Although I tend more towards designing and playing more “serious” games, it would probably benefit Belltower’s line to have a range of game styles. My first thought for a lighter game is based loosely on Dirk Henn’s Showmanager, only instead of staging broadway plays, the players are staging Nativity Pageants. There would be a deck of cards representing the different possible “actors”, and each actor has a rating for how well he/she can fill each role. The illustrations should be comical, perhaps in the style of Slapshot/Phantoms of the Ice, which used to crack me up as a kid.
In terms of component design, one of the games that’s a hit in our house is Numbers League, in which players assemble superheroes using different “head”, “torso”, and “feet” cards, and the card design is great because any “head” can be connected with any “torso”, etc. Here, I’m imagining that possibly each player has a mat onto which he places the various cards that he’s assigning to each role, and then there’s a clear plastic overlay that is placed over the mat that adds “costumes” to the illustrations on the cards.
In practical terms, the interest in the gameplay has to come from the process of getting cards into your hand in the first place. Showmanager used a simple but clever drafting mechanic, whereby there’s a display of available actors, and you pay to draft a card. The further to the right you draw from, the more the actor costs, and after you draft a card, you slide all the other cards down and add a new card to the right end of the display, so cards become “cheaper” the longer they stay in the display. This has been emulated in Vinci and Through the Ages, for example, and it works very well.
A different idea I’ve toyed with is to auction off the cards. Since there are so many roles to fill, individual auctions would drag out, but I came up with a simultaneous way of doing a “once around” auction for a different game, and it worked well there: each player has a set of 8 “bid” cards, numbered 1-8. The back of each card has 1, 2, or 3 coins (cards numbered 6-8 have 3 coins, 3-5 have 2 coins, 1-2 have 1 coin). There would be 8 actors up for bid. On your turn, you simply place a bid card in a row under one of the actors. Then, after all players have bid, the bid cards are flipped over and whoever bid the highest (a) gets the card and (b) gets $ in an amount equal to the number of coins that are shown on the bid cards placed on that card. In this way, you’re trying to get the cards you want, but also mindful of which way you might be throwing money with your low-value cards. (Bizarrely, at about the same time I worked out this mechanic, a game called Maya came out with a very similar mechanic.)
It might make sense to try variations of this – eg maybe each player has a hand of cards, and must put 1 up for auction each turn, and he gets to keep the coins from the bid cards, so there’s some incentive to putting up a good actor instead of keeping him for yourself. Or maybe it’s that actors are up for auction in “lots” of 2 or 3, and players get to choose from a lot that they bid on in order.
The mechanic was originally built around a game of archaeology, which had a couple of cool features. On your turn, you paid one of your bid cards to send an explorer to one of 5 regions, and then recovered as many artifacts as the number of coins on the card, and those artifacts were then auctioned off via the aforementioned procedure, after everyone had had a chance to commission an expedition. Now that I think about it, maybe that game could be resuscitated as a game of Biblical archaeology. Hmm…