Thursday, January 31, 2008

I just had an idea for Red Colony...

Since the game is about exploring and colonizing (hmm... where have I seen that before? heh) - I'm imagining a board covered with face down tiles. Probably square tiles, as opposed to hexes, but that remains to be determined. The tiles could have some kind of terrain or features on them. When you build a "building," you do so without knowing what's on the tile - you flip the tile face up and place your building marker or whatever on it. The terrain or features might be symbiotic or amenable to that particular building, or they might not. I don't imagine there'd ever be a huge penalty, maybe some additional cost, or sub par efficiency (depending on what the building does).

Then there could be an Assay action, which could cost some time/effort/resources, and would allow you to peek at a face down tile.

Thus, in general you build whatever buildings you want to pursue your strategy, and you do it wherever it's convenient. Or, if you prefer, you can spend the extra time and cost up front to find better places to build each building, and maybe your better placement will yield more efficient results or VPs or whatever.

it's not a particularly deep thought about the game, but I think I like the idea and wanted to get it posted somewhere before I forgot :)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The search for affirmation...

I did send Terra Prime off to Seattle last week, where I understand my friend's bosses may be interested in publishing a board game in addition to their main project, which is publishing a video game. They are a new company, working on their first video game title.

I don't really know very much about this publisher's motivation or how interested they really are in pursuing this endeavor. I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I'm a little skeptical that this will really go anywhere. Board gaming is still such niche hobby, it's hard to imagine that a fledgling publisher really knows what they're getting themselves into.

Of course I could be wrong. Maybe they have money set aside for just such an endeavor, and all they're looking for is a game that they think is worth it! But for the time being I'm not getting my hopes up too high. I hope that doesn't sound like an insult to them, because that's not my intent at all! Who knows, maybe they'll even hire me to seek out other good unpublished board game designs and help develop them for publication as well! I know I've got a number of candidates I could recommend...

In any case, it's exciting to think that people are interested in playing my game - whether or not they're interested in publishing it. It's a little extra exciting in this case since it's at least a possibility!

So now I find myself curious and anxious to hear - not to hear that they've decided to go ahead with publishing the game (of course that would be awesome, but as I mentioned, I don't really expect it) - but to hear that they've played it, and what they think of it.

I wonder how many designers are in it for the money - which I understand to be negligible, how many are in it for fame or notoriety, and how many are just looking for affirmation. Affirmation that what they've created is enjoyed or approved of by the target audience.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Conjunction Junction, or perhaps Reading Railroad

Scott and I have been tossing back and forth ideas on the structure of Conjunction Junction (perhaps a better name... Reading Railroad?). Scott drafted up a ruleset, and I massacred it in my usual style. The main thing I realized while discussing it with him is this... and this may be a comment on collaborative design:

I don't think we're working on the same game.

For the most part, Scott's ideas for the format of the game seem a lot better suited to the complexity level we're going for, and more elegant in a lot of ways, so I've completely adopted them over my original thoughts of buying and selling letters and placing letter tiles on the board as track. Instead, the board has more abstract regions which you can "build track through" - and you do so by spelling words with letter tiles. The words don't have anything to do with the board, you just spell words - the longer the word, the more "Track Points" you get, and it costs a certain number of Track Points to build through a region. Leftover Track Points turn into VPs.

This I like - the idea is that you can make smaller words to connect cities, with little or no Track Points leftover for VPs, or you could make bigger words so you get more VPs as you lay track on the board to connect cities. The Cities still have City Tiles in them which you'll use at the end of the game to spell other words for endgame scoring.

This is where there appears to be a difference of opinion on the purpose of the game. In order for a non-wordsmith to be able to do well, I think it's important that the words you spell with City Tiles (which you've been collecting during the game) be pre-determined, printed on a scoring card, so you have some direction when you are choosing which cities to connect, and that motivation isn't wrapped up in your ability to recognize and spell words. Scott suggests that this is equivalent to not actually spelling words with City Tiles, and instead it's like saying "make a network that connects this, that, and the other city." This is, in a sense, true - and in fact could also be represented that way, although my actual mechanic would be like having a set of different possible network connections to make. However, doing it with letters on City Tiles goes along with the theme of the game and the wordbuilding mechanic. There are a few other reasons I think it's a little different as well, but they're specific and not important to the overarching question.

