Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Alter Ego Revamp

I think I've made the decision to move forward with Alter Ego as a cooperative game, despite the fact that Midnight Men is in the works. It's a bit disheartening to work on a superhero themed, cooperative, deck building game when that superhero themed, cooperative, deck building game is getting so much attention, but I sincerely doubt the games are very similar at all and I do like the main design ideas in Alter Ego.

The cooperative version is nothing I haven't already discussed in this blog, I just have some more specific ideas in mind of how the game will look and play out. The purpose of this post is to document those ideas, and lay out a components list and rules set so I can move on with updating the prototype and playing it!

Alter Ego v2.2
A cooperative deck building game of heroism

You won't see Crime City on any map, but that's how people have come to know your hometown. Sadists, Anarchists, the Mafia, each carving out portions of the city they call their own. Hundreds of innocent bystanders caught up every day in their turf wars, or held under their oppressive thumbs. Precious few have the time, the money, the guts, or the wherewithal to do anything about it. You're one of those few... of course it means you'll have to give up that happy home life, or that cushy job. The paper paints vigilantism in a negative light - you'd be viewed by the community as a monster. But your city bleeds... the city bleeds and it calls your name. Will you answer?

You're a vigilante hero, one of the few in Crime City who have come together to put an end to the reign of terror the city's been trapped under. Banding together, you'll fight through a swath of henchmen in order to find and defeat several Arch Villains. But as you get stronger as a hero, you'll have to neglect some parts of your Alter Ego life - your family, your job, and the community.

XX Hero cards (5 types)
XX Alter Ego Cards
- XX Family Cards
- XX Job Cards
- XX Community Cards
XX Henchmen Cards
XX Arch Villain Cards (3 types)
XX Equipment Cards
XX Civilian (CIV) Tokens (4-5 types)

1. Sort the Henchmen cards by level, shuffle each level separately and then sack level 2 on top of level 3 and level 1 on top of level 2 to create the henchmen deck. Place this deck in the middle of the table.
2. Sort the Arch Villains into piles by type, and randomly choose 1 Arch Villain from each pile. Those will be the Arch Villains used this game, put the rest back into the box.
3. Sort the Hero and Equipment cards by type and place them in piles in the center of the table, accessible by all players.
4. Give each player 4 of each Alter Ego card (Family, Job, and Community). Return the rest of the Alter Ego cards to the box, they will not be used this game.
5. Each player shuffles his deck of 12 Alter Ego cards and deals 4 cards face up into his "display" area, then draws a had of 4 from the remaining cards in his deck.

Patrol phase: On your turn you must first bring a henchman into play:
* Draw 1 card from the Henchmen deck.
* If you have any face up Community cards in your display, draw 1 additional Henchman card for each Community card.
* If you have at least 1 Community card in your display, draw 1 additional Henchman card for each Community icon on henchman you have defeated (in your play area).
Choose 1 Henchman card to put into play, and return the rest to the top of the Henchmen deck in any order. Do not discuss upcoming henchmen with your fellow players!

When a henchman comes into play he takes some number of civilians hostage! Place CIV tokens on the Henchman card as indicated. If a CIV token must be taken but the supply is empty, then the game is over and the Villains win!

Support phase: After a henchman has come into play, you may gain support from your family, allowing you to draw cards from your deck:
* For each Family card in your display, draw 2 cards from your deck.
* If you have at least 1 Family card in your display, also draw 1 card from your deck for each Family icon on henchman you have defeated (in your play area).

Equip phase: You may spend money on fancy equipment to make you a stronger hero:
* For each Job card in your display, collect $1
* If you have at least 1 Job card in your display, collect $1 for each $ icon on henchmen you have defeated (in your play area).
You may spend these $s to buy or activate Equipment this turn.

