Thursday, December 25, 2008


I played a game a couple of years ago called Australia, and I really liked it. I bought a used copy off of a friend, but I've only played it a couple of times since. I am terrible at that game! In the 6 plays to date, I believe I've only won once, and that was against some new players I'd just taught the game to.

I talked Mike and Tyler into playing it yesterday, and taught them the rules, and once again I finished dead last! I guess I just don't get this game.

In Australia players place Rangers in different locations on the board in order to complete Conservation and Industrialization projects. Conservation projects are completed by filling each location around a Region with at least 1 Ranger. Industrialization projects are completed by getting a specific total number of Rangers in locations around a Region, as indicated by a tile on the board.

On your turn you get 2 actions from a short list of 3 possible actions: Move your plane, Play a card, Pick Up Rangers.

Move your plane: Simply place your airplane pawn in any region you want. This dictates where you are able to place Rangers.

Play a card: Each card has a color, and some combination of Rangers and Coins that totals 4 (i.e. 4 Ranger, 3 Rangers+1 Coin, 2+2, or 1+3). In order to play a card, it must bear the color of the region where your plane sits, or you must pay $3. When you play a card, you get the money indicated on it, and you get to place Rangers (up to the number indicated) into any one location adjacent to your plane's region. If you choose to play no Rangers, you get 2 points on the score track. After playing a card, you draw another, and you get to chose which split (Rangers/Coins) it will be (but you don't know the color)

Pick Up Rangers: You have a limited supply of Rangers, so there will be a time when you will need to pick them back off the board in order to place them again. You are allowed to pick up a maximum of 4 Rangers at a time, from locations adjacent to your plane.

You get to take 2 of these actions on your turn, in any combination (including the same action twice). In addition to your actions, you can pay $4 to move 1 Ranger from anywhere on the board to anywhere else. This is pricey, but can result in good scoring opportunities.

When one of the scoring conditions occurs, points are awarded for each Ranger adjacent to the region being scored. An additional 3 point bonus is given to the player who's turn it is. There is an "advanced rule" involving a Windmill - which is a way to commit Rangers to a side Area Majority scoring thing, which is significant scoring, especially late in the game.

I like the style of the game, but I don't understand why I'm so bad at it! I really like the way the cards work as well - more Rangers in play and less money, or more money and fewer Rangers on the board. One downfall of the game is Analysis Paralysis, but it shouldn't be so bad because you've only got 2 cards in your hand - even if you examined every possible play on the board it shouldn't take all that long. Scores are high and swingy in this game, which might be a turn off for some people. And the values of an Industrialization project are unknown until someone flies their plane into the area. That doesn't bother me at all, though I got kinda stuck last game with a lot of high numbered tiles which never got enough Rangers around them to score. I don't understand what I'm doing wrong. I'm going to try to play this game some more in order to figure it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday season playtesting and gaming

I usually like this time of year because my friends are in from out of town. I end up playing a lot of games and having a lot of fun. Lately I've been playing a lot of games anyway, but I'm still really looking forward to seeing Luke and Mohan and any other friends who will be in town that I don't already know about. I'm hoping that especially with Mohan around I'll get a chance to playtest some prototypes - both Terra Prime, on which I'm told Loose Cannon should be making real progress starting next month (after the holidays), and on Winds of Fate, which I need to shape up to send to New York in January.

I'm sure there will be a lot of Battlestar Galactica as well. I'm liking that game a lot, and with the thoughts on Cooperative games being on the surface I'm returning to the ideas I've had now and again about making my own - trying to solve the problems I perceive with the genre.

I'll be sure to post about any playtesting that is done in the upcoming weeks...
Stay tuned!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Winds of Fate: minor adjustments

I wasn't happy with the last playtest, and the main reason was because I think the rewards for Adventures were too samey-same. There are 8 different reward tiles, and we were turning up 4 of them per round for 3 players, and 1 player was getting 2. I think that's too many, and as a result there were a lot more bets being placed, and something didn't feel right.

I decided to first off go back to what I'd had before for the person who contributes the largest total of Adventure card value - that person will simply get a couple of victory points, not the left over Reward tile (there won't be a left over tile anymore). Secondly, I added 4 more tiles to the mix, so that any given set of 3-5 tiles will have a better chance of not being just the same as the last one. In the 12 tiles, 3 of them have "Place Bet" on them, 3 have "Move Bet", and 3 have "Destiny (change your destiny bet)". 4 of them give Cards, 4 of them give VPs, and 4 of them give Bet Chips, which can be later used to bet on something.

I think these added tiles will make the drawn tiles feel like more of a variety from Adventure to Adventure. Hopefully that will matter!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Winds of Fate V3.0 - playtests and updates!

The last time I posted about Odysseus: Winds of Fate I referred to the rules and structure as quote/unquote "alternate". That's because at the time I had a vision in my head of how the new version of the game was going to be, and I was planning on trying that version first. But talking with Nando in the BGDF chat room I started to realize that this "alternate" structure was better than what I had in mind, and I started to see how it could work. I also noted how easy it would be to update the prototype for it, so I did that and took the new version (V3.0 as I'm calling it) to BGG.con with me. I managed to play it 4 times over the course of the long weekend, which is great! I got some good feedback as well as a feel for how the game was working and what needed fixing.

So I've scrapped the whole V2.0 idea without even testing it - that was more of an investing thing than betting on the outcome of the game, which was the initial idea behind Winds of Fate. V3.0 is as "official" as it gets over here, and it's more true to Nando's original idea for the game. Here are some playtest comments I assembled over the weekend, in no particular order:

Tom Lehmann said the heart of the game is the tension between information and control. I can see that. He warned to make sure players don't try and identify with Odysseus - and I agree. I think a player aid with the round sequence would be handy, and it would be easy to add something to that to make it clear that the players are the Fates, and not Odysseus and his crew.

In the adventure resolution, it would be good to reward a player for contributing the most to the winning outcome - or maybe simply the rewarding the player with the single largest contribution, irrespective of the outcome. This way a player stands to benefit for spending a lot of high cards, even if his desired outcome is overcome by other players.

At the end of the game there really has to be some value to the cards in your hand. One idea was to skip the final adventure phase and simply add up all the cards in everyone's hands, but I didn't like that one. Another idea was to award 1vp for each X cards in your longest suit or something like that, but the idea I've liked best so far is 1vp for each pair of Help/Hinder cards. So you are rewarded for a balanced hand if you don't play your cards, and you're rewarded for playing your hands wisely by the effect on the outcome and with reward tiles.

Tom thought it was good that the backs of the cards were different and could be used to see how many cards in each suit the opponents had. He said if the backs were common the game would be too chaotic. I agree but I'm not sure to what extent I agree. I do like the separate backs though, so I'm sticking with them for now.

The card distribution used to be such that the Hinder cards were more numerous, but the average value of the Help cards was higher. I am going to try a balanced deck next and see how that goes.

Tom also thought there should be some minimal Bet Chip income. At his suggestion I tried giving players 1 Bet Chip when Odysseus reached the 2nd column of spaces, and another when he reached the third... I didn't love that, and frankly I'd like players to have to work at getting bet chips (by choosing them as a reward from a tile) if they want to place bets, so I think I won't use that rule.

It came up in a playtest that moving a bet seemed weird. That it seemed best to overshoot with your bet (because that makes the payout higher) then try and move the bet forward to when you really think the game will end. I'm not convinced that's a bad thing, actually... but it was suggested that bets only be allowed to move to a later round (We're betting on the game ending on a particular round, and a Move Bet action allows you to slide a bet to the next round). I'm tempted to allow moving in either direction. Christopher Rao suggested 2 separate actions, 1 allowing movement in either direction, and one allowing movement in only 1 direction. That's an idea as well, but I'm nit sure it's necessary.

Christopher also suggested that it should matter how much the Help/Hinder side 'wins by'. For example, maybe a chart that says X crew is lost if Hinder beats Help by Y amount. Maybe 1 crew is lost even if Help wins (if only by a little bit), and several crew is lost if hinder wins by more than 5 or something. I'm currently using a sort of random number of crew loss, and it doesn't currently matter how much an adventure is won or lost by, but that's a good idea. I'll keep it in mind.

The length of the game seems to be good. I always forget to note the length of the game, but it has been feeling correct, at something like 1 hour.

There are too many "+Cards" on the reward tiles. I agree with this, and have revamped them. Now 2 reward tiles have "+2 cards" but other than that, the only way to get cards is via passing early in an adventure, which means you get fewer (or no) points for the adventure, and a later pick for rewards. If you pass without having played a card, you get the opportunity to change out your Destiny bet (the bet on which game end condition will trigger)

Speaking of game end condition... I would like to see late game Place Bet actions remain interesting, so I added that you could place the bet on your Destiny card. Each bet chip on the Destiny card is a multiplier and therefore worth 3 or 4 points - not as lucrative as an accurate early game bet, but worth something. If a player changes his Destiny bet, he loses all multipliers on it. At the beginning of the game you start with a chip on the initial Destiny bet, so hanging even once loses something... a small encouragement to push the game toward your initial Destiny bet outcome.

I had been awarding VPs for the person contributing the highest value worth of cards, as described above. A suggestion from Christopher was that I instead give that player an extra Reward tile... in other words, turn up one more tile than there are players, and after everyone chooses their reward, the player with the largest contribution gets the remaining tile. I think I like that, and I'll try it in the next test.

I've redone the reward tiles and turn order tiles (consolations) to be better balanced. I still need to make that player aid.

I'm considering sorting the Encounter tiles such that bigger effects occur later in the game. This could be done by separating them into Stages, where Stage 1 is the first column of the board, Stage 2 is the second column, and Stage 3 is the third column. This makes intuitive sense, and I could make a total of 12 Encounter tiles - 4 for each column. It might help create a buildup feeling or some kind of story arc. I think I'll hold off on that for now, but I'll keep it in mind.