Scott has thus far preferred a system where players spell whatever word(s) they want/can with their City Tiles, and get rewarded for them... basically you get points for making a 3 letter word, a 4 letter word, a 5 letter word, etc. In matter of fact, I really like the idea, for a word game. For this game however, an original design goal (for me) was that it not be a word game at all. There are plenty of word games, and building words for the sake of building words is a well established genre - the thing I thought would be interesting was to make a game that a player who hates that genre could play with a player that loves that genre.

I think both scoring systems could work very well, and they both have some very interesting things going for them - I think they both give the player motivation to connect various cities over other cities, and I think they both reward doing a "good job" of connecting cities. However, the fundamental question remains - is this a word game, or a connection game?

I'll have to see what Scott thinks of my version of the ruleset he wrote. I'm interested to see what kind of implications the difference between word game and connection game will have, because in the end both scoring systems aren't all that dissimilar. I think the key is where the tension is when it comes down to the decision as to where you want to place track - what cities do you want to connect. Should this be based on your skill at word building, or your skill at analyzing the relative positions of City Tiles and which you need for your scoring card?

I maintain that using word building as a mechanic in a connection game is the more interesting way to go, because you don't see a lot of games like that. On the other hand there are plenty of word games out there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Shipping vs Building" (SvB)

Games provide players an opportunity to make choices, then evaluate the results and make more choices, etc. until an end result is achieved. Many games make this process interesting by providing multiple paths to get from the beginning of the game to that end result. Multiple paths to victory as it's often called. Various strategies, or ways to approach the game in an effort to win. I refer to those paths as the game's Shipping vs Building.

This term comes from Puerto Rico, arguably the greatest multiplayer strategy game of all time. In that game the extreme strategies are Shipping - loading goods on boats for victory points, and Building - spending money on buildings which are worth points. These are not mutually exclusive strategies, but in general the more shipping you do, the less building you can afford, and likewise the more building you do, the less goods you'll be shipping. These are simply the 2 major methods to gain victory points, the winning player will do some combination of the two.

That's a pretty pure example, from a well renowned game, of multiple paths to victory, and that's what I am referring to when I ask a question like "what is this game's SvB?"

When designing games I often ask myself, what's this game's SvB?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

More thoughts on Hot and Fresh

I was going over my recent ideas on Hot & Fresh with a friend of mine, and looking at the board a lot. The good news is that the last time I fiddled with the board, it appears I did lay out spaces between locations. I have no idea if it's a good layout, but it's a layout - and that's a start!

The bad news is, while we talked about it, it occurred to me that the interaction and flow of the game would likely be much better if each delivery had a specific origin (not the same for all pickups) and a specific destination. So basically, instead of delivery drivers picking up pizzas from the shop, maybe taxis picking up fares from various locations and driving them around town to other locations.

This is bad news because thematically I love the idea of a young delivery driver taking shortcuts and speeding to deliver pizza on time, while the idea of a taxi driver driving around town is less exciting to me. On the other hand, the mechanics seem to fit the taxi theme much better.

The basic structure of the "Crazy Taxi" version of the game would be similar - there would be a face up display of people who've called your dispatch office for a ride. Your dispatch office has, of course, radioed this to all the drivers, and the first driver to the location gets the pickup. The display of Fare cards would be N cards (maybe 3? Maybe relative to the number of players?) face up, each card having an Origin, a Destination, and a Tip (and maybe also a Fare value). When you pick up a fare, you take the card from the display and place a number of tip counters onto it as indicated by the Tip value on the card. At the end of each "cycle" (which is a couple of turns), each Fare card loses one Tip counter. When upon arriving at a destination, you score the remaining Tip counters and discard the Fare (or keep them in a score pile perhaps).

Each player has 3 slots in their cab, so they can carry up to three people. Some fares however take up 2 slots (a guy with a bunch of luggage) or all 3 (a family of 3). The Tip value would be adjusted appropriately.

The traffic laws would work the same way, whenever you break a rule, you draw a card (or or maybe increase a track). At the end of a cycle, you roll 2d6, and if your roll is less than the number of cards you've drawn (or the value of the track), then you get a ticket. Maybe if you have a Fare in your cab, they get mad and jump out (without paying), so you lose your fare - this might make it even more dangerous to speed or break rules while you have a fare, compared to when you're on your way to pick one up. Tickets would probably be worth negative points at the game end: -1 for the first, -2 for the second, -3 for the third, etc. There could also be a Courthouse on the board, where a player could stop and pay off a ticket at the cost of 2vp or something, which would be worth doing if you have 3 or more tickets (or if you plan to by the end of the game).

