Monday, April 14, 2008

Reading Railroad playtest

I had a good test of Reading Railroad on Friday in which I got some good suggestions from players and cemented an opinion about the Investors that I've been worried about... basically that they don't do what they're supposed to. But that's easily fixed.

The Investor tile makes everyone pay (lose points) for each Resource tile they have in hand. It's supposed to punish people for building up tiles in hand. Of course, that's sort of like gibberish if there's not a good reason to build up tiles. Under the current rules, the only real reason to build up tiles is because you have letters you can't make a word out of. There's not really a strategic reason to build up tiles in hand. I tried to add a strategic reason by adding the coins, but I failed to reward longer words with enough coin for it to matter.

So number 1... I need to change the coin payout to (much) better reward building a longer word, and number 2... the Investor needs to punish the player hoarding tiles, not all the other players. Currently drawing the Investor tile has the following effect: You get penalized a little, but no much because you just spent most or all of your tiles, and everyone else gets penalized for all the tiles they drew at the end of their turn - even if they spent every tile they had before drawing new tiles. That's the opposite of the intent. The Investor should only tax the player drawing tiles.

A minor rule change to go with that... if the Investor hurts only you for hoarding tiles, there's no good reason not to draw another tile to replace it (currently you don't). It would be pretty harsh to get double punished because you happened to draw an Investor tile!

The players had some suggestions about the endgame scoring target words, which have not been implemented yet, but I described after the game. The suggestions were along the lines of having cards with words on them, rather tan the idea I had about having a set group of words (a thematic phrase) on the board. Several of these cards would be face up, and as soon as you've collected the right City tiles to make the word, you can claim the card. You'd 'cash in' your letter tiles to do so.

One suggestion was that there be a larger number of 3 letter word cards (maybe 10), fewer 4 letter words (8?), maybe 6 5-letter words, 4 6-letter words, and 2 7-letter words, and the game would end when one (or 2, or whatever) of the stacks ran out. This would lend validity to a 'short word' strategy vs a 'long word' strategy, and sounds pretty good.

Another suggestion was that the goal cards be like the Tickets I described in my last post in that they have several words on them, so you can choose to score a smaller word, or go for a longer word and risk someone else taking the card out from under you. Under this scheme, there probably wouldn't be private Ticket cards, and there would probably be a pool f N-1 face up cards to work towards (where N is the number of players). When one is scored, another is turned up to replace it. The game end in this case could be all city tiles on the board are used, or the deck is exhausted, or a single player scores 4 cards, or a single player collects a certain number of City Tiles, or anything, really - I'm not sure what would be best.

I'll have to talk to Scott and put some thought into the game end conditions and how exactly to do the endgame scoring words. I think he'll be happy if I quit pushing for private Tickets which you buy - I think that was adding too much complexity for his liking.

In Friday's playtest I also tried another new idea. I thought (and still think) there ought to be a way to invest in getting more tiles at a time, so that you can build up to a bigger word, which you'll play for more Coin. The investment should end up costing you potential endgame, since it will help you get more points in game. It would be an option for someone going for a "Wordsmith" strategy. My idea was to have a "Factory" which you could buy for a number of Coin, and the Factory would count as 4 City tiles, so it would put you up to the next threshold so you would draw 1 more tile per turn. I used a game end trigger of 15 City tiles, so buying a factory means you'll have a MAXIMUM of 11 tiles to use, which seems like it would impact the endgame pretty significantly. In the end though, no one bought a Factory, and the 15 tiles may have proven to make for too short a game. Although, when one player got 15 tiles, another had 14 and the third had about 12. Maybe that's a good enough number of tiles... then again there were several tiles left on the board, and I think it might be better to allow players to collect them.

I think the coin value of letters which I used did not properly reward longer words, so there was still no incentive to save tiles. Therefore the wordsmith strategy didn't make much sense, and nobody was interested in a Factory. Next time I will a triangular payout for words - 0/1/3/6/10/15/21 for 1/2/3/4/5/6/7 letter words. That should give a lot (maybe too much) incentive to store up letters to make bigger words. Contrast that with playing small words to get first dibbs on City tiles, and to get more City tiles overall, not getting hit as hard by the Investor, and not having to know big words and I think that will better represent a wordsmith strategy vs a non-wordsmith strategy.

So to get this game ready for the KublaContest, I need to try it with the new coin payout, see if any sort of Factory idea will work, and figure out endgame scoring. I think it can be done in the next 2 or 3 weeks, and then I can send it in!

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