A week from now, I'll be in Denver at Heavy Con, where I plan to get as many people as possible to play This Guilty Land. In fact, my hope is that I won't be playing the game myself at all, but will just be on hand to teach it and to observe each match. I've played the game more than anyone else and I already know how it works (even if that doesn't necessarily mean that I know how to play it well). Especially given the game's more unusual features and its potential brittleness, it's important for me to see what it looks like when two completely new players approach the game. While I'll be able to answer questions, and will probably point out serious/obvious errors, I'm going to try not to interfere or to offer any advice, except at the beginning of the match, when I'll tell them to mind their Reserve.
Like many CDGs, each player has a "hand" of cards, though as we've discussed before, these exist face-up in the Events Display. These cards don't necessarily get played out every turn as happens in a typical CDG; you might be looking at the same hand of cards turn after turn, but with competent play you're going to see at least one if not both sides churning through the deck at a pretty good pace. (Like many things, it depends; there are game states and strategies where a player very much doesn't want to keep the deck moving.)
As is usually the case with CDGs, your hand of cards in some ways is going to dictate what you're able to do. This is a feature, not a bug, but because the players aren't playing out their hands every turn, it doesn't "even out" in the shuffle like it would in a typical CDG. I needed some way for players to mitigate this without making the cards fungible and without diminishing the tension/pressure that a bad hand's potential staying power created. There were two influences that led me to my solution.
The first was Charles Vasey's Unhappy King Charles! In that CDG, Ops are separate from Events - as they should be! - which would bring with it the problem of having a hand with no Ops cards. Mr. Vasey solved this by giving each side two Core Cards - these are Ops cards that are a permanent part of the player's hand every turn. This guarantees at least some activity on the part of the player, even when they get dealt a hand that is otherwise lousy. I liked the idea of having cards that were a permanent part of your repertoire.
The second influence came from deck-building games like Dominion and Eminent Domain. In case you've been living under the proverbial rock, these are games where you as the player customize the contents of your own deck of cards, tailoring it to your strategy and your needs. I thought that if I could take the Core Cards idea and meld it with the deck-building aspect, that it would not only give players tools with which to mitigate the luck of the draw, but it could introduce additional pressure and tension.
And thus, the Reserve, a separate "hand" of semi-permanent cards that you build over the course of the game. I might play a Public Opinion card from the Events Display, where it lets me flip some aligned Compromise markers to my faction's side, and then I can tuck that card into my Reserve. When played from the Reserve, it allows me to switch out my opponent's Compromise markers with my own. It also enables me to block the flipping or replacement of markers by my opponent. The card in my Reserve is flipped over, face-down, but will generally be flipped face-up at the end of the turn. Lower-value Public Opinion cards in the Reserve are better for growing my support, while higher-value ones are better for blocking. So which cards I tuck away matter.
The size of a player's Reserve depends on their Organizational Capacity, something which can be increased throughout the game. While Public Opinion cards are a useful and primary component, it helps to leave a slot free. Law cards that pass the House but not the Senate can be tucked away, and if played from the Reserve, you skip straight to the Senate stage. Violence cards that you don't want to play can't be discarded, but you can drop it into your Reserve, where it will stay for the remainder of the game.
Further, if you put too many Public Opinion cards in your Reserve, while you'll be able to block your opponent and swap out their Compromise markers, you'll have fewer and fewer cards in the deck with which to "seal the deal" and flip those Compromise markers to your own side, because only cards played from the Events Display can do that. If I have a huge reserve full of Public Opinion cards, there's a good chance that I'm going to run out of useful ways to use them.And that's why I intend to tell those players to mind their Reserve. It gives players the ability to build an ancillary hand of semi-permanent cards, but that also means that they have to live with that hand. It has outsized and long-term consequences, and it's possible to build a hand that backs you into a corner, with no one to blame but yourself.
“Ops are separate from Events – as they should be!”