Sunday, October 31, 2010

Eminent Domain: Expansion thoughts (and Prestige Planets)

I had already been thinking along the lines of something I'd like to try for Eminent Domain. I think the game works nicely and is solid as-is, so I considered these additional thoughts to be a potential expansion item down the road.

I'm a firm believer that an expansion to a game should be more than just more of the same kinds of cards. I think an expansion should offer a new play experience, such that the game with the expansion should feel like a new game, similar to the original, but not just more of the same. Basically, if the Eminent Domain expansion ever happens, it will looks something like this:

The main thrust of the expansion would be Agendas and the Politics role. There would be a Role stack of Politics cards, just like the one you start with in your starting deck, and there would also be a deck of Agendas. The Role for Politics would be to choose one of the (probably 3) available Agendas and bring it into play. Through Boosting and Following, players would be able to somehow vote on whether the Agenda passes and takes effect, or perhaps which of the Agenda's effects take effect. My current inclination is that each Agenda would have multiple possibilities, and based on which icons you Boost/Follow with, you attempt to get the one you want in play. This would be clearer with an example or two:

Example #1
Agenda: Each player gets +1 VP for each planet of one Type - vote on which type:
Colonize/Harvest icons count as votes for Fertile planets,
Trade/Research icons count as votes for Advanced planets,
Survey/Warfare icons count as votes for Metallic planets,

Example #2
Agenda: All Settle costs are increased/decreased by 1
Warfare/Research icons count as votes for increasing the Settle cost
Colonize/Survey icons count as votes for reducing the Settle cost

So based on your strategy (and that of your opponents) you might try to make things better for you or harder on them.

I would round out the expansion with some other stuff too (all of this, of course, is subject to change):
- Extra Action/Role cards to accommodate a 5th player
- New Planet Types:
  - 3 Prestige Planets (available with Kickstarter pre-orders)
  - 6 Utopian Planets (1 with each action icon, 2vp each, ability to harvest ANY resource, and counts as any planet type you already have in your Empire)
- Potentially another (double sided?) Level 2 and/or Level 3 technology card of each type.
- Maybe even cross-color technologies (level 2 tech cards requiring a specific pair of planets in play)
  - Fertile + Metallic
  - Fertile + Advanced
  - Advanced + Metallic
  - Fertile + Advanced + Metallic

I am finding it very interesting thinking about an expansion before the original game is published. I like it, because it allows me to set the framework for the expansion with the base game - it allows me to plan ahead. For example, if adding a 5th player down the road, I'm pretty sure I'll want to add VPs to the supply. As such, I can provide 30 VP tokens in the base game, useful anyway in case the supply runs out and people still collect VPs, and later if I add a 5th player we don't have to manufacture more Victory point tokens - I can just say "use all 30 that came with your game."

Yesterday I finally went through and created one version of these Agenda cards, and John came over to give them a try. First we played a game without the agendas, but with the Prestige Planets (I had not played with them yet) and the Utopian Planets I'd just invented. That went pretty well. I am really happy with the Prestige Planets. I'm fairly happy with the Utopian Planets as well, but I'd like to play with them a little more to make sure they're not TOO good.

Then we played a couple games with the Agendas. The Agendas were weird. John didn't like them, but I think that might have been mostly due to unfamiliarity. I was definitely trying to think of ways to use them, and I did benefit from them. In one game John started with one of the standard openings: Politics for Warfare, Warfare Role. I had gone first, and had chosen not to commit to either Warfare or Colonize in my first turn, and now that John had started Warfare, in my 2nd turn I proposed an Agenda that increased or decreased warfare costs, and I boosted with 2 icons toward Increase. I realized that I hadn't stated what happens in a tie, but I think it's pretty obvious the person who's turn it is should win ties. In order to out-vote me, John would have had to play 3 icons, either Warfare or  Survey, and I knew he'd just spent his Warfare and couldn't have 3 Survey icons, so he wasn't going to be able to outvote me. Thus, attacking planets became more expensive by 1 Army for the rest of the game.

John didn't like this, but again, I think it's mostly because he didn't see it coming and felt lie he couldn't do anything about it. Later I think another Agenda came into play, but I don't recall which or how big an impact it had. I think it was +1vp per Trade Role if you trade at least 1 resource of a specific type, and I won the vote for it to be Food. I had started with a Food producing planet in play.

