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The Grand Illusion Update 8-28-14

Preliminary LogoAs I continue to work on The Grand Illusion I get more and more excited about the potential of the game. Not only is it focused on Victorian era magicians and illusionists, but I also think that the gameplay in interesting and intriguing.

Today I’m going to discuss that gameplay a little more in depth. So far I’ve discussed the theme, the core mechanics, and the drafting mechanic. Ironically both the core mechanics and drafting mechanic are changing. I’ll explain why today. But let’s recap a few things, starting with the objective of the game:

The Objective:

As a street magician/illusionist it is your dream to work your way up and have a popular show in a highly successful theater. To do that you must win over the crowd, from the few stragglers on the street at the start of the game to larger and larger audiences as your reputation advances.

You objective in the game is to increase your skills and earn enough reputation to successfully perform your Grand Illusion to as large an audience as possible. Points are awarded based on your skill levels, the size of your audience (this potentially may change), and the number and variety of tricks you performed throughout the game.

What I want the game to be:

I absolutely love the movie, The Prestige. Here is a quote that best represents how I want things to operate:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge“. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn“. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige“.

I love when games escalate and this simple three-step process of Pledge, Turn, and Prestige is ideal for that. However, I don’t want players to only work on one trick throughout the game. So I would rather have the game work in three stages where things ramp up automatically as if a player were progressing from the Pledge to the Turn and finally to the Prestige. The question is whether or not I can accomplish that through the game design.

The Gameplay:

Previously I had shown these icons for the basic types of magic:


These represent the only types of magic a player can perform early in the game. It will be important to perform these because they will allow you to “unlock” new magic types by increasing your skills.

SIDE NOTE: One thing I’ve been going back and forth on for The Grand Illusion is whether I want the game to be phase based (meaning in each round players all do phase A, then phase B, then …) or turn based (meaning players have options A, B, C… and on their turn they choose one). At this point I’m going with turn based. (I’m dropping the draft mechanic for now)

So I mentioned that players can perform tricks and increase skills but I haven’t really explained that. Here we go…


There are three options for each turn. These are:

  1. Perform a trick (Including your Grand Illusion)
  2. Draw magic cards
  3. Increase your skills

Let’s explain these in more detail.

Perform a Trick

You can turn in magic cards from your hand to complete an available face up trick on the table. These trick cards will have magic requirements. When you turn in the correct cards you will “perform the trick.” After that, take the trick card and place it face up in front of you. This card will have a magic type on it that represents a skill you can now increase. It also has an audience rating. The audience rating will be important for being able to perform your Grand Illusion.

Draw Magic Cards

It will be important to keep your hand stocked with the correct types of magic cards as you work up to your Grand Illusion. You can simply draw magic cards from the face up cards or the deck based on your skill levels.

Increase your Skills

Once you have successfully performed tricks those cards will be in front of you. To increase the skills shown on the cards you will have to turn in different sets of magic cards. When you do you can then place a skill marker on the trick card to show that you have increased that skill. If you have several cards of the same type you can simply stack them in a way that you can still see how many you have. Your skill level will tentatively be number of cards times number of skill increase tokens. Increasing your skills is necessary to be able to perform your Grand Illusion.


The game ends once a player has performed their Grand Illusion. When they do, all other players will have one final turn.

Points are earned from several categories:

  • Number of tricks performed
  • Types of magic performed
  • Skill levels
  • Grand Illusions (if completed)

In the game you can focus on a singular path toward your Grand Illusion and try to maximize skill points on one type of magic. Alternatively you can attempt to score via breadth of magic types and complete a high variety of tricks. Ultimately this game will be a race to complete your Grand Illusion. But hopefully along the way there will be fun and interesting decisions.

What’s Next?

It’s time to prototype this. I’m ready to get this to the table and start playing it. I’m pretty happy with the direction it is going. After the feedback from readers regarding the drafting mechanic I think I’ll save that for a different game. I believe it was distracting from the thrust of what I want this game to be. So it’s gone and I’m ready to start playtesting (once I put some cards together). It will be my goal to create a PNP file to share once I’ve playtested a few times so that I can possibly get some early feedback from gamers and designers. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for reading!


Design: The Grand Illusion

Preliminary Logo

Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the big show. Tonight I will be performing a series of illusions of the highest grandeur. You’ll see things that no human has ever seen before. And then you won’t see them! Tonight it’s all about the magic. For my first trick I’ll need a volunteer…

I came up with a new game design theme a few weeks ago and it’s still rattling around in my brain. So I figure I should try to turn it into a real game design. For some reason I’ve decided to do all the design publicly on this blog. I think this will be a fun way to show people what is all involved with the game design process and I’m also looking for involvement from all of you!

So these design articles, starting today and continuing on Thursdays, are meant to be an open source forum of sorts where I welcome your comments, ideas, suggestions, etc.

Game Theme

I love the look and feel of vintage magician posters from that era.

I love the movie The Prestige. It’s a fascinating movie about competing illusionists in the early 1900s. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it. For me magic has always been an intriguing thing. Last year I had the chance to visit the Harry Houdini museum in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was neat to learn about his story and more about the era as well. It seems like an interesting time to have lived.

So I want to make a game about competing illusionists from that time. Therefore The Grand Illusion is all about magicians and their competition to earn the best reputation.

You are a street magician in the early 1900s beginning your career. You’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve that no one else has mastered. It’s time to build a reputation and become a household name in the field of magicians.

You start small doing a few tricks for small crowds on the street. Do them well and your skills will increase, as will your reputation. When you’ve got enough of a following then it’s time to take your show to a real stage. But beware, the crowd will always be expecting bigger and better!

If you can find a way to continually master new tricks and perform them flawlessly, then you may end up as the greatest magician of all time!

Basic Concepts and Components

My original thoughts for the gameplay involve card drafting and set collection. The concept is that you have to collect sets of cards that allow you to perform certain tricks. The bigger the set, the more likely you are to perform the trick flawlessly.

But there’s a catch. You know the old “Ball and Cup” trick? The idea of the trick is that there will be a ball under one of three cups. Then the magician will move them around and try to get you to lose track of which cup the ball is under. I want to utilize this as a mechanic in the game. If players each contribute a card to a common hand these would represent the cups. Then if there were a special card added to that hand it would represent the cup with the ball. Then players would blindly draft and whomever pulled the cup-ball card would get to perform the best trick. That’s my basic original concept for one of the mechanics in the game.

What I want players to feel throughout the game is a sense of accomplishment while teetering on a sharp edge. Players should attempt tricks and illusions throughout the game but always with some risk of failing and letting down the fans.

Each set of cards used for performing tricks will have several different symbols on them. These symbols represent different illusionary skills such as sleight of hand. When you complete a trick you can increase your skills in any or all of those categories. One emphasis for that decision making process would be that each player has a Grand Illusion that they are working toward completing.

The Grand Illusion

Like a private scoring condition, the Grand Illusion card that each player holds is a trick that could provide a huge boost near the end of the game. It is a trick that can only be attempted once, so players will want to make sure they have a skill set that will help them perform the trick with high success.

The idea is that as players become better magicians and build an audience and a reputation they realize that they have to keep increasing the awesomeness of their tricks or else the audience might go to another magician. So by performing their Grand Illusion it could put them at the top.

What’s Next?

So that’s the current state of the design. It is just a bunch of basic concepts. But that’s where you all come in. What would you like to see in a game about Victorian era magicians? What mechanics, themes, components would you like to see?

Let’s design this together. Please comment on this article or reply on Twitter.  I’m looking forward to designing this publicly with all of you. Thanks for reading!

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