Saturday, April 26, 2008

Reading Railroad V2 playtest

I finally got a chance to try out the latest version of Reading Railroad! Tyler, Lowski, Michael and I played a game of it last night (before an 8 hour Magic: the Gathering binge *shudder*). The changes worked for the most part, but of course there is still a lot of tuning that needs to be done.

From a previous post:
* Start with 3 tiles in hand
I think this was fine - but 3 out of 4 people could not make a word on the first turn. I feel like the early game is a little boring just drawing 1 tile at a time, but maybe that's OK, as you ramp up to 2 tiles pretty quickly. The worst part about it is when you have all consonants and cannot make a word.

Hmm... I wonder if it wouldn't be good to go the Prolix route and allow any word to be made, and you get paid for the letters in that word that you use - so there's never the "I have no vowels!" case. Is that too much of a ripoff of that wonderful game?

Failing that, I think Reading Railroad needs the standard word game rule that you can dump tiles and replace them, in case the tiles you have simply don't spell anything (Q-F-Z-J).
* Turn options are
- - Make a word, get paid 1/3/6/10/15/21/28 coins for 2/3/4/5/6/7/8 letters
- - Buy track (costs vary) OR a Factory (cost 4 <- who knows if that's good?)
- - Draw tiles (1 + 1/4 city tiles). Factories count as 4 City tiles.

The pay schedule was pretty good. I was thinking that I might even bump it up a notch (so 2 letter words are worth $3) to make sure people can lay track even if they can only make a 2 letter word. Especially when we're only drawing 1 letter a turn. I worry a little that the 15 point 5-letter words in that case would be too many, but it's well worth a try.
* Investor (!!!) tiles only hurt the player drawing.
- - Pay 1 coin/letter, take 1 debt for each letter you can't pay for.

This was certainly better than punishing everyone but the player drawing tiles. The big question that's come up in my mind is whether the investor tiles are even necessary. Their purpose is to keep people from hoarding tiles, but maybe there's built in incentive to not hoard tiles (limited letters on board, maybe limited cheap spots to build), as well as incentive to hoard tiles and make longer words (bigger coin payout). I might try the next game without the Investor tile.

If games are consistently won by the player hoarding tiles and amassing coins rather than by players going for the endgame scoring words, then it might be necessary to add the Investor back in. Another reason to remove the investor is that sometimes the only reason you're "hoarding" tiles is because you have FCZMQ and can't make a word out of them. That's not the kind of thing that ought to be punished. If the investor tile is used, an alternate rule for it would probably be this:

"If you draw an investor tile and have more than 3 (2?) tiles in your hand, then you get 1 Debt chip. At the end of the game, Debt chips are worth negative points - 1 for the first, 2 for the second, 3 for the third, etc. So 4 debt chips would be -10 points."

This does a number of things...
1. Protects the player who has a couple lousy tiles
2. Punished players who hoard tiles, but only really punishes them if they consistently hoard tiles.

So I think it's a better rule. But again, maybe the investor is unnecessary altogether.

EDIT: I think if using the investor tile, draining peoples cash is maybe not the best way to go. I might rather see just the debt chips, meaning an end game penalty, not a mid-game penalty - you risk losing all the cash you've been saving, so what's the point in saving cash?

* Investor (!!!) tiles are replaced
- - Always draw the right number of letter tiles each turn.

This is absolutely better than not. If there is an investor tile, it should get replaced when you draw it. Unless a Coin strategy is super-dominant, this rule could be reversed as a subtle way to hinder it a little. I think people feel cheated if they cannot get their full allowance of tiles though, and I don't want players to feel cheated by the game.

* Game ends when someone collects their 16th City tile from the board.
- - Factories count as 4 City tile toward this.

I'm still not positive I like the game end trigger here. Maybe I'm just bad with game end triggers in general (see: Terra Prime development). I like limiting the number of City tiles players will have, so that endgame scoring won't get too ridiculously out of control, and I like the game ending early enough that it's something of a challenge to connect the 9 or so cities you want to be in your largest network (unless you purposely build together). I like that the Factory fills up your slots, but I don't like that after you have 12 tiles you can end the game at any moment by buying a factory.

I'm thinking that the Factory should be a single tile, taking up 1 space, and it should say "draw 1 extra tile" on it... so it's really 5 tiles with regard to how many resources you draw, but only 1 with regard to ending the game. On the down side, that negates a lot of the nifty "you'll have fewer city tiles to work with" effect. However, that effect isn't as big in a game with targeted endgame words, and you still lose out on a city tile the turn you buy the factory... so maybe it balances itself out. I think I'll try it with the factory being just 1 City tile (instead of 4).

Also, I had allowed only 1 Factory to be bought, because I didn't want someone to be a jackass and buy 4 factories in a row and end the game. With a "smaller" Factory, I could allow more to be bought. Not sure what the costs should be, and whether they should increase or not (to help dissuade people from buying a bunch of factories). Or... maybe 1 Factory is enough, and maybe taking up 4 spaces is good. there could be a caveat that you can't buy a Factory if it'll take you to 16 tiles or more... which would keep the jackass factor down.

* Maximum total City tiles you can use is based on your largest connected network.
This is a great rule, and I think it's one of the solid backbone rules of the game. I think it works well.

* Endgame words are free form.
- - Points are based on number of letters in the word, squared.
- - I still plan on having some sort of targeted endgame words in the end.

Per a prior post, I finally made some endgame scoring words. In that post I detailed what I liked about the words I chose, and what I didn't like. After playing with it once, I am of pretty much the same opinion. Though I think it would be better if there were more overlap between the small (3 letter) words and the big (7/8 letter words) - so if you are going for a big word and you fail to get the whole thing, you could get a sort of partial scoring from the small words. Alternatively, each City tile could be worth 2vp at the end (any tile used in a word is worth 3/4/5/6/7/8 vp, depending on which word) - which would help reward people who got letter tiles but didn't get to use them. It sorta seems like everyone should have almost the same number of letter tiles though, so this really just adjusts the City tile scoring vs the coin scoring, which may or may not be necessary.

As I mentioned, I think the game ought to have some rule allowing a player to dump their tiles and replace them. I think I'd phrase it like this:

"Instead of making a word, you may set aside any number of resource tiles from your hand, draw replacement tiles from the bag, then discard the set aside tiles into the bag. If an !$! tile is drawn this way, pay taxes as normal and replace it."

Then you would still do the build phase and draw phase of your turn as normal. One more thing that was discussed was that hard-to-use letters could have a coin printed on them, rewarding an additional coin when used in a word. Similarly, easy to use letters could have a red number, and when an investor tile is drawn - instead of punishing a player per tile, the player would just add up all their red numbers and pay that amount. This way hard letters like Q and Z would have no Investor penalty associated, and if you save E's and S's then you'd have to pay for it.

In our game it was difficult to get the letters you needed for the endgame scoring, but that's mostly because the distribution of letter on city tiles was completely independent of the distribution of letters in the endgame scoring words. The tiles are definitely going to have to be re-done to better represent what's needed for endgame scoring, so for the 'current' set of words, there need to be more O's and R's for example, and probably at least 2 of each letter, more of commonly used letters.

No comments: