Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Playtest night!

Last night I had a Tasty Minstrel Playtest night, and about 10 people came over to play Belfort, Ground Floor, and another prototype that was sent to me... I had intended to play Train of Thought (with slightly different rules) but it didn't work out that way.

Train of Thought - new rule:
Train of Thought is a great game, and the only complaint I have about it is the possibility for a player to shortcut the rules and subvert the game by structuring their 3 word clue as follows:

Say the required word, then give a completely unrelated 2-word clue

Last post I said "I'm not sure there's any way to fix the rule, but maybe a simple thing like phrasing the rule as "3 related words, 1 of which is the starting word or a prior guess" - so the words could be related by being part of a sentence, or by free association even, but the unrelated 2-word clue would be clearly outside the spirit of the rule.

I wonder if the game should be tested with merely 2 word clues - one of which has to be the starting word. That would certainly eliminate this issue!"

Until now I've been of the opinion that forbidding this "cheating" type behavior would be bad, because some people have had problems being able to come up with a 3 word "sentence." I don't want to tell potential players "Sorry, you're just not creative enough to play this game. Go play something else!" However after OrcCon's playtest I would really like to try that 2-word clue idea, it sounds better and better all the time.

I had intended to test that last night, but the way things happened it didn't work out that way. Jay and Sen, designers of ToT and Belfort, are meeting this week and promise to try it out and let me know what they think. I should be able to give it a try later this week as well.

I ran a 5 player game of Belfort, using one of the guilds I'd changed but not used yet. I chose for the interactive guild the Spies Guild, which reads as follows:
Each opponent discards 1 Property card. you may take one card discarded this way into your hand.

The original Spies guild was "Look at 1 player's hand and steal one of their cards." I didn't like that very much, and thought this modified one would be better. As it turns out however, I didn't consider what would happen as soon as players ran out of cards (due to playing cards and being Spied on)! It was extremely difficult to ever build another building because if you buy a card during your turn, it will very likely no longer be in your hand by the time you would be able to play it.

This was a very interesting situation, and the purpose of the Guilds (especially the Interactive Guilds) is to change the game a lot so it's different every time... but in this case, no matter how interesting int might have been, all 5 players did not like it. They all seemed to like the game, but they all thought that guild was broken, and that it broke the game. I have an easy fix though, which I still think is better than the original guild... instead of discarding, each player should reveal a card from their hand, and the spy can steal 1 (maybe 2?) of them. That will keep the parts I wanted, without causing the game to lock up. John suggested a corollary: that you cannot steal a player's last card. I'm not sure if I like that or not. I think if the Spies Guild is in play, you probably want to keep your hand well stocked with cards by buying them frequently and by trying to get and build a Library - I think that would be a good effect for that guild to have on the game.

The Belfort game only took 2 hours and 15 minutes, including rules explanation - which is pretty good! However I think that's in part because there were a lot of turns when nobody could really do anything, so that might have sped some things up.

Sebastian's Prototype:
I don't know how much I should say about another designer's prototype (which is currently being reviewed by a publisher), so I won't be specific at all. I printed out the stuff and made a copy of Sebastian's game the other day, and Sunday night I was able to play a 4 player game of it. It went OK, and I communicated my biggest concerns to Sebastian that night. Last night we played a 5 player game, and it didn't go nearly as well. Too chaotic, not enough actions/turns to do anything, and a problem we had with the 4 player game got exacerbated in the 5p game. I sent our comments to Sebastian, hopefully he'll find them helpful. I'm afraid that game simply isn't a 5 player game.

Ground Floor
We ended the evening with a 4 player game of Ground Floor - modified down to 7 rounds. I was hoping this would shorten up the game length (on the clock) without really impacting the feeling of getting stuff done. We also implemented a number of tweaks to the T.I.s based on a lot of analysis and thought (as chronicled in my prior posts).

