A few months back, I had lunch with my brother. We do a fair amount of lifehackery to keep each other focused on getting things done; this isn’t the venue for that post. At this particular Chinese lunch, we were talking about patrons in our respective creative fields: film and games. It’s not uncommon in the gaming industry to hire a designer to make a game- I’m pretty sure that this happens to Reiner Knizia with some frequency. It’s also not unheard of for RPG designers to do the same. Hollywood, that great specialized bank, does the same: if the money is right, the talent produces. As a result of this discussion, my brother commissioned me to design a game for one dollar, with a provided theme of “heists” and possibly “Australia.”

Evidently, I’ve got a lot simmering around in my brain, and quickly was able to sketch out a game idea that revolved around players sending in a crew of specialists/thugs/criminals working to complete jobs for points: the Faceman, the Driver, the Femme Fatale, the Safecracker, the Hacker. Each had various strengths that could be used to win the jobs- the long con, the jewelry store heist, smuggling, and so on. At this point in the development, my working title was “the Fourth Guy,” a nod to noir masterpiece The Third Man.Most every tweak and idea I’ve had must fit in with the theme somehow, or it’s getting dropped.

I’ve had TLG through a dozen or so minor variations, many that I discarded without playing. I’ve kept notes on them for possible inclusion in a later revision. For instance, I’d like to include the notion of rewards that a player earns for completing a job. Right now, I’m still working out the basic mechanic and deck distribution, so “powers” are on the back burner for now.

So far, I keep running into a runaway leader scoring problem, where it’s obvious who will win and there is literally no point to continue play. That, and the game plays in less than ten minutes, which feels short. The length isn’t as big a problem as I originally thought. Since The Last Guy is fundamentally a trick-taking game, those games are usually stretched over several hands to make for a compelling game. A series of hands neatly solves the leader problem, I think.

I don’t have a huge production studio or a color printer and stock in foamcore like some of our members, so my current prototyping constraints include that the game must be playable with standard playing cards. This means that I don’t waste time making up a prototype that won’t pass muster after one play, and that I can focus on tweaking the core of the game instead of throwing extra unplaytested cards at a (perceived) problem. I also have about ten decks of two-for-a-dollar cheap-as-hell cards that I found at Target. I picked these babies up expressly for prototyping, and they are so cheap they’ll tear with a rigorous riffle shuffle, I kid you not.

This portability has also let me playtest it with people I wouldn’t normally. I don’t need to drag around a huge board or a custom-printed deck of cards. With several decks of regular playing cards (and once with a six-suited Rage deck), I can make radical changes in gameplay without fretting about investing in the time needed to produce a complete prototype.

Almost every time the game has actually hit the table, it passes the “Let’s Play Again!” test, which is huge for me.

One Response to “The Last Guy, a work in progress”

  1. A buck oh nine and a sharpie will get you a totally manageable prototype deck in about fifteen minutes. Those are the cards that I used for the RocketYard deck – they’re a touch smaller than regular playing cards, but they do nicely.

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