Infamous has several interlocking mechanics, but perhaps the most central is the opening draft for Secret Base Room cards. At the start of each round, players draft up to 3 new rooms to build into their base. These rooms are central to your strategy. Each one will provide a certain number of "attraction points" for different henchmen types (Beasts, Criminals, Scientists, and Mystics), and many rooms also possess unique activated abilities.
Drafting is a great mechanic for so many reasons. I love how it speeds up play through simultaneous activity. Every player is reviewing and choosing at the same time - not sitting around and watching someone else deliberate. I also love how the cards you're choosing from are in your hand, and thus, easily readable. Games which force players to choose from a communal line-up of cards lead to frustrating usability issues; for example, players not being able to read small card text from across the table. Finally, drafting is a form of light player interaction. The decisions you make influence the ones subsequent players can make.
However, early on in playtesting, it became clear that drafting for room cards - and the subsequent attraction of henchmen to your base - didn't quite work with 2 players. There wasn't enough interaction during the draft itself, and there was too little competition for the available henchmen. Players could easily accrue a large retinue of henchmen each round and fulfill a bevy of contracts without feeling substantial pressure.
As such, I started to develop a dummy player (or automata) for 2-player games who could spice things up a bit. Rather than make the dummy another, potentially faceless, supervillain, I thought it might be interesting to thematically dress up the dummy as a squad of superheroes. These heroes interfere with the players by stealing away (arresting) henchmen during the Henchmen Phase, and patrolling the world during the Contract Phase.
Perhaps most importantly, the automata rules were simple to instantiate and involved only a single deck of Hero cards. As such, 2-player Infamous is: 1) only slightly different from the regular 3-5 player game, and 2) thematically fun - as you find yourself getting easily annoyed by the D.O.P.E. squad.
This post also gives me the chance to show off another piece of Rob's fantastic artwork, and also the superlative graphic design work by Kody Chamberlain. This one piece of art (for the heroes) took some time, as I wanted to work through a set of specific characters with Rob: one "defender" for each continent. We wanted the cultural ties to be somewhat obvious without being offensive. Personally, my favorite is Baby Penguin - defender of Antarctica!
While the D.O.P.E. squad is limited to the role of automata in Infamous for now, I have big plans for a future expansion which makes their presence much more... intrusive.