Wednesday, January 20, 2021

I-Cut-You-Choose Worker Placement -- thoughts on a theme

 I'm still looking for a theme for that I-Cut-You-Choose Worker Placement game...

I still think the way it would work makes sense: 

  1. Seed some spaces with ~6 cubes, 
  2. Place your worker where there are cubes, 
  3. Do a thing based on the number/colors of cubes there,
  4. Split the cubes between 2 of the adjacent spaces, 
  5. Repeat

I solicited theme ideas on Twitter, and got a few responses, one of which seems promising to me. Jonathan Weaver said: 

Wow I love the mechanism and I think a theme of widespread exploration of a new land and the color cubes are different skilled explorers (i.e. huntsman, trappers, cartographers, sailors, scouts, etc.) Then the game is about who can use the conscripted explorers best each split.

I liked the sound of sending, for example, a cartographer and a scout this way and a scout and trapper that way, then you choosing the scout/trapper and as a result get some furs, then sending the scout here and the trapper there.

Each unit type would need an effect, and there could be some combinatorial effects. Like maybe a scout amplifies the effect of another worker (cartographer makes a better map, trapper finds more animals).

My initial thought was that you'd add tiles to the board spaces, changing them for everyone (and maybe like Caylus, you get benefit when someone uses your tile). "Buying" tiles based on which unit types are there could represent effects of certain combinations of units.

Thinking about this a little more, it definitely sounds workable:

Players are officers in an organization that has sent multiple colony ships full of cryogenically frozen specialists out into the black, seeking a new homeworld. Now that we've arrived, groups of specialists are "thawing out," and we're directing them to do their thing, and then splitting them into smaller groups and sending them to adjacent sectors.

Each ship generates ~6 random specialists (colored cubes) each round. You place a worker on a sector with specialists to build a tile there, of 15 different tiles, each with a 2-color cost (those 2 colors of specialist must be present). Each tile gives 2 effects, 1 for each specialist required (so there are ~6 specialist effects in the game). 

If you place in a sector with just 1 cube, you get that color's effect, then take the cube to use later... Maybe you spend it to build when that color isn't present, or maybe you spend it for that color's effect in addition to a normal turn.

And I think an effect tied to the sector would be good, so there's a geographical element as well. Like maybe when you activate a building, you get the effect of the sector (and maybe you can do this instead of building, so long as you have either of the specialists related to the building present, or maybe in hand). "In hand" could be neat, so in the early game you're placing workers in sectors with more cubes, for better choice of tile to build, and you're building new stuff onto the board, then later you're placing workers to grab up singleton cubes in order to activating that stuff.

Maybe the tiles you build are on your player board, and the goal is to get yours all into play? I'm not sure about that, or what "winning" would represent, but in general this kind of theme -- with the cubes being units with specific jobs, and players bossing groups of those units around -- sounds to me like it makes sense and fits the mechanism.

What I really need is a discrete ability for each specialist, a "building" or whatever that makes sense for each pair (6 types => 15 different "buildings"), and some sector-specific effects before I could put together a prototype and try this out. I'm open to suggestions in the comments below!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Come and play, everything's A-OK

Now that I've got a toddler, it might be about time to start thinking about games for a lower age range. I have to admit, I don't really know much about kid's games, how they work, or what little ones are looking for in a game.

My son has had a little Sesame Street themed Memory game, 2 cards with each of 8 characters. Other than really liking Elmo, he's showed almost no interest in it so far. Recently, he got some hand-me-down figures of 5 Sesame Street characters, and it just so happens, they are all represented on the cards in that Memory game. Looking at that, I thought "there MUST be a game I can make out of this!"

I solicited some thoughts on Twitter, and I got some interesting responses. One of them sounded really promising, so today I gave it a shot...

Basically, it's a Rondel Memory game:
10 Cards (2 per character)
5 Figures (1 per character)

1. Shuffle the 10 cards and deal them, face down, into a circle
2. Place a figure on every other card

Game play:
Take turns moving the characters around the circle as they look for cards with their own picture on them.

On your turn:
1. Choose any figure and move it 1 or 2 cards clockwise
2. Reveal the card it lands on. If that card matches the moving figure, keep it! Otherwise, put it back face down

When the last card is kept, the game ends -- whoever has kept the most cards, wins!

This could be made easier by removing characters (and their corresponding cards), or by setting a character aside once both of its cards are found and kept, and it could be made harder by using additional cards (for characters that don't have figures).

We actually played thorough a whole game, and Corbin even seemed to sort of follow the rules for the most part! As playtests go, I'd say it was pretty successful :)

So that was pretty cool, I can't wait to try it again some time.

