Friday, August 12, 2016

Deities & Demigods update

last time I listed some tweaks I'd made but hadn't necessarily tried yet. I'll revisit those here, and then explain the further tweaks I've made since the last post.

Let me begin by saying that I really feel like the game is working well and feeling solid. I'm happy with the progress thus far, and thinking back to the original versions, it definitely feels like a much improved game.

Here are the comments I made last time (in blue italics) as well as my comments on each:

* Buildings and artifacts no longer have set collection scoring.
I kinda liked the idea of set collection scoring on buildings and artifacts, like the Exploration cards have in Goa for example. However, it may have been a little out of control (or not), and more importantly, it was annoying to have to count up so many things at the end of the game. The more interesting rewards were the ones that gave you gold, favor tokens, devotion bumps, or advances on the Zeus track. So I just replaced all the set collection icons with those, and added another: 2 Troop movement.


This was a good idea, and last night I took it one step further... with the new icon-on-city-spaces thing (see below), I decided that buildings didn't need to have icons on them. They're strong action or end game scoring bonus is good enough, and you get the icon from the city (so long as you haven't built there before).

Also, removing the icon means I can revisit the balance of Building+Artifact vs Monument for level 4 Hephaestus, which was weighted too strongly in favor o B+A over M.

One player (the immutable T.C. Petty III) suggested that Artifacts were not attractive enough, and removing icons from buildings might help that situation as well.

* Building costs vs incentive to spread out and build in different cities.
Originally, each player was allowed only 1 building per city, so if you wanted to build another building, you had to move to another city before you could do that. There was some bonus for being the first player to build in each city, to give you some incentive to race to build in the cities before anyone else did.

More recently I've tried instead allowing multiple builds in a single city, with the rule being that you pay 1 gold per building already in the city... so if you stay put and build, it'll cost you more and more. Then the incentive to spread out is cheaper building. That was OK, but I wasn't sure I liked it.

My new tweak is this... each city now has 6 spaces for buildings. 5 of them each have one of the standard icons, the ones you find on the building and artifact cards:
- Advance x2 on the Zeus track
- 2 Troop movement
- 1 Gold
- 1 Favor token
- 1 Devotion bump

The 6th space has a better version of one of those:
- 3 Zeus track
- 3 Troop movement
- 2 Gold
- 2 Favor token
- 2 Devotion bump

The idea is that the FIRST time you build a building in a city, you may choose any remaining space to build in and collect the bonus. Any further building you build in that city is placed on top of your first building marker, and earns you no additional bonus. I had intended to also keep the cost of 1 gold for each building already built, but maybe with this tweak that's unnecessary... instead of paying more, you're giving up opportunity cost of getting those bonuses.

There's incentive to spread out so you can collect more bonuses, and there's incentive to act fast as the first player to build in each city has first dibs on the better-than-usual space.

One of those icons will be marked, and when players choose their starting city they will get the marked bonus (which will be the weaker version of whichever powered up bonus is in that town).


This seemed interesting, but I have since tried another version of the idea. Currently each city has a particular icon, and different spaces have a stronger version of it. For example, 3/2/1/1 Gold, 3/2/1/1 Favor, 3/2/1/1 different devotion track bumps... I made this change in hopes that (a) players may care more about which city they go to, and (b) there might be more of a race to build in cities because a 3 icon is much better than a 1 icon. I actually wonder if it should be 4/2/1/1, so that building first feels a lot stronger than building second.

* Virtual Zeus phase in cycle #1.
I was thinking that Zeus was kind of boring in the first cycle or two of the game, so in the last couple of games I have tried starting the game with a Zeus round before drawing any cards. This way Zeus would come up twice in cycle 1, but only once in cycle 2 (unless someone added a Zeus card). I've enjoyed this, but I don't know if it's necessary or not. Especially with the possibility of starting with extra Zeus track advances from your starting city this might not be important anymore.


Yeah, this was an interesting idea, but ultimately unnecessary. I got rid of it. I think more of the Initiative track advances make initiative fights interesting enough.

* Simplifying the board to a simple hex board.
I've always enjoyed the movement rules where you move on the vertices of the hexes rather than from hex to hex. But since I made the Quests and Cities reside inside hexes, that line has blurred. Some players get a little confused by the movement rules. It's possible the troops should just move from hex to hex and NOT reside on the hex nodes after all.

