Thursday, January 07, 2010

Prototype night!

Last night I had a few people over for the express purpose of playing All For One - the Three Musketeers game I had been working on with David Brain, which has been on Hiatus for about 3 years :(

Eminent Domain
Andrew, Ashley and Brian arrived first, and the 4 of us first tried Eminent Domain - I thought it would be short, as Tuesday's 2-player games went quickly (I actually thought 4p might go even more quickly!) - and while it wasn't as short as I thought it would be, it actually seemed to go pretty well. I had made some minor modifications since Tuesdays first attempt, and for the most part they were a step in the right direction, however there are definitely some aspects that still need work. The biggest of which is probably the Colonize and Warfare actions and how they flip over planets.

Since currently the Colonize cards get stuck under the planets until you flip it, players easily get to the point where they actually don't have any Colonize cards left in their deck. In a sense this is kinda neat, as you can sort of hide Colonize cards under planets and never have to draw them again if you don't want to. However, it led to a disappointing circumstance where in order to flip the planet, a player would have to take a Colonize role just to get a colonize card into his deck, then later draw it and use it. Then they're left with an extra Colonize card they don't really need, which is kinda lame too. By contrast, Warfare seems a lot better. you can simply aggregate armies little by little when other players choose Warfare, and eventually you can attack a planet to flip it, without filling your deck with a bunch of warfare cards.

Part of the problem is perhaps that I'd made the Role effect for each of those actions simply to accumulate Colonize icons under planets of pile up Armies, and the Action effect to actually flip a planet. Perhaps both the Role and the Action should allow either. Brian suggested that with the current mechanics, simply lowering the cost for Colonization and increasing the cost for Warfare might do the trick. I could easily test that by simply reducing the Colonize cost of all planets by 1, and increasing the Warfare cost of all planets by 1. There would still be planets that are 'easier to take over by warfare' and some that are 'easier to colonize' - but each cost would be 1 more/1 less than at present. Instead of 6/4, 5/5, and 4/6, it would be 5/5, 4/6, and 3/7 - not a ton of difference.

Another, different idea that I'm considering is putting the planets in a display like the cards in Stone Age, where the first one costs maybe 2 icons to colonize, the 2nd costs 3, the 3rd costs 4... in this way, perhaps you would see the front of the planet so that you'd know what you were going after to begin with. This would change the dynamics of the game a lot, and maybe take away some of the more original aspects, but might make for a better game overall - as I suspect players would be annoyed by the current system in which the benefit of the planet you get is unknown until you colonize it (though that hasn't happened yet). So in this scheme, the Colonize ROLE would be to colonize a planet, and you'd need the required number of symbols to do it. The other players would get to do the same, but they don't get a +1 from the new Role card. Warfare ROLE would be "Attack!" and would be similar - you attack a planet by discarding a certain number of Armies depending on the location in the display - maybe interesting if the costs were inverted - 2 warfare => 4 to colonize and vice versa...

So what of the Warfare ACTION? well, that's easy, collect an army. And maybe the ROLE should allow you to collect X armies instead of attacking if you like. Should the Warfare ACTION allow you to attack? Or should other players get to get a planet whenever you do (if they have Armies to spend)? I think the latter. What about Colonize? It seems there would have to be a way to get colonize icons into your deck, so what would it mean to Colonize without actually having enough symbols to take a planet? Maybe there should always be a planet which costs just 1, so you can always take it? Does that make it far too easy to obtain planets? And what about the Survey role, does it go away altogether? Or does it perhaps monkey with the planets in the display? Definitely things to think about.

Andrew had brought a protoytpe of his own called Utopia, which I played once and recall it being inspired by Wealth of Nations (though not just a copy of that game). Since David and Steve had arrived we had too many for All For One, and since David wasn't interested in A41, he, Steve and Andrew played Utopia. I'm not sure how it went, but it seemed to go kinda long - a little longer than All For One did and I think they cut it off early. I saw that David had A TON of debt - I don't recall what that means for that game. I believe you pay $1 interest per loan each turn, up to a maximum of $5 - so while each loan also reduces your score I guess David decided to "go big or go home."

I believe that game has a nifty scoring mechanism in that the resources you have are worth points at the end depending on how many are left in supply. The resource with the most left in supply are worth 3vp each, 2nd most are worth 2vp each, and least left in supply are with 1vp each or something like that. I remember thinking that was cool from when I played it that on time.

