Thursday, December 25, 2008


I played a game a couple of years ago called Australia, and I really liked it. I bought a used copy off of a friend, but I've only played it a couple of times since. I am terrible at that game! In the 6 plays to date, I believe I've only won once, and that was against some new players I'd just taught the game to.

I talked Mike and Tyler into playing it yesterday, and taught them the rules, and once again I finished dead last! I guess I just don't get this game.

In Australia players place Rangers in different locations on the board in order to complete Conservation and Industrialization projects. Conservation projects are completed by filling each location around a Region with at least 1 Ranger. Industrialization projects are completed by getting a specific total number of Rangers in locations around a Region, as indicated by a tile on the board.

On your turn you get 2 actions from a short list of 3 possible actions: Move your plane, Play a card, Pick Up Rangers.

Move your plane: Simply place your airplane pawn in any region you want. This dictates where you are able to place Rangers.

Play a card: Each card has a color, and some combination of Rangers and Coins that totals 4 (i.e. 4 Ranger, 3 Rangers+1 Coin, 2+2, or 1+3). In order to play a card, it must bear the color of the region where your plane sits, or you must pay $3. When you play a card, you get the money indicated on it, and you get to place Rangers (up to the number indicated) into any one location adjacent to your plane's region. If you choose to play no Rangers, you get 2 points on the score track. After playing a card, you draw another, and you get to chose which split (Rangers/Coins) it will be (but you don't know the color)

Pick Up Rangers: You have a limited supply of Rangers, so there will be a time when you will need to pick them back off the board in order to place them again. You are allowed to pick up a maximum of 4 Rangers at a time, from locations adjacent to your plane.

You get to take 2 of these actions on your turn, in any combination (including the same action twice). In addition to your actions, you can pay $4 to move 1 Ranger from anywhere on the board to anywhere else. This is pricey, but can result in good scoring opportunities.

When one of the scoring conditions occurs, points are awarded for each Ranger adjacent to the region being scored. An additional 3 point bonus is given to the player who's turn it is. There is an "advanced rule" involving a Windmill - which is a way to commit Rangers to a side Area Majority scoring thing, which is significant scoring, especially late in the game.

I like the style of the game, but I don't understand why I'm so bad at it! I really like the way the cards work as well - more Rangers in play and less money, or more money and fewer Rangers on the board. One downfall of the game is Analysis Paralysis, but it shouldn't be so bad because you've only got 2 cards in your hand - even if you examined every possible play on the board it shouldn't take all that long. Scores are high and swingy in this game, which might be a turn off for some people. And the values of an Industrialization project are unknown until someone flies their plane into the area. That doesn't bother me at all, though I got kinda stuck last game with a lot of high numbered tiles which never got enough Rangers around them to score. I don't understand what I'm doing wrong. I'm going to try to play this game some more in order to figure it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday season playtesting and gaming

I usually like this time of year because my friends are in from out of town. I end up playing a lot of games and having a lot of fun. Lately I've been playing a lot of games anyway, but I'm still really looking forward to seeing Luke and Mohan and any other friends who will be in town that I don't already know about. I'm hoping that especially with Mohan around I'll get a chance to playtest some prototypes - both Terra Prime, on which I'm told Loose Cannon should be making real progress starting next month (after the holidays), and on Winds of Fate, which I need to shape up to send to New York in January.

I'm sure there will be a lot of Battlestar Galactica as well. I'm liking that game a lot, and with the thoughts on Cooperative games being on the surface I'm returning to the ideas I've had now and again about making my own - trying to solve the problems I perceive with the genre.

I'll be sure to post about any playtesting that is done in the upcoming weeks...
Stay tuned!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Winds of Fate: minor adjustments

I wasn't happy with the last playtest, and the main reason was because I think the rewards for Adventures were too samey-same. There are 8 different reward tiles, and we were turning up 4 of them per round for 3 players, and 1 player was getting 2. I think that's too many, and as a result there were a lot more bets being placed, and something didn't feel right.