Afterwards, I was thinking about other possible mechanisms that could work with those cards and figures, and I came up with a racing mechanism. It's not so much a <i>game</i>, but I could actually imagine the mechanism in a euro-game or something:

1. Shuffle the 10 cards and discard 5 of them without looking
2. Line up the figures in a row
3. One-by-one, flip a card and move the matching figure forward 1 "space"
4. After flipping all 5 cards, reshuffle the 10 cards and repeat

The first figure to move 5 spaces (or any number, really) wins the race!

This could be made into a simple game by guessing which figure will win the race, or a more complicated game by betting on it each time you shuffle (like the bets in Downforce). Either way, the mechanism certainly seems to work well and give some tense and exciting races!

I'll keep thinking about these components and games we an play with them. Until then, at least we can try the Rondel Memory game again :)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

YANGI x2, and an old game off the back burner?

In addition to Keeping Up With The Joneses, I have had a few other new ideas crop up. Unlike KUwtJ however, these other ideas haven't been fleshed out quite as much, so I haven't mentioned them. I should at least add these to The List, if not work on them to the point I could get them to the table...

False Prophet (Mancala-Worker-Placement)

Listening to an interview with Isaias Vallejo of Daily Magic Games about the new/upcoming Margraves of Valeria, I heard him say that Margraves started out as an attempt to use a Mancala mechanism in a Worker Placement game. He said he couldn't make it work, so the design shifted to what they have now... a Concordia-esque hand building game where you can move your Margrave around the board and use neutral Knight figures to help you fight monsters (one of the various aspects of the game).

I thought the idea of Mancala Worker Placement sounded really good, and I wondered how I would go about that. So far I just have initial thoughts for a structure, but I think they sound reasonable -- maybe I'm not far enough along to see how it wouldn't work :)

I'm imagining a board, maybe a grid of tiles (like Istanbul for example), with neutral "follower" pieces on it, as well as a "Prophet" figure for each player. The game would be about moving your Prophet around and doing deeds, while follower meeples tend to follow whichever prophet they most recently saw.

On your turn, you would pick up your prophet figure and all of the followers in their current space, and distribute them Mancala style (like Five Tribes), placing your prophet last. Wherever you place your Prophet, you take the action of that space, and it's more potent the more followers are there with you - perhaps there are 3 levels of the action, Level 1 for when there's only 1 follower with you, Level 2 for when there are 2 followers, and Level 3 for when there are 3 or more followers. If you land in an empty space, you'd add a follower to the board there, and if you resolve a Level 3 effect, you'd remove a follower from the board.

That's about all I have at the moment, so I don't know what these effects would be (other than manipulating the number or location of followers on the board, for example). It still sounds to me like it has potential.

Edit: Perhaps better, on your turn you pick up all the followers in the space with your prophet figure into your hand. Then you place followers from your hand onto spaces 1-by-1 from your prophet to wherever you want to go. Then move your prophet to the last space you placed a follower on and execute its action (again, the more followers there the better). This way you might keep a (presumably small) hand of followers from turn to turn, and there could be some income you collect at the end of each turn that's based on the number of followers remaining in your hand.

I-cut-you-choose Worker Placement

This is my latest idea, based on Jamey Stegmaier's "Top 12 favorite game mechanisms" video that he recently posted. His top 2 favorite mechanisms are (spoilers...) Worker Placement and I-Cut-you-Choose. Just for fun I wondered what a mashup of those two would look like.

My initial thoughts were mostly just "make piles and draft them," which removes the Worker Placement dynamic altogether, but then a structure hit me that I think could work really well:

Imagine a board with a network of big spaces (let's call them "cities") and little spaces (let's call them "towns"). At the top of each round, seed the cities with ~4 (~6?) random cubes. Then take turns placing workers.

You place a worker into a city or town that has cubes. Then you do something that relates to the number or types of cubes there. Finally, you distribute those cubes to 2 neighboring towns (divided any way you choose) that do not have workers there already. If you distribute cubes into a town that already had some, then it has more now, no big deal.

Maybe if you place a worker where there's only 1 cube, it goes away afterwards (you can't split 1 cube). After all workers are placed, I figure there could still be some cubes on the board - that's fine. Add 4 (6?) more to the cities and start again.

I think that sounds like a solid main mechanism. I have some thoughts about possible details for what you actually do when you resolve a worker spot, but it's not fully fleshed out yet.

At this point, I find it very helpful to come up with a good theme that would fit the main mechanism described above. That helps inform the rest of the design. 

