Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chrono Gallery - playtests and tweaks

I finally had the opportunity to play Chrono Gallery: Museum of Lost History a couple of times, and I tried the scoring scheme I figured out the other day... Not the worst idea in the world, but it didn't go over as well as I'd hoped. While players seemed to like the bluff auction mechanism, they did not seem to like the scoring trophies bouncing back and forth from player to player. I believe the crux of the complaint was that when you get a reward, you feel like that's yours, and it's disappointing to have it taken away from you.

SCORING

It's possible that trophy system could work with some tweaking of the costs and points - for example:
* When you get a trophy stolen from you, you keep most of the points - so you effectively score for getting a set and the trophy itself is a small additional bonus.
* create several trophies of each type, each worth 2vp, whose cost escalates as they are taken - i.e. the first player to get an Art trophy needs only 3 Art tiles. The next player to do it needs 4. In this case you cannot claim a trophy you already have.
* Somehow ramp up the costs of stealing the trophies so it's harder to do
* Make the trophies for larger Exhibits worth more points than the lesser ones, and then allow people to claim those too (rather than just being allowed to claim 1 trophy of each type).
There are other variations as well. I tried the second one listed above in a playtest yesterday, and it did feel like an improvement over Thursday's game where we were passing the trophies back and forth. That last version seems very promising as far as Trophy scoring goes, however I explored some other options and tried something different in yesterday's second game.

One of Brian's comments after Thursday's game (similar to what I wanted to do before I added trophies in the first place) was that you should turn in sets of tiles to score for them. His point was that you would be limited to 1 such turn-in per round, so if you keep too many tiles in play for too long, you may not be able to score them all. In general LI liked the idea, but as stated I didn't like the way that particular scoring would sound. Discussing with David last night, we figured out a better version of that. Here's what we tried (and it worked very well):

  • You are still limited to 6 Artifacts in play.
  • Upon winning an auction, you MAY 'cash in' a set of tiles. A set is any number of tiles which share at least 1 attribute. For example, 2 tiles that are both blue would be a 2-tile set. 4 Tool tiles would be a 4-tile set. A 3-tile set including 3 ancient Egyptian artifacts would be a 3-tile set, and it would score double (it's really two 3-tile sets). Upon winning an auction giving you a 7th tile, you MUST cash (or discard) at least 1 tile.
  • Cashing in a set means taking those tiles and stacking them face down (on an Exhibit space on your player board). Your reward for this is points - 1/3/6/10... for 1/2/3/4... tiles in the set.
  • You also get an additional die to roll when you cash in a set.
  • After the last round of the game, any tiles you have face up may be scored as if they have been cashed in (or, if it's easier to say, they all may be cashed in). During this "final Scoring," the ability of the Art tiles takes effect - which is that the Star icons on the Art tiles act as a bonus set (if you have 3 face up Art tiles, you'll score a bonus 6 points). It might be easier to say that face up Art tiles simply score 2vp or something before you cash in the sets during Final Scoring.
This worked out very well. When you cash in a set, you lose the abilities on the tiles, and you gain a die to roll, which gives you more information and generally makes it easier to win future auctions. I will try this rule again the next time I play, which will hopefully be soon.

TRADING

Another thing I noticed during Thursday's game was that there was absolutely no trading going on between players. There was a little too much ditching tiles for dice, making too many dice enter the system too quickly for my liking. I had really hoped that there would be some interesting dynamics involved with the trade aspect, but it simply didn't manifest. For yesterday's games I left that out completely and did not miss it one bit. I also left out the option to take 1 die rather than the tile and didn't miss that either - though I definitely wanted to create some way for dice to enter the game so that the bids escalate. In the first game I tried simply giving a die to the player who won a purple auction (in addition to the tile, which for that game were mostly virtual dice in a particular color). That wasn't too bad, but I prefer the solution I came up with last night - cashing in a set earns you a die.

CONSOLATION

I quickly realized during the first game that if you do not win any tiles in a given round, it would be good to get a consolation prize of an additional die. The problem is that without tiles, you are not only behind in scoring, but also abilities which help you get tiles... so it's kind of a slippery slope. If you get a consolation die, at least that makes it easier for you to get tiles later. This rule did not come into effect during our 3-player game last night, probably because there were more auction tiles to go around, and everyone gets to bid on 3 of them, while in a 4 or 5 player game you only get 2 bid tokens - much more likely you walk away with nothing.

NUMBER OF DICE

In order to make for nice clean rules and setup, each player will start with 3 dice, and will have 5 Exhibit slots on their player board housing 1 die each. When "displaying" an exhibit, you earn the die and place the stack of tiles in its place. If you get a consolation, you get to take one of the dice off of your player board - so it's a die you would have gotten anyway maybe, but you get it early. This way players get a maximum of 8 dice each.

As a side note, that would require 40 total dice, but I might rather use 34 dice - which I could do if I just say that in a 5 player game, players get a maximum of 6 dice apiece instead of 8, which I think is acceptable. I suppose I could allow more dice per player for fewer player counts (like 9 or 10 max for 2/3 players).

Other small tweaks
  • Tool ability going back to "Re-roll any number of dice" (rather than just 1 die) - to make it more in line power-wise with the Virtual Dice from Weapons and the extra points from Art.
  • 9 rounds instead of 10 - no funky tile in each color column. Instead all of the funky tiles are in the Purple column
  • Adjust the Purple tiles - there are 9. Currently:
    • +2 dice
    • Overbid with tie
    • Must overbid by 2
    • May hold 2 additional tiles (effectively expanding your hand size from 6 to 7)
    • Wild Culture/Type/Era (choose one - this tile helps you make sets bigger).
    • Virtual purple die
    • 2 Virtual Purple dice, Discard when used (would be used after all passing, but before any auctions are resolved)
    • Extra bid token
    • 4 vp - this tile will always come out in the last round, giving something worth bidding for in the Purple column on round 9.

1 comment:

Paul D. Owen said...

Three brief comments:

Your playtesters' complaints about having trophies stolen from them reminds me of a weak aspect of Word Thief by Outset Media, a word game that we still like better than Scrabble. It's frustrating to build a word and score points for it, only to have it stolen by an opponent and lose the value of the letters. One mitigating factor is that bonus points for long words are not lost. Still, it almost feels sometimes like one step forward, two steps back.

Second, I like your reward scale for taking tiles based on "triangle numbers" (1->1, 2->3, 3->6, 4->10). I can see how that would motivate taking the risk and opportunity cost of accumulating tiles.

Third, I share your frustration in designing a game with trading in mind, only to see playtesters completely ignore the opportunity for barter. A few years ago, I specifically designed a multi-player game to motivate negotiation, with trading as a direct facilitator. Based on the Wars of the Diadochi (Successors) after the death of Alexander the Great, I thought the theme would be a perfect setting to engender alliances and counter-alliances. But somehow everybody got caught up in the process of building armies and conquering territories (a la Risk) rather than wheeling and dealing to gain the upper hand. It's on the shelf right now, until I get inspired to dust it off and try it again with a fresh perspective.

Chrono Gallery sounds intriguing. I look forward to reading more.