It's possible the cards you draw for breaking the rules might have effect on them as well, that was the original intent. However for the first draft of the game I think I'll leave that out. There could also be event cards, introducing such things as construction or a traffic jam in certain sections of the board. I'll leave that out for now too, but it seems like a fit for a game with an emphasis on route planning.

The other thing that seems like a fit for route planning is the traffic cop pawn, which exists in the pizza game, sort of. In the taxi version though I don't think it would be player controlled, mostly because I can't think of a good mechanic for it that would fit. However I think there could be a few cops, which randomly are assigned to certain blocks (main roads between intersections), and their effect would be that you simply aren't allowed to break any traffic laws on that block.

The only player interaction in this version would be racing for the pickups. I don't know if that would be enough, but frankly it sounds like more interaction than the pizza idea!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cooperative games - the very definition of multiplayer solitaire?

One of my least favorite things about the cooperative games I've seen so far - mostly Lord of the Rings and Shadows over Camelot, as well as various role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons - is that they can and often are more or less driven by the most dominant (or stubborn) person in the room. It's like that person is playing solitaire, and everyone else is just watching. For some people that might be OK, or even fun, but for me... well, I'd like to see a game in which each player must make their own choices, do their own thing, and yet still be encouraged to help the other players.

In Knizia's Lord of the Rings cooperative game, an attempt is made to make the game effectively multiplayer by giving each player different cards, and it's presumably up to each player how he spends those cards. It would be a much different game if the players played the game in seclusion, without being able to discuss each others' plays, and in theory, you're not supposed to tell people what cards you have, but really - where do you draw the line? What's the difference between "That next event looks dangerous, maybe we should fight our way through the board as fast as possible," and "If you have fight cards, you should advance the main track or we're going to lose," and "play your fight card and a friendship card, so player 2 can get the Heart they need, and I can finish off the board with the cards in my hand."

Shadows over Camelot adds a particularly effective deterrent for this kind of thing... namely the player coaching everyone else might in fact be a traitor! This is a novel idea, and it goes a long way toward solving the solitaire problem, but not all the way. In practice, it's still possible (easy, even) for a dominant personality to drive everyone's play, whether they're a traitor or not. Statements like "You should go to the Grail challenge and play a Grail card, unless of course you're the traitor!" can go a long way toward dominating a game. In that particular game, not working as a team is a good way to lose, so either you do what the dominant guy says, or you do your on thing and people think you're the traitor, or you do your own thing and the team loses because everyone's doing their own thing. In Shadows over Camelot you're also not supposed to discuss what you have in your hand, but to a lot of people it's just tedious to say "That's an awfully pathetic looking Black Knight" when placing a face down Fight-1 card there, or "I feel anxious to start the fight against the Saxons, but I fear I cannot finish!" Is the intent to promote role playing in order to communicate what you have in hand? Or is the intent that you're not supposed to know what people have in hand? I propose the latter would be more fun as a game, because the former leads to solitaire.

So how do you do it? How do you create a game in which players want to work together, but also have to think for themselves and make their own decisions? Here are some thoughts I've been having so far - no guarantee they'll work:

- I'd like to see team building and team dynamics, but I'd also like to see each member of the team have to do their own thing.

- I like the idea of team strategy - a discussion of who's going to have what responsibility, and that could theoretically by dominated by an Alpha player, but then in the resolution of each member's duties I'd like to see players have to act for themselves. Maybe little solo mini-games.

- The player interaction is in preparation for multiple (simultaneous?) mini-games, the result of which feeds back into the group's next strategy session.

- I also like the idea of a player not being "on the team" (i.e. a Traitor). Specifically, I like the idea that any player may become a traitor sometime mid game, and nobody knows ahead of time who or when.