All For One
While David, Steve and Andrew played Utopia, Brian, Ashley and I played All For One. I was excited to play it again since it has been over 2 years since I played! At BGG.con 2007 I played the game, then sent it home with Zev from Z-Man games. Sadly, it sat on his shelf for an entire year as he had other things going on and didn't get a chance to play it. When he finally did play the game, he thought it was "too Euro for a theme that screams Ameritrash," and so he was not interested in publishing it. I had him send the game to another publisher, this one in the UK, Jackson Pope of Reiver Games. I had a suspicion that he wouldn't have the capital to produce the game. It turns out I was right, but since the game was in England I thought it might be a good idea to have Jackson send it not back to me, but to my co-designer David Brain. It was David's original game idea in the first place, and I came on as a co-designer and developer way back in 2003! as such, we're coming on 7 years that this game has been around (since I got involved) and it's still not published! The theme is spectacular, and the game has been received very well by most players at conventions...

Sadly though, David seems to have lost pieces and was not able to send me back my prototype that I'd missed so dearly. I have not been able to play the game since I gave my copy up to Zev! In an effort to correct that, I set about making a new copy of the game. It's not as good, as the mapboard had changed by hand and I had to sort of re-create the changes. I had to make a whole new set of Plot Tokens as well. Luckily I had invested in additional Musketeer minis from Reaper so that I actually had another set to use. A months ago I finished putting together the prototype, but it wasn't until last night I got to play the game again!

So how did it go? I was hesitant because it seems like I wasn't liking the latest version as much or something. I also couldn't recall exactly how to play, but fortunately my rulebook was up to date and, if I do say so myself, well written! I taught from the rulebook as if it were a published game, and we got to playing in no time.

The basics of gameplay is that on your turn you activate one of the 6 characters in the game, and then you move them around, picking up plot tokens as you go. Your hand of mission cards informs which character you might want to use and which tokens you might want them to get. There is some route optimization, as over time the various missions get either easier or more difficult while characters, guards and tokens move around the board. You score points by completing missions, and you also progress storylines, and at the end of the game you score some bonus points for the storylines you have on your hidden goal card.

In our game some very interesting things happened. There was some blocking, there were missions being completed, there were duels fought... in fact, as Brian recognized that the Peace storyline was the one he did not share with either of us, he decided to fight a number of duels with guards in order to advance the Peach storyline and score bonus points that Ashley and I would not get. All in all it was a good, fun game. I ended up winning by merit of completing more missions than everyone else (I did 6). However, most of my missions were duels, so I only scored 4 points apiece off of them. Brian's 3 missions scored almost as many points as my 6, as he did several Special Deliveries (worth 6 points, as they have 2 required tokens) and a Standard delivery for 5. I believe Ashley and Brian finished within 1 point of one another, and I finished a handful of points ahead of them.

The best news is that both Brian and Ashley LOVED the game! It felt great not only to play again, but to have such a warm reception from the players! I definitely want to play this some more, including with Michael to see if he'd like it to be a Tasty Minstrel release!

Ground Floor
After Utopia and All For One had ended, Andrew and Ashley went home leaving Brian, David, Steve and I to play Ground Floor - David's game about Entrepreneurship. This 4 player game was a learning game for Brian, but Steve, David and I had all played before. Brian picks up games quickly, opting to "just do something and learn as you go" when playing a new game rather than trying to figure out all the ramifications of each play when not even familiar with the game (a strategy I'd like to start employing as well).

This game we used a slight tweak to the Economic Forecast deck to make it less predictable. In a Recession for example, there will be between 1 and 3 consumers... until now, once the first recession goes by and it has say 1 consumer, then the next time a Recession comes up we all KNOW that at least 2 products will sell. This was disappointing because the game is much better if you cannot be sure whether it'll be 1, 2, or 3 consumers during a Recession. To fix this, we created a double deck - 2 copies of each card. To set up the Forecast deck we shuffled the 6 Recession cards (for example) and used only 3 - now each one has a 1, a 2, or a 3 on it, but just because 1 comes up doesn't mean it won't come up again next time. A MUCH better mechanism, for just a LITTLE BIT of setup cost at the beginning of the game. In addition, we moved the top card down to the 'current' pile but left it face down (which informs you as to the range of customers but not the actual number), so that the FOLLOWING card is now visible, letting players plan ahead a little more. This tweak was well liked and is a keeper.

