Friday, August 27, 2010

More Eminent Domian playtests - good news and bad news

I played 4 more games of Eminent Domain again last night with Brian, Marty, and one with Paul as well.

Good News
* Everybody enjoyed the game.
* The 4p game was won by someone who eschewed Research - meaning it's not imperative that you invest heavily in Research to win (albeit, the only experienced player, me, played terribly and didn't do much, so that might have something to do with it). I do feel like Research is a viable path, but not absolutely necessary. I do also think that most players will at least do some level 1 Research to improve their deck a little bit.
* I tried my damnedest to get the "potentially broken" Arms Dealer strategy going, and struggled heavily. I'll note however that I was not playing well at all, and it's possible I just wasn't doing it right.

Bad News
* In a 3-player game, probably 4 of the 6 Politics cards took Colonize cards, leaving a total of 10 in the stack. 10 Colonize Roles later, the game was over, and all three of us were choosing Colonize as a Role. That game felt disappointingly short. However, I'm not sure how realistically that will happen very often, but I do fear this... in a 3-player game with 3 newbies, it's easy to imaging that scenario playing out very similarly. It creates a game that is too short (not enough turns), doesn't very fun, and can end with a disappointingly low winning score of 10 or so while players have unflipped planets and haven't developed their game hardly at all.

I might have to reconsider game end conditions for 3 player :/

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eminent Domain - interesting idea?

I was just reading through my Eminent Domain FAQ, and one of the questions got me thinking...

Suppose after you play the action, you leave the card played in play - and it's symbols would contribute to the Role you choose.

For example, if you use Survey as an action, you'd draw 2 cards, then if you also choose the Survey Role, you'd count the icon from the Action card played in the Action phase to determine how many planet cards to draw.

This will really matter a lot more when it comes to Level 2 tech cards. I will have to think about that a little bit and maybe try it for a game to see how it feels. My initial reaction is that it's an interesting idea, but that I won't like it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Winds of Fate Betting Board thoughts

Chatting with Andrew Schoonmaker just now, we discussed some thoughts for Winds of Fate - to do with the betting board. I wanted to jot them down so I can access them later...

One thing we discussed is an idea I had to change the Timeline bet (which I'm going to start calling the bet on which round the game will end) From "I bet the game will end IN (or near) THIS round" to "I bet the game will last until AT LEAST THIS round." The difference being that if there's no penalty for underguessing, maybe people will be more willing to bet low. However, there's still a bigger payoff if you bet on a later round at the end of the game. There have been some comments (in a "complaint" tone) that it's best to bet long and if necessary, nudge the bet downward with "move bet" rewards than it is to bet lower in the first place. I don't see how that's a bad thing - it makes you want to play for a longer game and value the Move Bet reward higher.

Playing for a longer game promotes the "Dead" and "Stranded" game end conditions more than the "safe return" condition. Is that OK? Is it OK if I change the Destiny Bet thing? It probably is - one could argue that "Safe "Return" is kinda easy to achieve since there re so few space on the board it might be easy to push through. I think if I change the Destiny Bet system (which I think I need to do no matter what), then this might not be too bad a dynamic at all. I could also make Safe Return pay out a little better.

Another idea (that I have NOT discussed with anyone and rather just thought of) is to limit the bets to 1 bet per round, so player 1 gets first pick as to where to place his bet (maybe he chooses round 10), then players 2 and 3 choose rounds 11 and 9, and players 4 and 5 has to choose between 12 (and play for a very long game) and 8 (and play for a shorter game). That could be interesting, but likely unfair (or will be perceived as such).

Another idea (which goes along with the first one, above) is to actually AWARD the Timeline payout as the Round Counter reaches a bet. This would mean you'd get bet chips to work with, sou you could bet long for a better return, or bet short to get a few bet chips to work with. On the face I like the sound of that, but I just don't think it'll pan out the way I want the game to pan out. Note: this could be that you get VPs on the scoreboard and just your initial Bet Chip back - so you get fewer points total (or the same points over several Place Bet actions) but they're more secure. That could work I guess, and would encourage short bets. My concern there is that you may sort of HAVE to bet short to get Bet Chips... BUT maybe if you prioritize Bet Chips from Reward Tiles, then you won't need to get them from the Timeline, freeing you to bet on a more lucrative long range bet.

