Mary Russell

I wanted to take a moment to talk about three games that impacted the development of This Guilty Land in a subconscious way. That is, when I was designing the game, I don't think I ever thought of these games specifically, at least not for these reasons, and I wasn't aware of borrowing from them directly, but in retrospect I can look at elements of the design, and look at those other games, and say, "Oh, so that's where I got that from."

The first game is Washington's War, designed by Mark Herman. I know what you're thinking; they're both card-driven games, so that must be the common element. But the card play in This Guilty Land works quite a bit differently than in most CDGs - for one thing, cards in my game are "generic" within their given type, and don't function as "event cards" in the way that people typically expect.

Rather, the aspect of Washington's War (and, I'd imagine, in the original version, We the People) that I can see most clearly in my own design is the way it models the struggle for hearts and minds. As more and more PC markers get placed in a colony, people in the middle choose one side or the other. The majority opinion attains a kind of momentum or critical mass, isolating and removing the other side's PC markers. Once the enemy has a stranglehold in a colony, it's almost impossible to flip it - opinion has been radicalized.

The marker play in This Guilty Land is entirely about shifting people in the middle away from your opponent and toward your side's ethos. But there's nothing you can do - at least not through a Public Opinion action - to flip one of your opponent's fully-committed markers to its Compromise side; you're not going to convince them. (They can, however, be scared into moderation through violence, new legal restrictions, and radical shifts in party platforms.) As a result, as the game progresses there are fewer and fewer markers in play, and the board situation becomes more solidified and less flexible.

The second game is Brian Train's design The Little War, which we had the pleasure of publishing last year. That design utilized an ordinary deck of playing cards, and each turn, six cards are drawn off the top, with one player getting all the red cards (hearts and diamonds), and one player getting all the black cards (spades and clubs). Because of the vagaries of the shuffle, you can end up with each player getting three cards on a turn, or a four-two split, or a five-one split, or a six-zero split. But that just means that the disadvantaged side is likely to draw more cards on the next turn.

If this sounds familiar, it's because This Guilty Land has a similar approach to its deck: you draw cards one at a time and give them to the indicated side. Here you draw cards until each side has at least as many as their Organizational Capacity, so you're going to get some number of cards. A big draw for one side is also less likely to mean a future big draw for the other, so it's a very different dynamic than in Brian's design. But it wasn't until I had The Little War on the table again recently that I noticed the similarities. And, like This Guilty Land, each player's "hand" of cards is essentially public information, since you have to look at the cards while drawing them to determine who gets what.

The third game was less of an inspiration mechanically-speaking, and that was Cole Wehrle's An Infamous Traffic. Simply put, Traffic inspired a lot of thought on my part about how historical games engage with their subject matter, and it was in grappling with those ideas that I started to convince myself that I should try to tackle something as difficult and as serious as this project.

1 comment

  • The more I hear about this interesting game, the more I want it!
    And that was even before learning that my work influenced yours, Tom – I’m touched.
    And Cole is a fount of ideas and concepts.
    I like your comments about polarization and less flexibility as the game goes on… a good illustration.

    Brian Train

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