Thoughts on Scoring with Symbols

Since I started working A Taste for the King, one of the things I’ve been concerned about is that people who have trouble with symbols would struggle with the game. The way the game is scored is that you match the artwork from the dish cards in front of you with a smaller version of the same image on the menu card. Now people who have trouble with symbols tend to find this hard, especially because being a food-based game that I’ve tried to make as historically accurate as possible, there are a lot of similar colours, namely brown. There are also quite a few dishes in bowls.

Dishes are categorised, somewhat arbitrarily, into courses on the menu and this course is reflected on the dish card. I say arbitrarily because in medieval feasts everything was laid out on the table at once and courses weren’t really a thing until nearly the Victorian era. With the game set in a somewhat stylised alternative history version of the 1400s, courses would not really have been a thing but I felt that it would help people associate with the game a little more and make scoring/identifying dishes easier. It turns out that this is not necessarily the case as players often don’t seem to check the course classification of the dish, preferring to use just the images.

The original menu design set out in courses.

During recent playtesting some suggestions were given to make scoring easier. The first was to add letters or numbers to the dish cards that were then reflected on the menu. The second was to add a little grid to each card that showed where they appear on the menu. I liked this idea but was worried it would be hard to pull off, keeping the visual style of the card consistent with medieval artwork. So far the cards all have a slightly off-white/cream coloured background texture, somewhat reminiscent of parchement or linen paper, the fonts have been chosen to have a florid illuminated feel for titles and a more handwritten font for other text where readabilty is needed. Finally the cards have a regal border, dishes with a gold on off-gold design and action cards with a gold on regal blue design.

Regardless, I decided to give it a go. My initial attempt was a full grid on each card. I tried to design the grid around an illumination style, using a florid cross to indicate the position and using a brown/gold frame for the grid itself, as found in a list of illuminated letters. While this worked it was quite frankly ugly. It may have passed as “period appropriate” but it jarred with the otherwise quite clean layout of the cards.

Strawberye with the grid indicator.

Given that the menu is divided roughly into a 5 course by 4 dish grid (Drinks are a slight deviation from this as there are currently two Hippocras for a total of 5 drinks) I decided that perhaps instead of a full grid a single row could be used to indicate the position of the dish within the course. I placed this indicator in the blank space below but near to the course title text with the hope that it would speed up identifying cards on the menu. Pochee, for example is the second dish in the Sides course, so the indicator for that card would look like so.

Personally I feel this was a bit of a dead end. Using the single row, the cards ended up looking a little more sci-fi than near-historically accurate. I feel if I were to make a similar game in a sci-fi style, say on a starship this could be a useful indicator to bring back as it looks a little like the pips from a Starfleet uniform.

Finally I decided to give the letters a go. The current design is a little ugly as the menu cards were designed to give as large images as possible while keeping the overall design of the menu consistent with other cards in terms of font size and genral placement of text. If I decide to go forward with the letters design I will likely have to forego this consistency a little by either reducing the font size for the menu title or removing it entirely. I don’t see this as a particularly aggregious design change as the menu doesn’t sit side by side with the other cards in the game and while the missing title would make it look less like an actual menu, this again is something that was done for modern sensibilities and not historical accuracy.

The full menu with letters added. Consistent, clear spacing is a little bit of an issue.

As you may know from my previous post, I have decided to experiment with giving each player a slightly reduced menu, taking a random selection of 3 dishes from each course. This makes the previously discussed grid design almost useless as the third dish in the row may appear in the second or third position depending on the randomisation of the cards (as well as other variations).

Randomised menu with letters

Ultimately it is up to playtests to decide whether any of these designs were a necessary step. While I want to make the game as accessible and appealing as I can, trying to address an issue that only a small percentage of players will encounter, that can otherwise be addressed by having other players at the table help them, may in the long term hurt the game rather than improve it.

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