The long and short of it was that while I liked the shorter game, David was less convinced. I went with the complete opposite strategy from last time - I hired NO employees, just got an Internship Program first turn, bought all of the 'drip income' floors (Network Admin for i3, I.T. Dept for i4, and Investor for $3), and made do with my $12 and i7 income each turn. I used my 6 (')s fairly effectively in Merchandising and at the Consulting Firm in order to make some good money and info when the economy was up. I was able to churn out floor after floor, and finished in the lead by about 10 points (a huge margin). I'm not entirely sure why I was able to do so well, but we attributed it to a couple of things:

1. I was playing like the game was going to be over in 7 rounds... it's possible other players were playing as they would have if the game still lasted 9 rounds.

2. I started with the Meeting specialty, which has already been shown to be "too good." I used it about 2x as much as "average" (the numbers I based the balancing on in the previous post) and therefore gained probably 8-12 extra units worth of stuff compared to other players.

3. The Internship Program, Network Admin, and Human Resources are demonstrably better than most of the other Floors and T.I.s out there. They are nicely balanced against each other, but it's highly possible that all three of them are too powerful. I had 2 of these from turns 1 and 2, while other players had 1 or none of them.

4. It's possible the I.T. department yields too much info, but I'm skeptical about that because it's just info - as Eric pointed out after his last test, there's no way to turn info into money (well, not directly) but there are ways to turn money or Supply into Info. Thus there's a diminishing return to getting a lot of info, in that you need a lot of money to use it all. I might want to reduce IT Dept to i3 to match the Investor's $3, but I kinda like the asymmetry.

Other than that, I just played a pretty good game - the couple mistakes I made were minor, and I had some advantages from my buildings that were a little too good. David got Human Resources, went the Employee route, and got Construction Administration (also under-costed for its ability), but he didn't get it until late game and only got to use it twice. I am still surprised I finished that far ahead of him.

After the game, Tyler and I looked at the possibility of buying the following buildings, which you could do without ever placing a (') anywhere except on your ground floor meeting room (even un-remodeled) and the Construction Company (and one time on Research and Testing to sell your starting cube)...
Turn 1: Network Admin
Turn 2: Internship Program
Turn 3: Construction Admin
Turn 4: IT Dept
Turn 5: Investor
Turn 6: Executive Bonus Floor
Turn 7: Either one of the +3 Bonus Floors, or 2 T.I.s (one of them the Bonus T.I.)

That adds up to 38-40 points (depending on what the Bonus T.I. is worth - we're knocking it down a few points to start). It's worth noting that this completely boring strategy is NOT a winning score! I managed 45 points in yesterday's game - though this 38 points would have beat all the other players. That just illustrated how the Construction Admin and/or Network Admin and Internship are too good.

David made a good point - while it's nice to see a competitive strategy wherein you don't have to hire a single employee, David does not want that to be a winning strategy. A player winning this game should have to have employed at least 1 person, that's his view. And I can get behind that, because the game is about growing your business - not NOT growing your business.

Floor and T.I. tweaks
The resulting tweaks are as follows:
Remodeled Meeting: (')('): i3 (not ('): i2)
Network Admin: i2 instead of i3
Human Resources: discount of $2, i2 (not $3,i3)
Internship: (') (not (')('))
Construction Admin: (')(')(')(') to activate (not (')(')(')) <- mathematically this is right, but with (') limits I'm not sure it's such a good idea*. Another option is to leave the activation at (')(')('), but move the floor back to phase III - then it would be mathematically sound, and might be just the right time to buy it (round 5, in time to help you afford your last 2 floors)

* Alternate idea - rather than make the Construction Admin worse, what about boosting ALL the floors to be worth as much as CA? Then anything you buy instead will net you just as much... Not sure that helps though, because one issue we don't want to see is players becoming completely self sufficient - the Street is supposed to be better than even your good floors.

Other building tweaks which are unrelated to that power discussion...
Marketing: move to Phase 2. This one might be undercosted, but since the benefit is indirect maybe that's OK? I guess we'll see if it gets used now. Makes sense though - no need for much advertising in the last couple of turns.

Public Relations: Make it a T.I. instead of a Floor - it's simply not being used, a TI would be cheaper and that might see more use.