Crime-fighting phase: Now that you have geared up and garnered the support of your friends and family, it's time to go fight some crime!
* Hero cards in your display may be spent to rescue CIV tokens currently being held on a Henchman card. Hero cards spent must match the icons depicted on the Henchman card. The rescued CIV token is returned to the supply.
* Other players may discard Hero cards from their own display in order to help rescue hostages.
* If the last CIV token on a henchman is rescued, that henchman is DEFEATED, and the current player may keep that henchman in his play area and gain the printed benefit (usually an icon).
* Whenever a henchman is defeated, check to see if it has any Arch Villain icons. For each Arch Villain icon, place a token on the matching Arch Villain card.
When enough tokens are placed on an Arch Villain card, that Arch Villain will come into play and terrorize the city by KILLING civilians (removing CIV tokens from the game) until he is defeated!

Recoup phase: After you're all spent from fighting crime, you get a chance to recuperate and plan your next turn.
* Discard all cards in your display.
* Play 4 cards from your hand face up into your display.
* For each Display icon on henchmen you have defeated (in your play area), you may play an additional card face up into your display.
* Choose a Hero card from the supply stacks and place it face up in your display.
* Discard the rest of your hand, and draw 4 new cards from your deck (shuffle your discard pile as needed) plus 1 card for each Hand Size icon on henchmen you have defeated (in your play area).
Play continues with the next player in clockwise order.

When the last Arch Villain is defeated, then the game is over, and the Heroes have saved Crime City from the clutches of evil!

Monday, April 25, 2011

PDF problem fixed!

I had been experiencing some technical difficulties with my computer recently. In an effort to clean it up and make it work better, I moved and deleted some files, and my Pagemaker (1990 called, they want their software back!) decided it could no longer create a PDF. This wasn't the end of the world when it came to prototyping as I could still print from the Pagemaker program itself, but it meant I couldn't create PDF files of the EmDo expansion cards for fans and volunteers to print and play!

Well, I finally fixed the problem, and therefore will be able to release the Exotic Expansion cards (which are in no way final!) later this week for comments from the peanut gallery!

In addition, after my discussion at Spielbany with Richard James about Alter Ego, I should be able to move that design forward to a testable state, and if it goes well enough I could also offer those card files for print and play testing pretty soon.

So for those interested, watch for those announcements later this week!

- Seth

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Spielbany 2011

4 years ago I attended the Spielbany game design meetup and got a chance to see and play a number of prototypes as well as meet in person several people I see online all the time. Last weekend I decided to do it again. I flew out Friday and returned Monday, and over the course of the weekend I managed to play 12 games (5 of them my designs or designs I'm developing) and have some good design talk and just hang out with some people I don't normally get to. I brought the following games with me, but didn't get to all of them:

Spaghetti Western - a prototype that had been submitted which I was simply returning to the owner.
Caravan Imperative - another prototype I had intended to return, however I forgot to give it back to Andy!
Eminent Domain, with Exotic expansion
Kings of Air and Steam
All For One
Dice Works (or Dice Werx, not sure about the spelling on that)
Alter Ego - not much of a prototype really, just an assembly of cards at the moment
Jab - manufacturer's sample to show off
Brain Freeze - current (almost final) version of the iPad app
Chrono Gallery: Museum of Lost Time - partial prototype of the liar's dice bluff auction game

Here's what I played and how it went:

Ice Weasels - a cute, quick kid's game about collecting sets of frozen weasels. The game was inspired by Otter Pops, you have a line of various colored Weasel cards, and on your turn you can either claim a card off of either end, or you can break the line wherever you want (minimum 2 cards in each 'half'). The idea is to get triplets of the same color and then "thaw' them (score them), giving you another turn. Everyone has a 'favorite' color which scores more points for them, and there's a color that's bad for everybody (well, bad if you don't get a whole set and thaw them).  I took a copy of this home with me to show Mike and his kids.

Eminent Domain - I got a 5 player game of Eminent Domain in - the first time I've played with 5. I did not include the Prestige, Utopian, or Exotic planets, and in fact used the Learning Game variant so I removed the 3 Advanced planets with Research icons as well. As a result I noticed that with 5 players the Planet deck ran out, which either means the 5p game needs to include expansion planets, or else for 5 players the planet deck running out should be considered a game end condition. I hadn't considered that for 2-4 players because by the time that happens, the game is over already. But with 5 players puling planets out of the deck, it can run out pretty quick. I think that's acceptable, that for 5p the Planet deck running out could be an additional game end trigger.

