put it face up on their tableau for a future turn.
So gray Sin/Intercession cards can only be used once, but the player can hold onto it and play it on any turn they choose as opposed to the colored cards, which must be played on the same turn.
The two prototypes of Battle for Souls I ordered have finally been completed by the printer and have been shipped. Hopefully, I will get them before Wednesday so I can bring it to my game group for its first play test!
I think I will buy some small white label stickers, this way I can change card text directly on the cards as we play and discover issues.
Relics will add another layer of strategy for players of Battle For Souls. Each side will have a stack of 10 unholy/holy relics that they can purchase at random for the cost of 3 unholy/holy points.
Each relic acquired will be worth 2 victory points and will provide another special ability for the player. Once purchased, a relic card is placed face up on the player's tableau. A relic card can be played every turn for the rest of the game, but only one relic card per turn. So a choice must be made once multiple relics are in play.
In the case of the holy relic Selaphiel's Thurible, the power to add an extra holy point to any soul with the heavenly virtue of patience is dependent on the player having the angel Selaphiel in play. So while the card has two dependencies (angel and soul), if these are fulfilled, the card will make it difficult for darkness to capture a patient soul.
The unholy relic The Book Of Vices is limited to two uses per game that can be tracked with the "Uses" tracker that is on the face of the card.
This card allows the side of evil to draw three more temptation cards into their hand, greatly increasing the chance of having a good hand to play on the current turn. As with all unholy/holy relic cards, it is also worth 2 victory points.
The cost of 3 unholy/holy points to add a relic is significant, but the extra power and victory points will make them a viable strategy.
I will be very curious to see in playtesting whether people choose to go for relics when they have the points, or if they choose to keep risk on by passing up a relic on their way to gaining a new angel/devil card.
From a design perspective, the balance will need to be perfect to make either decision viable. My thought (and hope) is that players will get relics early in order to build up their arsenal to a point where new angel/devil cards are easier to acquire.
Barachiel is the Angel of Blessing and is usually depicted holding roses or a bread basket to represent the distribution of favors from heaven. He is one of the four ruling seraphim and is chief of the guardian angels.
His power in Battle For Souls is to magnify the blessings that a holy relic brings, or nullify the evil that an unholy relic can bring.
In cases like Barachiel, where an ability can be used only once per game I will not use a scoring track as it will be easy to track when a single use ability is used up. Once you use it, your opponent is not apt to forget.
Holy and Unholy relics are cards that can be purchased at random for the cost of 3 holy/unholy points and can be used for the remainder of the game once purchased. They are not as powerful as angel and devil cards, but their special abilities in addition to their value of 2 victory points will make them very tempting for player to incorportate. Owning Barachiel will make them even more appealing for the side of heaven to invest in. I'll be listing them here for your feedback!
Please keep letting me know what you think and please share the blog. Those who jump in will be helping to make Battle For Souls a great experience and you will be rewarded when we expand playtesting!
There are 7 archangel cards in Battle For Souls. Right now the plan is to have a player start with a single angel or devil card chosen at random. From there, players can earn another angel card by guiding a soul to sainthood.
This is the preliminary prototype card for Azrael, the angel of death (click to enlarge). Each angel card is worth 3 victory points and can add 1 holy point each turn to any soul that shares the same heavenly virtue color - in this case yellow as shown in the +1 circle in the top left of the card.
In addition, each angel has some special power they bring to the table. In some cases, the power is limited to certain amount of uses per game, as is the case with Azrael. If a card has limited uses a marker track is provided on the card to ensure no confusion about how many times a power has been used.
Angel and devil cards offer decent advantages, but where they can tip the balance of power too far, we limit them. I'm sure the power and number of uses for each will change as we playtest in order to get the balance just right.
In Azrael's case, the angel can reap a soul in play without a reap card. This will allow the player to score victory points by reaping souls that are neutral to holy, or Azrael can deny the devil a soul that he has been working on bringing to hell.
This is a pretty powerful card that is essentially worth 9 points. But even more, those who play the devil will hate this card as it will force them to spread unholy points evenly across souls as spending too many unholy points on one soul will just be lost to Azrael. If we find this is too powerful, we can reduce the purgatory power to only souls with a single unholy point, reduce the total number of uses, or remove the purgatory power all together.