This dramatically reduces the size of the board, but if I similarly reduce the amount of troop movement you get from Ares then everything should still work similarly... so instead if 3/7/11/15 troop movement, you'll only get 1/3/5/8, and instead of costing 2 troop movement to bring a troop from your supply into play, it'll only cost 1. This simplifies Ares a bit, and the lower numbers might make movement turns easier and faster to execute.


This has turned out to be a fine change. One of those "kill your darlings" moments. I had initially imagined a grand, epic scale, and moving around the nodes makes the board much larger... but in effect this is the same thing, and it's much simpler to describe and perform the actions.

Some other issues that have arisen are mostly to do with game balance  and the values of certain things such as the favor of the deities (scoring for the cards in your display). I've iterated through several versions of those. The current version is as follows, which makes the deities basically worth 1-4vp. In a couple cases if you go extreme you can get a little more out of them, but if you do then you'll be sacrificing in other scoring areas, so that's probably OK:

Zeus: 2vp per other unique deity
  ...encouraging you to get multiple different deities. This might ought to be just "per unique deity"
Hermes: 1vp for each level of devotion (cube level)
  ...encouraging you to save up devotion to Hermes, because hoarding cash wasn't really working right.
Ares: 1vp for each devotion track with increased minimum
  ...encouraging you to not only get min bumps, but to spread them out. Indirectly this rewards questing, because that's where a lot of min bumps come from.
Hephaestus: 2vp for each city where you have 2+ building markers
  ...encouraging you to build, but without necessarily moving a lot.

Another main thing I did (haven't tried it yet) was to add a cost to increasing minimum devotion. Bumping up the minimums is strong -- and I want it to be. But a double bump is proving to be VERY strong, potentially too strong. I had a few ideas to combat this, and the simplest to try is adding a cost to it. Your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd min bump on any devotion track will cost you 1, 2, and 3 Favor tokens. This means you lose a few points for specializing in a deity and taking advantage of the power that entails, and furthermore it may not be trivial to GET the favor tokens, thus increasing the demand for things that provide them (some of the artifacts for example).

I added a Favor token to the Monuments, mostly to make them compare better to Building + Artifact, but as a happy accident it means if you build a monument, you'll have a favor token to spend on the min devotion bump.

This might be awkward, and lead to things like a player doing a quest and not getting the min bump reward because he doesn't have enough tokens, but maybe that's OK. And if this cost turns out to be too high, I could try 0/1/2 tokens instead.

Other potential schemes to combat this dynamic (in case the cost doesn't pan out):
* Only allow 1 min bump per track total (I don't like this because there are plenty of min bumps to go around, and I feel like everyone will just "specialize" in everything)
* Increase the length of the tracks (to 5, probably). this might mean also changing the cost for showing devotion to 0/1/3/6 for 1/2/3/4 bumps, which could be OK, but I might miss the tension of being broke and therefore having to resolve a deity prematurely because you managed gold poorly. Maybe that's OK though, you'd still have the "increase devotion or cash it in" decision, which is the meat of the game.

The other main thing I've been concerned about is duration. Currently the game feels fine when it lasts 4 or 5 cycles, but if it goes on to 6 cycles, I feel like it's dragging and overstaying its welcome. So I need some way to ensure it ends after 5 cycles, but arbitrarily doing so is lame. I'm going to try ending after 5 cycles at most, and the game could end early if the triggers occur, and I've got some ideas to spice that up a bit perhaps, which involve re-introducing Hera as a sort of game timer.

Related, I'd like to see control of cities play a bigger role in the midgame, which could come into play via this Hera scheme. I've got a few ideas of how to implement her rolling around, and I'll let you know which I decide sounds best, or which I end up trying out.

That's about it for now. Looking forward to trying the game again!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Quick AMA on Reddit! Yokohama Deluxe and other stuff...

I'll be on Reddit for an AMA between now and 11:00am MST.

Yokohama is blowing up on Kickstarter, but it ends tonight! If you've got questions about that game or anything else, come ask them on Reddit!

