Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Reading Railroad 5/6/08 playtest #4 - 2p

Lowski and I played 2 games of 2p Reading Railroad last night, and I tried a few variations to the rules which I've been discussing over the last few posts. Seems like a lot of progress was made, but maybe that's just because it's crunch time and I need to get this in the mail this week (eep!)

I tried the following configuration:
* Start with 3 letters and $3
* Buy Vowels (cost: $1, income: $1/2/3... per tile used)
* Factory = 4 city tiles, cost $10
* Endgame trigger = 15 City tiles
* Add partial scoring - 2vp per letter not in a word, up to LN
* !$! tile = Pay $1 or discard each letter tile in hand.

Starting with $3 and 3 Letter tiles seemed good. I had been starting with 3 tiles and no money, and I didn't like how some people had a word in front of them and some people had a pile of vowels. Starting with $3 is good because you can always build first turn, even if you don't have a word to make.

The biggest structural change I tried was probably Buying Vowels. I took out all of the vowels from the letter tiles. I also reduced the tiles to 2 of each letter (3 for the letters that had 4 or more in a Scrabble set). I kept the 4 Investor (!$!) tiles in. When building a word, you can use your tiles, and you can buy vowels for $1 apiece. You get paid for the tiles you use, then you pay for the vowels, so you can build a word even if you are broke. For example, if you have WDG you can make the word W-E-D-G-E, collecting $1+2+3 for the W, D, and G, then paying $2 for the 2 E's - for a net profit of $4. I liked this format a lot, it reduced the "can't make a word" factor tremendously, and it was kinda fun.

The Investor tile rule was bad. I finally drew one the turn I spent all of my cash, and buy the new rule I would have had to discard my hand. I think I had 4 tiles in hand at the time, and discarding them would have been pretty bad (one might argue I should have spent some!) In retrospect I might have forgotten that I wouldn't have to discard tiles drawn along with the !$! tile, but i didn't like the rule anyway... we brainstormed a little for a replacement rule and I decided that since the !$! tile was causing so much trouble, and wasn't doing what it was supposed to do, maybe better would be to remove it, and simply have a hand size limit to keep people from drawing and hoarding too many tiles.

After last Thursday's playtest I was worried about drawing too many tiles and making 7+ letter words turn after turn. A hand size would put a cap on that altogether. I decided to remove the !$! tiles and use a hand limit of 5 tiles, since I shifted the pay scale up*.

* You may have noticed I shifted the pay scale back up to $1 for the first tile, $2 for the second, etc. (rather than $0/1/2...) - this is because when buying a vowel, a 3 letter word such as D-O-G would pay $0 otherwise! now it pays $2.

I later decided maybe 6 would be a better hand size. I might worry that you could make $21 words and that would be too much, but that would be reduced by having to buy vowels (probably 2 or 3), and if you can only draw 4 tiles a turn then it won't happen every turn anyway.

Our first game was pretty cutthroat from the outset, Lowski grabbed a V and an E, going for OVER early, so I jumped in and took the other 2 letters he needed from the area. There are plenty of City tiles to go around though, especially O's and R's so he was able to finish that word eventually. He ended up with 13 cities in his largest network, $19 in coin, and he spelled FOX, LAZY, and OVER for a total of 19+9+16+16+2+2 (the +2+2 is from the 2 "unused" cities in his largest network) = 64 points. I ended up with 11 cities in my largest network, $12, and spelled JUMPED and BROWN for 12+36+25=73.

So I won by 9 points, and i spelled 2 bigger words than he did, though he did finish 3 words total, and had a larger network than mine. I think that's a reasonably close game, and was pretty happy with the outcome. The rules were sort of in flux during the game, so who knows how differently we would have played "for real."

Our second game was different. We continued to play without the !$! tiles, and all the same rules, but we allowed the Largest Network to be 'cheesed' - if you had built in adjacent regions on different builds such that it looked on the board like you had a contiguous network, then that counts as a contiguous network. I think that's horrible, but with the board as is I think the rule pretty much has to be that way.

In the first game nobody bought a factory, because we were after some of the same letters. this time I decided to go the factory route ans see how it worked. Lowski went for RAILROAD right off the bat. I played in various places around the board, collecting 2 City tiles at a time on turns 1 and 2. On turn 3 I couldn't afford a Factory, so I built another connection for 2 more city tiles. Turn 4 I could have afforded a Factory, but it seemed strictly better to get another 2 city tiles (cheaper, and I could use the City tiles). Turn 5 I did buy a factory and started to draw 4 tiles a turn. I never did have a 6-tile play, in fact the only time I had 6 tiles I couldn't use them all at once. I was raking in 5 or 9 points a turn, and I was still interested in placing track because I had the word BROWN (could have gotten QUICK instead if I'd tried). At one point I could have grabbed 2 city tiles and ended the game, but instead I went for connections to get my 25 points from BROWN, but in discussing it later it's possible that triggering the endgame might have kept Lowski from spelling RAILROAD (rather from connecting enough cities for it).

Instead I got my letter, and stopped building for a couple turns, trying to build up more Coin. The pressure was on Lowski (who was now winning) to end the game before my coin racked up too much. In the end, Lowski had 10 cities connected, $11, and 68 points from RAILROAD and 2 more tiles at 2 apiece. I had only 6 cities connected, spelled BROWN for 25 (+2 for an extra city), but I had $29 in coin. final score 79-56, Lowski destroyed me!

I think the point value for the big words (READING and RAILROAD is too high, and I think I've decided to bump them down to 40 and 50 respectively (from 49 and 64). these are nice, round numbers. I might also award partial credit for READ, RAIL and ROAD (16 points apiece), although that sort of defeats the purpose of having other words. Lowski mentioned something similar to one of the hidden goal words I'd already contemplated - he thought they could be like the Tycoon cards from RRT - you get one at the beginning, and you score if you make that word out of your City tiles in addition to the words you are already going for.

I'm also considering, with the Factories being so expensive now, I might try making them give +1 tile draw in addition to their filling up your board** with city tiles 9for more tile draws). I think with the hand limit and the cost of Factories that might be ok.

** One other thing I did last night was create player boards (with Lowski's help on Autocad), and Factory tiles as well. Maybe I'll take pictures and post them before I send the game off. The Factory tiles are sweet.

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