The idea here is a cooperative game, where all players are on the same team (except for the potential traitor), and they're working together to accomplish a common goal. The theme I've had in mind for this is the TV show 24, where players are CTU agents working to avert a terrorist attack. Jack Bauer, being the show's hero, would make an appearance in the game, but as an NPC - a character or resource players could make use of, but not a personality any single player would play. The theme could be made generically anti-terrorist, even on a larger scale, where players control various branches or departments (CTU, Homeland security, FBI, CIA...) - but I personally think there's some value to tapping into a cool, established franchise for a theme. Most licensed games don't impress, but that's because the people doing them aren't trying to make a good game, they're trying to sell some crap based on the license. I'd like to make a good game with a licensed theme.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Terra Prime updated

I made some progress this weekend updating stuff for my Terra Prime prototype - I redid the delivery tiles so they have the point value printed on them (and I added one and changed one). I updated the Cargo Hold tiles so they wouldn't look color specific anymore. I redid the Tech Upgrade board to accurately reflect recent changes, and I even named all of the upgrades:
* Government Contract: Extra $ per delivery action
* Increased Cargo Capacity: Flip Cargo Holds to the double capacity side
* Targeting Computer: Re-roll all unsuccessful Weapon and Shield rolls once
* Battlestation: Additional Weapon and Shield
* Cloaking Device: Aliens don't attack at the end of Move/Explore action
* Hyperdrive: Additional Thruster, and Explore x2/turn

I even re-wrote the rules (still editing). The only thing I have left to do is to update the player boards to edit the action list, and to add the innate weapon and shield info.

I think I'll also add an innate capacity to carry 2 Brownium cubes, so that players can pick them up even if carrying a colony marker or other cargo. I decided to make Brownium spendable as cash when buying a module rather than having Mines provide free $ for everyone. This seems good, except that the inability to use that effect when toting goods is a little too frustrating, so I think I'll add 2 Brownium-specific slots to the starting ship. Like the innate weapon and shield, this will not count as a cargo hold, will not increase the cost of cargo holds, and cannot carry a colony marker.

I hope to get another test or 2 of this game in before sending it off to Seattle, which I plan to do on Wednesday.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Conjunction Junction (what's your function?)

Last month I posted about the possibility of using word building as a mechanic in a game that's not necessarily a word game. I've given it some thought and discussed it with a few members of BGDF, and now I've got an outline of a game which I think might not be bad at all. It's a connection game, with a light railroad theme, using word building as a way to lay track. The object of the game is to collect city tiles, which have letters on them in order to spell certain predefined (potentially thematic) words. The working title (thanks to Darkehorse from BGDF) is Conjunction Junction, which is not technically accurate, as we're not using conjunctions to make sentences, but it's got a nice ring to it, and really evokes both words and trains :)

The bullet list of important points in this game is...

  • People who are good at word building should be able to excel at this game.
  • People who are NOT good at word building but who are good at connection (or perhaps economic) games should also be able to excel at this game.
  • There needs to be a point to building words, rather than word building for the sake of word building.

The basic structure of the game is relatively simple. Imagine a hex grid, with certain hexes indicated as cities. This is not unlike Railroad Tycoon or Age of Steam. In fact, let's just go ahead and imagine the Railroad Tycoon board. Now imagine the pile of hex tiles from RRT, only with letters on them. Also imagine the New City tiles from RRT, only more of them, and they have letters on them too. We'll call the lettered track tiles "letter tiles" and the New City tiles "City tiles". The City tiles are stacked on the cities, All the S's on one city, all the F's on another, etc.

Over the course of the game, players lay track to connect cities, collecting the City Tiles from those cities. In the end these City tiles are used to spell words on a card, and the winner is the player that spells the most, or the biggest, word on the card. Something like that.

Along the edge of the board there are a number of bins. The bottom one is empty, and the rest have pairs of randomly drawn letter tiles in them. On your turn you may choose to either get tiles or use tiles. If you get tiles then you pay money - you put $1 in the empty bin and take whatever is in the next bin for free... Or you put $1 on that bin as well (with the 2 letters), and take the contents of the third bin. When you take a bin, you get everything in it - the 2 letters and any money that happens to be with them, then the contents of each bin above that one slide down. You can actually take the first bin and just get money (nothing slides down in that case, there are never letters in that first bin).

If you choose to use tiles then you either place letter tiles on the board to spell a word and get paid $1 per letter you place, or lay generic track (from an off-board supply, like in Railroad Tycoon) at the cost of $1 per tile you place. In either case, you must place tiles from one city to another, and then you take a City tile off of either of the 2 connected cities.