I also played with 1 or 2 (forget offhand) extra cards in each stack, and the game dragged on a little longer than I thought it should. I'm not sure if that's to do with using the learning Game variant, or just 5 players in general, or if I really didn't need to add extra cards to the stacks. I'll need to test that some more and find out. Generally speaking though the game seemed to go over very well.

Honor and Glory - A short, cooperative adventure game that's supposed to give the feel of an RPG. Each player has a character sheet with a Class card and a couple of Trait cards. When 'adventuring,' some encounter cards are drawn which each show a specific die result, and 1 or 2 Traits. For each Trait present, if a member of the party has that trait, they get an additional die to roll. The goal is to roll the specific number indicated on the card. Before rolling though, the group chooses one of the characters to be the leader, and therefore their leader ability is in play for that encounter.

Altogether a neat idea, though there were a lot of comments made about the leader abilities, how they work, and whether it made sense for them to only matter when that player was the leader. For example, unless chosen as the leader, the Warrior character was exactly the same as the Cleric character. Seems like they should behave differently even if neither one is the leader. I would like to see each character have a thematic "always on" ability which is a small but beneficial effect, as well as a Leader ability which comes into play if they are the leader. And I'd like to see that Leader ability be something you can count on, not a triggered ability that only works if someone happens to roll a 6. There's an opportunity cost of choosing 1 leader bonus over another, and for it to not come into play sort of cheapens that whole leader choosing decision.

Another comment that came up was that each Encounter should feel like progress toward the end goal. A solution discussed (which I think the designer implemented the next day) was to put prizes (equipment) into the Encounter deck, and when one comes up, it's replaced by another card, and it counts as the LOOT for the adventure, so the heroes will become more powerful over time, allowing them to have an easier time against the boss at the end.

Finally, each round of combat that the group doesn't defeat the bad guys, they take damage. They are allowed to choose who takes the damage. I'd like to see that be wrapped into the choice of Leader - the Leader is out front, they should take the brunt of the attack - maybe they take all the damage. Or maybe each player takes 1 and the leader takes the rest or something.

I would try that game again, with those changes implemented. I could see it being pretty fun.

Sword Merchants - At BGG.con a while back I played Gil Hova's game called Pax Robotica. A theme (and title) I rather enjoyed, and I liked the game for the most part too. Players were Arms Dealers, selling weapons (in that case Battle Bots) to different sides of various conflicts. To an extent you didn't care who won the battles, you would supply Bots to whoever would pay for them. One of the biggest drawbacks of that version of the game was the combat resolution which was obtuse, and a side effect was that the theme seemed to make people think it was a game about fighting robots, not about building and selling them.

Since then Gil has changed the game a lot, stripping his unique auction mechanism (from Wag the Wolf) and changing the theme to a fantasy setting. now Orcs, Kobolds, Dwarves and Elves are at war, and each race will purchase Swords, Axes, Pole Arms, and Maces from the players. There's a dynamic by which the more battles a race loses the more desperate it becomes, and the more desperate a race is, the more money they'll pay for weapons. In addition, there's an end game bonus for having supported the team that lost the fewest battles, which Gil found a nice way to do since Pax Robotica.

I think the game was pretty solid, though some of the numbers were off. The most important changes that were suggested were to give everyone level 1 technology in each weapon (normally you have to buy that) so that no matter what you can always build at least a really crappy weapon of each type (which can turn out to be important for another part of the game), to adjust the values and rates of change of numbers (of course, in a prototype the numbers are often off), and I made an additional suggestion to start with less money so that players can't afford to do as much from the start. I find that games are cool when the players are only able to do 1-2 of 3-4 different things at the start, because then they naturally diverge in player posture - making the rest of the game interesting. I hope to see this one again soon.

Nottingham - Originally designed for the Robin Hood themed Game Design Showdown at BGDF, Nottingham has been expanded into a cooperative game with a traitor that plays 7. The players are on Prince John's side, except the traitor who's in cahoots with Robin Hood. A great theme, and an interesting take on it if you ask me!

