Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winds of Fate: a new idea

I had a new idea about how to resolve the adventures in Winds of Fate. It's really just a variation on the original Taj Mahal type of thing...

So the cards are in 2 'suits' still: Help and Hinder. On your turn you either play a card face down or drop. Once you play a card, you have to keep playing cards of the same suit - and you can tell which suit the card is in by the back of the card. What you can't tell is the numerical value on the front of the card... in other words, you an tell if a player is trying to help Odysseus or hinder him, but you can't tell how much.

If you choose to drop from the round you cannot play any more cards - but your cards played will still count. In addition, when you drop you peek at the top card of the Olympus deck, and then are allowed to add any number of coins to your cards played. Each coin will count toward either helping or hindering Odysseus (depending on which suit you played), but will be discarded and no longer count for your score.

After all players have dropped, the top Olympus card and all of the played cards are revealed, and the total amount of help and hindrance is added up. If there's more help than hindrance, then Odysseus "wins" that adventure. If not, Odysseus "loses".

A win result increases the value of the coins (as described in the last post), while a loss decreases it. Also, a win will move Odysseus' crew closer to Ithaca while a loss will move him to another location parallel or further away for the next adventure.

Meanwhile, players get individual rewards for their personal performance in the Adventure. As before, rewards come from saying in longer, and maybe a bonus for playing the suit that ends up deciding the outcome (help if "win" - Hinder if "loss").

The idea would be to earn these coins, and then either save them if you think they'll be worth more at the end, or spend them to ensure they're not (i.e. ensure Odysseus doesn't make it home). However, if you spend too much on that, then you may lose to someone who has saved some coins.

I believe there would need to be a VP reward for the Adventure that is separate from the coins in order to make the coin value matter at the end - otherwise it's simply about getting more coins than other players, and it doesn't matter what they're worth.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Odysseus: Winds of Fate - another idea

I just came up with an alternate 'investment' idea for Winds of Fate. Recall that the basic structure is that players bet or invest on whether Odysseus will make it home or not, and then attempt to influence each Adventure along the way to that end.

The new idea is that there is a track indicating the 'value' of each coin invested. Players earn coins through "good play" in the Adventure mini-games, and then they can either invest them (a bet that Odysseus will return home safely), or not.

Each adventure won by Odysseus will increase the value of the track, thereby increasing the value of coins invested. Each adventure lost will decrease it. A safe return home will increase the value by several units. At the end of the game, the track will indicate how many points each invested coin is worth. Uninvested coins are worth 10 VP apiece (the track would start at 10).

So betting on a safe return could end up in lost money if Odysseus loses too many adventures along the way, but could end up with a positive return if he doesn't. Betting on failure means not investing coins. Of course coins could also be spent in order to draw cards, or otherwise influence the individual adventures.

Any thoughts on this alternate structure?

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm stuck!

One of the best reasons I can think of to collaborate with another person in a creative endeavor is that it will help get you past the inevitable point where you get stuck.

I've been trying to revive Odysseus: Winds of Fate lately, and Ive been giving a lot of thought to the structure of the game. I'm happy with that:

Odysseus's ship moves from location to location, and at each stop there's an adventure. "Winning" the adventure means he gets closer to home, "Losing" it means he moves further from Ithaca. Either the ship reaches Ithaca, or all the crew dies trying. Players are Sisters of fate, betting or investing in the final outcome of the voyage, and also influencing each of the adventures. Players should be rewarded for "good play" (whatever that means) during each adventure, as well as for bets/investments that turn out to be correct.

So the structure is there, but I'm stuck on the main mechanics that should be used to resolve each adventure. I can't get away from the original idea I had - card play sort of like Taj Mahal. I would like to come up with mechanics which go along with the theme of the game, and I don't know if Taj Mahal card play is the way to go - but I can't think of anything else... I'm stuck!

I need to get back in touch with Nando on this - the guy I was working on the game with in the first place (it was originally his entry to a BGDF Game Design Showdown). Maybe he can help me either find a new mechanism that would fit, or help find a way to make the Taj Mahal card play work better.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

10/11/08 playtest: 8/7 Central and Invasion of Trishula

According to my record keeping, I haven't played 8/7 Central since January 2007. I've been meaning to get back to it and fix the stuff I didn't like all this time, but it seems I just never got around to it.

Mohan has asked for the current state of the game, and I have yet to get him any information (sorry Mohan!) - I sat down to figure out what exactly to send him and realized Eric was coming over to playtest, so I would be able to try 8/7 Central again, with the latest ideas implemented, and then send Mohan up-to-date information.

