Mary Russell

I had a problem: the players in my highly-interactive game weren't interacting.

The Vote tasks one player (Equality) with agitating for a more democratic American society, while their opponent (Supremacy) has to fight them tooth and nail. Equality tries to build popular support, Supremacy tries to confuse the issue with the usual bad faith arguments and calls for unreciprocated civility. Equality tries to garner enough votes for change, Supremacy suppresses them. Equality gets laws passed, Supremacy gets them overturned.

And of course while Supremacy is trying to prevent Equality from pursuing their victory, they're trying to rack up points by maintaining and using power. As originally envisioned, they did this by placing two kinds of cards into their Reserve (a kind of semi-permanent hand that features in both The Vote and its predecessor This Guilty Land): Suppression and Federal Laws. Suppression cards were added via a simple action, while the Federal Laws would also require the permanent discard of a Public Opinion card from the Reserve (much like "persuading the Senate" in TGL).

Suppression cards can be flipped face-down to suppress votes when Equality tries to pass state laws or ratify amendments, but if they're face-up at the end of the turn they'll score a victory point. So the idea is that Equality has an added incentive to push hard for local laws, to force Supremacy to flip the card(s) and forgo the victory points.

Federal Laws, on the other hand, didn't do anything except score points. The only way Equality could stop them from scoring was to pass laws that repealed them, and this was an essential feature of the late game. The arc of the thing was "Equality fights for power, and then uses that power to put some things right". (Not all things - the game was to end just before the Civil Rights era, with the continued existence of Jim Crow and segregation serving as a potent reminder of the failures of a democratized America to address injustice - but some things.) To help tell that story, the various laws that Equality would pass, such as the Magnuson Act, would be introduced into the game near the end via a special "Epilogue Deck".

The problem is that the Epilogue Deck didn't work. Once Equality wrested power from Supremacy, the game quickly became anticlimactic - spending time on them actually exercising that power just felt like going through the motions. It just stopped the game dead. It didn't take me long to realize that it needed to go. And since the Federal Laws that Supremacy passed weren't going to get repealed, it didn't make any sense to keep them around, either. Which meant that instead of having two cards that scored for them, they had one - the Suppression cards.

The problem is that Supremacy players started treating them essentially as Federal Law cards - that is, as cards that are only good for scoring points. They stopped using them to Suppress votes - stopped trying to block Equality altogether. Like Bartleby the scrivener, they preferred not to. Instead, they just worked to maximize the number of Suppression cards they had in Reserve and hoped to run out the clock before Equality could get their ground game going. Even worse, it was working.

This, in turn, threw off other things. One of the other ways Supremacy can Suppress votes is through use of Region cards (which can also be used to block Public Opinion actions). The idea being that you'd have this alternate way to interfere with Equality (albeit in a specific named Region) in order to keep one of your Suppression cards face-up to score. But if you leave Equality alone and never interfere, there's no reason to keep a Region card in your Reserve; that's a valuable slot that a scoring Suppression card can utilize. Cards that are flipped face-down are generally only flipped face-up again ("refreshed") when there is also a face-up Public Opinion card in your Reserve. The idea being that Supremacy would need to find the right combination of Suppression, Region, and Public Opinion cards, and would need to make the right decisions about when and how to use them. But, again, if you never flip any of the cards face-down, you don't really need to worry about flipping them face-up again, do you? The whole thing broke down.

I started by making the cards harder to get into your Reserve - like the old Federal Laws, they'd now require a Public Opinion discard, and hey, how about they enter your Reserve face-down, so you'll need to have another Public Opinion card to refresh it. (There are a couple of other ways to refresh your Reserve, but you get the idea.) That went a long way toward slowing down that "strategy", but it didn't fix the underlying problem. The Supremacy player could still just sock away those Suppression cards and refuse to do anything with them other than score points. Historically, thematically, ludically, the thing would fall flat.

So at this point, I'm getting frustrated, and so, as usual, I set the thing aside and start working on something else, and in this case, that something else happened to be a couple of scenarios for Table Battles. And one of the core things about Table Battles is that when it's not your turn, you don't really get to choose whether or not to react, only how you will react, and when it is your turn, you are also choosing which of your opponent's reactions you want to trigger, and where you want to feint so as to make your "real" attack on a subsequent turn. Mandatory reactions are the thing that people who don't understand Table Battles hate about it, and also the thing that makes it work. And it occurred to me that it might also make The Vote work.

When Equality tries to pass a local law or ratify an amendment, if Supremacy can prevent it from passing, they must prevent it from doing so - they are forced to flip Suppression and/or Region cards as appropriate. Within that framework, they have tactical choices - which ones to flip, in which order, matter. On a strategic level, suddenly those Region cards look a lot more valuable - I would much rather block with that so I can still score with my Suppression card - as do those Public Opinion cards to refresh my reserve. Maybe I might even lean more heavily on Public Opinion card to stop Equality from getting enough support to try and pass the laws in the first place. Or maybe I'm going to go heavy on a deck-thinning strategy - every time the deck is exhausted, I'm going to score some extra points and my Reserve gets refreshed, so if I can bleed the deck dry, I can keep refreshing them every turn. Meanwhile, by forcing my reactions, Equality is directly interfering with my scoring, and may need to push for initiatives that fail at first in order to build the support they need to pass in the future.

Ironically, by making this specific interaction mandatory, it opens up the strategic and tactical space, creating more interesting and historically appropriate play patterns for both players.

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