The game had a lot in common with Shadows Over Camelot, and any coop game with a traitor will draw that comparison. I did think that this game felt different because you seemed to have more to do in it. The learning curve was a little high, as there were a TON of unique cards, but that's kind of how thematic games go. The designer (Richard James) played the game twice over the weekend, and he was telling me some of the stuff he was planning on changing. It all sounded like steps in the right direction. I'd like to try this one again once the designer gets a chance to polish it up a bit. I'm a sucker for a Robin Hood theme :)

All For One -It's been a long time since I've done anything with All For One, but I was happy to get it to the table. We played a 4 player game (the game has always been best with 4), and I finally tried it without the guards altogether. I don't think I missed them. Some of the same old comments reared their ugly head - and I'm starting to agree that the voting mechanism using the mission cards is not the best idea. Some suggestions were made, maybe the best of which was to relax the hand limit, and to allow players to play any number of cards in a duel (irrespective of which ones), and choose either Offense or Defense. So a different kind of voting, where you sort of bid with your cards to support the result you want to vote for. I might try that next time.

Another idea that came up to promote interaction between characters (which may translate to player interaction) is to forget carrying capacities and simply force a character to pick up each token he walks over. This way more often players will need to move Plot Tokens from character to character via Transfer or Demand actions. Galloping on a horse would still mean skipping Plot Tokens of course.

Another thing I noticed was that perhaps the Bonus tokens should be worth MORE VP than the Required tokens, not less. When doing a mission with only the Required token, you get more VP/token than if you also get a Bonus token - it's often not worth your time to get the Bonus tokens. Also, with the way the Story Tracks are bumped upon completing a mission (which I like), having to bump the 2nd track is often a detriment, so that's another deterrent for going after Bonus tokens. It just makes sense to make the Bonus tokens worth more, so next time I'll switch them - 2vp for the Required token, 3vp for each Bonus token, and I think still 4 VP for arranging a Meeting, and maybe 5vp for the Any Character, 2 Required token missions because they're harder. These VP values could easily be printed on the cards so they need not be remembered.

There have been a few comments along the lines of placing missions face up rather than keeping them in hand, but I think that's just begging for people to disrupt other player's multi-turn efforts, which I think would feel crappy. I'm excited to make these changes and try the game again.

Dice Works - At first I liked the goofy spelling of "Dice Werx" - but I'm not so sure anymore. Maybe "Dice Works" is better. I keep waffling back and forth. Either way, I played a 3-player game on Saturday and it seemed to work fine. I have changed the Scrap Efficiency Upgrade (for even progress on all tracks) to 4/3/3/2 for 1 rather than 4/3/2/1 for 1. I don't ever want anybody exchanging 1 for 1, that's just lame. I like the feel of 3-for-1 though, so that's a reasonable upgrade. Also, I think I'll allow players to use that new exchange rate as soon as they get it, rather than starting next round.

In Ruins - Andy Van Zandt had told me a little bit about his post apocalyptic card drafting game and I was interested to play it. I like the theme, and Andy's designs are always very well thought out and thorough. I enjoyed In Ruins overall, but the unique drafting mechanism I thought had something fundamentally inelegant about it. The idea is cool, you put new cards out, then you get a chance to place your Squatter token on something that you don't want anybody else to take. Sadly, this means you can't take it either - and I wonder if that's just something I will not like about that mechanism (not something wrong with it, just a mechanism I simply don't like). The inelegance was caused by each turn, EACH PLAYER having to be asked to reevaluate which card they want to squat on, often only to decide they liked where they were.

A suggestion was made to instead have each player move their Squatter only on their own turn. The idea behind the Squatter is to keep players from being able to topdeck the perfect card, it gives everybody a chance to stop a lucky draw. The proposal is to have the player draw the new cards at the END of his turn, and then choose to move his squatter - allowing him the chance to block one of the two cards that just came up. I think this would smooth out game play tremendously, and cut down on down time and game length. Andy said he was 100% on board, so I'd love to play the game again with that change the next time I see him.

