The first partial success
Last time, I wrote about trying to fix the disjointed nature of Wiccage after a poor test. It's worth mentioning, of course, that a poor test like that is an extremely valuable one. I usually learn more from the disasters than I do from the tests where everybody says "it's fine".
I got my friend Jarrett to sit down for a test of this latest version, and things went much better than before. Having the scoring integrated into the card play worked just as intended, giving a coherent feel to the goals of the game. There were certainly avenues for some control over the trick play, which Jarrett demonstrated by throttling me pretty thoroughly on the first hand. Even the new spells worked pretty well, giving the player who was behind some options to try and scramble back on top. I even had an encouraging sign, when I made an egregious mis-play during the game and suffered for it. I wanted Wiccage to be a game of skill, after all, so this was a good thing.
The game, of course, was far from perfect. It was a too easy for a player to get a lock in play, which meant that the loser of tricks was getting a double-whammy: few choices to make for cards and the loss of two Runes. The income for Runes at the end of each hand felt too punitive. The spells needed some work. But, for the first time, I didn't feel like the entire structure needed to be replaced, which was new. Anyway, Jarrett clobbered me pretty good, and I took the findings back to make some more changes.
This time, I didn't have to do a ton of work. I replaced one spell which seemed useless with another one, designed to help a player who was getting beat up by giving them the chance to invert the winner of a trick (for a substantial mana cost). I changed it so that the leading player got 3 Mana each turn with the trailer gaining 2. This softened the positive feedback loop I had been trying to cultivate, but the structure of the game was making that feel unpleasant and claustrophobic instead of dramatic, so it had to go.
Two more changes remained to make. The first was a change to give even the loser of a trick a choice of card. They could either take the leftover face up card or could take a face down card (if any remained). It's a way for a player who is getting beat up to have a possible path to a surprise. The final change was to reduce the bonus for winning the majority of tricks to one Rune, but to give a Rune to the final trick, which adds some drama to the final plays of cards which can be missing.
With these changes, it was time to head back to the table. If they panned out, the game would be ready for some outside testers to start playing around with it.