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Moonflight Development: The Moon is High

The Harvest Moon by George Mason

So I’ve just come back from UK Games Expo, which was a great experience, I’ve been able to watch members of the public playing Moonflight for the first time and the response has been fantastic and I’ll write about that later but something else occurred to me at various points. Specifically, how the game has changed over its development. This stuck out for me because on the stand I had a stack of leaflets that we wrote back during SSO fulfillment so we could send it out with rewards, and a standee that I wrote for the first convention I attended once I had a first set of card art back. As such I spent three days looking at a series of sentiments about Moonflight that weren’t one hundred percent true and I thought I’d look at why and how they’re no longer true. So the leaflet reads:

“Moonflight is a two player oppositional deck builder with a high degree of player interaction but it is also a new concept, the deck un-builder, which allows for extended engine usage and accelerated end game scoring.”

It also refers to the Jacks as Dukes because there was a while when I referred to the rank of the Jacks as Duke, so their name is Jack and they are Dukes. Like Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson and it was just confusing, so references to Duke have now been dropped.

Obviously, the game is no longer a 2-player game, it is now listed as 1-4 player. I’d been nervous about Moonflight being a 2-player game, I believe that half the reason SSO backed was its wide appeal due to, among other things, its 1-6 player count. After figuring out the set-up conditions and order of play it became obvious that for the asymmetric randomly dealt market decks to work players had to take single action turns rather than entire turns each. The knock back from this was that a four-player game that wouldn’t work mechanically with the market place generation or downtime necessary suddenly became extremely easy. Secondarily I was considering releasing Moonflight in two versions of two decks each to try to hit a lower pledge level but realized that each separate set would have cost 60% of a set with double the elements together, meaning there would be little benefit for backers. Finally as I was playtesting on my own (because no one will sit through as many tests as I will) I realized I was focusing on one side at a time and the other side I was playing to a set of fairly simple logic statements, so I wrote them out and now there’s a solo mode that works pretty well.

The other statement that’s a little off is “high degree of player interaction”. Now Moonflight still has a lot of passive interaction since it has a shared marketplace and its very possible to steal vital cards from an opponent, badly hampering them, but it doesn’t have a high degree of player interaction. It has some but, in all honesty, I couldn’t find a high degree that wasn’t about spoiling your opponent’s play. Personally, I want everyone to build something wonderful but for one person to just do it a little better rather than for someone to win because they ruined someone else’s sandcastle. One deck can still do this to a degree, but they have to play for it and it works as a little salt in the stew rather than a rather nasty form of ruin interaction. So, its true enough that I don’t feel bad if it excites someone, but I’d not write it on a leaflet now.

That aside I got to run Moonflight in what will probably be its two-player format for a few total strangers. At least a few of them just loved it on every level, which is obviously heartening, but something that got said a lot was that it was clever. Good, fun, but mostly clever. Now I’m not totally sure how I feel about that as a response. One of the writers of The Simpsons is apparently fond of saying that “Clever is the eunuch version of funny”. I’d be willing to say that funny isn’t the same as fun anyway but I’ve recently been working with Mike Hutchinson on A Billion Suns which at several points has been a lot more clever than fun and I’ve said very much the same phrase to him once or twice. Now, there are two ways a games designer can be clever in my opinion, they can be showing off how clever they are to everyone or they can be leading everyone down a path of shared discovery where they have cleverly built the exciting path. Its rather like setting up an Easter egg hunt for a child, the aim is to be clever but not such that the eggs never get found rather, such that the child joyfully finds them and appreciates how cleverly they were hidden. This is very much what, hopefully is going on with Moonflight. So far this is how reactions have been feeling, like its clever in such a way that discovering its treasures is fun and satisfying, which if it continues I’m very happy with. Since Henry Peters is on the last iteration of the card backs we should have the print and play up soon so I’ll know if I’ve pulled off the balance between clever and fun soon enough.

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