Currently the game is something like 90 minutes, which I think is a little long for what it is. If this could help cut the length down closer to 1 hour, I think that would be great.

Kings of Air and Steam - As I've mentioned, I'm developing a pickup/deliver game with a Steampunk theme called Kings of Air and Steam. The game supports 2-6 players, though I'd never played with 6 before. I was able to do so this weekend, and it was very informative. I had forgotten the exact setup of market tiles for each player count, so I just used all the Market tiles I had (6 of each color) and drew 4 out per turn. That's what you'd do for a 5 player game. For 6 players it was supposed to be 7 of each color tile, drawing 5 per turn. The game worked well enough, but in retrospect it did seem like the board was somewhat bare most of the time. I think the proper number of tiles would have been better. I had hoped to simplify setup by using the same setup irrespective of player count, but I just don't think the game will work very well that way. As an easy way to handle it though, I am thinking that the appropriate player counts should be printed on the backs of the tiles (2+, 3+, 4+ 5+, 6), and rather than sort them, each tile can be discarded as it's drawn if it's not appropriate for the current game.

Everybody seemed to like the game, and I got a couple of questions answered. For example, everybody agreed that the requirement to ship on 50% your own track was unnecessary. As for the look of the game, everybody was all for the theme, and one player suggested unique ship molds for each player - at first I thought that would be more expensive, but then I realized we could just make 1 mold with all 7 ships on it (6 for the game, plus 1 promo ship we've got planned). Also, Andy suggested a great player power - the ability to create a new link on the board between cities. One player could be given 5 or 7 track tiles (straight on one side, gentle curve on the other), and as an action they could be allowed to place them between 2 cities creating a new link - paying $1 per tile placed. This would come with a Depot on that link, and of course other players could build depots on that link as well. I really like that idea.

Alter Ego - To tell you the truth, when I heard about Midnight Men (which I never knew existed) being picked up by a publisher, I got a little discouraged and didn't really feel like working on Alter Ego anymore. But I do like some of the mechanisms and basic ideas behind the game - of managing your Alter Ego life, and the more recent pre-programming of card play, so I brought my pseudo-prototyp with me hoping to chat about it with Andy or whoever. I ended up talking to Richard James about it, and he asked some questions the answers to which I guess I knew, but hadn't really solidified. That was a big help, and also he got me to tweak how the icons on Henchmen work - once in play, rather than giving you that icon to use, they could work more like Eminent Domain where they boost the cards you play. So if I get a $ icon into play, it doesn't give my any $ to use unless I play a job card. This is a small difference, but it has a significant impact - as Rich pointed out, I had built a mechanism which undermined my original design goal. Currently, once I have $ icons in play, I no longer need to worry about playing a Job card as much. This proposed version instead amplifies my desire to play a Job card over a Hero card, which is what I was going for.

We also discussed how some of the Coop mechanisms would work, and in describing them to him I am more confident in exactly how I want them to be now. So I think that design is back on the front burner! I'm curious to see how Midnight Men pans out, seeing as how it's ALSO a superhero themed, cooperative, deck building game.

Hard Wired - I had seen the beginnings of this game discussed in BGDF chat, and was interested in it from the outset. I was glad I got a chance to try it this weekend. I love the idea of creating circuits and improving circuits, but in the current incarnation of this game you are able to steal the opponent's win condition, which to me feels like a long, drawn out game of hot potato. It's like Munchkin, where everyone stops the other guy from winning, drawing out the game, until someone manages to finally win.

When someone suggested that players be allowed to steal Circuits instead of the Light cards, that sounded perfect to me! you could "improve" their circuit by creating the same effect with fewer cards, thereby taking their cards for yourself - as a way to draw more cards at a time. It doesn't hurt the opponent, but it does something useful for you. In fact, if smallest circuit is tiebreaker, then it kind of HELPS the opponent, but you'd do it anyway because it gets you more cards in 1 action than drawing.