A big change I'm going to try is the endgame. I want the final adventure at Ithaca to be interesting and 'bigger' tin scope than the other adventures. Not TOO much bigger or different, I don't want it to be a whole different game... but it should be like a double adventure. So I created an additional board (this could well be all on one board) which sort of zooms in on the Suitors adventure. When Odysseus gets to the Ithaca space on the board there is an adventure as normal. According to the outcome of that adventure, he moves to one of 2 space according to the arrows on the board, also as normal. Then there is ANOTHER adventure... probably without collecting rewards from the first adventure (though maybe collecting Consolations - turn order markers) ... or maybe the full reward sequence could happen. At any rate, winning the 2nd adventure would take Odysseus to a space labeled "Home Safe", while losing it would either make him "Stranded" or "dead" (depending on which way he want after the first adventure). I think this sounds like the double adventure kind of thing I'm looking for, and it leaves in suspense the game end outcome when Ithaca is reached. I'd like for the very end to be up in the air as to how the game will end if he reaches Ithaca. I suspect all of this Ithaca stuff will happen on the same round, so once Ithaca is reached, the round on which the game will end is locked in.

Special cards: I would like to add some special cards with effects such as "advance round marker" or "draw 3 Adventure cards" or "Look at the top 2 God cards and put one on the bottom of the deck" which could be played face up for their ability instead of their card value (which would also serve to obfuscate a little bit the number of cards of each type you have in hand, which I think would be good). I just added some cards to the deck to serve that purpose.

I updated the Encounter tiles to tune them and mesh better with rules updates. I'll post updated rules once I've formally typed them up. I might like to playtest these updates before I do anything formal.

I showed the game to Zev at BGG.con, and he said he wouldn't mind giving it a play once I iron things out. I intend to send it to New York for Spielbany in January where I believe he'll be in attendance. So I've got some time, but I also have some work to do to work out all the details of the game. It should be fun!

Friday, November 28, 2008

BGG.con 2008 report

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to Dallas to visit my friend Brian and to attend BGG.con - the annual open gaming convention put on by the guys who run the BoardGameGeek website.

BGG.con is my favorite convention for a number of reasons: the people, the new games (it's hot on the heels of Essen), the atmosphere, the timing... it's a lot of fun, I haven't missed one yet, and I don't plan to miss it in the future.

I wrote up my experience at this year's convention in a Geeklist. Feel free to peruse it if you like.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A flurry of Cooperative games!

No fewer than 6 cooperative games came out recently, and I was anxious to try some of them to see what they're gimmick was, and to see how they tried to make a game where multiple players can (or better, have to) work in concert to win rather than the loudest, most experienced, or bossiest player playing while everyone else watches.

Space Alert has time pressure and hidden cards indicating what players have the possibility of doing, making it hard or impossible for one person to micromanage everyone's turn. That's a step in the right direction, though I'm not sure if Space Alert succeeds - I liked it at first (played it 6 times in a row, training through 1st mission), then later played it once and thought it was horribly boring.

Battlestar Galactica has the traitor mechanism from Shadows over Camelot, and it has it in spades. BSG isn't so much a cooperative game as a team game, maybe that should really be it's own category. In any event, it tries to keep 1 player from playing everyone's turn by stating up front that player could very well be working against you!

Ghost Stories felt like a step backwards in the development of the genre. It makes no attempt to fix what I believe is the biggest failing of most cooperative games (and perhaps, the entire genre) - it's solitaire.

It's not even multiplayer solitaire... one person can just play the game all by themselves. All weekend at BGG.con people were loving the game and talking about how hard it was, but I'm not sure that "hard" should correlate to "chances it's impossible to win, whether you know it or not." Pandemic suffers from that, some games you can't possibly win, but you don't know that until after you play.

So far the cooperative game that I think promotes teamwork the best is Pandemic. Space Alert with a crew that does a better job of communicating (as opposed to everyone shouting out what they can do, which I heard a lot this weekend) might do a better job, but so far I've not seen it. It's odd to say that Pandemic promotes teamwork when people can just turn their hands face up and one player can play the whole game... but in my experience if you don't turn your hand face up, you actually have to talk to your friends to formulate that good plan, and somehow that feels more like teamwork to me.

There are some more cooperative games that I didn't try, such as Red November, whose gimmick I heard was that any player can turn traitor at any time, but if you don't do it right then you lose. I didn't hear much good about Red November. I did play a prototype of a Pandemic expansion - that was pretty cool. There were new roles, some more similar to the old ones than others. Also they added Viral Epidemics - which make one color (at random) worse than the others. When an Epidemic is drawn, it indicates something bad that happens with the viral color. It serves to prioritize the colors differently because even if Yellow isn't as bad off as Black on the board, you have to count each Yellow outbreak twice (for example).

I'm convinced that a real cooperative game, a game in which players are doing they're own thing but are encouraged to cooperate, will require some hidden information that can't be known by all players. I think time pressure will help keep one player from playing for everyone else as well, but there has to be some ability to overlap my task with yours so I can help you if you need me to. Maybe with this flurry of cooperative games on the market I'll attempt to put my vision for that genre together. My chosen theme so far is the TV show 24, where players play CTU agents cooperating to thwart a terrorist plot. Players will be able to utilize Jack Bauer as an NPC, but they are all generic agents, and at a certain point in the game you can find out that you're actually a traitor. If that happens you'll need to bring the game to a close quickly, because if you wait too long, you may turn back into a non-traitor player! It seems to me that kind of thing happened all the time in the first season.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rules for "Alternate" Winds of Fate

15 Destiny cards (5@ Safe/Death/Stranded)
50(?) Adventure cards (2 suits, Help/Hinder)
30 Crew tokens
1 Odysseus counter
1 Round counter
30 Player markers in 5 colors
supply of scoring chits
supply of Bet Chips
5 Turn Order tiles
8 Reward Tiles
9 Encounter Tiles
6 God Cards

Each player begins the game with:
3 Bet Chips
3 Destiny cards (Safe/Death/Stranded)
6(?) Adventure cards in hand

The board is set up as normal - 9 Encounter tiles distributed randomly. Odysseus marker begins at Troy. Starting crew depends on number of players:
3 players: 20 crew
4 players: 25 crew
5 players: 30 crew

Each round consists of an Encounter phase followed by an Adventure phase. In the Encounter phase, Odysseus and his crew travel from one Encounter tile to the next. The path taken (Calm vs Stormy) depends on the outcome of the previous Adventure - if Odysseus won the adventure, he takes the Calm path. If he lost the adventure, the stormy path is followed. The Encounter tile will indicate any effect it has, follow the instructions on the tile before proceeding to the Adventure phase. Reward Tiles are drawn (as many as there are players in the game) and displayed.

In the Adventure phase players play cards to aid Odysseus in the adventure or hinder him. At the end, the gods Athena and Poseidon weigh in and the Adventure is resolved. In player order, players take turns either playing an Adventure card face down in front of them, or passing. Once a player passes, they no longer participate in the Adventure. Once a player has played an Adventure card to either Help or Hinder Odysseus, all subsequent Adventure cards played during that Adventure must follow suit. When a player passes, they take the lowest turn order marker available such that the first player to pass will play last in the following round, and the last player to pass will play first.

After all players have passed, reveal the top God card and all played cards. Athena cards count toward Helping Odysseus, Poseidon cards count toward Hindering. If the total value of all Help cards meets or exceeds the total value of all Hinder cards, then Odysseus has won the adventure! Otherwise, he has lost the Adventure, and a number of crew is lost equal to the value of the God card (even if the God card pictures Athena).

After the adventure is resolved, players take the consolations listed on the turn order tiles and in turn order draft the Reward Tiles on display. These rewards indicate some number of cards or Victory Points, or the opportunity to take a new Bet chip, place a bet, or move a bet. After the rewards are taken, advance the Round counter and move Odysseus to the next Encounter tile along the appropriate path (Stormy/Calm) depending on the outcome of the last adventure.

Scoring in this version of the game is based on placing bets. There are 2 types of bets players will place, a Destiny bet (HOW the game will end - what Odysseus' fate will be: Safe return home, Death, Stranded at sea) and a Timeline bet (WHEN the game will end). The game ends when one of three things happens:
1. Odysseus arrives at Ithaca and survives the Adventure there
2. Odysseus loses all of his crew
3. Odysseus runs out of time (12 rounds)

At the beginning of the game, each player takes one of their Destiny cards indicating which of the 3 game end conditions they think will occur, and place it prominently in front of them face down. At certain points during the game (when passing in an Adventure without having played a card) the player can switch their Destiny card with one of the other 2. At the end of the game, the Destiny cards are revealed and a 10 point bonus is scored by all players who's Destiny card matches the actual game end condition.

When instructed to PLACE A BET, a player may take a Bet chip (assuming they have one) and place it on the Round track. They are betting that the game will end on that round. Additional chips are added to the bet from the supply - 1 for each round between the current round and the round the bet is made on. For example, if it is currently round 2, and you place a bet on round 6, 4 additional chips are placed on your bet chip. The player then places an ownership marker of their color on the stack to indicate who's bet it is. At the end of the game players are paid for their bets. Each stack is paid to it's owner, with a penalty for inaccuracy: players are penalized 1/3/6/10/15 chips for being off by 1/2/3/4/5 rounds in either direction. For example, our round 6 bet, made in round 2 has a total of 5 chips (the bet chip plus 4 additional chips). If the game ends in round 8, our payout is 5-3=2.

After all bets are paid out players score 2 points for each Bet Chip they have. This score is added to the victory points collected during the game and the 10 point bonus for the Destiny bet for a final score. The player with he most points, wins. In the case of a tie, the player with the earliest final turn order is the winner.

Alternate Winds of Fate structure

Randall McClain (Nando on BGDF) - the person who's original idea Winds of Fate was for a Game Design Showdown entry - has been thinking along other lines for this game. Here's what he feels is probably the best structure.

Like my basic skeleton, his idea still has episodes, resolved one at a time via card play as I've suggested (a la Beowulf or Taj Mahal), but instead of this new "invest in Odysseus' safe return" mechanism, Nando suggests players place bets on 2 things:

(1) A timeline - WHEN will the game end? How many more rounds?
(2) A result - HOW will the game end? Will Odysseus return safely home? Will he die trying? Or will he become stranded at sea?

Mechanics for this have been floating around in my mind, but basically they're to the effect of this: Players would begin the game with some limited supply of Betting chips - like the Coins I've been talking about perhaps. At discreet times during the game, players will be allowed to place these bets on the timeline, thereby betting the game will last a certain number of turns. The further away that point is from the time of the bet, the higher the maximum payout will be, and that payout will be reduced for inaccuracy. A nice way to calculate the payout is that you bet the game will last N more rounds, and the payout is = N-(1/round missed by). For example, if you be the game will last 8 more rounds, and it ends in 6, then you are off by 2. Your payout is 8-2=6.