I think the Betting Board will be interesting - I'll certainly give it a shot. I still like a Timeline bet, and the Destiny Bets can be wrapped into the Betting Board. I think perhaps the initial Bet (Troy Encounter) could be a Timeline Bet, and the rest of the bets could be on the betting board only. Because the Timeline bet will be more (maybe much more) lucrative than the other bets, I kinda like only letting (and in fact forcing) players to just place 1 such bet and that's it. That will help drive your long term strategy. Maybe the payout should be the same no matter what round you choose, to encourage choosing the "right" round rather than the "furthest out" round.

One of the most interesting things we discussed was Bet Exclusivity. I was concerned that everyone would simply bet on the next (or likely next) encounter, and that wouldn't telegraph intentions very much. Suppose for a moment though that each spot on the betting board where you can bet on an encounter (there are 32 of them) could only hold one bet total - then people would be in something of a hurry to grab up the "good" betting spots (some will be better than others each game based on the geography of the randomly distributed Encounter tiles). Also, it will force people into betting on different things than each other, which will start to differentiate their incentives. I really like the sound of this, and I'm not sure but maybe by extension the Timeline bet should work the same way. If player 1 bets the game will end on round 10, maybe player 2 can't pick 10, and has to instead pick 9 or 11... etc. Move bet will still allow you to nudge your bet (maybe anyone's bet?), and as a result of Move Bet, 2 bets could be on the same space (as is the current rule).

I really like that idea, but for it to work I'll probably need to increase the frequency of placing bets. I could add Place Bet to more reward tiles, but I don't want them all to be the same... I could make the bonus for the largest total contribution to the adventure be a Place Bet action, rather than a straight 2vp bonus. That's pretty interesting, at least 1 player will place a bet each turn - maybe that wouldn't even cost one of your own bet chips. Or I could say "Place a bet OR get a Bet Chip" - that would work too. So every 2 bonuses is 1 bet which, if it pays off is 3-6vp - not terribly different than the 2vp bonus from before (and if nothing else, the bet chip is 1vp by itself).

Bet chip value - I had them worth 2vp before, not sure why. I'd like them to be worth 1vp for these payoffs. However, the payoffs could be in points, not Bet Chips, and unused Bet Chips could still be worth 2vp. So placing a bet 'costs' 2vp but could net anywhere from 0 to 6vp. Destiny actions I'm still thinking would give you the chip to make a bet with, so that's just a free 0 or 3 points (just place a chip from supply on one of the destiny bets). Oh, the Destiny bets wouldn't be exclusive I don't think. 2vp per unused bet chip makes Bet "D" on the board pretty unappealing, and Bet "E" only barely appealing. I think those payouts really have 1vp bets in mind, not 2vp bets. I think I've talked myself into 1vp bet chips.

One thing that came up that I think I don't like is the idea of EVERYBODY betting, automatically, in turn order, each round. Never mind Bet Chips, you just get to auto-place a bet. I think that might be too much betting. A maybe better idea is everyone, in turn order, gets to either take a Bet Chip OR place a bet (using one of their bet chips). That could be interesting, as it means any reward that gives you a bet chip let's you place an extra bet rather than just collect a bet chip in a following round. Let's say a game lasts 8 rounds, that's 4 turns taking bet chips and 4 turns betting. For each other bet chip acquired, one of those 4 rounds spent taking bet chips could instead be spent placing another bet. And in theory, the earlier the better so you snatch up the good spaces. In that case maybe the bonus for largest contribution is simply a bet chip.

There's some question in my mind whether you should be allowed to place 2 bets on the same Encounter (assuming bets are limited). Would that be OK? People could put all their eggs in 1 basket (bet 3 or 4 times on the same encounter) and then get a bunch of points at once (save up cards for that adventure). however, if noone else is also betting on that, maybe everyone will team up and make sure that player loses and gets nothing. Maybe that's fine.