So my proposed change, which I hope Ariel tries and I hope works out for him, is that players on their turn can either PLAY a circuit (minimum 3 cards or so), adding a new light to their line, or IMPROVE a circuit by playing any number of cards to replace a longer circuit in play, taking the old circuit cards into their hand. Then they could draw 1 card (I like that as it otherwise might feel like it takes too long to build back up after playing cards). The object is still to either get 1 of each color light in play, or else have the most lights when the deck runs out.

I also liked the idea of another mode of play, where there's just 1 big circuit in play, and each player starts with a set of 1 of each colored light. You win by adding all of your lights to the circuit, or else by having the fewest left when the deck runs out. In this version on your turn you could either play a new circuit (min 3 cards?), Improve a circuit, or simply draw 1 card. Or I guess it could be the same (Play or improve a circuit, then draw 1).

I'd like to try this game again with the changes.

Love Means Nothing - I hadn't played Love Means nothing for a long time, and Ariel had a new version. The new version made the decisions a bit more strategic, but the game was much more slow and tedious. I don't think that's the right feel for a sports themed game, I missed the older, more streamlined mechanics. I was wondering how the decisions could be made more interesting with the old mechanics, and I jokingly said "maybe what it needs is a chess clock, like Brain Freeze!" - and then immediately realized that maybe that's not such a bad idea. the idea behind Brain Freeze was simple decisions + time pressure. Maybe a chess clock with 60 or 90 seconds on it would force people to make their simple decisions a little faster. I think that would feel more like a sports game. Maybe I'll dig up the old copy of Love Means Nothing that I have at home and give that a try.

On Monday morning I also got a chance to talk to Ariel about what each part of Ground Floor will look like. I originally thought the player boards would look like blueprints, but he had a different idea that's been really growing on me. I think it could come out really nicely!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Eminent Domain: Exotic Expansion - take 2

I updated my EmDo prototype as discussed, and Michael played it 6 times with John tonight. I don't think John has grokked the game with the expansion yet, as Mike beat him every time. I was playing Carson City on the next table, but every time I looked up Mike seemed to have nothing but Exotic planets in play, and I guess he was using them to great benefit. One game he traded for 25 points - all from trading Fighters via Dr Mayhem's Weapon Emporium! This has given Mike something of a big head, as apparently he's 13-0 at EmDo with the Exotic expansion!

From those games, my current thought is that the Exotic icons do pretty much what they're supposed to, but I think they might snowball a little too quickly or easily. That might be less true with more players than it is with 2, or it might just be a perception thing, but I think I might need to nerf the planets a little bit. I might remove the Exotic icon from the planets which have the [Exotic]=>[X] abilities (and maybe add a couple of influence points to them) and put them back on the 3 planets which have no ability (but do have resource slots). I had wanted to add more icons so that people could get them and use them, I didn't want someone getting an Exotic planet and then not be able to do anything with the transform ability. But in fact, no matter which Exotic planet you get, you do have access to the Exotic technology cards - which each have an Exotic icon on them. So maybe just three planets with Exotic icons is enough. It may be disappointing to come across one of those without an ability to use the icon with, but those 3 planets will have 2 resource slots each, so they'll still be plenty useful. And maybe they'll encourage players to Survey up another Exotic planet!

Another idea I'd like to try is adding some more Tech cards. In particular, maybe a card that you play as an action which allows you to play 2 other cards, like the Village in Dominion. Amusingly, there's already a card like Smithy in this game (Improved Survey), and Moat (Survey) :)

I'm not sure if I want to add a lot of these types of things, but I'm currently thinking I could add 2 of these cards to each level 1 Tech deck. Each could have 1 of the icons in the game (so the Metallic deck would have 1 with a Survey icon and 1 with a Warfare icon). In the Exotic deck it would have 1 Exotic icon (and there might be 2 of them).

I might also like to add a Level 2 tech of each of the original types. not sure if it should be a permanent tech (and therefore double sided), or if it should relate to the Exotic stuff (like having an Exotic icon). Maybe 2 per stack, each with one Exotic icon and one native icon. I guess I get to think up another 3 or 6 Tech abilities :)

 Any suggestions for tech abilities are welcome - leave a comment with your ideas!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Eminent Domain: Exotic Expansion

Eminent Domain: Exotic Expansion

I mentioned recently that I was working on the first full expansion to Eminent Domain. For ease of communication I will refer to the Prestige and Utopian planets as a promo-pack or something, and I'll refer to the Exotic expansion as the "1st" EmDo expansion - that should be close enough for government work.