A good chunk of gameplay in Battle For Souls will take place with Temptation and Virtue cards, which are drawn and played by the side of evil and good respectively.
Each player will have a deck that consists of 45 temptation/virtue cards -- 6 cards of 7 different colors that correspond to the 7 deadly sins, or 7 holy virtues, and 3 wild cards. In addition, each player will have 5 reaper cards in their deck, and 2 victory point cards for a total of 52 cards.
These cards will be shuffled and a 5 card hand drawn. We will have to see how it plays, but the idea is that holy/unholy points can be added to souls based on what you play from your hand.
3 cards all of a different color = 1 holy/unholy point added to any soul that has a heavenly virtue / mortal weakness in common with one of the colors played
4 cards all of a different color = 1 holy/unholy point added to any soul that has a heavenly virtue / mortal weakness in common with one of the colors played OR 1 holy/unholy point subtracted from any soul that has a heavenly virtue / mortal weakness in common with one of the colors played.
5 cards all of a different color = 2 holy/unholy points added to any soul that has a heavenly virtue / mortal weakness in common with one of the colors played
3 of a kind = 1 holy/unholy point added to any soul that has a heavenly virtue / mortal weakness of the same color
Full House = 1 holy/unholy point added to any soul that has a heavenly virtue / mortal weakness in common with one of the played colors OR 1 holy/unholy point subtracted from any soul that has a heavenly virtue / mortal weakness in common with one of the colors played
4 of a kind = 1 holy/unholy points added to any soul
5 of a kind = 2 holy/unholy points added to any soul AND a victory point card to your discard pile if you so choose
If you use cards on your turn you keep what is left in your hand and draw back up to 5 on your next turn.
A player may also discard any amount of cards if they cannot play, or choose not to.
In addition, a player can buy a victory point card at the end of their turn at the cost of 1 holy/unholy point from any soul they control. This victory point card must however, be placed on top of the player's deck, effectively reducing their next hand to 4 cards.
All cards including any victory point cards purchased or won, must be reshuffled once the deck is played through.
This is how will will begin playtesting anyway. I will update here once we see how it works out.
Something I am pretty excited about for Battle For Souls is the plethora of public domain art that fits the theme of the game perfectly. Masterworks of religious art will give a very special feel to the game that will also let it double as a religious art history class!
Goya, Bosch, Michelangelo, Raphael, Memling, Da Vinci -- the possibilities are endless. I am also contacting some classically trained artists who can fill in the gaps.
One concern is different copyright laws in different countries and although a painting made before 1923 is automatically in the public domain a photograph of the painting may have a copyright. Researching this will be difficult as I will need to have hi-res copyright free photos of the originals. An other option if I cannot confirm copyrights on images is to pay an artist to modify them, or even repaint them which will be cheaper than paying for all original artwork.
Art is something no game project should ever skimp on in my opinion, and so I am determined to make something stunning. Graphic design by Luis Francisco will also make a huge difference in the wow factor. If anyone has any experience or knowledge on using public domain images in games I would really love to hear from you!
In Battle For Souls players must choose the side of good or the side of evil.
The side of good has more power to protect and bless, while the side of evil has more power to exploit the mortal weaknesses of man.
Their are 7 princes of hell (or devils) in the game that can be used to help corrupt souls and drag them to hell for victory points. Each of these devils corresponds to one of the 7 deadly sins and is associated with a color.
Here they are:
ASMODEUS - LUST - PURPLE
BEELZEBUB - GLUTTONY - ORANGE
LEVIATHAN - ENVY - YELLOW
LUCIFER - PRIDE - WHITE
MAMMON - GREED - GREEN
SATAN - WRATH - RED
BELPHEGOR - SLOTH - BLUE
The colored +1 circle for each devil will award one unholy point to any soul with a mortal weakness of the same type/color in play of the devil's choosing. The soul must be unholy or neutral to use this point. The devil's +1 bonus cannot be used if the soul has even a single holy point. In addition, each devil has its own unique power as explained with the card text.
