Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Odysseus is closing in on Ithaca!

I posted about a recent 5p test with my newfound playtest group, and since then I've gotten Winds of Fate to the table twice: with 4 players at Unpub Mini Az, and with 5 again last night.

Outcomes and the Death Spiral

For some reason - and I'm not 100% sure why - in both of those games the death spiral didn't occur, and in fact the Unpub game ended with a Safe Return, and in 2 different rounds last night Odysseus almost made it home as well. I changed the rule to be that after encountering a face down tile, the gods decide which direction Odysseus will go, but in neither case did that really come up. Perhaps players weren't driving him towards a death spiral - that could have contributed to the difference.

God Tiles

The god tiles seemed to have more of an impact in these last games as well, which is good. I think doubling up on their number was a good choice. In the next test I might reverse the scoring such that you get 2/6/12/20vp for having 1/2/3/4 DIFFERENT god tiles (rather than matching tiles). That way you get better score for diversifying, but you get stronger effects by specializing (like if you have 3 Hades tiles, you can kill off a lot of crew).

I'm also considering making Zeus "wild" and therefore trigger for EACH event (kill crew with Hades, revive crew with Dionysus, draw cards with Hermes) - but I'm not sure about that. I guess it would only matter for the players who get the Zeus tiles at Troy (first round), which might reward luck of the draw a bit.

Game Length

Both of these two playtests went very well, and the players all liked the game. The 4 player game took about an hour and a half, and the 5 player game took about 2 hours. Any longer and I think it would have been too long, but neither game seemed to overstay its welcome.

Reward + Consolation Reverse Turn Order

In both of those games I awarded both a Reward Tile and the Consolation when players passed, and that worked very well. I forgot at Unpub, but last night I awarded 1 additional card if you passed without having played any cards, and that worked, but I think I'll skip it from now on I don't think it's really necessary, it's an extra rule, and I don't like the idea of encouraging people to NOT play cards.

As for the number of rounds, last night they played through 7 rounds. At Unpub I think it was 6. In most cases it seems like maybe it's too easy to push the game toward round 12 with all the ways to advance the round marker. This may mean that Stranded is an easy outcome to bet on, or to make happen. I don't like that. I'm going to try changing the "advance round marker" action provided by one Reward tile and one card in each deck changed to "move the round marker up to 1 space in either direction."

Timeline and Destiny Rewards

I've been using the "add 1 cube per player, and then divide all cubes between qualifying shares" format, and it has worked alright, but it's complicated to explain and it involves more math than it should to resolve. For the Timeline bet I think I'll go back to a static pool of VPs. I used to use 30vp, which seemed to work, but maybe scaling it for player count would be better. So I might try 5vp/player, or 15/20/25vp for 3/4/5 players.

For the Destiny reward I might do the same thing, but for the next test I'll try something a little different... I am thinking that players could take a Destiny action each round when they place their Path bet (so you place 2 cubes, not just 1), and then at the end of the game the player with the most cubes on the correct outcome gets a bonus (a Zeus tile), and then players simply gather up their cubes from the correct outcome. I figure games will last about 6-8 rounds, so if you pick an outcome and stick with it every turn, and it turns out to be correct, then you'll score 12-16 points, plus maybe a bonus worth 2, 4, 6, or 8 points.

Next Playtest

I'm looking forward to getting this to the table again soon. I am going to a game store tomorrow night, but I don't know if anyone there will want to play O:WoF, but I'm also going to the Strategicon game convention in L.A. this weekend, and I'm sure I'll be able to drum up a playtest there. I can't wait to see these last few things tighten up!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Suburban Sprawl Submitted (Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Dexterity Challenge)!

Recently I posted about the Dexterity Challenge being put on by Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Games. In short, I had an idea for a dexterity based city building game where you toss buildings into play, and depending on what lands where, you score points... I imagined interactions such as "people don't want to live by factories, so there's a disincentive to put Industrial buildings near Residential buildings" and "Commercial buildings are better off near lots of Residentials, because then people will shop there."

Soon after that post went up, I was contacted by designer Matthew Dunstan (Relic Runners, Empire Engine, Elysium), who said the idea really struck a chord with him. He even asked if I wanted a co-designer on the project... "why not?" I thought - I like co-designing!

With Matthew on board, we iterated through 2 titles, 3 major revisions, and several versions of each revision. Each major revision was better than the last, and today as I sent in the submission email, I'm happy with where the game ended up. I'm not sure if it'll win the contest, but one of the initial design constraints I put myself under was to make the game fit Dice Hate Me's Rabbit line - the small box line of games in which Isle of Trains is a member. So Suburban Sprawl is merely 56 cards, and optional score sheets!