In addition, players would place a side bet on HOW the game would end - Safe Return vs Death vs Stranded (I'm not really sure there needs to be a difference between Stranded and Death, but maybe 3 possibilities is better than 2). At the end of the game players would earn a bonus if they have bet correctly as to how the game ended.

Initially I thought the HOW bet would be a secret, and could change at certain times during the game (at a cost), and that the WHEN bet would be public info. However I quickly realized that your HOW bet might become obvious through your actions, while your WHEN bet would not, so the other way around would probably be more fun.

Then again, the mechanisms I have in mind for making these WHEN bets involve public info, so maybe everything could be in the open. Or - if there are 3 HOW results, maybe secret goals there is ok... "Is he aiding this adventure because he want's Odysseus to make it home, or because he wants to strand Odysseus at sea?"

I'll keep this in mind as an alternative 0 I'd like to try both versions and see which is more fun.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Another Winds of Fate epiphony

As I've mentioned, I've been trying to work on Odysseus: Winds of Fate recently. I haven't been as diligent as I'd hoped, but I did get a chance to discuss the game with Mike Nickoloff at RinCon the other week, and think about a couple of aspects. The current plan is to have a prototype to test at BGG.con this week - which gives me about a day and a half to get it ready.

I gave some thought to the player rewards for each adventure, and I'm (finally) making tokens for them. Here's the epiphany I had today though:

In Taj Mahal there is an additional reward for dropping from an auction without playing any cards. This makes sense, you're giving up any chance of gaining any points at all in order to sort of reload. Since my main mechanism for resolving adventures is similar, it stands to reason that there should also be some reward for dropping without playing any cards - a consolation for not having any say whatsoever on the outcome of the adventure, which contributes to the outcome of Odysseus' overall journey.

Originally I thought maybe drawing additional cards would be the obvious way to go. Then I realized that maybe that would be a good opportunity to allow additional opportunities to 'invest' in the game end! If a player drops early (without participating in the Adventure) then they get no say in the impact that adventure will have on Odysseus' "stock" (the value of a Safe Return). So it would be cool if that's the price you have to pay to make a (potentially lucrative) investment.

The cost of that investment (I'm going to talk about it like "buying a share" in Odysseus' safe return home) will depend on Odysseus' current position on the board. The board is a 3x3 array of Encounter tiles which Odysseus will traverse more or less from left to right. The left column will amount to a cost of 1 coin per share. In the middle column a share will cost 2 coins. In the rightmost column a share will cost 3 coins.

I like the sound of this!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Recent gaming: Shadows over Camelot: Merlin's Company and Dominion

Shadows Over Camelot: Merlin's Company
My roommate won Merlin's Company in a drawing on BGG, so he bought Shadows Over Camelot in anticipation. For a long time the expansion never came, and when I asked him about it he said he tried to email Days of Wonder about it, but he wasn't sure if the email actually went or something, and that he didn't want to deal with it. "That's silly" I thought, so I emailed Days of Wonder on his behalf inquiring about the prize, and they said it had been returned in the mail back in August! While I don't know why they wouldn't have tried to contact Ben about this, I gave them the correct address and they said they'd resend it the next day - and what do you know, a few days later it arrived!

Friday I finally got a chance to try the game with the expansion, and with 8 people, 1 traitor in the mix for sure, probably 2. The group may not have been the best for that kind of experience, as one loyal player did some blatantly awful things like a false accusation, letting a fairly obvious traitor out of prison* and suggesting they also make a (false) accusation. If not for his behavior, I would have been convinced I knew the identity of the other traitor (and would have been correct), but he talked me out of it.

* In Merlin's Company, whenever a player tries to move to a quest he has to draw a Travel card which has some effect. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes Merlin accompanies you on the quest (which is good in general, but if you liked where he was before then it can actually be a detriment to move him away from there)... but most of the time the travel card is a nuisance which makes you discard some cards, fight a siege engine, or simply lose your turn. Knowing the contents of the travel deck one can protect against it by carrying a Grail card and a pair of fight cards that they don't otherwise need (preferably 3's or better, so that you have a good chance vs that siege engine if need be) at all times, but that's a lot of work. If you don't prepare like that then you run the risk of losing your entire turn trying to move and failing. One of the cards is called CAPTURED! which not only ends your turn, but says that your turn is skipped until someone discards a special card as their Heroic action - so not only does the captured player lose their heroic action, but so does one other player, AND the knights lose a special white card, AND whatever quest the captured player was going to advance is delayed AND they have to try and move there again in the future!

I think what I'm saying is that I don't like the expansion much. The up-side is that you get Merlin, who hands out white cards to players for free, but the up side doesn't seem to me to be all that attractive compared to players simply having to lose their turns in a game where you only get to do 1 thing on your turn then wait a while for your next turn.

One good thing about that Captured! card is that if a player who you suspect is the traitor is captured, they not only have to skip their turn (unable to wreak havoc), but at the end of the game, if they're still captured, then they don't get to turn 2 swords from white to black!

In other news, I finally played the "new hotness" - Dominion. I played it "irl" at the RinCon game convention last week, and then I figured out how to make BSW work on my computer again (firewall was blocking it) and I've played a handful of times on there. As with Race for the Galaxy and Magic: the Gathering, I prefer Dominion as a 2-player experience, but in this case I'm more tolerant of the multiplayer game than I am with those other two card games.

Dominion is a game of competitive deck building. You begin with a small deck of 7 coins (copper, value = 1) and 3 Estates (worth 1 VP, but useless otherwise). Each game there are cards you can buy into your deck, there are Treasure cards (Copper, Silver, and Gold) which you use to buy other cards, Victory cards (Estate, Duchy, and Province) which count as victory points toward winning, and Kingdom cards (there are 25 different cards) which do different things to help you build your deck. Each game you use only 10 of those 25 Kingdom cards, so the ones you want to add to your deck will be different depending on what combination of cards are available. There will be 10 of each of the 10 Kingdom cards.

On your turn, you get to do 1 Action, and then 1 Buy, then you put all the cards you played, bought, and those left in your hand into the discard pile and draw a new hand of 5 cards for next turn. Your discard pile will cycle through back into your deck when you run out of cards to draw. An Action means playing one of the Kingdom cards, which give you some effect and might give you additional Actions or Buys to use that turn, or money to spend that turn. The idea is that you buy cards which will help construct a deck that does what you want, with the goal being to have the most Victory Points in your deck when the game ends - when 3 of the piles of cards run out (get bought up).

That's it. Dominion is pretty simple rules-wise. The effects of the cards in combination with each other is what makes each game interesting. You are trying to build a deck which performs well, while other players are trying to do the same thing. The number of each card is limited, and buying the popular ones up hastens the game end. The trick is that all these neat Kingdom cards don't actually count toward winning, so you have to figure out how to translate their effects into buying Victory cards. Some people online have suggested that the hands play themselves, but that there's some interesting decisions in which cards to purchase. I disagree. Of course it depends on which cards are available and which cards you buy - if you only draw 1 Action card, then you can only play that card. In that respect your hand plays itself... but in many cases you can be building a deck that contains card combinations which lend themselves to more choice. Sometimes it feels like I'm playing an old Magic combo deck, drawing card after card, getting lots of actions, and ending up having played half of my deck each turn. And in any case, whenever you have a Buy to make there's a choice which can be very significant.

In the end, I like Dominion pretty well. I think it takes long enough to set up that it can be annoying, but if you're playing several games in a row then maybe it's acceptable. I wouldn't want to lug out all the tiny 10 card decks and everything just to play 1 hand and then pack it all back up. It's cool that you can play online, but with laggy connections and long stings of cards to play I don't love waiting for my turn to come around in a 4 player game. But as I said, multiplayer Dominion is a lot more tolerable than multiplayer Race or Magic. I really like the competitive deck building feel I get from playing Dominion.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winds of Fate: a new idea

I had a new idea about how to resolve the adventures in Winds of Fate. It's really just a variation on the original Taj Mahal type of thing...

So the cards are in 2 'suits' still: Help and Hinder. On your turn you either play a card face down or drop. Once you play a card, you have to keep playing cards of the same suit - and you can tell which suit the card is in by the back of the card. What you can't tell is the numerical value on the front of the card... in other words, you an tell if a player is trying to help Odysseus or hinder him, but you can't tell how much.

If you choose to drop from the round you cannot play any more cards - but your cards played will still count. In addition, when you drop you peek at the top card of the Olympus deck, and then are allowed to add any number of coins to your cards played. Each coin will count toward either helping or hindering Odysseus (depending on which suit you played), but will be discarded and no longer count for your score.

After all players have dropped, the top Olympus card and all of the played cards are revealed, and the total amount of help and hindrance is added up. If there's more help than hindrance, then Odysseus "wins" that adventure. If not, Odysseus "loses".

A win result increases the value of the coins (as described in the last post), while a loss decreases it. Also, a win will move Odysseus' crew closer to Ithaca while a loss will move him to another location parallel or further away for the next adventure.

Meanwhile, players get individual rewards for their personal performance in the Adventure. As before, rewards come from saying in longer, and maybe a bonus for playing the suit that ends up deciding the outcome (help if "win" - Hinder if "loss").

The idea would be to earn these coins, and then either save them if you think they'll be worth more at the end, or spend them to ensure they're not (i.e. ensure Odysseus doesn't make it home). However, if you spend too much on that, then you may lose to someone who has saved some coins.

I believe there would need to be a VP reward for the Adventure that is separate from the coins in order to make the coin value matter at the end - otherwise it's simply about getting more coins than other players, and it doesn't matter what they're worth.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Odysseus: Winds of Fate - another idea

I just came up with an alternate 'investment' idea for Winds of Fate. Recall that the basic structure is that players bet or invest on whether Odysseus will make it home or not, and then attempt to influence each Adventure along the way to that end.

The new idea is that there is a track indicating the 'value' of each coin invested. Players earn coins through "good play" in the Adventure mini-games, and then they can either invest them (a bet that Odysseus will return home safely), or not.

