Mary Russell

I am working on a game called The Vote. It is in some ways similar to This Guilty Land - the political will see-saw, the basic deck mechanics, the marker play - but takes as its subject voting rights throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. And in other ways it's quite different, because that subject itself is quite different.

This Guilty Land was always a story of systems failure. It tried to show how the structures that a modern society uses to solve problems, such as legislature and debate, compromise and civility, failed to resolve the most pressing moral issue of the antebellum period. Worse, those very same systems and structures protected the interests and "rights" of the persons perpetrating the dehumanizing evils of slavery. It is a game in which, in a very real sense, nothing happens - because nothing either player can do through those legal, polite systems and within the context of the game can actually resolve that conflict.

Certain features of the model were intended to emphasize obstruction and futility. For example, it can be very difficult to "churn" the deck to get the cards you need, and in some turns, there might be no new cards drawn at all, everything slowing to a bitter stalemate. Only about half the cards are typically seen in a given game, and those don't really function as beats in a narrative, but as brush strokes used to create a more impressionistic experience. Because there's unlikely to be an "arc" in a traditional sense, the game is built to end quickly.

But if that game was a story about systems failing, The Vote is largely the story about those same systems working - or rather, about how those systems can work, and also how they can be manipulated. In This Guilty Land, there is no way that you can achieve abolition through the framework of the game - it's always something that's going to come after, as a result of the war. But suffrage was achieved within that framework - it's not a story of failure, but rather one of triumph.

That means of necessity that the game needs to be less claustrophobic. The player who is working toward a more democratic society - garnering voting rights for women and non-whites, as well as democratizing the Senate - needs to feel like they have the tools and the time they need to pursue and, potentially, achieve those goals. At the same time, I don't want to give them so much time that their success becomes inevitable - one of the primary tensions in This Guilty Land which I felt made the game compelling is that the longer the game goes, the more likely it is that Justice will win, and the shorter the game, the more likely a victory for Oppression. Primarily the game ended due to the VP pool being exhausted, though it was also possible (if unlikely) for it to end when the deck ran out.

I feel that I need to maintain that within this new context, and this has been the fundamental Gordian knot that I've been pulling at for several months. The solution in retrospect was somewhat obvious: when the pro-suffrage player achieves something - for example, the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment - the game gets longer: more VP are added to the pool, and the deck is reshuffled. If the anti-suffrage player is really steamrollering over the opposition, it will end sooner - it's still a race in that sense, but it's a race where the finish line might be moved.  In TGL, Justice scored most of their points at the end of the game, while Oppression scored their points during each round. That's maintained here somewhat, in that the pro-suffrage player will score points for their board position when they reach those game-lengthening milestones.

Compared to TGL, it's much easier for the two sides to churn the deck. There are no Violence cards to muck up the works, and both players begin with an Org Capacity of 2. Further, they're more likely to get that Org Capacity up to three within the first two or three turns - there's a small number of "Antebellum cards" that come out before the rest of the deck, and there's an Org card for each player in that set. Veterans of TGL will recall that one's Org Capacity dictates whether or not new cards will be drawn, and that higher Org Capacities mean more card draws. There are even some cards that, if taken into your reserve, increase the number of cards drawn.

Which brings us to a key bit - the cards in your reserve, in addition to being used to react and take certain actions, also have passive effects that trigger when face-up. This doesn't quite turn it into an engine or tableau builder but does lean into "my this lets me do that" effect which is empowering and helps to underline a sense of achievement and progression. It also creates some interesting trade-offs. Unlike in This Guilty Land or even Optimates et Populares, in which Laws were implemented via tracks which score each turn, passing a Law in The Vote generally requires you to take that card into your Reserve. It will score points each turn, but it's taking up a slot in your engine.

Laws in The Vote come in a few different flavors: state laws, federal laws, and constitutional amendments. This is because the major accomplishments at the national level were first achieved locally. This makes specific Regions, and a player's presence there, much more important than was the case in the previous game. But again, this game isn't about banging your fist hopelessly against the wall, but rather punching through it. At the same time, I want that triumph to be tempered by the acknowledgment that the victories the pro-suffrage player might win are limited in nature. The suppression of the franchise, especially of black voters, is part of the game's story - the very tools of local organization and state autonomy used to achieve woman's suffrage were also used to maintain a racist stranglehold in the south. The civil rights movement that ended Jim Crow is just beyond the scope of the game, as is the recent resurgence of voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

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