8/7 Central
I incorporated the recent ideas into the game:
* No auctions - instead you buy programs from a track like Civ cards in Stone Age.
* During Setup, players were simply dealt a random program for each day, then paid for those out of a starting $30.
* As an action a player could purchase a program and place it directly into their lineup, or move a program from one time slot to another. As a result of the move/placement, another program could potentially be 'bumped' into the player's 'hand' - which doesn't count as being in play, but may be moved back into the lineup with a future Move action.
* All advertisement cards were removed from the deck (even the special ones I planned to keep). Any card could be placed face down as an Ad. Placing an Ad rewards a player with $1 immediately, and $2 each time that program is viewed. There can still be 1 ad on a 1/2 hour program and 2 on a 1-hr program.

All of these changes seemed to work well. I believe $30 is too much to start with, it used to be $30 when players would start with 6 programs, for which they would bid in an auction, and I felt like that was a good number. Now the prices are a little lower (due to no bidding), and they started with only 5 programs, so they had plenty of money to start with and weren't pressured to get more in the early game. However it did seem that as they spent their money, it got appropriately tight, so this wasn't a problem.

I think the next time I will start players with fewer shows. My first thought was to have people start with a random program on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and let them buy new ones for Thursday and Friday... but Ben suggested starting the first week on Wednesday and just having a 3 day week. I think the first week or week and a half will be mostly a setup week to get your lineup going, so having a short Week 1 seems like a really good idea.

I'd like the early game to be about filling out and building up your lineup, and the late game to be about aggressively going after Victory Points by moving strong programs to compete with your competitors. Maybe to emphasize this there should be a ramp-up of Victory Points... I was going to say "award 1vp/Genre during Week #1, 2vp during Week #2, 3vp during Week #3, and 4VP during Week #4" (I'd like the game to last at least 4 weeks) - but 4vp at a time seems way to much compared to 1 in the first week. Maybe 0/1/2/3 would be alright. Or maybe 1/1/2/2 VP for weeks 1/2/3/4.

Alternatively, maybe the game should only last 3 weeks, and then 0/1/2 could be feasible. There's a problem with a shorter number of weeks though, which I'll talk about later. Ben also suggested giving more weight to Friday programming because thematically, that kind of thing happens in real life (I guess more people watch TV on Friday nights). I don't think this is necessary, and in fact I think it kind of happens naturally since there are lots of actions available each week before Friday is scored - while there are only a couple before Tuesday is scored. However it might be interesting to offer an extra VP in each category for Fridays to give players something to concentrate on (the big point Fridays, or easier, smaller points the rest of the week). It's an idea worth considering.

The Moving/Placing programs as an action seemed fine to me. There was a small problem with the purchasing mechanism though. When the queue fills up with programs that are unattractive, then nothing will change that except purchasing a program. But nobody want's to purchase an unattractive program! So what I think needs to happen for that mechanism to really work is either (a) as an action, a player can wipe all or some of the queue clean and replace with cards from the deck, or (b) at the end of each day simply remove the program in the cheapest slot and slide the rest down. The removed program could be discarded, or placed on the bottom of the program deck, or whatever. If deemed necessary, this could also happen an additional time at the end of each week.

The new advertisement mechanism worked beautifully - just as I'd hoped it would. Players now have the choice between Fundraising (discard a card for $2), and playing an Ad (for $1, and potentially more later) - which seems good. Normally an Ad is better, but if you are in a bind and need that extra buck, you can get it. Also, in the endgame there's a way to get more than $1 at a time (via Fundraising action).

The game really needs to be longer (more weeks) so that shows can build up, gain Ratings counters, ads can yield revenue, etc. Maybe an additional die roll at the end of each week would help - ALL programs would be checked for hits, allowing more programs to be viewed, gain ratings counters, and yield revenue. This could be a tricky way to add virtual weeks to the game without adding to the game length.

The game length was an issue - we played for 2 hours and cut the game short after 2 weeks. People's turns were taking entirely too long. I think the fact that this was a 4 player game (maybe the first time this was played with 4 players) might have been part of it, as well as the fact that it's difficult to see who has what on each day - the information isn't organized very well. I've had an idea to make a central board where you place your programs, so it's easy to see who has what on each day - but even better than that might be a central board which has a chart for each Genre on each day, and each player has a marker in each column - this would simply show your current level in each genre on each day. Then at a glance you could tell which genres you're winning on a given day, and how close you are if you're behind. I think that will cut down on people's turn lengths considerably, but I still worry the game might take too long.