Steve began the game just loaded with money and information - I wasn't sure where it was all coming from! What I realized was that he had opted not to purchase any Small TIs or upgrade any of his Ground Floor rooms. Instead he saved all his money and info so that in round 4 when the better floors become available he could get 2 of them in one shot. He opted for "the big combo" as we've come to call it - Assembly Line (which lets you get 3 cheap supply each turn) and Research Lab (which lets you trade a Supply in for $3 and i3 3 times a turn) - so for 6 of his time units Steve could make $9 and i9, without having to compete with us for it. As a result however, we had less competition for Consumers and Consultants and maybe the rest of us were able to make more money and info that way than we would have otherwise.

I chose to purchase TIs that increased my income each turn, so in the end I was collecting $8 and i8 without spending any time units at all. I also opted for a late game Warehouse (the turn before the Small TIs go away) so that I could store up some supplies and score well off the Floor that rewards 1vp per supply. In the end I scored 6 bonus points off of that floor, which is pretty huge - on par with 2 Bonus Floors really, and for less money investment - but I DID have to spend time filling my storage space with Supplies, and I ran the risk of someone else buying that bonus floor (though it would have been pretty poor for anyone else).

In the end I scored 51 points, enough to beat Steve's 44 - he had somehow run out of gas despite all his riches midgame. In the last round he was unable to maximize his two Bonus Floors (2vp/popularity level, 1vp per remodeled room) and he had to choose between the two. Brian did fairly well in his first game, finishing with 38 points - no Bonus Floors at all, but I think in a future game now that he knows what's going on he'll likely do much better. David had a rough early game, and as such finished last. I'm not really sure what happened with him, but I wonder if it ad to do with his early game Emergency Meeting purchase - a TI which helps guarantee you Info from the Consulting Firm. It is a nifty ability, but I'm not sure it's as good as something that nets you info.

After the game we discussed a few of the buildings and I think I've finally gotten David to agree that a couple of them (Store Front, Office Admin, etc) are simply not useful and should be cut! Even better, we looked at some floors that seem like they'd be better in the early game (help getting employees) and made them into Small TIs so they're available when you need them. Finally, we strengthened a couple Floors and TIs that seemed too weak, like the Internship, which gives you 1 additional time unit per round (1/3 of an employee) - it seems good, but unless that 1 time unit can get you i3, then it's simply not comparable to the other options. We bumped it up to 2 time units (2/3 of an employee), and now I think it'll be really comparable, as it's almost as valuable but much more versatile.

A great game, and it only took about 2:15 minutes! I'd still like to see it go a little quicker (under 2 hours) - not sure whether that's feasible or not.

All in all a great night for prototypes!


Jožo Kundlák said...

I would relly like to see the cards and stuff for Eminent Domain... But I guess it is in an Alpha/Beta stage, so work is being done on them. But still, a sample would be nice ;)

Scurra said...

God, I feel really guilty now. :)
I've got your Musketeer pieces all safe in a box, honest - it's everything else that has gone missing...

Glad to hear the game went well though - I still have a very soft spot for it. I fully intend to spend some time looking at it again during the next few months.

-- David

Seth Jaffee said...

The musketeer pieces, though nice and kind of expensive, are the one thing I had more of. What I really needed more was the board and cards with hand-made changes on them! Also the plot tokens which were a pain in the butt to re-produce!

Seth Jaffee said...

I would really like to see the cards and stuff for Eminent Domain... But I guess it is in an Alpha/Beta stage, so work is being done on them. But still, a sample would be nice ;)
I have no real samples to show - the tech cards are handwritten with a letter in a circle indicating the symbol/icon, and a handwritten ability. The abilities could use work, but I figure it'll be easier to tell what would constitute a good ability after I've played the game a few times.

The planet cards are nothing special either, there are 3 different pictures for the different types, and within each type there are 9 planets. On the back I've hand written some VPs, and they have some typed ability or icon on them.

I suppose I could list the abilities and stuff and solicit opinions on them. Maybe I'll do that later tonight.