That's the basic structure of the game. I've been having a steady stream of thoughts about the specifics...

It would be interesting if there were incentives to build off your network as opposed to willy-nilly all over the board. One idea is that you could have multiple networks, but building gets more expensive if you do. The advantage to building onto your existing network in that case is cost. Perhaps the standard cost to use tiles is ($1/network - $1), so no extra cost if you just have 1 network, $1 extra if you have two networks, etc.

I think there might also be a warehousing cost, like $1 to save tiles after building... and/or whenever you get tiles you pay $1 if you already have any.

I just need to be sure that taking cash and paying for track isn't strictly better than building words, and I also don't want it to be strictly worse. One of my design goals for the game is that a word builder and a non word builder should both be able to play and be competitive.

I was also thinking that you could maybe 'sell' tiles for $1 apiece, because what if you take 2 tiles, only need 1, and are stuck with the other... Do you have to warehouse it every turn until you can use it? Do you have to discard it? Are you allowed to sell it for $1? Maybe selling for $1 is fair.

Tough to use letters could have a coin pictured on them, meaning you get an extra $ for using that letter.

I think there needs to be a connection bonus or else $2/tile for building a word, or you're basically losing money. You'll get tiles for an average of probably about $1 per tile, so if you place them for $1/tile then you're not making progress... but maybe that's ok.

Discussing this game in the chat, Nando had the following to say:
10/01/2008 15:29:08 ‹Nando› freaking. complicated.
10/01/2008 15:29:17 ‹Nando› for a word game anyway

It's not really a word game. Word games are about making words for the sake of making words. This is a connection game with word building as the main mechanic :)

Of course, since I started writing this post, Doho123 has come up with a very interesting alternate format for the game, which has a lot of good things in it (though I don't know if I'm entirely sold yet). Curse you Scott! :)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Gears are turning, feels good!

I'm really happy with the feeling of progress that's come along recently with respect to Terra Prime, Dynasty, and Hot and Fresh. Heh, in the case of Hot and Fresh, gears are literally turning (almost)!

As soon as I get TP off next week, this is what I need to jump on or else the designs will stall again...

Dynasty: Brainstorm discoveries.
I need a list of Discoveries or inventions, preferably ones that were made by the ancient Chinese (such as gunpowder, hot air balloon, compass, plow...), some cost for them, and of course a game effect. Some of these I think are pretty straightforward, like the Plow could allow access to an extra resource of a couple types (the types you would harvest with a plow). Of course, for it to make sense I also need a number of resources... I think the Hot Air Balloon will allow leader pawns to move further, maybe the Compass will allow 2 leaders to move with 1 action.

If anyone has any suggestions, don't be shy! Some of the inventions will simply be for VPs, and some will have prerequisite discoveries (either by player, or in general - like Paper must have been invented by someone before Paper Money can be invented. Maybe Paper Money is a personal invention which allows you to "trade" for 1 resource per turn without giving points away (taking the other player's chit onto your board).

Hot & Fresh: Design board
As discussed prior, I need to lay out the board for the game. I have had a map section for a long time which I'd like to use...

I just need to pick locations and figure out how many spaces need to be in between different places. And I need to delete every other residential road, there's a bit more in that section than is necessary. I might also like to add more traffic light intersections, as that was the original point of the game.

If I can keep on top of those things, then I think I'll have prototypes of these games to play before too much longer!

These 4 walls closin' in, gettin' bigger...

Last night I tested Terra Prime with a smaller board. I used only 1 row of green tiles instead of 2. The net result is that the "safe zone" without aliens was condensed, and the yellow and red planets were much closer. I actually think this was a positive change. The board might be too crowded with 5 players, so it might be that the small board is the 3 player (or 3/4) player board, and the larger board is for 5 (or 4/5) players. I'll have to test it out with different numbers of players. I did go through and mark a subset of tiles to use for the smaller board, to make sure planets and asteroids were distributed well.

The game also went much quicker - a 3 player game flew by in about 45 minutes. The small board is a lot less friendly as well, there's more competition for things, and hostile aliens feel like they're right on your doorstep.

I also tried adjusting the costs of things. I started each player with $3 instead of $2, and I made modules cost $2 + $1 per like type you already have, instead of $1 + $1/like type. I was happy I did because I thought it might be too easy to get a very quick 4th Engine (extra actions) that way, but now I'm not so sure. I might go back to the old cost structure.