Warehouse: Cut! It's simply not needed... that prompts another change though...
Production Bonus: +3pp per Supply (not +1). So it's 3 or 6, but for 6 you have to flip your Closet.

Customer Service: New name = Premium Product.

Bonus T.I.: 0pp +1pp/T.I. (not 3pp +1pp/T.I.) <- I'm not sure I like this... I think it needs 1 or 2 pp on it. It's a minor point though. My reasoning is that any player will have 1, maybe 2 T.I.s on their board, so buying this late game will be worth just 3 points - no more than any other T.I., though you could build another one after that (or along with it) and get 1 more point out of it. I guess that's reasonable considering how easy it is to afford a T.I. in the first place. For the price of your 4th Floor ($4,i4 + $10,i10) you could get 2 T.I.s - the Bonus one and 1 other... which is probably 4+3=7pp. your 4th floor if it's a bonus floor is probably worth 7-9pp So I guess it's about right, but I think it could use 1pp on it rather than 0. If that 2 TI turn was your 2nd and 3rd T.I. then you're only getting 6vp, just like buying any other T.I. for the same price as that 4th floor...

Rules tweaks
Like I said, I liked the 7 rounds, David didn't. Tyler mentioned that he felt like there might not be enough time for your Employees to pay off, which is a valid concern. Employees turn $3 (3 units) into 3(') (more than 3 units based on building powers). So an employee is probably worth 6 units a turn (so you're paying 3 to get 6, or netting 3 units a turn). They cost a hefty amount (6, 8, or 10 units). This means to break even, you really have to get that Employee by round 3, any employee after that will be a waste unless you get it cheap, or eke out more than 2 units per (') by doing a good job on the street. Currently you can't really afford an employee until round 3 because they start off so expensive. So one Rules Tweak is to start the Employee track with some employees available (at $5,i5), so the first player, and maybe the second player have an interesting choice - they can actually hire on turn 1, spending almost all their money. Another option is to build a T.I. first turn, also spending all your money. And you're other good options are Production and Consulting.

Another tweak is to help make Remodeling more attractive. We considered reducing the cost to ($4,i4), but I'm not sure that's necessary - is it good for the remodeling to be a better deal than the T.I.s in the late game? Or should people want to get into the Construction company? Instead I think we'll try this: David suggested that maybe you
should be able to do a Remodel any time you want - not just at the end of the turn. I think waiting until the End of Turn to do it introduces an unwelcome lag, and by the time you can make use of your newly remodeled room, you don't really want to anymore. If you could remodel and then use the new room right away, then there would be a lot more reason to do it (this is feasible because you get income AFTER you have to remodel - hence the lag).

David had another idea, that the price become ($4,i4) and the action be done at a standard Ground Floor room which costs (') (... so (')+$4+i4: Remodel a room) - which could also work, but I'm not sure I like it as much as just paying ($5,i5) whenever you want and not having to spend a ('). I think the reason is because you want people to remodel in the early game, and at that point they don't have a lot of (')s to be throwing around.

Popularity tweak
Tyler suggested that the Popularity fight wasn't a big enough deal. I was hesitant to agree, because in just about every game I've played there has been some contention for turn order. Some games more than others of course, and in some games there's the guy who ignores it altogether... which is OK too. Popularity matters for 3 things:
1.) Merchandising sales when supply exceeds demand
2.) Turn order - this is a worker placement game, and at times it's good to go first. however at other time's it may be better to go later in turn order, but not usually.
3.) Endgame tiebreaks - the most popular tied player wins. This may not metter very often though.

Tyler had an idea, that there could be some 'roles' which players would choose in turn order and they would gain that role's benefit for the round. This is very Wallace-esque, just like Age of Steam or Automobile. It's not a terrible idea, and in fact some of the Floors/TIs that are unpopular could easily be made into these Roles. We may try that at some point, but what we're going to try next instead is this, and I'm not positive if I like it or not...

We've attached a little income boost to being more popular. At the base level, where everyone begins, you get nothing extra. Each space above that on the popularity track yields a better item...
i1, i2, $1, $2, $3, Supply, Supply, Supply+$1+i1
Thus there's an incentive to fight for popularity even if you don't want to go first. I'm interested to see how this works. I'd also like to see how a Role Selection type of thing would work (and that could reduce the number of Floors/TIs in the game).