Old news... a comment on Reddit about Eminent Domain (and a little Under The Hood about EmDo)

  About a year ago Eminent Domain was featured on Reddit as "game of the week", and I answered a bunch of questions there.

  I don't spend a lot of time on Reddit, but I logged in just now to set up an AMA about Yokohama (TODAY, 7/15, at 10am Mountain time!) and I noticed a reply in one of those threads that I never saw.

  That thread has been archived, and I don't think I can reply anymore, but it was a good question and I feel bad for not responding. Also, the person asking the question (Alex Churchill) is a friend and fellow game designer, with whom I worked developing Steam Works for TMG. Alex reads this blog sometimes, so I wanted to take a moment and respond to his old comment.


  In reference to my saying that Colonize and Warfare are early game actions in Eminent Domain, and that the point of the game is to hustle into the mid-game, Alex replied:

How can Survey and Colonize/Warfare be the early game? Getting points from planets is more effective than getting points from Produce/Trade 90% of the time, so people are doing it right up until the final round. I'm guessing the "mid/late" game you refer to must be Produce/Trade? But by the time you've got more than 1 or 2 symbols, your deck is full of Colonize/Warfare/Survey cards, diluting the Produce/Trade, which makes it much more natural to continue to focus on points for planets rather than try to switch focus and lose out on the follows.
  Alex has a point, if you invest (and especially if you over-invest) in Colonize or Warfare int he early game, then it looks like changing to a Produce/Trade or Research path mid-game would be inefficient, and so there's a temptation to just continue flipping planets. Indeed, this could be your strategy, and if you do a good enough job with it you might pull out a win. I'll note however that "doing a good enough job" against good players will likely involve targeting specific technologies to support your strategy (things like Survey Team, Fertile Ground, War Path, Improved Warfare...), as well as good timing of plays and correctly reading and reacting to your opponents' roles (as well it should).

  Therein lies the rub. That point of view is kind of a "n00b" outlook, and even if it sounds counter-intuitive, you can do better by minimizing the number of times you call Colonize or Warfare, making good use of following your opponents, and setting up a research or trade engine as quickly as possible. Level 1 technologies help you do this, as they have 2 different role symbols on them, which helps combat the dilution effect Alex mentioned. Using research to keep your deck slim is also a potential strategy there.

  The thing to note is that once you get 3 or 4 resource slots in play, a Produce/Trade cycle is actually more efficient than a Survey/Colonize/Settle or Survey Warfare/Attack cycle. Once you get a trade engine going, the longer the game goes on the more you'll outpace planet flippers. Mix in a well timed Genetic Engineering, Specialization, or Diverse Markets, and you can really pick up those Influence tokens in a hurry, possibly curtailing the game before your opponents get a chance to make their big endgame play (researching a level 3 tech, or flipping that last planet).

  Eminent Domain is not just a Role Selection game with Deck Building in it, it's a Deck Management game as well. The whole point is to find a way to make your deck perform better :)

  I hope that answers Alex's question, and I hope some players still find this kind of thing useful. It warms my heart to think that people are still playing Eminent Domain!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Big life changes! New house, and games for sale.

I've got a lot of big life changes coming up, the most immediate of which is that I'm buying a house. It's a nice, big house with a dedicated game room, across town from my current house. I'm pretty excited about the new house, especially the game room, for which I went in on one of those Duchess gaming tables :)

I'll talk more about my big changes later, but in packing up to move to this new house, I decided to catalog my games and maybe sell some of them. I didn't do it in the most efficient or effective manner, but long story short, if you're local and want to buy some of my games, take a look at this list:

Seth's Giant List of Games, Some Of Which Are For Sale At Good Prices

I intended this to make moving easier, so I don't want to be making trips to the post office or finding boxes to ship things in, and I don't want to be selling things and waiting until some future time to actually hand them off. Ideally we can make the transactions at the RinCon fundraiser game day this weekend.

Email sedjtroll at gmail with "Games For Sale" in the subject line if you're interested in anything, are local, and can make the exchange with in the next week.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Deities & Demigods: It's been a while... I've made some tweaks but haven't tested them yet.

The last time I posted about Deities & Demigods I mentioned that Hades didn't make the cut... at least not for the base game. I intend to keep him round as an expansion module (maybe on of those so-called "in-spansions").