Each adventure won by Odysseus will increase the value of the track, thereby increasing the value of coins invested. Each adventure lost will decrease it. A safe return home will increase the value by several units. At the end of the game, the track will indicate how many points each invested coin is worth. Uninvested coins are worth 10 VP apiece (the track would start at 10).

So betting on a safe return could end up in lost money if Odysseus loses too many adventures along the way, but could end up with a positive return if he doesn't. Betting on failure means not investing coins. Of course coins could also be spent in order to draw cards, or otherwise influence the individual adventures.

Any thoughts on this alternate structure?

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm stuck!

One of the best reasons I can think of to collaborate with another person in a creative endeavor is that it will help get you past the inevitable point where you get stuck.

I've been trying to revive Odysseus: Winds of Fate lately, and Ive been giving a lot of thought to the structure of the game. I'm happy with that:

Odysseus's ship moves from location to location, and at each stop there's an adventure. "Winning" the adventure means he gets closer to home, "Losing" it means he moves further from Ithaca. Either the ship reaches Ithaca, or all the crew dies trying. Players are Sisters of fate, betting or investing in the final outcome of the voyage, and also influencing each of the adventures. Players should be rewarded for "good play" (whatever that means) during each adventure, as well as for bets/investments that turn out to be correct.

So the structure is there, but I'm stuck on the main mechanics that should be used to resolve each adventure. I can't get away from the original idea I had - card play sort of like Taj Mahal. I would like to come up with mechanics which go along with the theme of the game, and I don't know if Taj Mahal card play is the way to go - but I can't think of anything else... I'm stuck!

I need to get back in touch with Nando on this - the guy I was working on the game with in the first place (it was originally his entry to a BGDF Game Design Showdown). Maybe he can help me either find a new mechanism that would fit, or help find a way to make the Taj Mahal card play work better.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

10/11/08 playtest: 8/7 Central and Invasion of Trishula

According to my record keeping, I haven't played 8/7 Central since January 2007. I've been meaning to get back to it and fix the stuff I didn't like all this time, but it seems I just never got around to it.

Mohan has asked for the current state of the game, and I have yet to get him any information (sorry Mohan!) - I sat down to figure out what exactly to send him and realized Eric was coming over to playtest, so I would be able to try 8/7 Central again, with the latest ideas implemented, and then send Mohan up-to-date information.

8/7 Central
I incorporated the recent ideas into the game:
* No auctions - instead you buy programs from a track like Civ cards in Stone Age.
* During Setup, players were simply dealt a random program for each day, then paid for those out of a starting $30.
* As an action a player could purchase a program and place it directly into their lineup, or move a program from one time slot to another. As a result of the move/placement, another program could potentially be 'bumped' into the player's 'hand' - which doesn't count as being in play, but may be moved back into the lineup with a future Move action.
* All advertisement cards were removed from the deck (even the special ones I planned to keep). Any card could be placed face down as an Ad. Placing an Ad rewards a player with $1 immediately, and $2 each time that program is viewed. There can still be 1 ad on a 1/2 hour program and 2 on a 1-hr program.

All of these changes seemed to work well. I believe $30 is too much to start with, it used to be $30 when players would start with 6 programs, for which they would bid in an auction, and I felt like that was a good number. Now the prices are a little lower (due to no bidding), and they started with only 5 programs, so they had plenty of money to start with and weren't pressured to get more in the early game. However it did seem that as they spent their money, it got appropriately tight, so this wasn't a problem.

I think the next time I will start players with fewer shows. My first thought was to have people start with a random program on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and let them buy new ones for Thursday and Friday... but Ben suggested starting the first week on Wednesday and just having a 3 day week. I think the first week or week and a half will be mostly a setup week to get your lineup going, so having a short Week 1 seems like a really good idea.

I'd like the early game to be about filling out and building up your lineup, and the late game to be about aggressively going after Victory Points by moving strong programs to compete with your competitors. Maybe to emphasize this there should be a ramp-up of Victory Points... I was going to say "award 1vp/Genre during Week #1, 2vp during Week #2, 3vp during Week #3, and 4VP during Week #4" (I'd like the game to last at least 4 weeks) - but 4vp at a time seems way to much compared to 1 in the first week. Maybe 0/1/2/3 would be alright. Or maybe 1/1/2/2 VP for weeks 1/2/3/4.

Alternatively, maybe the game should only last 3 weeks, and then 0/1/2 could be feasible. There's a problem with a shorter number of weeks though, which I'll talk about later. Ben also suggested giving more weight to Friday programming because thematically, that kind of thing happens in real life (I guess more people watch TV on Friday nights). I don't think this is necessary, and in fact I think it kind of happens naturally since there are lots of actions available each week before Friday is scored - while there are only a couple before Tuesday is scored. However it might be interesting to offer an extra VP in each category for Fridays to give players something to concentrate on (the big point Fridays, or easier, smaller points the rest of the week). It's an idea worth considering.

The Moving/Placing programs as an action seemed fine to me. There was a small problem with the purchasing mechanism though. When the queue fills up with programs that are unattractive, then nothing will change that except purchasing a program. But nobody want's to purchase an unattractive program! So what I think needs to happen for that mechanism to really work is either (a) as an action, a player can wipe all or some of the queue clean and replace with cards from the deck, or (b) at the end of each day simply remove the program in the cheapest slot and slide the rest down. The removed program could be discarded, or placed on the bottom of the program deck, or whatever. If deemed necessary, this could also happen an additional time at the end of each week.

The new advertisement mechanism worked beautifully - just as I'd hoped it would. Players now have the choice between Fundraising (discard a card for $2), and playing an Ad (for $1, and potentially more later) - which seems good. Normally an Ad is better, but if you are in a bind and need that extra buck, you can get it. Also, in the endgame there's a way to get more than $1 at a time (via Fundraising action).

The game really needs to be longer (more weeks) so that shows can build up, gain Ratings counters, ads can yield revenue, etc. Maybe an additional die roll at the end of each week would help - ALL programs would be checked for hits, allowing more programs to be viewed, gain ratings counters, and yield revenue. This could be a tricky way to add virtual weeks to the game without adding to the game length.

The game length was an issue - we played for 2 hours and cut the game short after 2 weeks. People's turns were taking entirely too long. I think the fact that this was a 4 player game (maybe the first time this was played with 4 players) might have been part of it, as well as the fact that it's difficult to see who has what on each day - the information isn't organized very well. I've had an idea to make a central board where you place your programs, so it's easy to see who has what on each day - but even better than that might be a central board which has a chart for each Genre on each day, and each player has a marker in each column - this would simply show your current level in each genre on each day. Then at a glance you could tell which genres you're winning on a given day, and how close you are if you're behind. I think that will cut down on people's turn lengths considerably, but I still worry the game might take too long.

Let's see... in a 4 player game lasting 4 weeks (with the 1st week curtailed to 3 days) each player gets a total of 18 turns, and there are 22 status update phases. That's about 94 'turns' worth of time. For the game to take a reasonable amount of time (with 4 players, maybe 75 minutes, max) then each of those turns needs to average just 45 seconds. I just hope that's realistic.

The good news is that the players felt the game worked alright (aside from the information processing snags, and some number balancing), and was fun. They said they thought it's definitely worth pursuing.

The Invasion of Trishula
After some discussion on 8/7 Central we played Eric's game: The Invasion of Trishula. I'd played this before, but not since a year ago June. The basic idea of the game is pretty neat - 3 players are co-existing on a planet, sort of fighting amongst each other for territory (and therefore resources). Then a common enemy arrives to invade their planet. The game is won by the Invader player if they reach the Temple. If the Trishulans (the other three players) successfully defend the temple until the end of the game, then the Invader loses, and the winner of the game is the Trishulan with the most VPs.

You gain VPs by (1) occupying ("Defending") the temple, (2) sacrificing (or donating) resources to the temple each round, and (3) defeating Invader units in combat. it costs a couple VPs to attack Trishulans. There's a neat mechanism wherein at the beginning of the game, the Trishulans aren't very aware of the Invader, so the amount of resources they can gather and a few other things are at a certain level becasue they're not worried or concerned with the invasion. As the Invader kills your units or contaminates your territory, you become more and more aware or upset, and after a point you become more dangerous to the invader, and at that point your rewards/incentives shift away from bickering with your fellow Trishulans. The idea is that you begin fighting amongst yourselves, and over time you become aware of an ever-increasing invasion force, so you are supposed to band together and protect against it (or die).

The biggest problem with this game, for me, is that any game with a common enemy and a single winner is just begging for a Kingmaker. Some people don't mind that in games, where at the end of the game it comes down to player A making a choice which either makes player B win, or player C win, and neither option has a net effect on themselves. In fact, one could argue that every game is like that, but the "kingmaker" decision is not obvious, and occurs well before the game is actually over. However I for one agree with those who feel that is a design flaw. When playing a game and coming to such a decision, I feel deadlocked. I feel I can't reasonably choose one over the other, so what am I to do? Randomly choose the winner of the game? Vinci is a game that I actually enjoy, which sometimes comes to a kingmaker decision in the end. Tyler used to argue that the point was to get so far ahead you couldn't get kingmade out of the win. In that respect you could consider a win one in which you were that far ahead, and anything where kingmaking happened a tie I suppose - or you could consider the game a sort of diplomacy game, where you don't want to be the guy that was picking on the eventual kingmaker the whole time - or he won't make you king!

That said, I don't think there's anything that can be done about kingmaking in such a game. One idea might be to hide Victory Points, so that it's not obvious ho is winning. However, if VPs are hidden but trackable, then in essence they're not really hidden at all (many people don't bother hiding trackable information, and there is good reasoning behind that, even if I don't necessarily agree with it). The next logical step would be to make VPs hidden and not trackable. Not sure how that would work exactly...

The rest of the game seems a lot better than it was the last time I played. The game attempts to balance an exponential growth of the invading force with a linear regression of the strength of the Trishulans in such a way that at the climax of the game it will come down to player action as to whether the Invaders succeed or fail. In that respect I think the game is succeeding. There are still some balance issues, and some aspects of that system that aren't right, but I think it's getting pretty close. In our game it did come down to the wire, and while a couple of us had a rule or two wrong, in retrospect the Invader may have in fact been able to win.