Let's see... in a 4 player game lasting 4 weeks (with the 1st week curtailed to 3 days) each player gets a total of 18 turns, and there are 22 status update phases. That's about 94 'turns' worth of time. For the game to take a reasonable amount of time (with 4 players, maybe 75 minutes, max) then each of those turns needs to average just 45 seconds. I just hope that's realistic.

The good news is that the players felt the game worked alright (aside from the information processing snags, and some number balancing), and was fun. They said they thought it's definitely worth pursuing.

The Invasion of Trishula
After some discussion on 8/7 Central we played Eric's game: The Invasion of Trishula. I'd played this before, but not since a year ago June. The basic idea of the game is pretty neat - 3 players are co-existing on a planet, sort of fighting amongst each other for territory (and therefore resources). Then a common enemy arrives to invade their planet. The game is won by the Invader player if they reach the Temple. If the Trishulans (the other three players) successfully defend the temple until the end of the game, then the Invader loses, and the winner of the game is the Trishulan with the most VPs.

You gain VPs by (1) occupying ("Defending") the temple, (2) sacrificing (or donating) resources to the temple each round, and (3) defeating Invader units in combat. it costs a couple VPs to attack Trishulans. There's a neat mechanism wherein at the beginning of the game, the Trishulans aren't very aware of the Invader, so the amount of resources they can gather and a few other things are at a certain level becasue they're not worried or concerned with the invasion. As the Invader kills your units or contaminates your territory, you become more and more aware or upset, and after a point you become more dangerous to the invader, and at that point your rewards/incentives shift away from bickering with your fellow Trishulans. The idea is that you begin fighting amongst yourselves, and over time you become aware of an ever-increasing invasion force, so you are supposed to band together and protect against it (or die).

The biggest problem with this game, for me, is that any game with a common enemy and a single winner is just begging for a Kingmaker. Some people don't mind that in games, where at the end of the game it comes down to player A making a choice which either makes player B win, or player C win, and neither option has a net effect on themselves. In fact, one could argue that every game is like that, but the "kingmaker" decision is not obvious, and occurs well before the game is actually over. However I for one agree with those who feel that is a design flaw. When playing a game and coming to such a decision, I feel deadlocked. I feel I can't reasonably choose one over the other, so what am I to do? Randomly choose the winner of the game? Vinci is a game that I actually enjoy, which sometimes comes to a kingmaker decision in the end. Tyler used to argue that the point was to get so far ahead you couldn't get kingmade out of the win. In that respect you could consider a win one in which you were that far ahead, and anything where kingmaking happened a tie I suppose - or you could consider the game a sort of diplomacy game, where you don't want to be the guy that was picking on the eventual kingmaker the whole time - or he won't make you king!

That said, I don't think there's anything that can be done about kingmaking in such a game. One idea might be to hide Victory Points, so that it's not obvious ho is winning. However, if VPs are hidden but trackable, then in essence they're not really hidden at all (many people don't bother hiding trackable information, and there is good reasoning behind that, even if I don't necessarily agree with it). The next logical step would be to make VPs hidden and not trackable. Not sure how that would work exactly...

The rest of the game seems a lot better than it was the last time I played. The game attempts to balance an exponential growth of the invading force with a linear regression of the strength of the Trishulans in such a way that at the climax of the game it will come down to player action as to whether the Invaders succeed or fail. In that respect I think the game is succeeding. There are still some balance issues, and some aspects of that system that aren't right, but I think it's getting pretty close. In our game it did come down to the wire, and while a couple of us had a rule or two wrong, in retrospect the Invader may have in fact been able to win.