After that post I did excise Hades, and I've played a few games without him... and I'm happy to report that it works just fine. Great! Now the game is easier to teach and learn, and is still interesting to play.

I have created all the stuff needed to try out the Hades module, but I have yet to try it out. As I was updating my prototype I made some other changes that I've also yet to try out, but I think will be pretty good...

* Buildings and artifacts no longer have set collection scoring.
I kinda liked the idea of set collection scoring on buildings and artifacts, like the Exploration cards have in Goa for example. However, it may have been a little out of control (or not), and more importantly, it was annoying to have to count up so many things at the end of the game. The more interesting rewards were the ones that gave you gold, favor tokens, devotion bumps, or advances on the Zeus track. So I just replaced all the set collection icons with those, and added another: 2 Troop movement.

* Building costs vs incentive to spread out and build in different cities.
Originally, each player was allowed only 1 building per city, so if you wanted to build another building, you had to move to another city before you could do that. There was some bonus for being the first player to build in each city, to give you some incentive to race to build in the cities before anyone else did.

More recently I've tried instead allowing multiple builds in a single city, with the rule being that you pay 1 gold per building already in the city... so if you stay put and build, it'll cost you more and more. Then the incentive to spread out is cheaper building. That was OK, but I wasn't sure I liked it.

My new tweak is this... each city now has 6 spaces for buildings. 5 of them each have one of the standard icons, the ones you find on the building and artifact cards:
- Advance x2 on the Zeus track
- 2 Troop movement
- 1 Gold
- 1 Favor token
- 1 Devotion bump

The 6th space has a better version of one of those:
- 3 Zeus track
- 3 Troop movement
- 2 Gold
- 2 Favor token
- 2 Devotion bump

The idea is that the FIRST time you build a building in a city, you may choose any remaining space to build in and collect the bonus. Any further building you build in that city is placed on top of your first building marker, and earns you no additional bonus. I had intended to also keep the cost of 1 gold for each building already built, but maybe with this tweak that's unnecessary... instead of paying more, you're giving up opportunity cost of getting those bonuses.

There's incentive to spread out so you can collect more bonuses, and there's incentive to act fast as the first player to build in each city has first dibs on the better-than-usual space.

One of those icons will be marked, and when players choose their starting city they will get the marked bonus (which will be the weaker version of whichever powered up bonus is in that town).

* Virtual Zeus phase in cycle #1.
I was thinking that Zeus was kind of boring in the first cycle or two of the game, so in the last couple of games I have tried starting the game with a Zeus round before drawing any cards. This way Zeus would come up twice in cycle 1, but only once in cycle 2 (unless someone added a Zeus card). I've enjoyed this, but I don't know if it's necessary or not. Especially with the possibility of starting with extra Zeus track advances from your starting city this might not be important anymore.

* Simplifying the board to a simple hex board.
I've always enjoyed the movement rules where you move on the vertices of the hexes rather than from hex to hex. But since I made the Quests and Cities reside inside hexes, that line has blurred. Some players get a little confused by the movement rules. It's possible the troops should just move from hex to hex and NOT reside on the hex nodes after all.

This dramatically reduces the size of the board, but if I similarly reduce the amount of troop movement you get from Ares then everything should still work similarly... so instead if 3/7/11/15 troop movement, you'll only get 1/3/5/8, and instead of costing 2 troop movement to bring a troop from your supply into play, it'll only cost 1. This simplifies Ares a bit, and the lower numbers might make movement turns easier and faster to execute.

I hope to get a chance to try these changes, as well as perhaps adding the Hades module back in with experienced players!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shameless promotion - a couple of non-TMG kickstarters (plus Yokohama Deluxe!)

I'm not big into promoting other people's kickstarters, and as such I don't ask people to promote the projects I'm involved in either.

But tonight I played a game that a couple of local guys have up for crowdfunding right now called Martial Art. The project is funded, so this isn't a plea to help them reach their goal. It's a pretty fun little game of double-think. A 54 card deck supports 2 players for $12, and apparently you can play with up to 4 if you have 2 copies. I didn't play with more than 2, and I suspect I'd prefer 2 players anyway. However I also suspect that with 2 decks you could play a variant where each player has their own deck, which could cut down on any luck of the draw (or perceived luck of the draw) if you like.

