Tuesday, February 09, 2010

2/8/10 playtest: Terra Prime expansion

I mentioned putting together an expansion for Terra Prime the other day. Yesterday I got a chance to try it out! David, John, and Wystan came over, and after a game of Eminent Domain they agreed to give the TP expansion a go. John has played quite a few games of Terra Prime, but not since last April or so when I was putting the finishing touches on it. Wystan had played my prototype once before, and I don't think David had ever played the game before. So for half the players the expansion wouldn't be really different than the base game, since they didn't know or wouldn't remember the base game! but I would at least be able to see how the new elements worked, and that was the main point.

Almost all of the new features were accessed in the game, and for the most part I liked how everything worked:

2 new Upgrades: a Matter Converter which makes your resource cubes interchangeable, and Additional Module Slots ("Extra Deck"?) which gives you 2 new slots for modules - one Engine/Cargo slot and one Weapon/Shield slot.

David had a lousy start, but once he figured things out he collected some resources and bought himself a Matter Converter. I believe his thought was that it would make buying other upgrades easier. It was too late in the game to really take advantage of that, but I could see how it could work. I could also see the Matter Converter being huge in a delivery strategy - buy a Delivery Optimizer and a Matter Converter and suddenly quick trips for resources will rack up cash and points in a hurry!

Nobody bought Additional Module Slots, but I wanted to! I think a contributing factor was that there weren't convenient asteroids to colonize, so Brownium wasn't easy to come by. The "Brownium + 10 Credits" reward tile happened to be the one removed from the game as well. I could see this inexpensive upgrade being used either by someone who wants to carry a lot of stuff without having to pass up extra actions from an engine, or by someone who wants to have more alien fighting power - especially with the new modules which use Energy (you might want more Shields to store more energy).

I'm happy with these upgrades so far.

3 new Modules: a Pulse Cannon, which lets you roll 2 dice, but costs 1 energy to use; a Cryo-Chamber, which lets you carry a Colony marker but no cubes (upgrades to a standard 2-door module); and an Afterburner, which I've got two possible rules for...
1. 2 actions at the cost of 1 Energy, once per turn
2. 2 actions per turn, but only one non-move action can be taken that turn

I decided to go with option #1 for the Afterburner - spend an energy to activate the Afterburner for the turn and it gives you 2 actions. It worked great! I picked one up and fueled it with several Shield modules. John and Wystan also bought this version to try it out. I really like the Energy economy introduced!

Nobody bought the Pulse cannon, but I could see it being good for someone who wants to fight aliens without dicking around building up an arsenal. It could be tricky though, since heading into an Alien ambush means you'll lose energy, which you'll need to power the Pulse Cannon in combat - so it's still worth getting a Cloaking Device before taking on the big boys.

I was skeptical about the Cryo-Chamber - I didn't think anyone would ever want it. I took to an Explore strategy, and at one point I thought "hmm... I could collect Blue/Blue/Brown and upgrade my Carrying Capacity so I can carry 2 Colony markers - or I could save a lot of actions and just bu the Cryo-chamber for 1 action and 20 credits!" So I did. I was able to carry 2 colonies out to the boonies and drop them off for good points. I think that module will be underused, as using it well seems pretty subtle. You'd pretty much have to eschew delivering much or upgrading - but maybe a NavComp/Exploration/Colonization strategy could really use that well. Especially if utilizing the Additional Module Slots!

The energy economy worked especially well with the known planet locations, because it was much easier to find and colonize a Red planet (where you can refuel shields).

27 Exploration tiles: The setup for the expansion is to place the Space hexes face up, and these Exploration tiles are placed face down in the center of each in lieu of what's printed on the tile. In addition to Hostile Aliens and Stray Asteroids

As I set up the board for our game, I made sure the setup was "legal" under the base game placement rules (the ones I wish I'd done without). I don't know if that's so necessary. I think the only rule needs to be "don't place anything (not even an Asteroid Field) adjacent to Terra Prime" for setup. I think I'll try that next time.