Suggestions made after the game were, in no particular order...
* The Trishulans started with 65 units in play - WAY too many. That could be scaled down to 40 or maybe even fewer.
* The first round was intended to be for the Trishulans to do some stuff without the invaders in play yet, so the invaders start on the 2nd turn. Maybe better would be to 'pre-play' that first round, and start the game with the Trishulans in a reasonable position (where they'd be after 1 round of play) and begin with the Invader arriving.
* The invader never sacrificed any resources - she couldn't afford to. There's a mechanism wherein something happens if the invader sacrifices more than the combined Trishulans, but since the invader cannot afford to sacrifice, that thing will never ever happen. I suggested that this other thing that the Invader can (and wants to) pay for right before the sacrifice be folded into the sacrifice - where "as long as the invader sacrifices X resources, that thing happens." There's an analogous thing for the Trishulans, so I think it fits well.
* Eric forgot a rule about movement which would have helped - that you can move 2 spaces if moving through friendly territory. This is important because otherwise units get stranded on the board and cannot do anything. But moving 2 when attacking is too good, so the rule should be that you can only move 2 spaces if you're moving through your own territory (probably ending in your own territory), and you can only move 1 if you're attacking a unit or in fact moving into territory that's not your own.
* The points awarded for occupying the temple were atrocious. Originally it was a straight 25 points for being in the temple. That was too much. This time it was 3vp per unit in the temple (irrespective of who's unit) - which meant when Eric and I each brought 12 units into the temple, we gained 24*3=72 points against Rif, two rounds in a row. There's no way he could come back from that - so obviously that was not the right reward. Eric's intention was to reward players for 'cooperating' to defend the temple. I see where he's trying to go with that, however I think the long and short of it is this: The reward for cooperating in the temple (being friendly and not killing each other in that location) is "being able to defend against the invader". The penalty for not doing that is "you all lose the game". Therefore I don't think it's so necessary to have a VP reward for cooperation in that respect. The VPs from the temple need to be more in line with the other VPs in tha game (mainly the VPs from sacrificing - as you sacrifice 1x/round, and you get temple points 1x/round). Note also that you sacrifice resources for points each round, while temple points don't cost you anything. So maybe a better VP reward (if it must increase for sharing) would be "each player in the temple gets 3vp per player in the temple" - which means you either get 3 points on each opponent, or 6 points on 1 opponent, or you net nothing if all three players are present. This is also irrespective of the number of units there... the reward for having more units there might be defending vs the invaders anyway...
* Actually, this is counter to my last statement... a thought I had last night was that there should be an opportunity cost to hanging out in the temple en-mass. So if temple VPs is based on the number of people you have in there, then those units are getting you VPs instead of getting you something else. I'm not sure what - maybe you should need a unit on a space to get resources from it? Or maybe having a static VP reward is the answer, so piling guys into the temple simply doesn't do much for you in the early game - except keep you from being kicked out by your opponents.

That was sort of a disjointed, stream-of-consciousness report, but hopefully helpful in some respects.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm such a slacker!

I have been seriously slacking where it comes to game design lately. The Hippodice (game design contest) deadline is approaching, and I'm not sure which game - if any - is in good enough shape to submit!

Of the games on the list, there are several which are (still) partially prototyped, and I'm spinning my gears trying to decide what version of rules to use. The list is only getting longer, here's an updated list:

Old Standbys - games which have been around, 1/2 done and untouched, some of them going on 3 years now:
- 8/7 Central
- Hot & Fresh
- Dynasty
- Odysseus: Winds of Fate
- Kilauea
- Reading Railroad
- Rodeo Drive

Old Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere Yet, But Probably Should - some of these have been getting stale as well:
- Investigative/Tabloid Journalism
- Red Colony
- Clash of the Kingpins
- Time = Money
- Knights Templar

New Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere Yet, But Probably Should:
- Dating Game

New Ideas that I've started actually prototyping or testing:
- Ticket Please
- Moctezuma's Revenge

I have lots of ideas for several of these games, so many that I think I'm overwhelmed and am not making any progress on any of them!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

BGG.con coming up!

It's getting close to November, which means it's getting close to time for BGG.con! I don't think I prepare for any trip as far in advance as I do for this convention. I bought plane tickets months ago, I arranged hotel accommodations (sharing a room with a friend from previous years), and now - still 6 or 7 weeks before the con, I'm posting a sign-up list on BoardGameGeek for playing unpublished games.

I did this last year and I think it was successful, so I intend to make it an annual thing. I'm trying to help grow the burgeoning game design community the only way I really know how - by designing games, and bringing unpublished games to conventions to drum up interest!

Not all the games I bring are my own. I have several friends from the Board Game Designers Forum who have designed some excellent games, and I have made or obtained copies of some of them.

My action isn't entirely altruistic though, I'm constantly trying to find a way to get some of these games, by myself or my friends, published. Several publishers will be in attendance at the convention, and it would be great if I could show these games to them as well - though so far that hasn't gone as well as I'd hoped. But it's still great to get the games played and hear feedback from players.

So I'll see you at BGG.con - sign up to play some unpublished games!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Moctezuma's Revenge - first playtest

Ben and I ran through a 2 player game of Moctezuma's Revenge tonight - it took maybe 40 minutes. The rules are simple, the game is pretty simple, and I wondered if it would be interesting to play or just boring.

While at first I was skeptical, and the action felt a little uninteresting, I'm happy to report that as the game developed it did feel more fun and more interesting. There were a couple of issues that I'll address for the next playtest, which will be tomorrow night, probably with 3 players:

* With the 5 actions a turn, and the only thing costing 1 action being "move", there were a lot of times when you simply had to waste an action. This felt crappy, and I remember from All For One playtests that players don't like that. I considered just making it 3 actions per turn, so you could move and search a little, you could move, move, move, or you could spend your whole turn searching a temple - no wasted actions! Another idea which I think I'll use instead (or in addition) is to add an action when searching. Currently it's 2 actions = draw 2 cards, keep 1; 3 actions = draw 5 cards keep 1. I think I'll add 1 action = draw 1 card, keep none. (cards not kept go on the bottom of the Temple deck).

* I think peeking at 2 or 5 Curse chits at a time s pretty powerful - I'm going to try making it 1 action = peek at 1 chit, 2 actions peek at 3 chits, no option to spend 3 actions looking at 5 chits. So maximum in one turn you could look at 3+3+1=7 chits, which happens to be the same maximum per turn under current rules (2+5), but I think that will be better overall. I might reduce the actions to 3 per turn as well, which means in one turn you could look at a maximum of 4 chits. I would like it to be worth looking at some chit sometimes, but not worth it to spend a bunch of urns just looking at chits.

* I'm thinking for the Clue temples - in order for the treasures to 'count as clues' and score the bonus, maybe they ought to have to be larger than 1vp worth... or "one from each temple, minimum value 2 (or 3)". Or maybe the value of the bonus could be the sum ff the values on the set of cards collected, you just have to get 1 of each to score them.
Edit: I'm liking the idea of scoring based on the actual cards you take out of the temple... part of the game I kind of like is acting based on your opponents' actions, so if they pull out a 5vp card vs a 1vp card, that should mean something. I think for the Lost City clue temples to be interesting, they should encourage taking a larger valued clue.

* I might try a more random method of determining which temple's curse chits are revealed each round, Ben suggested rolling 2d8, which would speed up the game some, but not too much because often the die would come up 8 (when nothing would happen), and once temples start to get fully flipped, they could be rolled again (in which case probably nothing happens). The strict flipping of 1 chit each round seemed to work fine, but it might have given us too many turns each. I think it would be neat if you could visit every temple and collect 1 card from each only if you don't dilly-dally or stop to do research.
Edit: I think I'll stick with a mechanical "flip the next chit" rule for now.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Moctezuma's Revenge! - Rules

by Seth Jaffee
A game of research and exploration for 2-6 players

At the height of the Aztec empire, great temples were built for the Kings. When their time had come, the Kings were entombed in their temples to be revered forever, surrounded by great treasures of the Aztec people! While researching the temples it’s easy to make off with Aztec treasure, but some of the kings are cursed!

Research the temples and collect treasure, but beware of cursed treasure – it’ll count against you! Also, some temples contain clues to the whereabouts of the fabled lost City of Gold! Find all the clues and lead the way to El Dorado!

1 Game board with spaces for 10 temple decks, as well as a chart for Aztec king names and spaces for curse chits.
16 Curse chits – 7 “Cursed!” And 9 “Safe”
10 Temple decks of 11 cards each, labeled with a number (1-10) and with a VP value (5/3/3/2/2/2/1/1/1/1/1)
10 Name cards – 7 with names of Aztec kings, and 3 that indicate Clue temples
6 Researcher pawns in 6 different colors
1 pad of Record sheets

Shuffle the Name cards face down and distribute 1 to each Temple deck. Shuffle the temple decks separately and place them in the 10 temple locations on the board.

Mix the Curse chits and distribute them face down to the 15 Curse Chit spaces on the board (next to the names of the Aztec kings).

Each player chooses a player color and places the Researcher of his color on the Library space.

Randomly determine who will play first. Play will continue clockwise around the table.

On your turn you will have 5 Action points to spend. The actions you can do are:
1 action: Move your Researcher to an adjacent location.
Research Kings (at Library):
2 actions: Peek at 2 face down Curse chits.
3 actions: Peek at 5 face down Curse chits.
Explore Temple (at a temple):
2 actions: Draw 2 temple cards. Keep 1 and put the rest on the bottom of the deck.
3 actions: Draw 5 temple cards. Keep 1 and put the rest on the bottom of the deck.
* Note: you may never keep the Name card from a temple deck.
After each player has had 1 turn, flip 1 Curse chit face up (start with the first column of chits, turning up the topmost face down chit, then moving to the 2nd column, and finally Moctezuma’s 3rd chit).

Game end:
When Moctezuma’s 3rd chit is turned face up, the game is over and scores are tallied. Determine which treasure cards come from a Cursed temple, which come from a Safe temple, and which come from a Clue temple.

Each temple card from a Safe temple scores the number of VPs on the card. For each treasure card from a Cursed temple, subtract the VP value on the card from your score. Double the points scored or subtracted from the temples of Moctezuma I and Moctezuma II. All treasure cards from Clue temples are worth zero points, but if a player has at least 1 treasure from each Clue temple, that player scores a 12 point bonus for finding the City of Gold.