Worker-ception (Worker Group Placement)

A few years ago on the inaugural BGG cruise, I came up with an idea for a game based on cruise lines. In the game, you would place groups of workers -- not individual worker pawns -- into a few areas on the board, and then when resolving an area, you sort of zoom in and play a mini-worker-placement game with the workers in the group you had sent there.

I had sidelined that idea, but recently local designer David Short showed some interest in it, and in theory we are going to try it as a co-design. David suggested a slight re-theme as competing travel agencies, where the groups of workers are families going on vacation, and the worker spaces are little brochures so you can change them out from game to game.

I came up with a list of mini-WP games that could be used, so it might be that this game is close to being ready for an early playtest!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

At an impasse -- a peek at The List and where some of my designs are at the moment

I'm at a bit of an impasse when it comes to my game designs right now... I feel like I can't make meaningful progress on any of my current designs, and with playtest sessions being so few and far between (not to mention more of a hassle on Tabletop Simulator), I feel a reluctance to start anything new. Maybe if I take a look at my active designs and their current status, it'll help me figure out what to do next. Here are some excerpts from The List:

Finished But Unpublished Games:
Eminent Domain Origins [Ready to print]
Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory (dice game) [Art on pause]
These EmDo universe games may yet see the light of day, but due to some issues (that it would probably be inappropriate for me to talk about), they are on hold at the moment. Too bad, because I was really excited about the prospect of releasing the Terra Prime revamp on TMG's 10th anniversary, and the dice game has been done for a pretty long time now.
- Crusaders: Crimson Knight (expansion) [Ready to print - fix faction powers!]
- Crusaders: Amber Knight (expansion) [Ready to print]
These Crusaders 5th and 6th player expansions have been ready to go for months, but the 1st expansion (Divine Influence) has just been sitting in China, waiting to be shipped to the US and released. Crusaders continues to be talked about (thank goodness), and I hope it remains in the zeitgeist at least until Divine Influence drops, so that doesn't end up being completely wasted effort. If that works out, then it could revitalize the game, and create some demand for these 5th/6th player expansions as well as a reprint (there's already been demand for a reprint of Deluxified Crusaders).

In the meantime, I looked at the files for some reason, and noticed that we were duplicating a couple of the new factions (because Crimson and Amber Knight expansions were supposed to be identical except for player color). That didn't make sense to me, so I developed 2 more faction powers, and we just need to swap those in before going to print.

Olympus on the Serengeti  (FKA Deities and Demigods) [Art on pause]
I was excited to have a big name artist work on this one, but due to some of the issues mentioned above, Olympus on the Serengeti is on pause now too. Also, I'm becoming skeptical of the odd theme choice, and I wonder if just leaving it "normal" Greek mythology would be better.

Exhibit (BGG) [Unlikely to be published due to conflict] [Abandoned]
Dice Works (BGG) [Abandoned]
Wizard's Tower (BGG) [Abandoned]
- Isle of Trains: All Aboard (expansion) [Abandoned]
Suburban Sprawl [Abandoned]
Watch It Played [Abandoned]
Now Boarding [Abandoned]
These are all basically abandoned. I did make a TTS mod for Exhibit, and played it once with my testers a few weeks ago (and again yesterday). I think it holds up, and I'm tempted to try pitching it around. It's been several years, and the person instigating that ambiguous conflict I mentioned has disappeared as far as I can tell, so that might not really even be an issue anymore (I'm skeptical that it was ever REALLY an issue, TBH).

I also made a TTS mod for Dice Works as well, and finally gave it a partial playtest yesterday. I was surprised how well it actually worked on TTS (like, physically), so maybe this one could be tested or pitched that way now. Comments from the players led to the idea of loosening up the specificity of the board spaces (like, "[ ] < 3" as opposed to "[1]", or "[ ] < [ ] < [ ]" as opposed to "[ ] = [ ] = [ ]"). The players were also concerned about the possibility of an all-out scrap strategy being sort of dominant. I don't think that's the case, but it might ruin the other player's fun, which would be a problem all its own.

Maybe for something to do I could make a TTS mod for Wizard's Tower - that might be fun to revisit.