DShort said...

Another great post Seth. Here are some additional thoughts...

- I am now leaning even further toward having the Construction Admin move back to Stage 3 and costing (')(')(') to give the benefit of placing at the Construction Company. I think this will promote more tension and competition in Stage 2 by not diluting the fight for $ and Info too early.

- I am liking the Bonus T.I. and what it adds to the end game. I think it should come with 0 PP's. You've already mentioned good reasons for this, and I will mention one more: building this T.I. instead of a Floor also saves you the $ and Info you would have spend additionally on the Floor. Therefore, it could be enough savings to be +1-2 PP's. That's significant.

- I think you are correct about Remodeling. Early remodel would be difficult if it cost time. So, I think remodels should be able to be built anytime for $5, i5 with no (') spent. That's going to be great.

- Lastly the Pop Tweak. We've already had significant discussions on this thru email, so I will basically just summarize where this element currently stands.

There will be 6 spaces located on the Status Board next to the Popularity track. These spaces will have the following boost values (1 on each space and in no particular order):

- + 1 Supply
- + $2
- + i2
- + (')
- No Drop in Popularity (I could see this changing to + 3 units in Networking... is about the same, but more flexible)
- Remodel Discount of $1, i1

Each Player will have a chance at the end of every round to choose one of these boosts. The boosts are chosen in Popularity order. Most popular chooses their boost first. These boosts will be in effect the next round. Rinse and repeat each round.

Seth Jaffee said...

- I am now leaning even further toward having the Construction Admin move back to Stage 3 and costing (')(')(') to give the benefit of placing at the Construction Company. I think this will promote more tension and competition in Stage 2 by not diluting the fight for $ and Info too early.
Let's try that next then.

- I am liking the Bonus T.I. and what it adds to the end game. I think it should come with 0 PP's. You've already mentioned good reasons for this, and I will mention one more: building this T.I. instead of a Floor also saves you the $ and Info you would have spend additionally on the Floor. Therefore, it could be enough savings to be +1-2 PP's. That's significant.
Well, that's also taken up in the cost/benefit analysis already. Let's look at it another way:

Let's compare the 5th additional floor, which is nut unlikely to be a Bonus Floor worth a total of 8pp. It costs a total of ($16,i16). If you were to buy the Bonus TI at that point instead for ($7,i7) that would leave ($9,i9) with which to buy PP directly at the end of the game - at ($3,i3) apiece that's 3vp. SO... if the Bonus TI is worth a total of 5pp, then they are the same. The question is, at what point do we want those 2 cases to work out to the same number of points?

I submit that if a player has "enough" (exact number to be determined) TIs, then the Bonus TI should be worth at least as many pps (after including the 3pp from the leftover money) as the 5th Floor. This rewards someone for having invested in the TIs instead of floors, which is exactly what the Bonus TI is meant for.

So how many TIs is "enough" to reward in that way? I expect that most people will get just 1 or 2 TIs. In that case, if their 3rd TI is the Bonus TI, it shouldn't be much better than a regular TI, but maybe 1pp better (otherwise why not just get a regular TI?). If a player buys the Bonus TI as their 4th TI, that means they've already gotten 3 and have invested pretty heavily in TIs - more than average. So this implies to me that the Bonus-TI-as-4th-TI case should probably be equivalent to the Bonus-Floor-as-5th-floor case. So I am now leaning toward 1pp base for the Bonus TI.

This means that if you have *5* TIs (including the Bonus TI), then you are actually outscoring the 8pp 5th floor by 1pp - which I think is cool because 5 TIs is a whole lot.

DShort said...

I concede. Let's go with 1 PP. The thing that is helping me accept this recently is the new change to remodeling. Since remodeling is easier to do now, then theoretically, people will be remodeling more. I think the more remodels a player does, the less Small TIs will be built. This makes me feel better about the Bonus TI being 1 pp.