I have had the opportunity to play Eminent Domain a few more times. We played a 4 player game at the inaugural meeting of the Gamesmiths game design club, and last night I played again with 3 players at my friend's game night. Both games went really well, and all the recent changes have proven to be good:
Combination of Trade and Harvest into 1 card
Ever since I combined the Trade and Harvest roles, that aspect of he game has been a whole lot smoother. It would be more accurate to say I combined the Trade and Harvest CARDS, not the Trade and Harvest ROLES, because the roles are still separate - when you choose the Trade/Harvest role you decide whether it's Trade or Harvest this time - players can only Follow the role you have chosen.
I did a little math to compare the approximate average number of points you get per action for Settling and Attacking planets and how many points you get per action for Harvesting and Trading resources. The current incarnation seems to have the following property, which I think is good (and that would explain why it feels like it works now): In the beginning of the game, Colonize/Warfare is a better deal (vp/action) than Harvest/Trade. As the game goes on, Harvest/Trade picks up in efficiency and after a point surpasses Colonize and Warfare to become more efficient. In the late game, Harvest/Trade can be much more lucrative than Colonizing or Attacking planets. It becomes a question of when the game ends, and how much trading a Trade player gets done before that time comes.
I like this dynamic, and the only challenge I have now about this aspect of the game is the main challenge I have overall - controlling the game end. Why are game end triggers always so difficult?
Game End Trigger - Pile / VP Exhaustion
I am happy with the trigger event of the endgame in Eminent Domain: When you run out of VPs, game over, or when one of the Role card piles is exhausted, game over. I like it because it is simple to track, no one has to remember anything, and furthermore every turn you progress the game toward the end because you are compelled to take a role card from one of the piles. The question is, how many cards should be in each pile (and how many VPs in the supply) to make for an appropriately long game? Also, how do you keep the game length from varying too wildly if everyone decides to use a Colonize strategy, and everyone is choosing the Colonize role frequently? A 4 player game could be over in 4 or 5 rounds if that happens! Too quick!
Another option I've considered is when *2* piles are exhausted. I don't like that as much though, for one thing, what do you do with the empty pile? Can you still take that Role? If so, do you still get a +1 to it (even though you don't get the card)? Ooh, here's a thought - suppose a card s printed on the space where the rest of those Role cards will be stacked, and when they're gone the printed card indicates the action you can do - and suppose that version of the card printed on the board is BETTER than the regular card actions - then you might really want to get to the bottom of the stack for your strategy so you can use the better version of the Role. That could be interesting...
The biggest problem with 2 piles exhausting is that I think it would be very easy for 1 pile to exhaust while none of the other piles are even close, and by the time the 2nd pile does exhaust, far too many turns have gone by. I'm very tempted to just stick with 1 pile exhausting (including VP as a pile).
The Politics card
Version 1: No action, contained all 6 symbols so could be used to boost any Role. This was a problem because having the Warfare symbol means that you effectively had Warfare cards in our deck, and the whole point of adding the Politics card was to remove Warfare from the starting deck! Oops! Easily fixed, I could simply not include a Warfare symbol on the Politics card... but I never tried that. Instead I switched to...
Version 2: No Role or Follow ability. Action: Take any Role card into hand. Thus, it acted kind of like a wild in that you could get the card you want to boost your Role, but it took up your action to do it, and it also put a card into your deck. I kinda liked that as it could be used later to push the game end trigger. After playing with it though, it seemed like players could really race through the decks and end the game before it should be over. The danger is that if I make the decks bigger to accommodate, then if players DON'T do that the game will go on too long. So I made a small adjustment for...
Version 3: No Role or Follow ability. Action: Take any Role card into hand and remove this card from the game. This seems best so far, as it helps a player customize their deck a little bit at the beginning, but doesn't put a continual drain on the piles. Unless something better comes along, I think this is the winner.
I made a game record sheet which makes it very easy to record what action and role each player chose, and how many turns the game lasted. Last night's 3p game took about 45 minutes and each player got 13 turns, which is just about what I want. Monday's 4p game took 1 hour and each player got 10 turns, which is also about right I think. The more players in the game, the fewer turns it could take - I'm OK with that. I suspect that a 2p game will last about 15 turns (plus or minus) and take around 30 minutes - that seems to be how recent 2p games with Tyler have gone.
To Do List
I would like to continue to think about the following items:
* Consider changing the Tech cards such that the Level 3 tech is just a big bonus in points, like Puerto Rico's big buildings. They seem to take too long to get the neat ability into play. However, they ARE worth 5 points (which is kinda a lot), and leaving the ability on doesn't hurt as long as in at least some circumstance (if you try really hard) you can reasonably get it into play and use it a few times.
* Consider reformatting the Planet draw pile to mirror the Technology decks - 3 piles by type, 3 levels of planet within each... Level 1 planets like what I have now, Level 2 a little better (maybe 2 icons, or more vps), and level 3 being the Big Bonus scoring things. Like Tech cards, Level 1 would cost 3 Survey icons, Level 2 would cost 5, and Level 3 would cost 7 - and to keep people from just getting a ton of Settle icons in their deck and going for a Level 3 planet every time, there would be a prerequisite of 1 L1 planet to get a L2, and 1 L2 planet to get a L3. In theory, the gu who only has a couple Survey cards in his deck and relies on following other payers' Survey roles to get planets in play will only get L1 planets, while the player who calls Survey more and has more cards in his deck ("is better at surveying") will be pulling down better planets. I like that this setup is symmetric with the Research system, but I keep thinking it sounds too complicated. Honestly I really like the system as it is right now.
* Consider alternate themes for the game. I don't like that as-is the game can be so closely associated with Race for the Galaxy, and I don't want all of my games to be space themed either. Eminent Domain is in the same category as games like RftG, Glory to Rome, Dominion, San Juan, and Thunderstone - I wouldn't want it to resemble any of those too closely. I'd prefer a theme that is significantly different than those themes. The front runners are...
- Classic Civ: I'd always intended to switch to a Classic Civ theme, but now I'm not so sure it sounds as good as I'd like. Maybe just too generic?
- 16th/17th Century Colonization: Anything you can do in space can also be done on the ocean, with islands instead of planets, right? So you find Fertile islands, Mineral Rich islands, or Inhabited islands. This might be about the same as "Classic Civ" (or close enough that a distinction is unnecessary).
- Business: Play as the Ruthless CEO of a company in the 1980's and climb the corporate ladder via Mergers and Hostile Takeovers... I actually like this theme, but I'm not sure if a "business" theme really sounds that FUN. My friend made an interesting comment: "If you're Freidman Friese you can design a game about managing a factory... you're not Friedman Friese yet." One more downfall of this is that I'm working on David's board game about Entrepreneurship: Ground Floor, and it's possible we'll work on a Ground Floor Card Game as well.
- Mafia: Tom Lehmann suggested a Mafia theme, which I noted could be combined with the business theme above. This seems promising, but the last time I tried to use a prohibition era bootlegging theme (which is similar to a mafioso theme), Mikey shot me down because it offended his Mormon sensibilities. So I don't know how he'd feel if the "types of planets" were illicit businesses such as Casinos, Brothels, Speakeasies, or Bootleggers.
In the end, I'm enjoying the space theme pretty well, so maybe before I worry too much about a theme change I should wait and see if the potential comparisons to RftG do materialize.