Current Active Designs:
Alter Ego (BGG)
After a lot of testing about this time last year, I had made a lot of progress on this one. I had made a TTS mod for it a long time ago, and had been meaning to update it with all the most recent files, but never got around to it. I guess that's something I could be working on.
Apotheosis (Co-Design with Rick Holzgrafe)
Most of my playtesting time (such as it has been) lately has gone to updating Apotheosis. I pitched the game virtually to 2 different publishers... the first wasn't interested, but the 2nd did show interest. They have a line of games in a particular universe, and Apotheosis fits pretty perfectly into that universe, so Rick and I have (a) revamped the prototype graphics and set the game in their universe, (b) addressed some items the publisher commented on after our playtest with them, and (c) fixed a major issue that came up in our pitch. I just reached out to the publisher to set up a time to show them the game with the updates again. I'm excited about the prospect of getting a game published by another publisher, just to sort of get my name out there more, and also to see how the process goes from the designer's end with another publisher.
All For One (BGG) (Co-Design with David Brain)
I was feeling pretty good about the latest playtestes of All For One, almost a year ago at this point. I have been wanting to make a TTS mod for it and play it online, but I have been waiting for my co-designer to do some updates to the maps and missions. He had said he was working on it, but I suspect he got sidetracked, and he didn't even reply to my last email about it.

Maybe my best bet is to go ahead and either take a stab at the board/card redesign myself, or just upload a version like my physical prototype so I can at least play!
Riders of the Pony Express (BGG)
I'm pretty happy with the status of Riders of the Pony Express content-wise, I think one of the biggest things I wanted to do was try and make it less physically fiddly to play. I had an idea for that, but I am stalled out on trying to implement it. Maybe the thing to do is to forget about that for now, and create a TTS mod so the game can be played.
- Isle Of Trains: The Board Game (Co-Design with Dan Keltner)

I had prototyped a version of this, even made a TTS mod and played it online once or twice with my testers since the Pandemic hit. But I haven't had much opportunity to get together with Dan about it, and I was starting to shift my feeling toward what he wanted for the game -- for it to be a more complex, deeper game than what I had put together. So I kind of stalled out on it and haven't thought about it in a long time. I don't really know what I could do with this one right now.

- Keeping Up With The Joneses

My latest game project, which came together pretty quickly, has taken up the rest of my recent playtest and design time. At this point I feel like the game is stable, and I don't really see how I could make progress without more, ideally more widespread, playtesting (if you want to PnP/blind test this game, leave a comment below, or email sedjtroll@gmail and let me know!). I do have a TTS mod, so I could theoretically set up more, and more widespread, playtesting, but the logistics of playtesting online are difficult for me right now, so I don't see this happening anytime soon.

That's about it for my active designs. I guess I could take a look at some of my back-burnered designs as well:

            Automatown [Michael Brown on board]

When Michael Brown came on board as a co-designer on Automatown, the game took some great leaps forward. However, it's been quite some time since I've heard from him, and since I played the TTS mod he'd made with my testers. I guess I'm not sure what I can do for this game at the moment.

        Odysseus: Winds of Fate (BGG) [a designer has showed interest]

A friend showed interest in Winds of Fate, but ultimately got busy with other life events, and the pandemic hit as well, making playtesting much more difficult. So unfortunately, this game did not get revitalized as I had hoped it might.

            Reading Railroad

For the first time in AGES, I broke out my old prototype for Reading Railroad and not only made a TTS mod for it, but even played it in person with my wife!

I was excited to revive this game, but after a couple of tests and some consideration, I kinda realized that using word-building as a mechanism just didn't seem to be that big of a deal after all. So my interest in Reading Railroad waned again, and it's back on the back burner.

            Moctezuma's Revenge

Nobody really showed interest in Moctezuma's Revenge, which I thought was too bad because I like the theme and idea of this one a lot -- it really sounds like something that I could imagine existing. But without someone jumping in as a co-designer, I'm not sure this game will ever go anywhere. At least not anytime soon.

            Kilauea [a designer has showed interest]

I met online with the designer who contacted me showing interest in Kilauea. He had made a new version, and I made a TTS mod for it so we could try it. We gave it a partial play, then discussed what worked and what didn't and came up with some ideas for him to try in the next iteration. Unfortunately, I haven't heard from him since then, and I haven't really thought about the game since then either.

            Joan of Arc [a designer has showed interest]

A strong design duo showed interest in Joan of Arc, which gave me some hope that it would see some real progress, but as yet they have not gotten to it. Time is in short supply, and I know they have their own projects to work on, and I'm still hopeful they'll get to it eventually. In the meantime, I have left the game on the back burner.


One of my oldest ideas that I think is any good, I've been re-reading my old posts about Dynasty, and thinking that this might be the game I work on next. As always, it seems like it would be so easy to put together a prototype and try it out... now that I'm not doing regular playtesting anymore, it might be harder to actually get the game to the table, but I could probably make a TTS mod for it fairly easily if I just got some prototype files together for it.

I'll start a new post to describe a couple of new, or recently revived games that weren't necessarily on The List.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Dice Works and Exhibit - out of the woodwork playtesting!

