Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paille-Maille: a Mini-game for Honor+Intrigue

A few sessions ago, the group played a game of Pall-Mall. This was our first chance to try out the rules I posted previously. The players enjoyed the game and the rules seemed to function well with some caveats. They especially liked that the game was a change of pace from dueling and talking and that it represented another facet of 17th century life. The courtier characters appreciated the additional opportunity to shine outside of combat, which fulfilled one of my design goals.


  • About half the players felt that the game was slightly too long. As a consequence I added a shorter game variant, though I suspect the shorter game will feel a bit too short and might aggravate some of the other caveats.

  • Overall the game seems most interesting for the Courtier characters and those with high Flairs. In part that is due to their being better at the game overall, in part I think it is due to the whiff factor that low flair, non-courtiers had or will have.

  • Players used a lot of Fortune Points. Of the three PCs one used 3 of 6 FPs, one used 6 of 6 FPs and the third used all 7 of his FPs. The heavy fortune point use allowed the players to win the match despite the amazing rolls by the main villain NPC opponent and the overall competence of the two retainer NPCs. For a number of reasons I did not have the main villain use any of his fortune points. I suspect the game might have been more frustrating for the PCs had he done so.

  • Of the strokes, Move was the most popular, followed by Set, Fly, Block, then Knock. Knock was only used once by an NPC retainer to aid his patron, the villain. Combo was never used.

  • One player questioned whether Block, Knock, and Set had sufficient or perhaps any utility over always using Move (or Fly). The other players and I disagreed, though I agree that those three strokes are of limited utility, see the analysis below.

  • Block was most useful when increasing the difficulty of a wicket that already had a difficulty >0 (based on the Savvy of the wicket setter). There is seldom an advantage to blocking a wicket with a zero difficulty instead of moving forward, though in games with side bets on number of strokes rather than team finish, that could change. Block is more useful in a team or pairs game than in solo play.

  • Set is useless on a 0 difficulty wicket since it is just as easy to Move as to Set. Though the odds change for a character with a higher Savvy than Flair. Generally Set is most useful before a Hoop or a high difficulty wicket.

  • The utility for Knock is similar to that for Set with one exception. There are more opportunities for advantages to using Knock in a team or pairs game then in solo play.

  • Combo was never used. In fact we all question whether Combo has any utility. The only possible strategy seemed to be when using both Knock and Block in order. I modeled Combo on the split move in H+I combat. I don't see that maneuver used much in combat except for combinations that use an action that does not require a roll (like a move) with one that does require a roll. I'm considering reducing the penalty for Combo from -2 on each stroke to -1 on each stroke.

  • One option to give players something to do if they are far ahead, would be to add rules for roaming for a player who has passed all the wickets but before has not yet passed the End Hoop. I'd want to playtest that to ensure it doesn't make the game take too long.

  • One thing the players did mention was that it was difficult for them to visualize the situation and their choices. This difficulty was increased by two things. First, we had no physical board or representation of play (though I used dice in the various colors to improvise a sort of board) and second we play over Skype so they couldn't see my improvised dice representation. To correct that I created a board and counters to represent play. I've also created a new version of the rules with board and counters that you can download.

Download Paille-Maille

Related posts: A Sporting Challenge – the Game of Pall-Mall

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