I started each player with a "built-in" shield but not a gun. I adjusted the combat rules such that the more guns/shields you have, the better each of them work. I think next time I'll start each player with an innate shield and gun (not the same as "built-in" because built-in stuff affects costs), so that the starting money can either buy a Cargo Hold, or a Shield + Gun - and if you go Shield + Gun then you can reasonably take on at least a single alien.

I'm excited about the progress of these playtests, and I hope to get a few more in this week/weekend, then I send the game to Seattle to see if this publisher likes it!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Terra Prime changes tested, now what?

Well, I did test Terra Prime last night, some of the changes seemed good, others not so much.

* Game Length
The game length seems good still, though it still seems to end a bit abruptly. If there were a magic way to make the game feel like it coasted to an ending rather than coming to an abrupt end, I'd love that!

* Game End Conditions - I might like to scratch the exploration trigger, and have the only game end condition be when someone runs out of markers, then I want to add that you get rid of a marker when you fill a tile (which you collect for the bonus points). I might also have that the tech upgrades get marked out of your supply of colony markers. And I'll give people like 10 markers instead of 8 (for 3 player... 1 fewer for 4 player and 2 fewer for 5p)
I didn't use counters for delivering, but I did use them for upgrades - which I liked. Eric ended the game via alien hunting, getting all his markers on the board that way. He had 2 upgrades and 3 colonies and killed 3 aliens. That seemed fine, but the rest of us each had 4 markers left... so I'm not sure if that's good or not.

* Demand Tile change - Instead of adding a yellow tile when a yellow colony is founded, I think one of the green tiles should be replaced with a yellow tile. Similarly, when a red colony is founded, the red tile should replace the other green tile. In other words, there would only be 2 delivery tiles available at any given time.
I think I liked this one, and will try it again to see how it plays out.

* Combat change - I'm going to try to streamline the combat a little.
I don't think I was happy with this version of the combat. It made early asteroid fields almost automatic hits, it made aliens very, very dangerous... Then again, in a sense they're supposed to be. Here's what I will try next:

Ships have a built-in shield (I'll print it on the ship board), with the target number 6 on it, indicating that shields work on a roll of 6. Each additional shield module allows you to roll 1 additional die and reduces the target number by 1. I'll indicate this by putting a little "-1" on the shield tiles. This way you have some semblance of defense even if you don't buy a shield, and with 1 shield the system mirrors the current one, each additional shield is even better.

Weapons could work the same way, only I think the ships won't start with a built-in weapon. Each weapon module will give you 1 die and an effective +1 to hit on all your dice. So 1 weapon hits on 6, 2 weapons hit on 5+ each, and 3 weapons hit on 4+ each.

Aliens and asteroids can work the same way as the weapons, 6 as a base target number, roll 1 die per symbol, and reduce the target number by 1 per symbol.

This should make small aliens less dangerous but just as in-the-way as ever, and larger aliens will require work to kill (as usual) and should deal some damage (as they ought to).

Ideally, when coming out of combat with a triple alien you should have scored your points, colonized your juicy colony, and then you have to limp home battle worn.

One thing I might do which has been suggested once or twice is make shields available at red colonies as well as at Terra Prime. That way if you get in a scuffle and get beat up, you don't have to go all the way home to get more shields. Although, you're supposed to have to limp home if you get beat up, and it makes a more interesting decision as to which module to lose if you get hit. If you are near more shields, you just lose the shield and buy more. It's not supposed to be that easy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Tuning Terra Prime - showing a publisher?

My friend works for a new company getting ready to put out their first video game title, and evidently they are interested in doing more than just video games... My friend told them about Terra Prime, and they are interested in trying it out!

That's pretty sweet, so now I guess it's time to iron out the couple of kinks that have been annoying me, and send them a copy. I'm hoping to test out some of these changes this week, make whatever adjustments are necessary, and send it out to them some time next week. In order to make myself do it, I'll try and set a deadline for myself - lets say January 16th I'm going to Fed Ex the package. So here are the ideas I want to try out...

