Over the last week or two, I've expanded on my initial card game idea. With the ability to scribble out ideas on a whiteboard and bounce ideas off so open-minded associates, I was able to work through some initial problems. This will hopefully provide a solid enough foundation to expand on.
The elevator pitch so far... all the players are collaborating on a novel, but they all have different opinions as to what should be in it. Each player has specific subplots that they'll want to introduce and resolve before the book is done while preventing their co-authors from completing theirs.
I want to build a game similar in feel to Ticket To Ride, where players are attempting to complete multiple goals (subplots) by creating twisting branching paths around and amongst other players. I wanted to avoid using a board, though, instead having the players lay out their cards to create a maze-like board on the fly. I like the feel of a story being written collaboratively, making it up as you go while your co-authors are fighting to squeeze in their own ideas.
The goals (subplot) would define connections that would have to be made that correspond to hexagon card types available to be played. For example, one goal might be...
A character double-crosses a character they are in a relationship with, stealing their fortune and fleeing the country
This might translate into a connected series of specifically named cards like...
Character - Relationship - Character - Conflict - Money - Travel - Setting
To complete the goal, the player would have to lay out cards to create a connected path in that order, completing the subplot. Naturally, this would be complicated by random card draws, legal placements of the cards, and the fact other players attempting to complete similar goals may be getting in the way.
I saw two problems. I didn't want players to just branch off in separate directions. If they did so, they could avoid getting in each others' way. That wouldn't give me the "tangled branches" feel of game I wanted; they'd effectively be playing on separate boards, "racing" to the finish. On the other hand, I didn't want the game to be too easy. The hexagon cards can be bunched up rather easily, running the risk of a goal's "path" of connected cards being easily achieved within a couple moves. To get around these, I'm using walls and points.
Each card has a point cost. When a goal (subplot) is being completed, the player must "spend" points to transverse each card. Think of the points as wordcount or pagecount; if each card in our example plot "costs" 100 points, then it takes a minimum of 700 points trace a path along all the cards. It may cost more it there are extraneous cards in the way laid by other players.
Players collect points by playing cards close to other cards based on the number of edges that it touches. A card that is played that only has one side touching another side might get 50 points. If it touches two sides, 100 points, three sides, 150 points, etc. This should encourage players to play cards bunched together.
Each card might also have "walled" sides, such as in the tiles in Ahlambra. A path between cards can only be completed through sides that have no "walls". Hopefully, this combined with the point mechanic would create the strategy element I'm looking for. Players would gain the points they need bunching cards together, but would still need to make a clear path for their goals (subplots).
I updated my draggable HTML card tool to reflect some of these ideas. I swapped out the standard rectangle designs with SVG generated hexagons, and made sure to be able to draw "walls" in black along specific edges. Though it reduces the cross-browser capabilities of the tool, it will work for my purposes: rapidly generating, shuffling, modifying, and balancing dozens or hundreds of cards without cutting up a bunch of paper.
Having gotten this far, I might need to start working with excel sheets to figure out good card ratios. Also, my "writing a book" idea may benefit from a more targeted focus. Writers creating a mystery novel? Hm.