Today I had a chance to playtest with 2 of my regular testers, but I didn't think my latest projects (Apotheosis and Keeping Up With The Joneses) would really benefit from another 3p test with the same people because nothing's really changed on them. So I pulled a couple of older games out of the woodwork. I had made TTS mods of them a while ago, and even played one of them a few weeks ago.

Dice Works

First we played a partial game of Dice Works, a real-time dice drafting game. I had expected the real-time nature of it to be problematic on Tabletop Simulator due to how awkward it is to do anything on that format, but truth be told, it went a lot better than I had expected. But first I wanted to try the game in a turn-based fashion, just to see how it would feel. As expected, the game dragged and the draft wasn't very interesting without the time pressure (like with my iPad game, Brainfreeze, simple decisions require time pressure to become fun). After a round of turn-based drafting, we played a few rounds in real-time, and it seemed to work fine. Rick isn't a fan of the time pressure, so I didn't force him to play through an entire game that way.

I haven't played Dice Works in YEARS, and it was fun to revisit. One of the big challenges to publication is that it's a real time game, and those tend to have a more limited audience than turn-based games. Another challenge is probably a way to get around needing 80 or more dice! I have considered using tokens to block up spaces where dice had been placed so that the dice could go back into circulation. However, thinking about it, the real cost of custom dice is in the molds -- I don't think the materials are all that expensive. So it might not be out of the question to use 80-100 dice, so long as they're standard d6s.

One question that came up was whether just placing dice into scrap as fast as you can would be dominant. I don't recall it being a problem, and I recall being happy with the scrap rates as I currently have them (you start out at 4-for-1, and get better with even advancement up the tracks), so the bigger question to me is, even if it's OK as-is balance-wise, does it ruin the fun for other players if one person is just indiscriminately scrapping dice as fast as possible? If that turns out to be the case, a couple solutions could be as follows:

* Increase the scrap rate (but again, I think I'm happy with the current rates)
* Add dice to the supply so that other players still have something to choose from, at least for a few seconds, while the scrappers are scrapping
* Make the "specific" spaces where you place dice a little more flexible. For example, instead of requiring a "1", maybe require "<2" and instead of requiring "[ ]=[ ]=[ ]" maybe require "[ ]<[ ]<[ ]"

That last comment is interesting, and I should probably give it a try just to make the boards more interesting to begin with. Adding more dice might be worth doing, at least in the first round, even if not ALL the time -- just to get things sort of jump started.

Exhibit: Artifacts of the Ages

Then we switched over to just play a game of Exhibit. With the exception of a tweak or two, that game is pretty much done as far as I'm concerned, so this was less of a playtest, and more of a chance to just play one of my games :)

It went well, Rick had played once, years ago, and adored it back then. Very little has changed since that game. Aaron played a couple of weeks ago, and also liked it. A tweak I tried was changing the value of the Art exhibit. Originally, an Art exhibit was worth 2 additional points, as opposed to a Weapon exhibit, which helps yo win a specific auction in the future, and a Tool exhibit, which lets you re-roll dice. When I shortened the game to 5 rounds, I reduced that to 1 extra point for an Art exhibit, worried that the power of the Tool and Weapon had gone down and I didn't want Art to be "too good" in comparison. But I wanted Art to be more of an option early game, so players didn't just ignore it early, and use it late, so I tried something that sounded more interesting... Treat an Art exhibit as if it had +1 tile in it. This amounted to anywhere from 2-5 points, depending on the size of the exhibit, which means I failed at my goal of incentivizing art early but not late!

I think I need to just go back to +2 points for an Art exhibit, and be OK with players not using it early and valuing it more in the late game.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Keeping up with Keeping Up With The Joneses

I've played a few more solo games of Keeping Up now, including a 3-player solo test to see how that would go. It went fine, but had the same issue I've been seeing in the 2p games: It went too long! This post might get a little bit into the weds, but to be honest, I'm writing it for my benefit more than for yours, so here we go...

Every playtest so far has taken longer than I would like on the clock, and I'll get back to that in a minute. But the game has also consistently taken more turns than I expected -- math has been failing me! The game timer is the Jones track. After each player turn, a Jones marker advances 1-3 spaces on the Jones track, depending on the number showing on the back of the top card of the deck. I figured I could control the average amount that the Joneses (TJ) move by manipulating the distribution of numbers on the backs of the cards. For example, if all the cards had a "2" on the back, then the average TJ move would be 2 (in fact, they'd move exactly 2 spaces each time), and the game would last [track length]/2 turns per lap, and currently there are 4 laps in the game. For a 2 player game, I'm using an 18 step TJ track (3 steps per rondel space). In this way, the Jones marker on each track will advance 1, 2, or 3 times each lap.

At an average TJ move of 2, one lap on an 18 step track would take 9 turns, so that's 4 or 5 turns per player. Obviously putting a "2" on every card would not be ideal, because I want the Joneses to move 1 and 3 sometimes also... so my first attempt had an even distribution of 1's, 2's, and 3's. This worked OK, but in my first playtest or two I felt like we weren't getting enough turns to make good progress. I started thinking a slower speed would be better, so I messed around with the distribution and played a few more games. My last few tests have used an average TJ value of 1.7 on the cards, but laps kept dragging out, and getting a bunch of 1s in a row felt off. Players were consistently getting 6 or 7 turns per lap, and while the card distribution had an average TJ value of 1.7, the actual average TJ move was only 1.4 or 1.5 steps per turn!   

From my experience so far, I think 5 turns per lap feels pretty good, and 4 might be OK on the low end. 3 would probably be too few. 6 would be OK, but consistently getting 6-7 turns each lap feels like too much. Overall, I've been aiming for a 20 turn/player game, plus or minus a couple. But for some reason, my card distribution is not providing that as the math would suggest.

That brings me back to the game duration on the clock. I had been aiming for a 20 turn/player game, and assuming turns would take less than a minute apiece most of the time (sometimes it's super quick, other times you have to think a bit, but I still wasn't expecting many turns to be even a full minute long). For 2 players, that's 40 turns at 1 minute or less each, the game shouldn't take more than about 40 minutes, right? Well, so far it's taken twice that long, just about every time! It's possible that I'm underestimating the amount of time a turn takes - maybe it really does take a minute or more to grok and evaluate the three options (occasionally more if you have a Minivan), make your decision, then physically resolve it by moving a card, a rondel piece, possibly some money tokens, a track marker, another card, the Jones track mover, and then the Jones' marker on a track. Geez, when you put it like that, it sounds like a lot!

So right off the bat, perhaps I need to adjust my expectations. I had expected the game to be about 15-20 minutes per player, and therefore range from 30-40 minutes for 2 players up to 60-80 minutes for 4 players. Maybe this simply isn't a "one hour wonder," but rather a 60-120 minute game to begin with. Is that acceptable for the weight of the game? Maybe, I'll have to consider that some more.

One thing I could do to decrease the duration is to lop off a lap. Instead of playing through 4 TJ laps, scoring 2 areas each time (and all of them at the end), I could make it 3 laps, scoring 3 areas each time (again, all of them at the end). This would not change the number of times any area scores in the game, just the timing on one of them, and it would reduce the total number of turns in the game to 3*18/[TJ avg move] for 2 players. So at my current theoretical TJ avg move of 1.7 steps/turn, that would be a 32 turn game, or 16 turns per player (5 or 6 per lap). And at the observed TJ avg move of 1.4-1.5 steps/turn, that would be a 36-38 turn game, 18-19 per player (on par with my initial target)!

So this sounds like an attractive move. In addition, after the first playtest, my wife suggested that scoring only 2 areas at a time seemed lame to her, so scoring 3 at a time could address that comment as well. However, it does present one challenge, but it's one that should be easy enough to overcome... One thing I liked about scoring 2 areas at a time is that each player (up to 4 players) could start at a different rondel space, give them a track bump in that space, and none of those spaces would score at the end of the first lap. This feels to me like a nice setup, differentiating players from the outset, and keeping anyone from getting a potentially unfair advantage from starting at a space that will be scoring in short order. Scoring 3 spaces at a time, that scheme still works for 2 and 3 players, but not for 4 players. What to do about 4p setup?

  1. I could let someone have that advantage... I could try and figure out whether early or late turn order is "better," and compensate with that small advantage, but even if that were properly balanced, it's the kind of thing players would scoff at as obviously unfair.
  2. I could stop giving players a free bump in their starting space, so it wouldn't really matter if you start in a space that will score first or not. This would simultaneously address the lingering question of which track to bump when starting at KIDS or HOME, since those spaces have multiple tracks. This might be the way to go.
  3. I could modify setup for 4 player games such that only 2 spaces score the first lap, and the other 4 score the 2nd lap (and of course, all 6 score at game end). 

As I type out those options, I am leaning toward number 3, even though it involves a setup exception for player count, which is lame. In the end, number 2 (don't give players free bumps) might be the simplest solution, and I should probably just go with that one.

In any case, if I can cut out 25% of the turns, then it stands to reason that the duration should come down by about 25% as well, so those 80 minute 2-player games should come down to about an hour, which is better, if a little long.