The player with the most points is the winner! In case of a tie, the tied player with more total treasure cards is the winner. If still tied, the players in question share the victory.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Moctezuma's Revenge!

The other night at dinner an odd thought crossed my mind and then I uttered the phrase

There ought to be a game called Montezuma's Revenge

What popped to mind was a game wherein there are Aztec temples, one of them home to the cursed Aztec king Montezuma (actually "Moctezuma," but you know us English speakers). The initial idea was to send researchers out into the many Temples on the board to loot treasure, and every once in a while any researchers who had looted the tomb of Moctezuma would die. Using this information, you would deduce which temple is cursed, while also trying to get uncursed loot for points.

I wasn't immediately sure how to have players find out if their researchers died without knowing which temple was cursed, so I went with the second idea, which I've fleshed out into Version 1.0 of the game. I hope to have a prototype ready and playtest it this weekend. Here's what I've got at present:

There are 10 Temples on the board, plus a Library. These are the locations a player can visit with his Researcher pawn. The Temples are numbered 1-10, and each has an identical deck of cards representing the treasures inside. The decks have 11 cards in them with VP value distribution as follows: 5/3/3/2/2/2/1/1/1/1/1. A Name card will be shuffled into each deck as well to indicate which Aztec king the temple was built for. The front of the card indicates it's VP value as well as which Temple the card is from. The backs are all identical.

On the board there is also a column with 7 names of Aztec Kings - these are the same names that are on the name cards shuffled into the temple decks. But there are 10 temples, not 7... the other 3 are labeled "City of Gold" or "El Dorado" or "Akator" or something like that. Those temples aren't actually the lost City of Gold, but they contain clues to find it. Next to each of the 7 Kings' names are spaces for 2 Curse Chits (3 for Moctezuma's temple) - the City of Gold clue temples are not cursed. There are 15 Curse chits, about 6-8 of them marked as "Cursed" and the rest "Safe". These chits get distributed face down in the spaces by the names, thus if a name has any Cursed chits by it, then that King's temple is considered Cursed.

On your turn you have 5 actions to spend. Actions and costs are:
* 1 action: Move to an adjacent temple (or Library)
* 2 actions: At Temple, draw 2 cards, keep 1 (you can't keep the Name card)
* 3 actions: At Temple, draw 5 cards, keep 1 (you can't keep the Name card)
* 2 actions: At Library, peek at 2 face down chits
* 3 actions: At Library, peek at 5 face down chits

After each player takes a turn, one of the Curse chits is turned face up. When all the Curse chits have been revealed, then the game ends. So over time the cursed temples become known, and the game will end after 15 rounds. Actually, I have an idea to make that "15 rounds or so" - but I'm not sure if I like it or not.

At the end of the game you score points for all treasures that came from Safe temples, and you lose points for all treasures that came from Cursed temples. Any treasure card from Moctezuma's temple is worth double the printed value (either good or bad). All treasure cards from City of Gold temples are worth 0 points, but having at least 1 treasure from each scores you a bonus for having found the lost City of Gold.

I hope to have a prototype by this weekend to try out. I'm sure I'll post about how it goes!

Late thought: Another way to do it might be to NOT have the Name cards in the decks, but instead have face down chits numbered 1-10 in front of the names in the column on the board, and allow people to research that as well. Not sure if I like that or not, it just came to mind and I wanted to type it out before I forgot. This would mean the decks could have different backs, which might be a little easier for sorting. Action costs might be:
* 2: Look at 1 face down Temple ID chit
* 3: Look at 3 face down Temple ID chits

Friday, September 05, 2008


Strategy (strāt'ə-jē): A plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result

In a discussion online today I encountered a speed bump in communication between myself and 2 of the people I often chat with, JC Lawrence and Ben Keightley. They said they didn't believe in "multiple paths to victory" - that it was a bewildering concept, and in the end had no actual meaning. Rather it's one of those catch-phrases that people adhere to without ever bothering to look back to reality.

In my mind that's not the case at all. To me, Multiple Paths to Victory means more than 1 distinct strategic approaches to the game. When I mentioned this, Ben said something I found interesting, and which explained to me why we weren't seeing eye-to-eye:

< cocadieta >: Puerto Rico has one dominant strategy. The dominant strategy, documented flawlessly on BGG, is to first establish income sources, then generate income, then turn that income into points.

To me, that's not a Strategy, it's simply how you go about games with economic engines. It's like saying "My strategy is to win the game!" No shit.

I guess in a general sort of definition, what Ben proposes is a Strategy, but to me that's not useful for discussion of any game in particular. At the genre level sure - "establish an income engine and then establish a VP engine" is a way to approach economic engine games. I could say that in Agricola you need to get a food engine going before you start increasing your family and building up your farm. In Puerto Rico you need to get some kind of cash crop in order to establish income before you can start shipping or building in earnest. To that extent maybe this overarching plan is the "Strategy" you can go into the game - any game - with.

On the game level though, when discussing a particular game, I find it more useful to consider more local strategy than that. Once you determine what type of game you're playing, the global - genre level - strategy becomes common sense, and now you need to consider game specific strategy. In my mind there's still room for both long term strategy as well as short term tactics at the local, game level, and that is distinct from a genre-level general over-arching strategy.

So when I say that Puerto Rico has 2 main strategic paths, Shipping and Building, I'm referring to local (game level) strategy. I agree that as a game in the Economic Engine genre there's a global (genre level) strategy of "establish income, then generate VPs," but to me that's not useful for any kind of discussion.

One thing I like in a game is multiple paths to victory. By this I mean more than 1 distinct strategic approach at the game level to establishing that engine, or to acquiring those VPs. When designing my games, and when looking at other designs, this is what I'm considering. To me it's more useful than general strategic commentary such as "score more points over the course of the game than the other guys."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

8/7 Central - thoughts on the plane

In the airport on the way to L.A. for Gateway 2008 (convention report forthcoming) I pulled out my notebook and wrote the following:

Friday 12:30: Leave Tucson, 2:00 arrive L.A.
On the plane I should either work on Ticket, Please! cards or else 8/7 central. We'll see how that goes. Time to board!

With that in mind, I went through all the 8/7c cards on the plane and read them, looking for what adjustments would be necessary to jive with the recent ideas I intend to implement for the game.

As a side note, I happened to notice that many of the cards were in sleeves backed by not junk, but good Magic cards, such as Beta Sinkholes, Hypnotic Specters, Ehrnam Djinns, Contagion, Hymn to Tourach, Dark Ritual, Winter Orb... I could have made a pretty good deck out of that!

I removed a couple of cards from the deck that no longer made any sense, and I made minor adjustments to about 8 other cards, some to make them work, some just to clarify.

I also postulated a central board which would display each player's lineup, and the Monday shows would all line up on Monday. This might read better than having the program cards in front of you and having to read everyone's cards upside down and backwards. The board could also house the Program Track from which I hope programs will be purchased.

Now to playtest!

Strategicon report - work in progress

Last weekend I went to Los Angeles for one of the 3 annual Strategicon game conventions - Gateway 2008. I like Strategicon because they have a lot of mini tournaments at which I can usually earn some dealer dollars to spend on a new game. I also like that it's usually a cheap plane ticket and a short flight to get to L.A. - and now I have a lot of friends out there to hang out with.

Here's a brief summary of my trip. I was in something of a daze for most of it, as I really didn't sleep at all, but according to my notes this is what went down.

Friday 8/29/08:
I arrived on the scene and immediately saw Greg Richardson at a table where the Ticket to Ride card game was being taught. I ha never played that game, so I learned it and played in the tournament, and lost miserably. I was overly ambitious with tickets, all of which shared several colors, and I only managed to collect 1 White card... so I was able to do exactly 1 ticket in the first scoring phase, and the rest of my collected cards went to waste! In the 2nd half of the game I did much better, but that wasteful first round really killed me. Greg more than tripled my score!

After that I talked someone into playing the prototype of Prolix I'd brought with me. I can't recall who that was for some reason, maybe Greg, maybe not :/ I've played Prolix a couple times now since I received it in the mail. I think the board could be a little more interesting, but all in all I think it's still my favorite word game.

The next thing I did was an Amun-Re tournament. I don't play this game very often, but I usually do well at it. This time I didn't draw enough cards, and the cards I did draw just doubled up on cards in my hand. Boo! I made some bad bids, mostly because I'm horrible with the 'jump bid' card - whenever I draw it I try to do something tricky and end up screwing myself. The final score was 41-37-36-?, I finished 3rd. Sadly, a Princes of Florence tournament started before our first game of Amun-Re was over, so I lost amun-Re AND I missed out on Princes of Florence!

Next was a game of Race for the Galaxy with some of my L.A. friends (who have played the game twice as much as I have). I'm not a big fan of multiplayer RftG. I played several games of it this weekend and my opinion has not improved.

We had some time, so I suggested Wizard's Tower. Shannon liked that game, so she played while I also taught Travis. I don't think Travis cared for it much.

Erig Burgess, Travis, Chris and I sat down for a game of Tinner's Trail. I had been playing poorly in general all day, and that didn't change here. however, in Tinner's Trail I made some disappointing mistakes based on misunderstanding or simply forgetting parts of rules. I'm usually better about that, and I was frustrated at how badly I digesting Tinner's Trail. I finished dead last, and would like to play again just for that reason - but as for the game itself I don't think I liked it very much. It's just not all that interesting.

Finally in the late night it was time to play some Werewolf! I went and found Winton in one of the side rooms leading a game. I played in the next one, and I was eaten in the first night. I had to wait hours for the game to end and start again, and was eaten in the first night again! I spent a lot of time waiting and not much time playing, and by the time it was over and Winton and I went to his place to go to bed it was almost 7 in the morning! After after 4 or 5 hours of sleep we headed back to the con.

Saturday 8/30/08:
The first game I got into was a Notre Dame tournament. It's been a while since I've played that game. Our game finished with scores of 68-68-65 (I had 65). I made a mistake midgame that cost me probably 2 points, possibly 3 - still not enough to win because the winner had better tiebreakers than I did.