I usually don't love the "let's both play a card at the same time" type of games, but this one was kinda fun. If you like that sort of thing then maybe give this one a shot.

Speaking of kickstarter projects, another local guy who made 3D models of the genetic component pieces for the upcoming TMG game Chimera Station is running a project for some software to help design 3D models for things like D&D characters. The software is called Desktop Hero, and you can follow the link to see what that's all about. I don't know much about the project or the software, but Andrew was a really nice guy and did a great job on our Chimera Station pieces.

So if you are in the mood to do some shopping on Kickstarter (perhaps you're backing Yokohama Deluxe from TMG...), maybe give those projects a look and see if they interest you at all.

And for those interested in Yokohama Deluxe, I'm going to be involved in fixing up the graphic design for the English edition, which is something that's definitely needed - the game is great, but the graphics make it a lot less accessible than it could be. So if you trust me, then you can be sure the game will look awesome (and I've played a handful of times, the game really is a lot of fun!)

Monday, June 13, 2016

R.I.P. Hades?

For a while now there was some question as to whether Hades has been pulling his weight. It's been a bit of a struggle to keep him relevant. Initially I was OK with Hades being a sort of support deity, enabling players to pursue building, quests, and city control. However, as Matthew Dunstan pointed out, you could pursue scoring from each of the other deities, but not Hades:

Zeus: Collect deity cards for end game scoring.

Hermes: Collect gold to spend on favor when showing devotion to deities.

Ares: Score points for controlling cities (Matthew would like to see even more in the way of scoring for Ares)

Hephaestus: Score points for buildings (I am strongly considering ditching the set collection scoring and going with something simpler, but still worth points in some way)

Hades does not provide any path to victory, and as a result, there's often no reason to add him to the deck. As yet he's served only as a way to get more troops into play, and then recycle them after doing quests or building. For me that was working, but it's become more and more apparent that it's not ideal.

I've got a couple of friends who tend to think that in a game like this, with 5 deities, a player should just be able to pick one, concentrate on it, and be competitive with another player who picked a different deity. I've never subscribed to that personally - I believe it's fine for games to have early game actions and late game actions, and I don't think it's too much to ask of a player to consider the benefit of the choices they make, and whether they make sense at this point in the game. For example, buying a big building early in a game of Puerto Rico is not the best choice, though I'll concede that they did make those too expensive for players to build right away.

But in the case of Deities & Demigods it does make sense that there be reasons to add any of the deities to the deck, so I was interested in Matthews suggestion to add a scoring avenue to Hades. He suggested adding Trial spaces to the Underworld that you could spend Hades points to occupy with troops, gaining some kind of end game bonus at the cost of permanently losing those troops. That scoring could even be interactive, like majority scoring for devoting the most troops to the trials for example.

While that does sound interesting to me, I can't help but wonder if it's really necessary. Maybe it's just too much... the explanation of this game tends to take longer than it should (EmDo is similar), so anything to reduce that would be welcome. So if Hades isn't really necessary, then it maybe better to just excise him from the game altogether like I did Poseidon.

So next game I'll try that -- no Hades at all, and no Underworld per se. Your troops will either be on your player board or in play. 2 Ares points will bring a new troop into play, and of course 1 Ares point will move troops around the board as normal.


But to stay true to theme, rather than just leave Hades on the cutting room floor, I think he could become a sort of expansion module. It actually seems like adding Hades as a module would be fairly simple...

* Devotion track for each player
* Underworld board (with Trial spaces)
* Hades starting Olympus card and a stack of 6 Hades cards
* Hades monument, talisman, and shrine (maybe other artifact/building cards that deal with Hades)
* Potentially a couple more troops per player
* Rules indicating how Trial scoring and Hades points work

If playing Hades-less works out, then I'd like to give this expansion module a shot. If it works, then maybe I can find a way to add other deities (such as Poseidon) back in as modules too!

Side note on controlling cities:
I've been struggling with city control scoring, and how it's sort of all-or-nothing. I'm beginning to think that perhaps you should only count troops, not buildings, for control of cities. Furthermore, I think the scoring should be 1 per city you have troops in, and an additional 2 or 3 if you have the MOST troops in that city. That way you can pursue some scoring by running your troops around the board, and you can score better if you make sure to outdo your opponents. I've been thinking of adding a couple of troops per player for this reason as well, so you can reasonably fight for a couple of cities.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Deities & Demigods -- quick update

I just tweeted about Deities & Demigods with a link to this blog tag, so it seems prudent to post a quick update on the latest few plays of Deities & Demigods.