Jumping back to my thoughts on the distribution of TJ movement numbers, there is one other issue that concerns me: In order to get the average move down below 2, I need to have a higher concentration of 1's in the deck. And by definition, there are fewer 2's, and there aren't very many 3's at all. I suppose that means if any 3's are on the first 4 cards of the deck (which aren't used for TJ movement), or the last few cards (that won't ever come up), then that could account for a much lower actual TJ average move than my calculated one. One thing I've noticed about that is that there are times in the game where a bunch of 1's come up in a row. Not only does that slow the game down a lot, but it also means the TJ markers on those tracks shoot up very quickly. Now, I'm not sure that's a problem really, but it feels a little weird to hit so many 1's in a row. I'm not sure if there's really anything I can do about that though if I want to maintain this elegant TJ move mechanism of just referencing the top of the deck.

That said, I did have an alternate thought about that. What if the TJ track didn't move a random amount, but rather the same amount that the player did. In other words, if I choose the card in slot 3, then I move 3 spaces, and the TJ marker moves 3 steps. That would add a 3rd consideration to your choice each turn: Which card do I want? Which space do I want to land on? Which space do I want the Joneses to advance on (and maybe also do I want to slow the game down, or speed it up?) In a way, that sounds interesting, however I'm skeptical of it for a couple of reasons. I think it would overwhelm the main decision point with too much information, inviting AP (and therefore slowing the game down even further), and it would have an unpredictable effect on game length - if players frequently move 3 spaces, the game will be very short, and if they often move just  space, the game could drag on too long. But it's an idea, and is probably worth trying at least once.

Side note for anyone following along with the math, especially if you want to tell me where I've steered myself wrong, here's the rest of the data needed:

  • For 2p I'm using an 18 step track (3 steps per rondel space)
  • For 3p I'm using a 24 step track (4 steps per rondel space, one of which is marked "no bump" to help avoid the Joneses getting too out of control - though maybe that's not necessary)
  • For 4p I haven't tried it yet, I was going to use the same track as for 3p, but the math suggests that won't be long enough, so I'm considering making a 30 step track (5 steps per rondel space, 2 of which marked "no bump)

Unrelated to movement, the point of the Jones marker on each track is to disqualify players from scoring if they are too far behind it, and I'm considering defining "too far" as "more than N spaces behind, where N is the number of players." So in a 4 player game, you'd only have to be within 4 of the Joneses to score. Hmm... typing that I'm wondering if those "no bump" spaces are even necessary. Maybe I WANT the Joneses to advance a lot on the tracks, especially if they're only making 3 laps! I should probably get rid of that for my next test and see if I miss it!

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Keeping Up With The Joneses

 In my last post I teased a new game I'm working on. It's not really a secret, I just haven't had a chance to sit down and write out a post about it.

I haven't played on that TTS mod yet, but it looks like I'm going to have to update it, because I've done 2 live playtests and a few solo tests as well (something I rarely do), and I've made some adjustments here and there. But for the most part, the game works just like I envisioned it, which is always a promising sign :)

Keeping Up With The Joneses

One-up your neighbors in 6 different aspects of life, while trying to keep up with the Joneses up the street, who really seem to have everything together!

In this rondel game, each space on the rondel has a track representing a life aspect you can compete in: Job, Home, Kids, Cars, Charity, and Social. When you land on a space, you advance that track. Occasionally, an aspect will score in a majority fashion (farthest up the track gets 1st reward, etc), but if you are too far behind the Jones marker, then you don't score any status. 

JOB: whenever you pass or land here, collect income based on your position on the Job track. When scored, you'll earn Status points for having the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd best job.
HOME: either maintain your home (mow the lawn), make improvements, or pay extra money to do both. You compete with your neighbors and score based on your improvements, but you get a multiplier on that score based on your maintenance (it doesn't matter how many garden gnomes you have if your landscaping is too overgrown and unkempt). If you pass here without stopping, your maintenance track goes DOWN a space as your home falls into disrepair.

KIDS: Compete in 3 areas where your kids can excel: Grades, Sports, and Popularity. You'll score in each of those, and you'll get a multiplier for evenly advancing all three.

CARS: Every couple of steps on the Cars track will earn you a new car, which comes with an ability:
* Sports cars are flashy, they earn you Status points each time you collect income
* Minivans are convenient, they allow you to add 1 to your rondel move, making you more flexible
* SUVs are powerful, but expensive, they allow you to pay money to make additional track advances
* Hybrids are efficient, they give you extra money each time you collect income [or maybe a $1 discount any time you spend money to advance a track?]

CHARITY: either decrement your marker on that track to get a little money, or you pay (more and more) money to advance on the Charity track, and maybe collect a few Status points for doing so.