While we had some time, Chris and Shannon suggested Fairly Tale. I never liked Fairy Tale much because i felt like it was a sort of wimpy version of a Magic: the Gathering booster draft, only after you draft in Magic, you play a game! When my friends wanted to play it I was reluctant, but better to play that than nothing. I had to relearn the rules, and I didn't want to hold things up so I decided to relearn them as I went. So I went ahead, learning rules as I went along, choosing cards mostly at random, or because they had similar symbols on them. After the game, which I didn't win, I suggested we play again now that I knew what I was doing – but noone wanted to! Bah.

Instead we played Pow Wow. I like Liar's Dice, so I thought Pow Wow might have been OK. It's a cross between Liar's Dice and Indian Poker. I managed to win without even losing a round :) it was neat deducing the probable value on your card based on what people bid. A few times I made it really obvious by my math what everyone's cards were, and Chris 9to my left) was able to make the 'correct' bid. he commented on my making it easy, and I noted that it was on purpose - I could let him take down each player to his left in turn, doing all my work for me! :) there was an old way to play Magic that involved attacking to the left and defending to the right - I recall using a similar strategy there... I used Varchild's War Riders to give my left hand neighbor an army of creatures, then watched as he mowed through each player around the circle. When it became time to fight 1-on-1 I would simply destroy all his creatures and stop giving him more :)

I somehow got suckered into playing another multiplayer game of Race for the Galaxy :/

Liz arrived, and while she was waiting for Aaron and Travis to finish 2-player games so they could all play Indonesia, I showed her BrainFreeze! We played a few rounds of that and a game of Wizard's Tower with another guy.

I've wanted to play Winds of Plunder at home for a while now, but I had forgotten how and was being lazy about re-learning the rules. So I took this opportunity to play the game again. Soon after my first turn I remembered that you should never start that game without picking up a cannon in the first turn! Or at the very least, don't do it when there's a cannon on the upcoming tile. i picked up a treasure map instead, and then I was followed around the board by another player, being plundered at almost every turn. Then one turn when me and my aggressor were on one edge of the board and the other players were on the other edge, I had 5 wind cubes, my aggressor had some cubes, and between the 2 players on the opposite edge they had 6 cubes. I had the Blackbeard tile, and I bid all 5 cubes. If my aggressor had bid even 1 cube then we'd have won the wind direction and we wouldn't have had to use all of our actions for a gust of wind just to get anywhere. So even inadvertently that guy had my number! I finished dead last :(

I taught BrainFreeze! to the guy that was all over me in Winds of Plunder and his wife, who had gone to the U of A for grad school. She was pretty good. He wasn't as quick...

They always have Charades events at these cons, and it's fun to play once in a while. I found Winton in a back room where they'd just started a game of Charades. I jumped in on a team, which happened to be the team that won! I didn't realize it at the time, but that earned me 2 dealer dollars!

Travis, Chris, Shannon, Winton, and Daniel were in the main ballroom playing Gimme 5, and I joined them for a while until it was time for more Werewolf. Chia and Greg were playing Tichu in the vicinity, and would occasionally pop in for a round or to comment on the choices.

Finally, another night spent playing WW. This night was much better. I had some good games, including one where I was a Wolf, and I did the best job I'd ever done – until I was put on the stand, gave a really good defense, and then didn't stop while I was ahead. When I'm really tired especially, I tend to babble. I couldn't stop myself, and I ended up giving myself away. I died, but the wolves ended up winning thanks to the brilliance of Amber, who ended up leading a charge against the final Werewolf so she wouldn't give them both away, and then going against 7 villagers on her own and coming out ahead!

At 7 or 8 in the morning it was time to either go to sleep or go to breakfast. I decided to go to breakfast with 5 other WW players.

After breakfast I wanted to wake up a little, so I played BrainFreeze! Again with 2 of the Werewolf players from breakfast.

Sunday 8/31/08:
I jumped in a Power Grid tournament and ended up at the same table as Chris. I don't play PG very much since I don't like it a whole lot. But when I do play I generally do well. This time I didn't play terribly well. I didn't like the starting location I chose, but I didn't make any huge mistakes. In the end, Chris had enough money to buy up to 17 houses and power them all. I could power 17 as well, but couldn't afford to buy them all. Another guy could afford to build the houses, but his power plant capacity wasn't big enough to win.

Because of Power grid I was too late to get into the Brass tournament, but I went to check it out anyway. 4 new players had learned the rules and had just begun the game. Had I been there in time it would have been a pretty easy game for me, as it takes a game or two to figure out how to play well. When one of the players had to go and asked me to take over his game, it seemed like a handicap since his game so far had not accomplished anything. He had almost no money left, hadn't built any income, and had built some tiles and canals that were completely useless. In the end I won by about 4 points, but it was really hard and fun to dig myself out of that hole! The win earned me 10 dealer dollars as well :)

[will finish later - left notes at home]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Recent Gaming: Keltis

At KublaCon in May Aldie had Keltis with him but he hadn't printed out the English rules. When he went to bed he left the game with me in case I was able to find out the rules... to no avail. So I had the game, but no rules.

Sunday Andrew and I figured out how to cheat the boarding pass printing station into letting us open a browser window, and I was able to print out the game rules... so now I had the rules, but no game!

I did not end up playing Keltis at the convention, and now it's gone and won the Spiel des Jars, so of course I thought I ought to give it a try. I was finally able to do so last weekend, as Wystan and Liz brought a copy back with them from their trip to Europe.

Keltis sounded OK, like multiplayer Lost Cities but with a little more going on than the card game. Generally speaking I like the idea of building a bigger game out of a smaller game which is basically just a mechanism by itself. I had my issues with the execution of Zooloretto, but in general I liked the idea of building a zoo using the Coloretto mechanic. I had had a similar inkling based on something Jim Cote had said, about making a bigger game out of the mechanism that is eXXtra, and I also was working on a game built on the basic mechanism of Liar's Dice with Boyan before he moved to Atlanta. So I think the idea of building a multiplayer game out of the Lost Cities card game is cool, and was anxious to see how it turned out. I like Lost Cities, but in general don't play a lot of 2 player games.

On Sunday I played 4 games of Keltis, and I must say, I'm disappointed. I will note that the rules we played by turned out to be incorrect (I found out by talking to Sebastian, who works with Knizia on a lot of stuff), but even with the correct rules I think the game is simply based too much on having to draw amenable cards.

In case you're not familiar with the game, there are 5 paths, each corresponding to one of the 5 different suits of cards in the deck. players have a hand of 8 cards, and on your turn you either play or discard one, then draw a new one. When you play a card, it goes into a 'stack' for that suit in front of you - there can be only 1 stack for each suit in front of you. When starting a stack, any card can be used, and there are 2 of each card labeled 0-10 in each suit. When adding the second card to a stack, the card added can be either higher or lower (or equal) in value to the previous card, but all subsequent cards must continue this ascending/descending trend. In other words, for each suit, once you start a stack, you must play cards in either ascending or descending order. When you add a card to a stack, you move one of your markers 1 space along the path on the board that corresponds to that suit. Along the paths there are tiles which offer small bonuses in points, extra advances, or stones. Each step along the path is worth some number of points as well - the first few steps are actually negative points, while later steps are worth more points.

Instead of playing a card and adding it to a stack in front of you, you can discard it - there is a separate discard pile for each suit. Then you draw a card, either one from the deck, or the top discard from any of the discard piles. The game ends when either the draw pile runs out, or when 5 markers advance past a certain distance on the paths.

Like Lost Cities, the idea is that you don't want to begin down a path without enough cards to get past the negative spaces, and preferably you want to advance to the further, higher scoring spaces. If you start down all 5 paths, you may not get very far in any of them, and your score will suffer. If you only start down 2 paths, you might run out of cards for them and be equally screwed. In theory the game sounds fine, but in practice it simply didn't work out.

In Lost Cities the discard mechanism is interesting, because as a 2 player game, there is a zero sum. If you don't use a card, it's possible your opponent can, therefore you want to discard only when it's "safe" (the opponent can no longer legally play the card, or it appears they wouldn't want to play it anyway) to do so. In Keltis, because (a) there are more players, and (b) you can play cards in either ascending or descending order, it is never safe to discard. Almost never anyway. Also, in Lost Cities it's good to discard because you can't afford to start new expeditions willy nilly - there's a severe penalty for not reaching a 20 point threshold. Sometimes you start a 'junk' expedition instead of discarding, when you are reasonably sure you'll hit the threshold before the game ends, but there's a risk involved there. In Keltis, the penalty for starting down a path and not getting very far is not very severe. It only takes 3 or 4 cards (and it doesn't even matter what they are) to get out of the negative point spaces, which means that instead of discarding 4 cards you could play them, and maybe come out a little ahead. Considering that any card you discard is very likely useful for at least 1 opponent, there's really very little incentive to discard instead of simply playing a card (even if it's to a 'junk' stack).

So the multiplayer game, and the distribution of points on the board (low barrier to entry on each path), effectively break the interesting mechanism of Lost Cities. The 2-player game uses that mechanism to get some back and forth play between the players - discarding and building up hands with which to go on expeditions. Holding cards you know an opponent needs, collecting a color until you feel it's safe to begin an expedition. In the multiplayer Keltis, without any discarding going on (as discussed above) there's no building up of a color in hand, you simply have to play the cards you're dealt, and the cards you draw - and there's no telling what those might be. In addition, there are rewards for getting out on the paths in the form of bonus points and stones. Admittedly this is where an incorrect rule might have made the game even worse for us - we were playing such that only the first person to get to a tile was able to use it, and then it came off the board. Incidentally, we also played witht he tiles face down, which Wystan and Liz enjoyed because it added a sort of Press Your Luck aspect to it... but in any case, there was urgency to get down the tracks first, exacerbating the "better to play cards than discard" issue. We did play one game with face up tiles (at my request), and I enjoyed that part of it better (though Wystan and Liz preferred face down). But there's still the main issue that you're simply either dealt cards in the same suit, or you're not.

So in the end, the game seems to be pretty much all luck. If you draw cards that are in the same suit, then congrats, you win. If you don't, then there's nothing you can do about it. the best thing I can say about the game is that it only takes about 15 minutes, so no matter what happens, it'll be over fast. I was unaware going in that Keltis, winner of the Spiel des Jars (Family Game of the Year), was intended to be a 'quick filler' game. Perhaps I expected more from an SdJ winner, or perhaps I expected something at least as interesting as Lost Cities. But I was let down by Keltis in these respects.