  • Game Length - I've been a little disappointed in the game end triggers and he fact that the game doesn't seem to last long enough to really get into red colonies/delivering red cubes. Red cubes are intended to be a big, late game play, you drop a colony on a red planet for a chunk of points, then you cart a red cube back to Terra Prime for a chunk of cash, and then you're pretty much done. If you're good (or lucky) you could maybe get all the way back out there and collect another red cube to deliver, but that takes a long time. I upped the value of the red cubes to 10vp (from 6) hoping the incentive would increase to go get them, but I really think 6 should be the right value. I'll have to try and find end game triggers that allow for people to get to the end game plays. I might also try going for them sooner, maybe it's a groupthink/player issue and not a game problem at all. I rather like the amount of time the game takes to play, and I wouldn't want it to get any longer.
  • Game End Conditions - I've always been happy with the "a player places his last Colony marker on the board" game end trigger, but I've never been happy with the "certain number of tiles face up" trigger, and there's never been a trigger related to delivery. I think I might like to scratch the exploration trigger, and have the only game end condition be when someone runs out of markers, then I want to add that you get rid of a marker when you fill a tile (which you collect for the bonus points). I might also have that the tech upgrades get marked out of your supply of colony markers. And I'll give people like 10 markers instead of 8 (for 3 player... 1 fewer for 4 player and 2 fewer for 5p)
  • Demand Tile change - Instead of adding a yellow tile when a yellow colony is founded, I think one of the green tiles should be replaced with a yellow tile. Similarly, when a red colony is founded, the red tile should replace the other green tile. In other words, there would only be 2 delivery tiles available at any given time. This way, once there are yellow and red colonies, you can't just deliver green and blue unless someone brings in the yellow. I think this will make a delivery strategy a lot more interesting.
  • Combat change - I'm going to try to streamline the combat a little. This won't really make it any less random, which is one of the things I'm skeptical about, but it should make the die rolling a little less clunky at least. Instead of the current system, where you roll 1 die per gun or shield, and they work on a 5 or 6, you'll roll 1 die per symbol (no matter how many guns/shields you have, even zero), and on a 6 they work. Each gun you have gives you a +1 on your roll when attacking, and each shield you have gives you a +1 to your roll when defending. There will no longer be a roll for the alien's attack, just for your shields. The 'extra gun/shield' upgrade will be unchanged, and the 'guns/shields work better' upgrade will make each gun/shield give a +2 modifier instead of +1, doubling the usefulness of the guns and shields you have.
That's it for now, time to head home and try it out!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hot and Fresh ideas for Hot & Fresh

I was chatting about this game with Nando today and I have some new ideas for it. Better jot them down before I forget!

I wasn't ever really happy about the system in which players obtain orders to deliver. There was a sort of track, where Order cards were turned up, and players would take orders from the track to deliver. If they stayed on the track too long then they got pushed off the bottom and went to the 'stale order' pile, and you could deliver one (no tip) for a Kudos marker from the boss. That was pretty lousy, and it was intended to be just a placeholder until I thought of something better. Today I thought of something better!

I think Order cards will be drawn like Tickets in Ticket to Ride- when you arrive at the store, as a free action, you may either draw 1 face up Order from the Order Rack, or draw 2 (3?) Order cards from the face down deck and you must keep at least 1 of them. Any Orders you don't keep are placed face up in the Order Rack for any player to take later. There's limited space in the Order Rack, so if it's full maybe you think twice about drawing 2 face down cards, because that means you'll have to keep them both. As a turn action a player could do the same, which I presume means you'd draw face down, and keep a card that is near another card that's already in the Rack, then you'd draw that one too so you can deliver both in one trip.

I think that change alone would probably be a decent idea, but when chatting about adding interaction to the game I thought of the following... Ovens. Suppose that there's a limited number of ovens, maybe 1 fewer than the number of players. Before an Order can be delivered, the appropriate pizza must be 'baked' in an oven. This process consists of taking the appropriate Pizza card from a stock of Pizza cards and placing it in an oven slot on the board. After some amount of time, all cards in ovens advance to the next slot. After 2 or 3 slots in the oven, the card will come out onto the shelf where any player may take it to deliver one of their orders. I think this might interject some player interaction as well as some degree of forward thinking. An important point might be that the pizza card distribution could be set, for example, more people would want plain or pepperoni than want olives + green peppers.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dynasty revisited, also Hot and Fresh prototyping

As per my New Years Resolutions, I've been putting some thought into both Hot & Fresh and Dynasty. Ariel has been experimenting with the color wheel idea for Hot & Fresh, and says he's got something that will work, and that it's not even that tough. That's good, because even though I've known in my mind for 2 years how it would work, I have yet to produce a working prototype! I now have a deadline... create a map for him to make a board out of in time for him to produce a prototype for me before he goes to New York City this summer (so he can mail it to me from there instead of from Uruguay).