The Deities

In short, I deleted Hera, Poseidon, and boats altogether so there are only 5 deities now:

Zeus: 
No longer a turn order track per se... turn order is clockwise from a start player, and the leader on the Zeus track at the end of the cycle becomes the new start player and choose a deity to resolve and add to the deck.

There are now triggered benefits every couple of steps along the Zeus track (devotion bump, God card for scoring, a Favor token, and a minimum Devotion bump), and everyone resets at the end of each cycle.

Hermes:
No change here, Hermes continues to deliver gold which you use to show your devotion to the deities.

Ares:
With the removal of boats, Ares is the deity in charge of moving your units (just "troops" now) around the board. I upped the values at each level, and I've been liking the recent update tot he board: 4 board pieces at all player counts, and you move around the hex nodes, and into the hexes at cities and quest locations.

Hephaestus:
Buildings, artifacts, and monuments haven't changed (still using a separate deck for buildings and artifacts), but the level 1 reward has changed. Instead of 1 favor token (1vp), you now get 1 gold per building you have in play (minimum 1). Having removed Hera, it's nice to have some additional income opportunities, and I like the idea of building just a couple of buildings in the early game and then ignoring Hephaestus and just taking 3 gold whenever he comes up (juxtaposed with concentrating on Hephaestus and scoring off a lot of buildings and artifacts).

Hades:
I like the existence of Hades, who brings troops back from the underworld. After removing combat from the game it was questionable whether this would be relevant though. I think I've found a way to keep Hades relevant...

Currently you start with just 2 troops in play, 4 more in your personal supply, and 4 more in the Underworld. Hades moves troops from the Underworld to your personal supply, or from your supply to play. So you can use Hades from the outset to get more troops into play. Whenever you build a building, one of your troops goes back to your supply, so Hades will help you get them back into play. When completing a quest, one of your troops goes to the UNDERWORLD, so you can either consider them lost forever, or you can show some devotion to Hades to get them back into circulation. Considering that you only have a total of 10 troops to work with, this could be a big deal.


The Demigods

Since I've changed the game so dramatically, my sample player powers kind of fell apart. I tweaked a fe of them, but rather than worry about that too much I made some standard player boards (same for all players). In the end I'd like to have A-side and B-side player boards like you see in Kings of Air and Steam for example, with more interesting, unique B-sides

Herekles:
Obviously Herekles should have some benefit when doing quests, or some small incentive to pursue a Quest strategy. I've been using "whenever you complete a quest, increase devotion to any deity by 1" which seems like a good reward. I might offer a few extra points for having done quests, but that might be too heavy handed.

Perseus:
Perseus had the ability to put units directly into play during Hades, but now that's the standard so I need to figure out something better for him. Perhaps allowing Hades to add troops to play wherever you have a troop (as opposed to wherever you have a building) for example. I'm not sure that would be good enough, but it might be interesting. I could also give a small benefit such as a gold whenever you take control of a city, or whenever another player takes control of a city away from you, to make city control more of a thing during play.

Nike:
Nike used to have a benefit on the turn order track. After the changes I think his ability has to change to something like "when resolving Zeus, move 1 extra space on the Zeus track". I'm not sure if that's good or bad though. In any case, I'd like Nike's ability to have something to do with the Zeus track.

Jason: 
As captain of the Argos, Jason's original ability had to do with Poseidon and boat movement. Of course after removing that whole section of the game, this ability will have to change! Currently the board is just an array of spaces, I have been ignoring any kind of terrain (such as water). However in the end I would like the board to have some more texture, and I would like to see water being a thing. Probably I will just say something like "water costs extra to move over", and then Jason's ability will counteract or lessen that movement penalty. Until that's added though, I think there just isn't an ability for this player board.

I'm open to suggestions as to other demigods to use, and types of abilities they might have!

The next thing I will try is to expand the starting Olympus deck to 2 of each deity, rather than just 1.