As a side note, I find it a little worrisome that the Spiel des Jars winning games are leaning more and more toward light, quick, filler type games. If the Family Game of the Year is like watching television (Sit at the table, draw some cards, and see what happens next), what does that say about families and gamers?

As an exercise, here's what I'd do to try and improve the Keltis game experience:
- Bigger penalty for beginning a track and not getting very far.
- Single discard pile, not 1 pile for each suit.
- I actually liked our incorrect rule that the tiles (for scoring and extra movement) are only for the first player to get there.
- Maybe a face up draw pool to draw cards from. Alternatively, maybe when playing a card you draw from the deck, and when discarding you draw from a face up draw pool or something like that.
- Maybe certain spaces let you draw and discard.
- Maybe force players to play a card AND discard a card (or discard 2) and then draw 2 (one must be from the deck).

Just some thoughts off the top of my head to give players some sort of say in what happens in the game.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Homesteaders status: "Recommended"

I'd mentioned that Homesteaders was under review by Rio Grande Games. I recently received word that Jay's freelance developers (Dale Yu and Valerie Putman) had finished testing the game and returned it to him. An email from them said...

"Jay asked us to look at several titles this summer that he was considering for publication and we did get to play (and recommend) Homesteaders. We enjoyed the game and would be happy to share our feedback with you."

I'm trying really hard not to get too excited about this, because it's still up to Jay to decide if Homesteaders is worth producing... it may prove too expensive, or he might decide it's too similar to other games he's published already, or who knows what. However this recommendation from his developers is certainly a step in the right direction, and I'm having trouble not feeling at least a little giddy!

Stay tuned, I hope to have good feedback from Dale and Val to digest, and I'm sure I'll post about it here.

Prolix - by Gil Hova

I received a package this morning from Gil Hova. It can only be a copy of his word game Prolix! I really enjoyed this game when I played it, and I'm anxious to play again and see what changes he's made... and then probably try to talk him out of them ;)

So who wants to play a quick word game this week?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Noblemen - 2nd (and 3rd) playtest

After chatting with the designer about the comments I made, I gave Noblemen another try with some rules changes. Here's what I did differently, and how I think it went...

Aquire Land action: One thing Dwight had said he didn't like, and something I too didn't like, was that once 1 player played an Acquire Land action, each other player had to do so as well, or get no land. Therefore there was no "opportunity cost" associated with that action, you would have all the same options as before taking it - the other players would not have taken any actions. Furthermore, it's obviously better to be first than later in the turn order to Acquire Land, so the obvious first play every game is to take that action. It's not necessarily bad to have an obvious first play - a "Settler-Quarry" as I like to call it - but in this case it didn't feel right. Most of the game was all about different races and the opportunity cost of taking an action (meaning you will miss out on other good actions).

To fix this, one thought was to make it one of the "all play" actions - when anyone chooses the action, everyone gets to take land in turn. This means that the player to take the action gets the benefit of choosing first, but all the other players get to take land as well without having to spend their action on it. Dwight had mentioned that spending an action was supposed to be a big cost, so a player might be less inclined to take this action automatically. However, another thing we had talked about was getting rid of all of the "all play" actions. Dwight didn't like the similarity to Puerto Rico, and I agreed with him that it would probably be better to structure the game so that it's not like a Role Selection game where everyone participates in each action, further emphasizing the opportunity costs.

I had made a couple of suggestions as to alternate ways to handle the distribution of land. The main thing I thought would be cool is if when you get land, you only get land of 1 type. This would start you down a strategic path, and differentiate you from other players (because they'd take a different type of land). One method was to set up exactly 2 of each land type on the board, and when taking the Acquire Land action, you take all tiles of 1 type, then "juice" all the stacks by adding a tile to each. So I might take a stack of 2 Woods, then the next player might take a stack of 3 Farms, leaving stacks of 4 Clearings, 4 Ponds, 2 Woods, or 1 Farm for the next player that takes the action. Another option was to draw say 15 random tiles from the bag, and sort them by type, and when taking the action you get all tiles of one type OR 3 at random from the bag. I had assumed there would basically be between 1 and 4 tiles in any given stack. We used this rule to try it out, and unfortunately the distribution was way off - stacks came out with distributions like 6-5-2-1, which isn't so good. I didn't like that method.

In a later playtest I tried the "juicing" method, and that worked really, really well.

I liked the way the original Place Land action let you only place 3 tiles, and it takes 4 to make a 2x2 "feature". In our first game I thought money was unnecessarily tight, and I had the idea that maybe when playing land you should get a reward right away. So we tried awarding $1 for each Farm played, and 1 tile draw for each Woods played. This worked well, and in later games worked very well with the "juicing" Acquire action rule. Of course you still get $2, draw 2 tiles, or take the Crown when completing a Plantation, Forest, or Garden.

The Donate Land action was originally an "all play" action, and I didn't like the way it worked at all. A player not at all concentrating on Land could keep pace with a player who was heavily invested in a Land strategy, and that seemed really bad. In line with removing the All Play actions, I tried this action being simply "donate land and get 1vp per land donated" - but I thought it needed to be limited, so I specified "donate land of one type and get 1vp for each." I also removed the limit of 2x/round. This was ok, but it really meant you wouldn't want to Donate until the end of the game, you'd just build up all the land you could, and at the end use a Donate action (or 2) to turn them all into points. I think there needs to be some kind of pressure to do the action, and maybe a reason you might do it in the first scoring rounds. In later tests I added back in the 2x/round rule, and put a limit on the number of land you could donate - we removed the "of one type" restriction, but limited the number you could donate to the level of your prestige. That sounded interesting to me because if you spend time and effort increasing your Prestige, then you'll probably not have as much land to donate, and if you build up a lot of land, you probably will have lower Prestige - limiting your donation potential...

The Bribe action was similarly modified - we played that you could take a Bribe action whenever you wanted and exchange $1 for 1vp. That rate seemed fine to me, but I made the mistake of forgetting to put a limit on how much you could donate. Therefore it was a very good deal to tax a lot whenever possible and at the very end donate for 30 points or something. In later games we tried it with the same limit as Donating land - no more than your current Prestige, and that was much better. Also, I think it was better with the limited number of total Bribe actions available (2 per round, like Donate) which we reverted to in our last playtest.

As for buildings, the Church remained unchanged... cost escalated with each one built, and building the last one ended the round. I had forgotten that when drawing a Scandal card you're supposed to be able to look at the top few and choose one, but in retrospect that seemed unnecessary, and we liked it fine with simply drawing 1 card. Castles cost the same as well, but we attached a Men-At-Arms action to them. Instead of being able to choose a M@A action on your turn, you simply get one whenever you build a Castle. I liked that change very much. I didn't try any changes with the Follies at all. The comment that Follies are a really bad deal was exacerbated by the change I tried with the Bribe action (see above). I did notice that in the end game, when Castles are only worth 3-5 because there's only 1 scoring phase left, the Follies are a better deal - but not by much. You don't have to surround them, and they're worth 8/7/6/5 for $10 in 1 action, Castles are worth 3-5 per action, and must be surrounded. In the latest game we tried Follies being worth 12 points, and that seemed like a much better idea. The decreasing value was cute, but in the end I don't think it's all that necessary. I like the prerequisites for buying them as they are.

The Tax action has remained unchanged throughout the games we've played, however I did try it without the 2x/round (total) limit. I realized that removing all those limits was bad and in the last game I put them back in. It is worth noting thought that we tried a variant to the original rules: as you play land you get money. This is like an additional Tax action, and I liked how it worked. It got a little more money into the game.

For the first couple of games we played the Masquerade Ball as it was originally written in the rules. In the last test however we tried something different which I like a whole lot better. Instead of the Ball being an action, why not have it be triggered... once in the middle of the round, and again at the end of the round. I had discussed this with Dwight in the chatroom, and he seemed to like the idea. To me it makes a lot more sense thematically, as well as mechanically.

In the second to last game we used a set number of rounds, 7, with a Ball after round 4 and after round 7. It felt really cool having a hard limit to the number of actions you get! It means you can't just play land all day long, or else you'll run out of time to do real stuff. It's this aspect that makes me question the free stuff for playing land idea - but that feels so nice. I'm not sure which would be better.

In the last game I took that a step farther. I thought it would be neat to have a somewhat indeterminate round end - so you know you'll get about 8-10 turns for example, but you never know for sure. I also liked how the players had a little bit of say in when the round ends. What I did was to say that there are a certain number of rounds (I guessed 10, with a Ball in the middle and at the end), and at the end of your turn, if you have the Crown marker, then you get your 1vp and then you advance the round marker. I put that at the end of the turn instead of the beginning because that way when the Crown changes hands it effectively pushes the round marker forward. If at the beginning, then taking the Crown would prolong the round, and I thought it would be cooler the other way. *I* liked it, but my friend felt cheated when he thought he had another round and then the Crown changed hands and he missed out on his last turn. He preferred a definite number of turns which you could plan for. I'm still leaning for the indeterminate rounds.

The only other thing I tried out in the last game after Tyler's suggestion was that the Noble Titles which you win at the Masquerade Ball could have been more interesting. I added an ability to each, a simple one - a $1 discount on all buildings for the Viscount, $2 discount for the Earl, $3 discount for the Marques, and a $3 discount plus 1VP when building for the Duke. The purpose is to make the Titles more interesting, and especially to give you more incentive to go for them in the mid-round Ball, since they won't be scoring right then. I liked this a lot. The abilities could stand to be more interesting, but this seemed fine - possibly too good. Maybe better discounts would be $0/$1/$2/$2+1vp for Viscount/Earl/Marques/Duke. Either that or maybe buildings should cost more, which might be good with the freebie cash when playing Farms anyway.

Oh, a final note - since I like the Crown used as a Turn Marker (when to advance the turn), I suggest you not be able to discard it for Prestige at the Ball. Someone has to have the Crown at all times. Instead I think it should be worth 1 Prestige.

So that's it - I will be sending the prototype back to Xaq tomorrow, so I don't know if I'll ever play the game again - but I hope to hear if he plays it with any of these suggestions and how it goes. I had fun playing the game!