SOCIAL: advance on the Social track, then you may buy Status points for $1 apiece a certain number of times according to your position on the Social track.

On your turn, you'll first draft a card from a display with three slots labeled 1, 2, and 3. You'll resolve the card's effect, and then move your rondel pawn a number of spaces based on the slot it was in. Finally, you'll replace the card from the deck, then reference a number printed on the back of the new top-of-deck card. Move the Jones pawn that number of steps around the Jones track - the Joneses take 3 or 4 steps (based on player count) for each rondel space, and they advance a Jones marker on the track where they land. You must be within N spaces of that marker during scoring to qualify for any points at all (where N is the number of players in the game).

When the Joneses complete a lap on their rondel track, 2 areas will score. When they complete another lap, 2 more areas will score. After their 3rd lap, the remaining 2 areas will score, and after their 4th lap, the game ends and every area scores one more time.

The playtests so far

So far the game has been working well, just how I imagined it would. Sure, I'm finding lots of little details and balance issues to change, but the overall structure of entangling the rondel movement with a card draft (I expect to make a blog post about entangled decisions sometime soon) works well, and the majority scoring while needing to be "close enough" to the Joneses seems to be working out in 2 player games-it remains to be seen if it holds up at higher player counts.

Here are some of the things I've cut, followed by some of the changes I've made that have worked already or that seem promising:

I struggled at first coming up with enough interesting content to scrape together a test copy of the game, and I had a couple of effects that let you move the Jones rondel marker backwards or forwards. The idea was to control the speed of the game a little bit, and possibly also influence the scoring of different areas at different times. However, it simply wasn't very useful or desirable, so I took all of those effects out.

I was worried the Joneses would be too easy to keep up with, so I started out bumping their tracks when revealing which ones will score (at the beginning of a lap, giving you a few turns to act before those areas score). It turned out in my first test that that might have been premature. I reversed the decision, and it seems like the Joneses do a good enough job on their own. At least in my 2p tests so far.

For simplicity, I started with all the tracks scoring the same amount of points: 5/3/2 for 1st/2nd/3rd place. However the Kids track has 3 separate tracks in it, and each of them scores... AND you get a multiplier for even advancement that applies to each of those tracks. That was way too lucrative, especially in conjunction with too much money floating around, so I reduced the scoring to 3/2/1.

In the first couple of games, the money seemed a little too plentiful, which may have contributed to the ease of dominating the Kids tracks. I reduced the income a bit on the Job track to try and make the whole game a little more tight.

Originally, I had the Maintenance track drop when you get income (when you pass the Job space), in an attempt to keep all the bureaucracy clumped together at the same time. However, I did not like the dynamic that created, so I switched to a more thematic (and I think more interesting) method in which you only drop your maintenance if you fail to stop on the Home space, which is the space here that track resides. Now when you stop at Home, you can either advance your Improvement track or your Maintenance track, or pay money to advance both, and if you skip the space, then your maintenance track goes down 1 (reducing your multiplier).

I thought it would be interesting to have more cross-track effects, so I added some specific home improvements that you could get as you ascend the Home track (a 3-car garage, which advances your Cars track, for example). However, I think that was overloading that track, which already had a mechanism associated with it... so I took that back out for now. That kind of thing can come from the cards, I think.

I had originally started the kids track off with a multiplier of 0, meaning to get any points at all from that track, you had to advance each of the sub-tracks at least once. I didn't like that dynamic, and it became especially obvious when Kids was one of the first areas to score -- it was too easy for nobody to be able to get any points at all. I had thought I should either have a minimum multiplier of x1, or else keep it as-is, but start the players 1 step up the track, allowing for the possibility of going down to a 0 multiplier. But the more I thought of it, the more I disliked the idea of regression anyway, and so I adjusted the cost of advancing on those tracks so that you get 1 track for free, and you never drop, and I can just start the multiplier at x1.

I put a lot of thought and math into the distribution of numbers on the card backs which control how many steps the Jones marker takes each turn, aiming for +/-5 player turns per lap. In the end I decided on a distribution that should give an average of about 1.6 steps per turn, and a longer track for 3 and 4 players than for 2. I think that should yield a good number of turns (maybe only 4/player at 4p, hope that's enough) per lap. I was hesitant to go to 4 steps per rondel space for the Joneses because it seems like at that rate, they can really shoot up the tracks if they move just 1-2 spaces a couple turns in a row. So I figured out a way to avoid that eventuality -- I put a "no advance" icon on one of the steps in each space, so every once in a while the Joneses won't advance a track.

I've got some other tweaks to make, and I really would like to play with 3 or 4 players to see how that goes. Time to update my Tabletop Simulator prototype!