It will be important to get the balance right as angels and devils work to add holy and unholy points. I expect some tweaks as we playtest.
Each devil gained is worth 3 victory points as shown in the shield icon.
The 21 souls in the game all have a scoring track on the left had side of the card face.
Each of them has a mortal weakness that corresponds to one of the 7 deadly sins, and a heavenly virtue for one of the 7 virtues.
Each of these is represented by a different color. For example, the mortal weakness of lust is represented by purple, while the heavenly virtue of chastity is also represented by purple.
There will always be three souls in play in the center of the table that players battle over. When new souls are placed on the table a marker is set in the middle of the scoring track. The starting position is always the grey space representing the neutrality of the soul.
As holy points are added, the marker is moved up the track, as unholy points are added the marker is moved down the track. Depending on where the marker is when a soul dies determines whether the soul goes to heaven or hell, earning victory points for the side of good or evil respectively. Souls die when a reap card is played or when a special ability to reap is used.
Reap cards are drawn randomly and a player must decide if it is beneficial for them to reap the souls now, or wait for a later turn.
On each soul card track you will see a spiral four spaces up and four spaces down. This represents the amount of holiness or unholiness a soul must have to be taken to heaven or hell. If a soul is reaped while the holiness marker is in between these two spirals the soul is placed in purgatory, and neither side gets the points.
The very last spaces on the holiness track are a 7-pointed star and a 5-pointed pentagram. If a player on the side of good can get a holiness marker to the 7-pointed star the soul has reached sainthood and is taken immediately to heaven without dying (no reap needed). When this happens the player is also allowed to draw a new angel card at random and add it to his or her arsenal for the remainder of the game. If a player on the side of evil earns enough unholy points to reach the pentagram the soul goes straight to hell and the player is allowed to draw a new devil card.
When the reap card is played all three souls in play must be resolved based on where the holiness marker is on each. So each will either go to heaven, hell, or purgatory. Then, three new soul cards are put into play, each starting with the holiness marker on the gray space.
This battle over souls is the ultimate goal of the game and can be a real tug fest between the forces of good and evil. Right now I have rules on how holy and unholy points will be gained and playtesting will be starting soon. I will write down my ideas and playtest results here as we work to balance the game. Input is greatly appreciated!
Artwork is in the public domain:
"Laughing Model With A Cloth" by Albert Edelfelt - 1880
This blog is to provide information on a new card game I am developing called Battle For Souls.
In the game, 2 or 4 players will choose the side of heaven, or the side of hell.
Each side will battle for 21 souls, which are worth victory points. Players add holy or unholy points on the souls in play based on how they use temptation, virtue, sin, intercession, holy relic, unholy relic, angel and devil cards.
Earn enough holy points, and when the soul is reaped it goes to heaven, earning the side of good victory points. Earn enough unholy points, and when the soul is reaped it goes to hell, earning the side of evil victory points.
If a soul does not earn enough holy or unholy points and is reaped it goes to purgatory where its victory points are not counted.
Guiding a soul to complete purity or complete darkness before death and final judgment adds a new archangel or prince of hell to a player's arsenal. Each of the 7 archangels and 7 princes of hell have special abilities that will allow a player to gain souls more quickly, and each one gained adds additional victory points to your final tally.
Many strategic decisions impact play. Strategies include focusing on gaining more help from heaven or hell to increase your power, working to reap souls quickly from the start with little intervention from the angelic and demonic hordes, or balancing your play to ensure victory.
Sin, Intercession and Relic cards can be purchased for beneficial effects at the cost of holy and unholy points. These help to make for deep gameplay and excellent risk/reward scenarios. Invest in these cards to strengthen your position.
204 Battle For Souls initial prototype cards are complete and I will provide updates on the progress of the game here.
If Battle For Souls sounds interesting to you, please leave a comment. I will be providing free print and play versions of the game and sending out free physical prototypes at my expense to those who can commit to providing feedback. The goal is to make the game mechanics and balance rock solid before moving to graphic design.
Let me know if you are interested.
Artwork in the public domain:
"Portrait of Pontus Fürstenberg" by Ernst Josephson - 1883