Larceny – Play it Your Way

Sometimes a plan really does come together. A group of companies currently kickstarting their games got together last week to run a cross campaign, multi-blog press stunt. Started by 3DTotal Games, Gibbous Games was one of the eight participating companies which is how he learnt about my blog and how I discovered his project Larceny.

On the face of it Larceny sounds like many other party games, Dixit, Apples to Apples and Say Anything but with a Bank Heist twist. However Bill and the team have worked to develop half a dozen and more variants for the game which has turned it into something quite different. Check out Bill’s post below and then shoot on over to Kickstarter and reserve yourself a copy.

Best Laid Plans

I’m Bill, founder of Waning Gibbous Games and lead designer of Larceny, our first game. In a nutshell, Larceny is a heist-themed party game that offers a unique twist on the party game formula. The heist theme pushes Larceny past basic word association and offers a layer of strategy and problem solving not found in most party games.

In the most basic mode, Larceny plays fast and loose with the traditional party game formula. Each round, one player is the "Chief", and decides which cards win, while everyone else is the "Crew" and helps to plan the heist. The Chief draws a Score, which is something valuable or fun. The Score could be anything from the Hope Diamond to the Lost Doctor Who Years, and what you're stealing might influence the Chief's decisions about which card wins. The Chief also draws two Catches, which are complications that might arise during the heist. A Catch might be anything from High Tech Locks to Zombies, we've tried to keep it fun while still presenting some realistic heist problems. The Crew's cards are Fixes, tools, skills and contacts they've collected from their life of crime. A Fix could be anything from lockpicks to a human sized hamster ball, hiring a hacker or having  limbo skills. The Crew plays one Fix per Catch, and the Chief decides which one works the best. Everyone draws back to their hand limit and next round someone else is Chief.

The design process behind Larceny has been a learning experience. We’ve tried to take the basic components and to combine them in as many ways as we can think of to make sure there’s something for everyone in the box.

Ash and barbarians Larceny

Larceny started with two decks and a basic premise: you’re stealing something, and heists always go wrong. The original decks were filled with problems and solutions (it took us a few iterations before we settled on the current lingo for the decks), and there wasn’t an explicit card to represent what you’re stealing at all. It was very abstract at this stage. During testing it became clear that the Chief or the crew almost always needed to make up something to steal. There was an urge right from the start to ground the story around the game in some sort of concrete narrative. When first time players were inventing elaborate heist stories to justify why their cards worked best completely unprompted I knew we were on to something.

The Score deck was the first major change. We added a whole deck of cards that did nothing but allow the crew to know what they’re stealing. The Score is anything from a flash drive of secrets to the Mona Lisa, and even in the basic mode it has an effect on who plays what. With the introduction of the Score, we also needed a way to make it mechanically relevant. We settled on the Score acting as a bonus point to the cleverest thieves: if you manage to get both Catches in a single round, you also get to keep the Score as a bonus point.

Two Doctors and Larceny

The next logical step of course was to build on the narratives the testers were building. The Best Laid Plan mode came together almost immediately: play cards from your hand to outline an entire heist, addressing the Catches along the way and making off with the Score. This one proved to be a big hit with the testers, everyone had a great time building increasingly elaborate plans to one up each other.

From there, the Worst Laid Plan mode was a natural step: make a plan “so crazy it just might work”. Whether you are playing Best or Worst Laid Plan is sometimes a matter of debate. It usually depends on what your Chief for the round thinks is funny.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of co-op games. Whether that’s video games like Left4Dead or board games like Arkham Horror and Pandemic, I always enjoy teamwork. When I began working on variant gameplay modes for Larceny, a co-op version of the game was one of my biggest goals. What we eventually came up with was the Heist variant. In Heist, the entire Crew works together to build a single heist story. Each member has a reduced hand, so they have to work together to get through it. The Chief however has many more Catches and gets to pick and choose what the crew is up against. The crew must successfully navigate one surprise Catch after another during the four phases of the heist. Heist mode more than any other variant really gets the crew talking and planning the best approach. I’m proud to say that it feels completely different from any other party game I’ve ever played.

Larceny at con 2

One design speed bump we hit was in the versus variant, Troubleshooters. The idea is that the crew divides up into teams, one side taking on the role of security and playing from the Catch deck. The crew then tests out security scenarios, troubleshooting the various situations a thief might find themselves in. During testing however we discovered that playing this as envisioned gave far too much advantage to whoever played second. The variant evolved to play the cards face down after much testing. This removes some of the planning, but puts the focus on the Score itself. Instead of “I’d beat that thief tool with…” or “I’d overcome that security by…” the focus is all on what you’re stealing. While it’s not what we thought it would be, the entire variant has a different feel now as players ask instead “I’d protect that pile of gold with…”. Since there’s a new Score each round, the tactics change each round. Protecting, say, a herd of cattle is completely different from protecting the Hope Diamond.

Finally, there’s the Black Bag Job. This variant is one I’d wanted to implement, but it wasn’t until after the DragonCon stress test that we had all the pieces to do so. Before the convention, we had spent months demoing Larceny to friends, family and random testers. DragonCon put all that to shame. By the team’s estimates, we demoed to at least as many people during the convention than we had in all our tests leading up to it. Some of the feedback we got really helped crystallize this final mode. Some of our most engaged players wanted more planning involved, while others were eager for more surprises during the heist, so we combined the best feedback for a new mode we tested and revealed after the start of the Kickstarter campaign.

DCon Day 2 - 4

In Black Bag Job, players draw more cards than their hand limit, then discard down after the Chief reveals the Catches for the round. They put together their “black bag”, filled with the tools and tricks they’ll use during the heist. Each player then outlines their heist plan, similar to the Best Laid Plan mode. However during their narration, the Chief can pick a Catch to play at any time. This surprise has to be worked into the player’s narrative, and they have to overcome it using only the cards left in their hand.

Developing Larceny has been a labor of love. My team has had a blast both creating and testing it, and we’re not done yet. Even as the Kickstarter ticks away we’re hard at work refining the decks, tweaking card counts, adjusting the rules and card text for clarity and humor, and adding new gameplay modes to the box. Larceny is currently funding on Kickstarter, so check it out if it sounds like fun! I’m always happy to talk game design, KS campaign tactics and the philosophy of board games.

Bill is the lead designer of Larceny and founder of Waning Gibbous Games.

Check out Larceny’s Kickstarter campaign!

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