I added a couple new features...
* Sunstar: makes planets on the tile uninhabitable. Thus you cannot place a colony on a planet or asteroid on a tile with a Sunstar. I'm considering making that "cannot place a colony in any sector adjacent to the Sunstar."
* Wormhole: there are several Wormhole tiles. With 1 move action a player can move their command ship into an adjacent wormhole, and with 1 more move action a player can move from the wormhole to any sector adjacent to any wormhole tile on the board.

John did NOT like the Sunstar at all - he was en route to colonize in a sector, but when he got there he discovered a Sunstar on that tile, making that particular Asteroid Field uninhabitable. Further, since it could not be colonized, it served as a severe roadblock, as anyone moving through that sector would have to take 2 dice worth of Asteroid damage! Because this ruined John's plans, he didn't like it - I on the other hand thought it was pretty cool.

The Wormholes worked beautifully. I'm not sure if there are too many, or too few, or a good number... but they were really neat. They did however bring up a rules question:
In the base game, it's simply not possible to use an action to move your ship into a sector with 2 face down tiles in it. However with the Wormholes it's not just possible, but easy to find a sector adjacent to a wormhole with both other tiles in it face down! So can players move out of a Wormhole to encounter 2 face down tiles? What happens if they do? Well, fortunately the way I worded it was airtight - it takes a MOVE action to exit a wormhole, not an EXPLORE action - therefore when exiting the wormhole you MAY ONLY move your ship to a fully explored sector. Now there's no question about moving where there are 2 face down tiles. David asked about moving where there's 1 face down tile, where an Explore action would normally be allowed. he suggested that allowing such a play but outlawing a move to 2 face down tiles would be consistent with the base rules because you are allowed to flip 1 tile per turn but not 2. But I don't agree that that's consistent, because the rule doesn't limit how many tiles you can flip, it limits the number of Explore actions you can take. So if you were allowed to take an Explore action from a wormhole, there would have to be an exception or special case allowing certain Explore actions (where there is 1 face down tile) and not others (where there are 2). I don't like that.

In the end, the purpose of the wormholes is supposed to be faster movement after things are explored, not faster exploration... so I am happier with the rule being that you may only take a Move action when in wormhole. Even if on occasion I really wanted to use a wormhole to explore a single tile. I'm happy with the rule we used, and I think it's thematically sound as well.

3 additional Reward tiles: I haven't made any new ones, for now I just grabbed 3 reward tiles from another copy of the game. I'm doubling up on the Greenium/Energy, the Bluium/Energy and the Yellium tiles from phase 3. Instead of the Yellium tile I think I'd rather add a Brown+Energy tile to Phase 2.

This seemed fine. The game dragged on a bit - lasting over 2 hours(!) I don't think it was just due to the extra reward tiles thought, I think that just let the game go about 2 rounds beyond what it would have (I'm not positive about that). I think a more accurate reason it took a while was because noone really geared up to fight aliens at the outset. Therefore aliens weren't dieing, and reward tiles weren't being handed out for them. When John finally did start attacking, he was a little underprepared and rolled very poorly, setting him back (and leaving the alien around). With no aliens dieing, there were also a number of sectors that could not be colonized. I believe this is what dragged the game out the most. The beginning was also slow as it was a learning game at first.

I'm happier with the idea of a slightly longer game, but I'm really not happy with 2+ hours. I'll have to watch that and see if I can figure out what is causing delays, and if it's to do with the expansion rules or some other phenomenon.

Now that I've made the prototype I'd really like to try it out!

I was really happy with the playtest. I had expected the expansion to be sort of Exploration-friendly, as I felt that strategy was weak in the base game, and I think in that respect it's successful. A longer game favors Exploration and Colonization as well as giving a boost to Delivery strategies. I think the foreknowledge of planet locations helps Explorers as well, giving them a target so to speak.

All in all I was happy with the playtest, and I look forward to doing it again. I did forget to award 2 points for exploring the red zone, and while I don't know if that's as necessary in the expansion I went ahead and updated my prototype to reflect that. I think perhaps though that with the face up planets you don't really need extra incentive to explore the red zone. It's also probably easier to get out there with wormholes facilitating movement, more certain Red colonies to teleport you back home, and a slightly longer game. I could go either way right now.

No comments: