Monday, May 05, 2008

Reading Railroad playtest #3

Last time I said I wanted to try the game without the investor tile because I thought maybe it wasn't necessary - maybe the natural incentives to build track would be enough to keep people from hoarding (or to punish people appropriately for hoarding). I also thought I'd raise the payout by sliding the scale over a notch (1/2/3/4... for each letter in your word rather than 0/1/2/3...). I tried both of those modifications last Thursday, and I also tried a modification to the Factory: I made it a single tile (counting as 1 tile toward ending the game) rather than 4, and I made it give an additional tile draw. So in effect, the Factory became 1.25 City tiles toward letter drawing, but only 1 City tile toward game ending. I still made them cost $4, a completely arbitrary number that I made up when I first thought of Factories and not based on anything real at all.

The sum total of all of those changes was disaster, which I could have predicted, but I wasn't sure so I wanted to see it in action. Especially with no investor tile, people just bought factories as fast as they could (I didn't limit it to 1 per player), and were quickly drawing 5 tiles a turn, making big words worth a ton of coin... I had clearly overcorrected for the problem I saw before of people being drained of all their coin all the time.

It was so bad I aborted the game and started again. This time I put the Investor tile back in, and made a limit on how many factories you're allowed to have (no more than cities in your largest network). that seemed like a fair limiter (you should have to have cities to put your factories in, right?), and it meant you couldn't buy a factory until you've at least built 1 link, which is kinda nice. But at $4 they were still a must-buy, and so people bought them as soon as they could, ant here was no good reason not to. One player avoided it for a while, but decided eventually that that was ridiculous and gave in to the temptation. I also shifted the pay scale back because I didn't see any benefit to the higher payouts.

Things I learned about Factories are...
- I still think they are a good feature, but they need to be implemented correctly
- They need to take up more of your city tile space, to ensure you're not going to score a big endgame bonus if you get the Factories, because you should be earning more coin.
- They need to cost more... a lot more. I noticed that a sort of average income was 6 coin a turn (a 4 letter word), which I feel is a good number to keep in mind when setting costs. In this case, a $4 Factory can be financed with a single turns worth of word building, which means you're not giving up much in order o get the factory. you could instead build onto the board and get a letter tile, or pay the $4 and get the Factory, which is like 5 letter tiles (under the rules we were using). A far better cost might be $10, which means you have to spend at least 2 turns not laying track to build up to the factory. I also think the factory will go back to being a size 4 tile (equivalent to 4 City tiles) for simplicity and to fill up your City tile slots, and there will be a rule that you can't buy one if it'll end the game. So at $10 you're spending 2 or 3 turns getting "4 City tiles" which you can't use in endgame, vs getting 2 or 3 that you can - and in return you get to draw extra letter tiles.

This version of the Factory will also put a natural limit on the number you can buy - no buying 4 factories and drawing 6 tiles a turn! People were drawing way too much and getting far too many 7+ letter words on Thursday.

The Investor didn't help too much, because I exempted 3 tiles to keep people from getting screwed who weren't trying to hoard tiles. The problem was that (a) when you draw 6 or 7 tiles a turn, you don't have to try to hoard tiles, you just draw all you need, and (b) if you're making huge words, you can easily afford the paltry taxes. I found myself thinking that maybe Scott's idea to have the Tax tile affect all players was a better idea for that reason, but there are all kinds of problems with that rule as well.

A suggestion was given to me that you have to (or can) discard tiles you can't (or don't want to) pay for when the investor comes up. This removes the whole idea of Debt, which is fine with me, and it still has the effect of costing you potential points if you're holding the tiles. In fact, discarding a tile instead of a coin could be giving up even more points. but it allows you to discard "bad" letters and not have to pay for them. I think I might go with that rule next time. I might try to find a way to make the investor not hurt if you draw it early, like before you have been able to make a word. Oooh... maybe it should depend on your City tiles... like you pay X coin, where X is your number of City tiles. If you haven't made a word yet, you pay nothing. And if you buy a factory, this boosts your tax payment up by 4. That might be neat!

I also think players should start with a couple coins to help jump start the early game. I'll try 3 tiles and 3 coins per player.

Oh, another suggestion a friend had was that the letter tiles could all be consonants, and you can make whatever word you want, but you had to buy the vowels you want to use - probably at $1 apiece. you'd only get paid for the tiles you use, so the word C-A-T would pay out $1+$2-$1=$2 total. For this system I might slide the pay scale back up, lest C-A-T pay $0+$1-$1=$0! Players would start with some coins to make this feasible, and the rule would probably be that you collect the income and then pay for the vowels, so if you're broke you can still make a word.

I'm liking the "buy a vowel" idea more and more over time, and I hope to try that out sometime. I'm running out of time to be finding new things to try!

No comments: