Thursday, June 26, 2008

Further thoughts on the "final" Terra Prime changes

Last week I posted some changes to Terra Prime, and Ben had a great idea (posted in the comments).

"Why not just take red cubes out? If people aren't using them... then maybe the cubes aren't worth having."

That's a great suggestion, and I think I'm going to try it that way this weekend with the publisher. Originally I figured the big late-game play for certain strategies would be to drop a colony on a red planet then cart a red cube home to TP and score big points from that delivery. The problem was that the costs in time and effort were so high in delivering Red cubes that it never happened. I shrunk the board, making it much easier to actually achieve this, and it still didn't happen. As I mentioned, at one point I actually upped the reward for delivering Red to $10 (which is 10 points... up from 6), and it still didn't happen. The game would end before people got around to it.

So I thought about Ben's suggestion. At first I was skeptical about losing the symmetry of the 2/3/6 point deliveries, and how all the planets work the same with respect to production. But then I realized that was all pretty arbitrary, and a long time ago I removed any Modules from red planets (because it didn't make sense - the modules help you get out to the red zone, no need to buy anything once you're out there). So the Red planets already aren't the same as Yellow/Green/Blue planets. How bad would it be if they didn't produce?

Thematically, the Red planets might be inhabited by aliens (not hostile ones) and that's why they're worth more points, but it wouldn't be right to rape their planets and ship off their resources. I like the sound of that.

With this change, the red cubes and red delivery tiles can all be cut from the game. The big late game play is now not delivering Red, but colonizing a Red planet in the first place. This is something that has been happening, especially since the change to the smaller board. To amplify that, as well as to fix a VP balance issue I've already been having with the game, I will also increase the value a planet adds to a colony.

Currently the colonies score 2vp per planet plus 1vp per distance from Terra Prime. I like that formula, but from the beginning the "2vp per planet" was really a placeholder. It was easy to remember and easy to calculate. I didn't want to commit anything to the tiles in case I wanted to change it later, so I went with that. Ideally, the planets could be worth different amounts of points, and they'd be printed on the tile - no remembering necessary. As for values, I believe what I'd like to do is have blue and green planets remain at 2vp, Yellow should be worth 3vp, and Red planets should be worth 4 or 5 vp. I'd long thought the distant colonies weren't really worth enough, as the nearby colonies get used a lot by players and therefore end up being worth more than the distant ones. I tried fiddling with the vp reward for distance, but I always liked the original formula best (1vp per sector from Terra Prime). Increasing the value of the planets will emphasize the reward for distance a little, as Yellow planets and Red planets by definition are further from Terra Prime.

I think this new structure will really reward exploration and colonizing far from Terra Prime, which was supposed to be one of the big strategies that I think wasn't strong enough to compete with Delivery or Alien Hunting. Losing the Red cubes sounds like it will just cut some of the unnecessary components from the game, making it feel more finished.

Combat Resolution
Combat resolution remains a sticky situation. The current rule is that you roll 1 die and if you roll a 6 then you hit an alien. You have to hit all alien symbols to wipe them out, and after your turn, if not wiped out the aliens will return to full strength. Each weapon module on your ship allows you to roll 1 additional die, AND confers a +1 modifier to all dice rolled. Thus, with 2 Weapons modules, you would roll 3 dice and add 2 to each, meaning any roll of 4, 5, or 6 would kill an alien. Shields currently work the same way - you roll 1 die and on a 6 your shields cancel a hit. Each Shield module allows an additional die AND gives +1 to all dice.

The purpose of this type of resolution is, I think, well thought out and relatively simple: I want aliens to be big and scary if you're not prepared for them, and easy to remove if you are, but I don't want it to be automatic - I want a feeling of tension and a chance of failure even if you're prepared to fight the aliens. For the most part, failure just means having to use one more action, and maybe lose a module by getting hit. I want a battle ready ship taking on three alien symbols to win, but not without taking a hit or 2. I want a ship that's been through a couple of battles to have to limp home damaged to resupply (re-purchase shields/guns). The Aliens are worth good points, and I want the 'cost' of that to include your ship getting F'ed up in combat - or at least the risk of damage.

With the current resolution, the more prepared you are to fight aliens, the more likely you'll win easily. The more guns/shields you have, the more effective each gun/shield is. Thus without any guns or shields, your chances of surviving an alien encounter, let alone destroying the aliens, are astronomically low. With a couple guns (or a couple shields and a couple extra actions) your chances are much better. But to be truly prepared for battle a player should have to invest in 2 guns and a shield (or 2 shields and a gun) as well as one or both of the Combat upgrades - re-rolling missed rolls or a built in extra Gun and Shield.

So with respect to the intended result, the current rules work properly. However, they may be too complicated. I've noticed that they are awkward to explain, and that's a symptom that could mean there's something fundamentally wrong with the rule I'm also not sure I'm happy with the reciprocal rule for Aliens attacking players. The current rule there is that they simply roll 1 die per symbol, hitting on 4, 5, or 6. Of course then players get a chance to use their shields. I don't know if I like that it's different, though the Asteroids work the same way, and I do like that it's simpler. I tried using the same rule for aliens - the more symbols present, the worse the aliens were... but then the single aliens weren't very scary at all, and it seemed more complicated than it was worth.

It's been suggested in the past that the combat should be reduced to 1 roll, not 1 roll for guns then another for shields. To facilitate that, shields would have to change into just a negative modifier on the roll to see if you're hit. that's a possibility, but I don't really see an advantage to that over the current system, except maybe that it's 1 fewer die rolls.

So long story short, I'm still hemming and hawing over whether or not I like the combat resolution as is.

1 comment:

Gil said...

Red Cubes: What a great idea! That's the kind of suggestion that completely trims the fat, and leaves the game leaner and meaner.

Battle Mechanic: I have a pretty high tolerance for fiddly rules (something I'm learning is an ABSOLUTE LIABILITY as a game designer), but I don't really have a problem with the combat rules complexity. They're still pretty simple to me.