Here's a short description of the game:

Wish us luck!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Odysseus: Winds of Fate - 5p playtest with recent changes

Last night I had some players over to playtest - and I think these players are down to become a regular playtest group! I'm really excited about that. They're great, enthusiastic players who are willing and eager to play prototypes.

Playtest Night!

Last night we began with a game of Now Boarding while we waited for everyone to arrive. That game went alright, but it will need some ore testing to determine whether it's "just ok" or if it can be a great co-op game worthy of publication.

Odysseus: Winds of Fate

Once everyone arrived, I got out Odysseus: Winds of Fate because I really wanted to try it out with the recent changes I made to the prototype. I was a little unhappy with how fiddly the game is to explain, and I worry that that's a symptom of a bigger problem (that the game is too fiddly)... some of the players didn't fully grasp what was going on at first, though by about 1/2 way through I think everyone knew what was happening.

New cards - Adventure vs God tile
The new cards with an inverse relationship between Adventure value and God icons worked very well. I'm not sure why I didn't try that sooner - hopefully the answer isn't some dumb reason like I was too lazy to update the prototype!

Claim Rewards In Reverse Turn Order

I tried claiming rewards upon passing, so in reverse turn order, and that seemed to work well too. I liked the sound of removing the consolation to make the game less fiddly, but worried that card flow would be too low. In a moment of weakness I decided to try this: when passing, you claim a reward token, then EITHER take the reward OR you get your consolation based on passing order. I regretted this almost immediately. At first I felt like there was not enough card recharge... in the end that turned out to be not necessarily true, players were able to get cards if they wanted them most of the time, at the expense of the reward on the tile sometimes. The problem was more that players were OFTEN  choosing the consolation over the reward! This could mean a couple of things... maybe the consolation is too high,  maybe the rewards are too small. Either way, it was not fun to have to ignore all the interesting reward effects! I absolutely want to go back to getting BOTH the reward and the consolation - though it's possible that the strength of each of those may be off.

Extra Consolation If Passing Off The Bat

I forgot to include something that might be good... If you pass without having played any cards at all, I might like to award 1 additional card. This is a small thing, and may not be strictly necessary, but I like it for players who have spent all their cards to be able to recharge better. Then again, now that you get first pick of the rewards, maybe that's not necessary after all.

More God Tiles

I doubled up on the god tiles at each location. Actually, I didn't make more Zeus tiles, but I probably should have... The idea was to get more god tiles into the game, because I felt like players weren't getting enough of them. So at each location I had 2 tiles, and I awarded 1st choice to the player who played the most god icons, and 2nd choice to th player with 2nd most icons.

Of course, almost immediately I ran into the question of what happens on a tie. I had said "whoever played fewer cards wins the tie," but realistically that will often just leads to another tie. To solve that, I had the bright idea to add a unique index number to each card, and say that "the tied player who played the card with the highest index wins the tie," and then I painstakingly added a number from 1 to 72 on each card - numbering from high value to low (so the cards that fight for the god tile are better for tiebreaks on the god tile), swapping back and forth from Hinder to Help cards, trying to keep it fairly even. About 4 cards in I started saying to myself "you know, I should just break the ties based on turn order instead." I wrote all the damn indexes, so I'll try that next time, but I highly suspect I'll switch to simply breaking the tie in favor of the player earlier in turn order (the player who stuck in longer for this particular fight).

Destiny and Timeline Payoffs

I've been consternated about the payoffs for the Destiny and Timeline bets for some time. This time I tried using all of the cubes on the respective tracks, PLUS 1 cube per player, as the total prize pool for the bet, divided evenly between qualifying shares (you still get 2 shares for being exactly right on the Timeline bet, and 1 share for being off by 1). That seemed to work out, and I'll try it again next time.

I've been noticing that Safe Return seems to be less common, while most games end with a Dead or Stranded result. Most times Odysseus ends up in the "death spiral" - which may account for this discrepancy in destiny results. After the last few tests I've been thinking that when Odysseus encounters a face down tile, rather than a calculable outcome, I should just draw an Olympus card and let the gods choose which direction to send him. This would also allow for another of effect trigger, getting more god action in the game, and maybe this would remove the tendency toward the death spiral (though it could potentially still happen). I'll try that next time.

Next Test

I look forward to playing the game again. I've signed up to run it at the upcoming UnPub Mini AZ on August 29th, though I'd love to play it again before that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Now Boarding - revisited

Two years ago I posted the rules to a game that Tim Fowers and I designed at Game Design Attack #1: Now Boarding.

Now Boarding is a cooperative optimization puzzle with time pressure for 3-4 players. Each player controls an international hub and nearby city airports, and together you must usher randomly drawn passengers to their destinations before they lose too much patience. This goal gets harder and harder each day as more cities enter play and more passengers come through your airports. In order to help achieve the goal, you'll need to build up your infrastructure, buying new planes and gates, upgrading local airports to hubs, and buying concession stands to keep passengers happy during layovers.

Tim and I discussed, designed, prototyped, playtested, and iterated on Now boarding at Game Design Attack #1, and later we made nicer prototypes. Unfortunately, my nice prototype fell victim to a robbery where the thieves took nothing but a duffle bag full of game prototypes - worthless to them, but invluable to me :(

Last weekend I finally got around to re-creating a prototype of the game, and I hope to play it tomorrow night. The latest changes (from September 2013) involved concentrating the time pressure on the Departure step of the turn, the step where all the puzzle-solving decisions are made, and leaving the bookkeeping parts of the turn off the clock. I think that sounds like a good idea, though I remember some of my friends (Mandy and Russell, who really like co-op games) wanted to get rid of the time pressure altogether - they just wanted to solve the logistical puzzle together. I think it's more fun with time pressure, as the puzzle itself isn't terribly complex. Perhaps the untimed version could be "easy mode," while to make it harder you could impose a time limit on the Departures step.

I've updated the Now Boarding rules accordingly. I'm sure I'll post after tomorrow's session if I get a chance to play this game. Also on the docket is the latest version of Alter Ego (with simultaneous play), so maybe it'll be a co-op night... though I'd really like to get Odysseus: Winds of Fate to the table as well now that I've finally updated my prototype.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Winds of Update...

I've been meaning to make a Winds of Fate update, so I figured I'd post here so I don't forget by the time I get around to it.

My latest thought is to give the Adventure cards cards two different values, one value for the adventure (as they have now), and a separate value for competing for the God tile. Of course I'll set them up so that if you're play is strong toward the god tile, then you're automatically weak for the adventure... if you want to score off the God tile, then you are probably giving up control of Odysseus' destiny. Or if you care about the outcome of the adventure, then you're probably not winning the God tile.

This solves one problem, however it doesn't solve the other... In both cases you're encouraged to stay in the adventure. No matter what you're just basically playing cards to get the bigger prizes.

I have a potential fix for that. Currently the structure is that you play cards until you want to bail (either because you are out of cards, or you don't care to play any more), and when you bail you get a "Consolation" of cards and/or points. The earlier you bail, the more cards you get back to make you stronger in future adventures. the later you bail, the fewer cards you get, but the more points you get, and the better reward tiles...

The fix I've been meaning to try is drafting the reward tiles in REVERSE turn order rather than the new turn order. Specifically, when you bail you draft a reward tile right then. So if you stay in, you're fighting for either control of the path, or for the god tile, at the cost of better rewards.

In fact, this could remove the consolation altogether. I worry a little about card recharge not being enough, but maybe players can draw a couple cards as a standard, or I could make more card rewards, or players could opt for cards in lieu of the reward (so if you spend more cards and stay in longer, then you get a lesser reward, you might just take cards instead).

I just wanted to get this down so I don't forget it. hopefully soon I'll get around to updating the prototype.

Edit: I have updated my prototype, and I hope to play by this time next week.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Eminent Domain: Oblivion - a few more playtest thoughts

Yesterday at the RinCon Fundraiser game day I played two 3p games of Oblivion with John and Garrett. It was nice to see how the Agendas worked with 3 players.

Right before we started, I added an icon to each of the activation/dismissal prices (like I talked about in the last post), and almost immediately regretted it. Maybe that's the right way to go, but it seemed to stifle the Agendas coming into play. In the second game we reduced the costs back down. I'm not positive, but I'm leaning back toward 2/3/4/5/6 for the cost structure.

I made a few more, such as "When dissenting a role, draw a Clout token." and "When dissenting a role, draw 1 additional card." When they came up in the Upcoming Agenda though, I immediately realized that those are Agendas that help everyone equally, and players don't have much incentive to put it into play. I have to remember to make sure the Agendas are more narrow, so they're likely to help some players and not others. Either that, or put an effect on them which occurs when you activate the Agenda. I did make one that says "When you activate this Agenda, return an Upcoming Agenda to the bottom of the deck and RECON the Agenda deck for any one Agenda." Therefore it allows you to put the Agenda you want into the upcoming row, and advance it a little bit while you're at it.

I suppose I could make a similar one that says something like "When you activate this Agenda, RECON the Agenda deck for any one Agenda and put it into play in the [4-cost] Active slot. Thereby making that Agenda sort of "wild" - but the new Agenda is more fragile/won't be around as long.

So far I've been thinking that players would draw just 1 when following a Politics role, no matter how many Politics icons they play. In thinking about that though, it just encourages players who follow to only follow with one Politics symbol - there's not much reason to follow with more than that. The intention was that players might occasionally want to play more icons in order to help get a particular Agenda into or out of play, but that seems less and less likely helpful.