While I like the idea of keeping things a secret, I cannot ignore the benefit I get from using my blog to think things through, and the comments I get from people, though sparse, are also helpful. And let's not forget then my readership is pretty darn small compared to the gaming population in general, so when the expansion comes out, plenty of people will still be surprised by all the new stuff!

That said, here's what I'm looking at, 2nd draft now, for the Exotic expansion. I welcome comments, especially from those who have played the game before!

New Start Planets:
First off, as I'm adding a planet type, I clearly need to make a Start Planet of that type which is equivalent to the other Start planets. Therefore there's an Exotic start planet which costs 2/2 and has 1 resource slot. Currently the resource that Exotic planets make is called Unobtanium, though I suspect that will change by the time I'm done. Anybody have a good idea for what resource the Exotic planets might make?

In addition to the standard Exotic start planet, I've made an additional Start planet of each type (Adv, Met, Fert, and Exo) for a grand total of 5 NEW Start planets. Back in development I tried adding icons/abilities to the start planets, and I really didn't like it. I wanted players to EITHER flip their start planet and start doing Research, OR Survey up a better planet first to make use of it's ability. For alternate start planets I thought adding icons would be good, but to avoid the problem I had before I decided to make these 5 more expensive than their standard counterparts. Here's what they look like:

COSTS: Warfare: 6, Colonize: 5. Slightly higher than the average planets in the survey deck because these planets are a little better than the ones in the survey deck.. So far this seems ok.

ICONS: The Advanced. Metallic, and Fertile planets each have 2 icons on them - the appropriate ones for that planet type. So Fertile has both Colonize and Produce icons on it. The Exotic planet only has 1 icon (Exotic), and it also has +1 Hand Size.

RESOURCE SLOTS: None of the alternate Start planets have any resource slots.

INFLUENCE: Each of the alternate Start planets are worth 2 Influence.

Exotic Planets:
The main thrust of this expansion is the new planet type and the associated icon and technologies. I've created a 9-card cycle of Exotic planets similar to that of the other planet types.

COSTS: Each of the Exotic planets cost Warfare: 5 / Colonize: 4.

ICONS: Six of the Exotic planets have an Exotic icon (my prototype uses a cute little 1-eyed alien face) on it, as well as a new icon in the Game Effect box (where the Hand Size +1 icon appears in the original planet cards). This new icon looks like:

[Exotic Icon] => [Other Icon]

Meaning that all Exotic icons can be used in place of that specific other icon. So if I had a planet that said [Exotic]=>[Warfare], then (a) because it's got an Exotic icon, that counts as a Warfare icon already, and (b) if I get another Exotic icon in play, that icon would ALSO count as a Warfare icon! So [Exotic]=>[Warfare] means "all of your Exotic icons count as Warfare icons."

The implication here is that if you get multiple Exotic planets in play they sort of build off of each other, making all of your Exotic icons more flexible and more powerful.

RESOURCE SLOTS: The other 3 Exotic planets do not have any Icons. Instead they have TWO resource slots. Unobtanium is pretty rare, only produced by 4 planets (one of which is a Start planet), but when you find some, you find a lot of it!

INFLUENCE: The 6 Exotic planets with icons are worth 2 Influence. The 3 Exotic planets with Unobtanium are worth 3 Influence.

Exotic Technology:
To go along with the new planet type, I have a new Technology stack for the Exotic planets. In it there are 6 Level 1 technologies (3-cost, 0-Influence), 4 Level 2 Technologies (5-cost, 2-Influence, 2 of them are permanent and back-to-back), and 2 Level 3 technologies (7-cost, 5-Influence, permanent and back-to-back).