Suggestions made after the game were, in no particular order...
* The Trishulans started with 65 units in play - WAY too many. That could be scaled down to 40 or maybe even fewer.
* The first round was intended to be for the Trishulans to do some stuff without the invaders in play yet, so the invaders start on the 2nd turn. Maybe better would be to 'pre-play' that first round, and start the game with the Trishulans in a reasonable position (where they'd be after 1 round of play) and begin with the Invader arriving.
* The invader never sacrificed any resources - she couldn't afford to. There's a mechanism wherein something happens if the invader sacrifices more than the combined Trishulans, but since the invader cannot afford to sacrifice, that thing will never ever happen. I suggested that this other thing that the Invader can (and wants to) pay for right before the sacrifice be folded into the sacrifice - where "as long as the invader sacrifices X resources, that thing happens." There's an analogous thing for the Trishulans, so I think it fits well.
* Eric forgot a rule about movement which would have helped - that you can move 2 spaces if moving through friendly territory. This is important because otherwise units get stranded on the board and cannot do anything. But moving 2 when attacking is too good, so the rule should be that you can only move 2 spaces if you're moving through your own territory (probably ending in your own territory), and you can only move 1 if you're attacking a unit or in fact moving into territory that's not your own.
* The points awarded for occupying the temple were atrocious. Originally it was a straight 25 points for being in the temple. That was too much. This time it was 3vp per unit in the temple (irrespective of who's unit) - which meant when Eric and I each brought 12 units into the temple, we gained 24*3=72 points against Rif, two rounds in a row. There's no way he could come back from that - so obviously that was not the right reward. Eric's intention was to reward players for 'cooperating' to defend the temple. I see where he's trying to go with that, however I think the long and short of it is this: The reward for cooperating in the temple (being friendly and not killing each other in that location) is "being able to defend against the invader". The penalty for not doing that is "you all lose the game". Therefore I don't think it's so necessary to have a VP reward for cooperation in that respect. The VPs from the temple need to be more in line with the other VPs in tha game (mainly the VPs from sacrificing - as you sacrifice 1x/round, and you get temple points 1x/round). Note also that you sacrifice resources for points each round, while temple points don't cost you anything. So maybe a better VP reward (if it must increase for sharing) would be "each player in the temple gets 3vp per player in the temple" - which means you either get 3 points on each opponent, or 6 points on 1 opponent, or you net nothing if all three players are present. This is also irrespective of the number of units there... the reward for having more units there might be defending vs the invaders anyway...
* Actually, this is counter to my last statement... a thought I had last night was that there should be an opportunity cost to hanging out in the temple en-mass. So if temple VPs is based on the number of people you have in there, then those units are getting you VPs instead of getting you something else. I'm not sure what - maybe you should need a unit on a space to get resources from it? Or maybe having a static VP reward is the answer, so piling guys into the temple simply doesn't do much for you in the early game - except keep you from being kicked out by your opponents.

That was sort of a disjointed, stream-of-consciousness report, but hopefully helpful in some respects.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm such a slacker!

I have been seriously slacking where it comes to game design lately. The Hippodice (game design contest) deadline is approaching, and I'm not sure which game - if any - is in good enough shape to submit!

Of the games on the list, there are several which are (still) partially prototyped, and I'm spinning my gears trying to decide what version of rules to use. The list is only getting longer, here's an updated list:

Old Standbys - games which have been around, 1/2 done and untouched, some of them going on 3 years now:
- 8/7 Central
- Hot & Fresh
- Dynasty
- Odysseus: Winds of Fate
- Kilauea
- Reading Railroad
- Rodeo Drive

Old Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere Yet, But Probably Should - some of these have been getting stale as well:
- Investigative/Tabloid Journalism
- Red Colony
- Clash of the Kingpins
- Time = Money
- Knights Templar

New Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere Yet, But Probably Should:
- Dating Game

New Ideas that I've started actually prototyping or testing:
- Ticket Please
- Moctezuma's Revenge

I have lots of ideas for several of these games, so many that I think I'm overwhelmed and am not making any progress on any of them!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

BGG.con coming up!

It's getting close to November, which means it's getting close to time for BGG.con! I don't think I prepare for any trip as far in advance as I do for this convention. I bought plane tickets months ago, I arranged hotel accommodations (sharing a room with a friend from previous years), and now - still 6 or 7 weeks before the con, I'm posting a sign-up list on BoardGameGeek for playing unpublished games.

I did this last year and I think it was successful, so I intend to make it an annual thing. I'm trying to help grow the burgeoning game design community the only way I really know how - by designing games, and bringing unpublished games to conventions to drum up interest!

Not all the games I bring are my own. I have several friends from the Board Game Designers Forum who have designed some excellent games, and I have made or obtained copies of some of them.

My action isn't entirely altruistic though, I'm constantly trying to find a way to get some of these games, by myself or my friends, published. Several publishers will be in attendance at the convention, and it would be great if I could show these games to them as well - though so far that hasn't gone as well as I'd hoped. But it's still great to get the games played and hear feedback from players.

So I'll see you at BGG.con - sign up to play some unpublished games!