Furthermore, drawing 1 Clout token isn't necessarily better than dissenting and drawing one card - in fact, it might be worse, since the cards in your deck are more likely to have the symbols you want, and might have tech cards with 2 symbols.

Therefore, we played that you get to draw 1 Clout token per Politics symbol played when following a Politics role. I was worried that might be too much, but now I'm thinking it might be the way to go.

It occurred to me during play that I probably really want to add a Politics icon to Improved Market. And I likely need to change the title to something like "Political Influence" rather than "Market."

So far it hasn't seemed too good to upgrade to Improved Market. A Politics icon would probably help there.

It HAS seemed nice to be able to spend your action just drawing a Clout token. On those turns where you have nothing else to do, you can just draw a token for later, and even if you have an action you COULD do, sometimes it's worth drawing a Clout token instead.

So adding a Politics icon to the Market tile is a no brainer... and it seems like Agendas which jive with the upgraded side of the tile would be good.

Maybe I should remove the "trade resources" effect from the Market side and relegate it only to the Improved side - so initially you can just draw a Clout, but if you upgrade then you get a Politics icon, you get better at drawing Clout (draw 2, discard 1), and you gain the trade effect. I'm not sure if the trade effect should be usable more than once, but maybe the way to go is to just have it once, and also add that effect to some planets, an Agenda, and maybe a tech card ("Trade 1 resource for 2 other resources.")

I could probably ditch the "VP for trading 3 different resource types" from the Improved side.

I mentioned that I'm considering not having tech in the expansion, or keeping it minimal... one idea is to have many/all of the new planets be Prestige planets, and then have most/all of the new techs in the set be Prestige type - requiring a Prestige planet. It might be weird with the other expansions which allow you to start with a Prestige planet (and I may or may not want to add a new Prestige start planet or 2).

The kinds of techs I probably want to include are things like:
* Draw 2 Clout tokens
* RECON the Clout token pile for any 1 token and take it.
* Discard a Clout token: RECON the Clout token pile for any 2 tokens and take them.
* Swap the position of 2 Upcoming Agendas or 2 Active Agendas (?)
* Swap an Upcoming Agenda with an Active Agenda (?)
* Annex a Planet in your Empire (paying the [POL]) <- annex="" as="" assuming="" normally="" of="" p="" part="" politics="" role.="" the="" you="">* Trade up to 3 Clout tokens for 1 Influence each (worse than Improved Trade at 1 token, but arguably better at 2+ tokens)
* Trade a resource for another resource (doesn't need a slot) and a Clout token
* Trade up to 2 resources for 2 other resources (new resources do not need slots)
* PERM: [POL] -> [Survey] or [Warfare] (or more like the ED:X translators) ?
* PERM: [POL] -> [Produce] or [Colonize] (or more like the ED:X translators) ?
* PERM: [POL] -> [Trade] or [Research] (or more like the ED:X translators) ?
* PERM: Take a standard role card from the stacks and tuck it under ~this. [POL] icons may be used as those icons. (maybe this is better - I don't want to have a bunch of permanent techs)
* PERM: [POL] (i.e. a permanent politics icon)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Run a game at RinCon

As you may (or may not) know, I am sort of in charge of RinCon, a local gaming convention here in Tucson, AZ.

RinCon is a 3 day convention held in October, a small, cozy con with all kinds of gaming available - open boardgaming, RPGs, minis games, CCGs, you name it. We have a great library run by our friends at Pulp Gamer, rolling raffles all weekend long, a schedule full of events, a ton of special guests, and plenty of open gaming as well.

We hold 3 fundraiser events each year leading up to the convention in October, and the 3rd fundraiser for 2015 is this weekend - Saturday, from 10am to 10pm. We're going to try and have a poker tournament (if enough people are interested).

At the event this weekend, pre-registration will open for the main RinCon event. In fact, if you pre-reg for RinCon at the fundraiser, you'll save $5 off your ticket! That's like getting into the fundraiser for free!

Speaking of discounts and free admissions, if you run games at RinCon then you can get a discount on you badge. Here's how that works:

Go to and enter the games that you would like to run. After you submit each game, you should receive the details from your submission. If you need to make any corrections, please email Tony at

If you run 16 hours of games that are submitted by August 1st, you will be able to register for RinCon for FREE. (8 hours is 50% off, etc.)

After you sign up to run your games, send Tony an email and he will manually create a coupon code for you to enter on our registration site.

The registration site will be open starting on July 18th at
So spread the word! Come to this weekend's fundraiser event if you can, and make sure to schedule time for the main event, October 2-4, at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center! It's really fun, I swear!