More abot WoF and ED

I am discussing the finer points of Eminent Domain over geekmail with one of the people who volunteered to print it out and play it... he says:
"After about a half-dozen plays, I still want to keep playing."

Do you have any idea how reassuring that sounds? That's exactly why I, and I think many people who partake in creative endeavors, like designing games.

I'd really like to find someone who could (like, knows how, and wants to) code up some kind of online version of Eminent Domain to facilitate playtesting - or just playing the game at all really. If you're into that kind of thing, I'm certain I can hook you up with a copy of the game when it comes out (early-mid 2011), and/or copies of Tasty Minstrel Games' other releases (Terra Prime and Homesteaders are in stores now; Train of Thought, JAB: Realtime Boxing, and Belfort are coming out later this year). Any takers?

As for Winds of Fate, I spent a little time last night mocking up a betting board like the one I discussed last post. That sketch isn't the mock-up, I made a prototype board with the actual Encounter Tile prototype art, and the Game End tiles (Dead, Stranded, and Safe) to put in the center. Also, I noticed that Bet "F" in that sketch shouldn't exist, it doesn't make any sense at all (Bet "D" dominates it).

I adjusted the reward tiles as well, thinking it might be interesting to specify on the "draw 3 cards" reward that you have to draw 3 of the same color - then took it one step further and made 2 different ones: "Draw 3 HELP cards" and "Draw 3 HINDER"" cards." I also reduced the VP values because I think the bet chips will be worth 1 VP apiece instead of 2vp (not sure why I wanted them to be 2 to begin with).

I'm now ready to try the game with the new betting system. There will still be a bet on the Game Timer, which will work the same way as it did before - the further off you bet, the more lucrative the payoff. I might change it to a bet that the game will last AT LEAST that many turns, such that if you undershoot, you don't lose, you just don't win as much as you could have. There's been a sentiment that you generally want to bet as far away as possible (so you get a bigger payout), maybe this rule would encourage bets closer to the beginning of the Round track.

In fact, if those bets pay out when the round counter reaches them, that could give players a Bet chip influx with which to place bets. I'm not sure if I like that or not.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Playtesting night - Eminent Domain, Winds of Fate

Michael and John came over for 4 games of Eminent Domain and 1 game of Winds of Fate.

I'm still really happy with the idea and the structure of Odysseus: Winds of Fate, but something just isn't right. I especially think that the 4-player game works a lot better than 3-player. 3p really seems off to me, something has to be done about that. There's something that doesn't seem right about how adventures are always 2-against-1. I had hoped that the benefits of 'staying in' even if it's 2-vs-1 would be big enough to matter, but I think the psychological effect of 'fighting 2 people' turns people off... even though all it means is which direction Odysseus will move (there are still lots of rewards you can get). Perhaps more info about who wants to go where (see below) will help that feeling because you could maybe predict where people want the ship to go next.

It continues to be disappointing to players to start with a random Destiny bet, so I will have to do away with that, or change it in some way. It occurred to me tonight that part of the problem with the Destiny bet is that I might have added too many Destiny actions, and therefore the Destiny bet might pay off too much to be the 'small bonus' I intended.

I decided Monday (with the help of the Gamesmiths members) that the idea I had to associate bet chips with specific locations wouldn't work as I wanted it to. Michael had an interesting idea that might accomplish the same thing. Imagine a Roulette style board off to the side with each of the encounters pictured in an array. When given the opportunity to place a bet, you put a bet chip on one of the encounters, or perhaps between 2 encounters, or at the corner of 4 encounters (like you can place bets in Roulette). You would be betting that if/when Odysseus reaches that particular encounter, he will win or lose it (the bet chips could be double sided - put the "win" side up if you bet he'll win that adventure, put the "lose" side up if you bet he'll lose it). I will definitely think about this further and probably make a prototype to try it out.

These bets, being out in the open, might help players predict where other players want the ship to go, and therefore which color cards they are likely to play in any given Adventure.

Eminent Domain continues to impress. I'd recently added 8 Warfare cards, making 20 Role cards in each stack, because I felt like the game was too short if more than 1 player started taking Warfare. I'm not 100% sold on this, but I'm getting close.

