Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Final" (?) Terra Prime changes... yeah, right!

Terra Prime has gotten steadily closer to "done" over time, and I have been pretty happy with the progress I've made on it. As has been mentioned, a publisher is reviewing the game and planning on publishing it. I'll be visiting them when I go to Seattle next week to meet them in person and play Terra Prime with them.

One of the things I intend to talk about with them is what still needs tweaking in the game. Here are some items that I think they're not satisfied with (and frankly, they are things I'm not completely satisfied with either):

1. Red cubes/planets - not interesting enough. Since I shrunk the board and added a VP reward for exploring red tiles there has been more action in the 'red zone' - but it's still rare that a player ever carts a Red cube home to Terra Prime for delivery. At one point I tried bumping up their VP value from 6 to 10, which I thought was way too much, but even that didn't seem to help. I definitely think 6 is the right value (60 credits), but there's something about red that just makes it too unattractive to deliver.

Solution: It was suggested (by Mohan mostly, though I think I've heard it elsewhere as well) that Red cubes be sort of wild, in that they can be used to deliver in place of any colored cube on a demand tile. I am beginning to really like the sound of that, as it means a player carting a red cube all the way back to Terra Prime not only gets their 60 credits, but now also likely gets to complete one of the demand tile (irrespective of what's required), scoring bonus points for that.

In addition, I am considering allowing red cubes, because they are wild, to be carried in any hold - i.e. you could carry them in your initial, built in cargo hold. This would allow a player to carry Red cubes even without an additional cargo hold (either because they invested in 2 additional thrusters, or because they lost their Cargo Hold in combat with aliens). The down side is that it also means said player can carry 2 red cubes at a time, and if they satisfy any slot on the demand tiles at Terra Prime, then it might be too uninteresting. Then again, maybe the time you spend waiting around for that 2nd red cube to generate is cost enough for being able to deliver 2 red cubes for 12 points plus probably completing the tile... OR, and I don't really like the sound of this, there could be an arbitrary rule that you can only carry 1 red cube at a time on your ship.

Idea: I could add a built-in Red-Specific hold on the ship, like I did with Brown, such that a ship with no additional Cargo Holds could carry 1 Red, and a player who has invested in an additional hold could carry more than 1. I don't hate the sound of that...

2. Combat resolution is annoying. It's annoyingly random, and since my last rules changes I now find it annoyingly hard to communicate. Currently the guns and shields work as follows: The more you have of each, the better they each work. I like that. It means that if you prepare to fight aliens, then they're not too terribly difficult to kill - it just takes time, and you should take some damage when fighting them, so you can't just wipe out alien after alien with no risk. It also means if you don't prepare for them, the aliens are terribly scary and a huge deterrent - which they're supposed to be.

Solution: I'm not sure what to do about this one. With regard to the "luck factor" of winning or losing because you (or someone else) "rolled well" - I'm not sure I care about that. I think as long as the chances of success are really good once you've prepared, and really bad if you haven't, then that's good enough. this is why I like guns and shields that each work better the more of them you have.

To make it easier to explain again I was thinking of going back to a simpler model for combat, but that detracts from what I just mentioned, making luck a bigger factor again. I don't want people complaining that they lost because they didn't roll well enough, or that they lost because so-and-so got lucky with the aliens.

I'll have to keep thinking about this one, and talk to the playtesters about it. I'm not sure if the mechanism is OK as is, or needs to be changed. Maybe it just needs to be better represented.

3. Combat upgrades (and modules) seem unbalanced. This is a comment from the playtesters which I don't particularly agree with. It does go hand in hand with combat resolution though, and so depends on that somewhat. One thing to note is that upgrades are expensive - they cost cubes which would otherwise be points, and they use a marker which could have been a colony or delivery tile (and therefore worth points). Admittedly that last only matters if you're the player that triggers game end, and therefore is probably not a concern - but the point is if you spend too much time and resources pimping out your ship, then you won't get the value back. This happened to a player at KublaCon - she complained that the game ended too early because she had attained a good level of infrastructure, but didn't have time to make good use of it. She had over-invested in her ship. The playtesters also made a comment that 1/2 the modules were combat oriented (I believe they were referring to Shields and Guns)... but my view is that Shields aren't just for combat, they're also for exploration - to defend against asteroids.


Ben said...

Comments on Red Cubes:
- Maybe have take up both slots of a cargo hold, like a cryo.
- Why not just take red cubes out? If people aren't using them, and only going to red for the vp's and alien's (also vp's), then maybe the cubes aren't worth having.

"Unbalanced" comments:
- I don't have anything to say directly regarding this, but I just want to remind you of other protos from other that you have received and given comments back on, that seeing things from a new (another's) perspective can be a good thing. Don't get tunnel vision to your ways of doing things.

Seth Jaffee said...

Ben brings up a very good point about the Red cubes... maybe the Red planets should simply not produce. They don't offer modules, so it would not be so unusual if they also didn't offer cubes. Then there wouldn't be an issue with not delivering red - red planets would basically be for big endgame points, which was the original intent of the red cubes anyway.

I do like the idea of the red cubes being worth 60, and for a big endgame play after colonizing a red planet to be delivering the red cub (or 2?)... but maybe the colony is the big endgame play.

As for your other comment, Ben - you're right... it's important not to get pigeonholed or to have blinders when looking at your own work. In this particular case though I've put a lot of thought into the balance of things in Terra Prime, and I think it's about right. As it happens, I think the 2 combat upgrades need to have their costs swapped, as the cheaper one is mathematically better than the more expensive one at the moment, but other than that I think things are about how they should be.