I decided to first off go back to what I'd had before for the person who contributes the largest total of Adventure card value - that person will simply get a couple of victory points, not the left over Reward tile (there won't be a left over tile anymore). Secondly, I added 4 more tiles to the mix, so that any given set of 3-5 tiles will have a better chance of not being just the same as the last one. In the 12 tiles, 3 of them have "Place Bet" on them, 3 have "Move Bet", and 3 have "Destiny (change your destiny bet)". 4 of them give Cards, 4 of them give VPs, and 4 of them give Bet Chips, which can be later used to bet on something.

I think these added tiles will make the drawn tiles feel like more of a variety from Adventure to Adventure. Hopefully that will matter!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Winds of Fate V3.0 - playtests and updates!

The last time I posted about Odysseus: Winds of Fate I referred to the rules and structure as quote/unquote "alternate". That's because at the time I had a vision in my head of how the new version of the game was going to be, and I was planning on trying that version first. But talking with Nando in the BGDF chat room I started to realize that this "alternate" structure was better than what I had in mind, and I started to see how it could work. I also noted how easy it would be to update the prototype for it, so I did that and took the new version (V3.0 as I'm calling it) to BGG.con with me. I managed to play it 4 times over the course of the long weekend, which is great! I got some good feedback as well as a feel for how the game was working and what needed fixing.

So I've scrapped the whole V2.0 idea without even testing it - that was more of an investing thing than betting on the outcome of the game, which was the initial idea behind Winds of Fate. V3.0 is as "official" as it gets over here, and it's more true to Nando's original idea for the game. Here are some playtest comments I assembled over the weekend, in no particular order:

Tom Lehmann said the heart of the game is the tension between information and control. I can see that. He warned to make sure players don't try and identify with Odysseus - and I agree. I think a player aid with the round sequence would be handy, and it would be easy to add something to that to make it clear that the players are the Fates, and not Odysseus and his crew.

In the adventure resolution, it would be good to reward a player for contributing the most to the winning outcome - or maybe simply the rewarding the player with the single largest contribution, irrespective of the outcome. This way a player stands to benefit for spending a lot of high cards, even if his desired outcome is overcome by other players.

At the end of the game there really has to be some value to the cards in your hand. One idea was to skip the final adventure phase and simply add up all the cards in everyone's hands, but I didn't like that one. Another idea was to award 1vp for each X cards in your longest suit or something like that, but the idea I've liked best so far is 1vp for each pair of Help/Hinder cards. So you are rewarded for a balanced hand if you don't play your cards, and you're rewarded for playing your hands wisely by the effect on the outcome and with reward tiles.

Tom thought it was good that the backs of the cards were different and could be used to see how many cards in each suit the opponents had. He said if the backs were common the game would be too chaotic. I agree but I'm not sure to what extent I agree. I do like the separate backs though, so I'm sticking with them for now.

The card distribution used to be such that the Hinder cards were more numerous, but the average value of the Help cards was higher. I am going to try a balanced deck next and see how that goes.

Tom also thought there should be some minimal Bet Chip income. At his suggestion I tried giving players 1 Bet Chip when Odysseus reached the 2nd column of spaces, and another when he reached the third... I didn't love that, and frankly I'd like players to have to work at getting bet chips (by choosing them as a reward from a tile) if they want to place bets, so I think I won't use that rule.

It came up in a playtest that moving a bet seemed weird. That it seemed best to overshoot with your bet (because that makes the payout higher) then try and move the bet forward to when you really think the game will end. I'm not convinced that's a bad thing, actually... but it was suggested that bets only be allowed to move to a later round (We're betting on the game ending on a particular round, and a Move Bet action allows you to slide a bet to the next round). I'm tempted to allow moving in either direction. Christopher Rao suggested 2 separate actions, 1 allowing movement in either direction, and one allowing movement in only 1 direction. That's an idea as well, but I'm nit sure it's necessary.

Christopher also suggested that it should matter how much the Help/Hinder side 'wins by'. For example, maybe a chart that says X crew is lost if Hinder beats Help by Y amount. Maybe 1 crew is lost even if Help wins (if only by a little bit), and several crew is lost if hinder wins by more than 5 or something. I'm currently using a sort of random number of crew loss, and it doesn't currently matter how much an adventure is won or lost by, but that's a good idea. I'll keep it in mind.

The length of the game seems to be good. I always forget to note the length of the game, but it has been feeling correct, at something like 1 hour.

There are too many "+Cards" on the reward tiles. I agree with this, and have revamped them. Now 2 reward tiles have "+2 cards" but other than that, the only way to get cards is via passing early in an adventure, which means you get fewer (or no) points for the adventure, and a later pick for rewards. If you pass without having played a card, you get the opportunity to change out your Destiny bet (the bet on which game end condition will trigger)

Speaking of game end condition... I would like to see late game Place Bet actions remain interesting, so I added that you could place the bet on your Destiny card. Each bet chip on the Destiny card is a multiplier and therefore worth 3 or 4 points - not as lucrative as an accurate early game bet, but worth something. If a player changes his Destiny bet, he loses all multipliers on it. At the beginning of the game you start with a chip on the initial Destiny bet, so hanging even once loses something... a small encouragement to push the game toward your initial Destiny bet outcome.

I had been awarding VPs for the person contributing the highest value worth of cards, as described above. A suggestion from Christopher was that I instead give that player an extra Reward tile... in other words, turn up one more tile than there are players, and after everyone chooses their reward, the player with the largest contribution gets the remaining tile. I think I like that, and I'll try it in the next test.

I've redone the reward tiles and turn order tiles (consolations) to be better balanced. I still need to make that player aid.

I'm considering sorting the Encounter tiles such that bigger effects occur later in the game. This could be done by separating them into Stages, where Stage 1 is the first column of the board, Stage 2 is the second column, and Stage 3 is the third column. This makes intuitive sense, and I could make a total of 12 Encounter tiles - 4 for each column. It might help create a buildup feeling or some kind of story arc. I think I'll hold off on that for now, but I'll keep it in mind.

A big change I'm going to try is the endgame. I want the final adventure at Ithaca to be interesting and 'bigger' tin scope than the other adventures. Not TOO much bigger or different, I don't want it to be a whole different game... but it should be like a double adventure. So I created an additional board (this could well be all on one board) which sort of zooms in on the Suitors adventure. When Odysseus gets to the Ithaca space on the board there is an adventure as normal. According to the outcome of that adventure, he moves to one of 2 space according to the arrows on the board, also as normal. Then there is ANOTHER adventure... probably without collecting rewards from the first adventure (though maybe collecting Consolations - turn order markers) ... or maybe the full reward sequence could happen. At any rate, winning the 2nd adventure would take Odysseus to a space labeled "Home Safe", while losing it would either make him "Stranded" or "dead" (depending on which way he want after the first adventure). I think this sounds like the double adventure kind of thing I'm looking for, and it leaves in suspense the game end outcome when Ithaca is reached. I'd like for the very end to be up in the air as to how the game will end if he reaches Ithaca. I suspect all of this Ithaca stuff will happen on the same round, so once Ithaca is reached, the round on which the game will end is locked in.

Special cards: I would like to add some special cards with effects such as "advance round marker" or "draw 3 Adventure cards" or "Look at the top 2 God cards and put one on the bottom of the deck" which could be played face up for their ability instead of their card value (which would also serve to obfuscate a little bit the number of cards of each type you have in hand, which I think would be good). I just added some cards to the deck to serve that purpose.

I updated the Encounter tiles to tune them and mesh better with rules updates. I'll post updated rules once I've formally typed them up. I might like to playtest these updates before I do anything formal.

I showed the game to Zev at BGG.con, and he said he wouldn't mind giving it a play once I iron things out. I intend to send it to New York for Spielbany in January where I believe he'll be in attendance. So I've got some time, but I also have some work to do to work out all the details of the game. It should be fun!