Level 1: Each of the standard "Improved" technologies occurs 1 time, with the appropriate icon as well as an Exotic icon. So the Improved Survey card has a Survey icon and an Exotic icon, and its action is "Draw 3 cards". Obviously it'll have the same illustration as other Improved Survey cards as well. The Exotic icons on these cards are not useful unless you have a card in play that allows you to use Exotic icons as some other icon.

Level 2: There are 2 Level 2 techs that go into your deck (with 2 Exotic icons on them), and 1 double-sided tech card that stays in play. The ones that go into your deck have 2 Exotic icons on them, which are useless unless you have a card that translates them into another type of icon, and then they are pretty good. If you have multiple translators then they become really good.
Deep Space Probes (Exo/Exo): Action: Search the Planet deck and discard pile and choose 1 planet card. Shuffle the rest to create a new planet deck and put the chosen card on top.
This is to be used before a Survey role in order to get exactly the planet you want.
Cryptology (Exo/Exo): Draw 3 cards, then place up to 2 cards in hand back in their respective Stacks.
Sort of the opposite of Artificial Intelligence. It allows you to thin your deck, as well as maybe lengthen the game a little bit.
Coalition Victory (Perm): If you have 2 of each (Adv, Met, Fert) planet face up in your empire, you win the game.
Alternate win condition, a bit harder than it sounds as you need 2 of EACH planet type - the three listed as well as 2 Exo planets in order to play this card!
Thorough Survey (Perm): Survey Role: You may draw 2 fewer planet cards. If you do, keep 1 additional planet.
Allows a player to obtain 2 planets at a time, at the cost of requiring larger Survey roles.

Level 3: There is 1 double-sided tech card that stays in play:
Cult of the New (Exo): Each Exotic icon in your Empire is worth 1 additional Influence.
Bonus points for Exotic icons on planets in play (tech cards in your deck do not count). This one is actually worth 4 Influence in stead of the usual 5, because it also gives you an Exotic icon, which will score a bonus point at the end by itself.
Premium Product: +1 Influence for each Unobtanium that you trade.
The name on this one is really just a placeholder (that's true of several of these, actually). This one rewards you for trading Unobtanium, which is something you might be able to do a decent amount of if you specialize in Exotic planets. For the 2nd version I'm considering adding an Unobtanium resource slot or two to it.

5 Player Support:
In addition to the new stuff, I'm planning on providing additional cards and potentially a game end or rules tweak to make a 5 player game work. I haven't gotten a chance to play with 5 players yet, but I think that adding enough cards for another 10 card starting deck, and 1 or 2 more cards per stack would be good - and probably keeping the game end trigger on 2 piles (I think 3 would be too many, though I suppose it's worth a try). The rules tweak I am considering is only allowing players to Follow/Dissent Roles led by their neighbors. The main thing here is that I think I don't like players being able to Dissent 4 times in a row and then start their turn with 9+ cards. I'm also not sure I like so many opportunities to Follow, although in reality you only have so many cards in your hand, so maybe that's a self limiter. I'm curious whether players would be upset or not if they were hoping to follow Survey (saved cards for it), and one of the 2 players that they're not adjacent to called Survey - would that be an interesting dynamic? Or just annoying? I'd like to try it and see.

I welcome any comments on this. At this time I have still not assigned any meaning to the different sized Fighter tokens, I believe that will be part of another expansion. My early thoughts on that are Hostile planets, which must be flipped with Warfare, and perhaps Peaceful planets as well, which must be Colonized and not attacked. I think the medium sized token will become a Destroyer and the largest one a Dreadnought. There will probably be some mechanism to upgrade some number of fighters into a Destroyer, and etc... and for certain things you'll need Destroyers or Dreadnoughts. I haven't got that fully worked out yet, one thing at a time :)

Alter Ego - beaten to the punch?

It appears one of the Game Artisans of Canada has sold a coop superhero deck building game to a (as yet undisclosed) publisher. This is good news for him and for GAC - maybe bad news for Alter Ego. I'll have to figure out if I care to continue working on it, or shelve it given that a game of similar scope and theme will be coming out...

Then again, maybe superheroes will be 2012's wine theme.