We played 3 games of ED, then went to dinner, then played Winds of Fate and finished with 1 last game of ED. Each of our 4 games last night were close and very interesting. A variety of strategies were used, a wide range of Tech cards were used, and scores ended up being very tight. I also saw a lot more Following than I have seen before, which is also nice.

Our games were so close in fact, that 3 of them ended up in ties. Mike beat John in the first game on tiebreaks because his military strategy left him with 3 Armies to John's 1 resource - I was a mere 2 or 3 points behind. In the second game John and Mike ended in a dead tie (neither one had resources or Armies remaining). In game 3, I beat Mike on tiebreaks with my 1 resource. And in our 4th game I believe Mike win by a few points. 3 ties and a win - a good night for mike!

Games were moving fast, as all three of us are very familiar with the game. Also, I don't think we were paying as much attention as we could have to things like how many turns are likely left, and what exactly some of the other players are doing (I tried to research a tech that it turns out John had already gotten and been using!) I know that I could have played better had I paid a little closer attention - which is something I like about the game. It means the game is not simply solitaire!

After our games, I took a look at all the level 2 technology cards with Mike. A couple of them seem obviously better than the rest, most of them seem appropriately powerful, and a couple of them seem really terrible. After Mike left I thought about how I could improve the terrible ones so they are more interesting, and I decided to make them permanent effects that apply every turn. I rearranged a thing or two to accomplish that and keep everything balanced between planet types, and I think it'll turn out to be an improvement. I'm looking forward to trying it!

Overall a good playtest night!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tasty Minstrel goings on

Tasty Minstrel is working hard to get this year's games finished this year. Due to some scheduling mishaps, Belfort will not be ready in time for BGG.con, but there are some nice art samples up of the board and card art! Josh Cappel is once again doing a fabulous job making the game come alive.

Even if Belfort isn't ready in time, we are hopeful that we'll have at least demo copies if not copies to sell of both Train of Thought and JAB: Realtime Boxing! Both of these are different sorts of games - different from each other, and different from Terra Prime and Homesteaders.

JAB: Realtime Boxing is a real time card game for 2 players which simulates a boxing match. Since it's real time, there are no turns - you are free to play your Punch cards at your own pace - and you may be surprised at how much strategy is involved! It's really the closest thing you'll get to actual boxing without getting punched in the face ;)

The Rulebook for JAB is online, please check it out and then fill out the survey so that anything unclear can be fixed before it goes to press!

Pretty soon (within a week, I hope) the rules for Train of Thought will be online as well, and along with them another survey regarding clarity. To tide you over, here's the current version of the back of box blub:

All aboard! This party game challenges you to stay on track. Score points by giving clues and guesses against the clock as you and your friends ride the Train of Thought!

Don't be alarmed, while these games are a different style than Homesteaders and Terra Prime, we're still bringing you more strategy board games (such as Belfort) as well! We're looking forward to bringing these games to our fans, and here's a sneak peak at stuff to come in the near future:

Eminent Domain, by Seth Jaffee: A civilization building game in which your civilization's abilities are based on a deck of Role cards. At the beginning of the game each player has the same deck of cards, with just 2 cards for each Role in it. Every turn you must choose a Role to execute (and like Glory to Rome or Puerto Rico, your opponents will get a chance to follow suit), and in doing so you will add one of those Role cards to your deck. When executing a Role, you can boost it's effect by playing cards out of your hand matching the Role you have chosen. So for example, the more you Research, the better you get at Researching (because you'll have more Research cards in your deck).

For The Win!, by Michael Eskue: A strategic game for 2-4 players that’s easy to learn but a challenge to master. Budget your 5 actions each round; Placing, Moving, Shoving, Using or Refreshing your tiles. Group your Ninja, Pirate, Monkey, Zombie and Alien together for the WIN!

No Honor Among Thieves, by Richard James: A game of greed and double-think.

King's Kilt, by Gordon Hamilton: A card game of backstabbing and climbing the social ladder in a power struggle for the Scottish crown.