I've also been discussing some of the finer details of Dynasty with Dylan and Nando in the BGDF chatroom. I think I'm feeling more comfortable with some parts of it. Hopefully I can talk them into brainstorming tech advances ("Discoveries") with me so I can get a prototype of that working as well.

In particular, here are some of my recent thoughts on Dynasty:

  • When Settling a village, perhaps a player shouldn't get points at all. I'm a little worried that all players will spend the 1st 6 turns each game just settling. That would be lame - and if it's true I guess I could simply make the setup phase include taking turns settling villages - but I think I'd rather that be part of the game. I'd like people to think about doing things other than Settle, even if they haven't gotten their 6 resources. Maybe if there weren't points involved in settling a village, then that would promote other actions sooner as you might not need further resources to get the Discoveries you want. I'm already thinking of rewarding players who get to a discovery first (see below).

  • Thus far I've liked the idea of having to settle adjacent to a region where you already have a village, to keep people from just plopping villages wherever they like the resources, and to encourage trading. Dylan (dnjkirk from BGDF) thought it would be better to be able to settle anywhere, perhaps with an additional cost for not being adjacent. I just had an idea though which combines his thoughts with something that could help my previous point... players could start with a pawn on the board, and could only be allowed to Settle where the pawn is located. Thus it would take a few turns to traverse the board. This mechanic already exists in the game, but until now it's been after villages start turning into cities. No reason not to start with the Political pawn in play from the beginning though! I think this idea will add validity to Discoveries such as a cart which allows your political leader to move 2 spaces.

  • I had originally figured that each culture would handle discoveries separately, irrespective of what other players discover. However it makes more sense to say that when anyone discovers, say, paper, that anyone else could build on the knowledge and discover paper money. Thus perhaps whenever anyone discovers something, everyone gets to use the benefit, and noone else can discover that thing. This way there's competition for the discoveries for points, but getting the points opens up abilities to all players.

  • I have never been happy with the mechanic for conquering a city or village. Currently, you can just conquer a village with your military leader as an action. Conquering a city requires that you have more cities than the defender. It's too easy to do that, and I think the first person to get a city would likely be able to conquer everybody, and that's no fun. I would like there to be a viable strategy that involves being militaristic, but I would like taking over villages and cities to be relatively unexciting outside of that. Maybe you conquer a city so you can gain access to its resources without having to trade with that opponent every time you want to use it, but aside from that you probably don't conquer much unless you're using a military strategy and have bought the advances which make it easy enough to do so. I think I have come up with a Conquer system that better represents that. Instead of 1 Military leader total, players could get a military leader (or a political leader) each time a City is developed, and each military leader could have some 'strength' (say 2). There would be discoveries such as Gunpowder which would add 1 Strength to each military leader. In order to conquer a village or City, a player would have to get enough" strength worth of leaders in the area... where "enough" depends on how many Villages and Cities (and maybe Military Leaders) the defender has. Perhaps each village has strength 1, each city strength 2, and each military leader in the area has strength 1 for defense (or strength 2 to match their offensive strength). This has the advantage of adding opportunity cost to "going on a war path" - you have to spend actions moving your leaders around the board. It also lends validity to discoveries such as "Hot Air Balloon" (move 1 leader 2 spaces) or some other discovery which allows you to move more than 1 leader at a time.
So I guess with respect to my New Years Resolutions... I'm working on it!

SedjCon 2007 recap

I had a lot of fun with SedjCon last week. 17 people came and played lots of games. Things I think I'll fix for next time are... #1 I'm getting a new grill! My old one, while amusing to light (the closest I'll ever get to casting a "Fireball" in real life), is really crappy. It has 2 settings... Off, and Char. It's long since time for a new grill, and now I have a $200 gift card to Home Depot which is intended for a new grill!

The other thing I want to fix is to drop the poker tournament. When not playing for money, people don't play right - it's just silly. From now on, poker is for poker night, and not for game night. Here are the results:

I'm looking forward to doing it again next year. Hopefully the timing will work out such that all my friends will be able to make it!