In our second game with Agendas, I finished an early turn with 3 Survey cards in hand, and was prepared to follow a Survey Role. However, John elected to go for an Agenda which gave +1vp for each planet of a certain type, and he boosted with 2 Harvest icons voting for Fertile - the type of his starting planet. I had started with a Metallic planet, so I followed with my 3 Survey cards, decimating my hand, but ensuring the Agenda would reward Metallic planets. I began doing Warfare, and later John proposed another Agenda, attempting to make Warfare more expensive on me. Again he boosted with 2 icons, and again I outvoted him by following with 3 icons, thereby making Warfare actually less expensive instead of more expensive! I went on to Survey and Attack a number of planets, even Colonizing a couple as well. Probably 3 of my planets were Metallic so I got an additional 3 points from the Agenda and won that game handily.

I kinda liked the Agendas. They need some work, and right now I just have 9 of them - and 1 was just because I had space on the page to print it, I invented one on the spot that removes all Agendas from play, and just needs a minimum total number of icons to be played (any type) - different minimum for each player count. I do think they would be more interesting in a game with more than 2 players.

Finally, John and I went to Hat's Games, where they were having a sort of Halloween party. Pulp Gamer representative Derek Rex was there, and we played a 3 player game of Eminent Domain with him. We didn't use the Agendas, but we left in the Prestige and Utopian planets. This was the most evenly distributed game I've ever seen, as the piles were ALL down to just a few cards left if any when the VP pile was exhausted. While finishing out the round, the Research pile was also used up, and everything else had just a couple of cards left. For a 3 player game it was a very long game (turn wise), but only took an hour. An interesting and fun game!


nolan said...

Agendas sound interesting. It sounds like you have basically two ways to approach them: establish them early and play to them (pretty much any of them), or play to them and hope to bring them into play late (mostly vp bonuses). Another way to look at it is that they are either about increased efficiency or increased value.

I'm guessing the hardest part would be balancing agendas so that they don't create too big of a swing near the end-game. The timing of when to bring an agenda up for a vote so that it does not backfire requires a little bit of luck. Earlier in the game it may be easier to predict, but later in the game I'm guessing that it would be more difficult. If the result of an agenda creates too big an impact in the game result, it could be frustrating as it may feel too luck-driven.

Was your intent that there would be 3 available each game in total? Or that there would always be 3 available, so if one comes into play, a new one becomes available to bring into play?

I like the idea of hybrid level 2 techs. It seems to me that they would either have to be more expensive or less powerful than the original level 2 technologies as they open up the possibility of any 2nd planet opening a level 2 tech, whereas now you have to survey for a matching type of your start planet to get a level 2 tech in play with your 2nd planet. Likewise, 1 of each is easier than 3 of one type (not taking other players into consideration).

Seth Jaffee said...

Good point about the technologies. Maybe better would be to just have AAB, AAC, BBA, BBC, CCA, CCB, and ABC type techs to make sure it's not 'too easy' to get good tech.

The Utopian planets - the way they are currently - make it easier to get higher level research in multiple categories. I'm not sure if cross category tech is really necessary at all, maybe that's kind of what the Utopian planets do for the game.

So instead I might consider a new Level 3 tech (or 2 - back to back) for each deck to include in the expansion, because I feel like the expansion should have a little sample of everything.

Regarding Agendas: yeah, many games have some kind of card you can draw which will reward some specific thing - the Sphinx cards in Egizia, the Scoring cards in Amun-Re, there are many examples of this relatively standard Eurogame mechanism. I want the Agendas to be something desirable for players based on their situation, but I also want it to be something that all players can contribute to (in this case, vote on). I listed like 3 different things I'd considered, and the one I tried sounded the most like it would be good and interesting.

Seth Jaffee said...

Oh, the intent was that there would be 3 available at a time, and when one was chosen, another would become available from the deck.

Seth Jaffee said...

I am open to suggestions about how exactly to handle Agendas, as well as to effe3cts Agendas could have - they should be global effects that hit everyone equally - except that based on position, some players would benefit from it more than others.