Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gamesmiths - most productive session in ages!

To tell you the truth, I'd been losing faith in our local little game design meetup: Gamesmiths. The last time I went I ended up sitting alone for 1.5 hours. Today however was a much different story!

Bomb Squad Robot by David Short and Dan Keltner
 I am a big fan of Antoine Bauza's Hanabi. At Gen Con last year I played that game for 12 hours straight! I've had a few ideas about using the mechanism of Hanabi to power a bigger game, but I've not really put that much thought into exactly how that would work. Well, David and Dan have come up with a game about programming a bomb squad robot to navigate a building, rescue hostages, and diffuse bombs.

We played a 6 player game of BSR, discussed some possible changes, then tried another game (5p this time) with some of those. The first game was a little shakey, with lots of great comments left and right from the outset. The second game however was really fun!

The basic idea is that you have cards which program the robot to move, open a door, rescue a hostage, or diffuse a bomb. Each of those categories has 3 levels (1/2/3) - so effectively you have 1-3 of 4 different suits. Like Hanabi, you don't get to see your hand. Your turn consists of playing a card, discarding a card, activating the robot, or giving someone a clue. But in this game, discarding doesn't give you a clue token (clues are not limited by tokens) - instead it regenerates the robot's batteries - which you'll need to do in order to succeed. Playing a card is less intense than Hanabi - when you play a card, you put it into one of the 'register slots' on the board, face down (you don't even get to look at it). When you fill the last register slot, the robot automatically activates - you pick up all the face down cards and arrange them in any order you like, then the robot carries out those instructions. The trick is that the robot must completely carry out each card, and if there's a mistake (like trying to open a door when there's no door to open), it uses up extra battery power. Activating the robot costs 2 battery power + 1 more per card, so to be efficient you want as many cards as possible per activation... but it's not trivial to remember all of the cards that have been played.

If you choose to activate the robot before all of the registers are full then it will cost you your turn, but you get an added benefit - the option to discard one of the cards. This will save you from accidental mistakes or changes in planning which would otherwise cost battery power. If you run out of battery power, then you lose the game!

That description includes some of the comments that came up after the first game. The biggest change between game 1 and game 2 though was the game clock. instead of clicking down a track every single player turn (which was tedious), Dan just started a timer on his phone. Every 10 minutes, the next bomb would explode (if we didn't disarm it first). This worked marvelously, and in production one would assume there would be a soundtrack like the one in Escape.

We discussed the scoring in the game, and I think in the end we found a score system that made sense - 1 point for each hostage still alive on the board, and face value (+1) for each hostage rescued and each bomb diffused. The face values are 1/2/3, and the higher the value, the harder it is to rescue/diffuse.

All in all, it was a fun game, and I would be happy to play it again.

Skyline: Landmarks by David Short
David also had with him an expansion to his dice game Skyline, which TMG published (as a stretch reward for Ground Floor). The expansion adds event cards, another type of die to help build buildings, and special building tiles (Landmarks) which you get by cashing in specific combinations of buildings.

We played a 3 player game of that, and I think the expansion does improve the game.

Eminent Domain: the Dice Game by Seth Jaffee
Finally, I got a chance to play a 3 player game of EmDice. Overall I'm very happy with that playtest. It flowed really well. David asked right away why a player can't re-roll any/all of their dice during cleanup, like in the card game where you can discard anything. I realized that I had no answer, so I decided to play that way this time and see how it went. I wasn't unhappy with the way it was working in the last few playtests, but I think it's safe to say I like this better. Seems like an obvious thing - not sure why that wasn't my first choice for the rule. I think maybe I was trying to make die manpulation powers more valuable.

David and Dan were not thrilled with the relative lack of control over what you roll, but I'm not sure that's really a problem in a dice game. David did make an interesting comment - that a fundamental dynamic of the card game (the deck learning) is completely missing. He would like to see a track for each role, where you'd advance your marker when taking the role, and every few advances on each track would give you an additional symbol for that role. It's not a bad idea at all, but I don't know if I like adding that to to the game. It's extra components and fiddliness, and I'm not sure it's really necessary.

Another suggestion, one I will implement for the next playtest, is to combine the first tech in each track. So the first time you research, you have to have any 1 planet, and pay 3 Research icons of course. From there you can move up any track, so long as you have the appropriate planet in play. The only real difference here is that this way you can only get the Re-roll: +1 die once.

The game length seemed OK. I'm still using 30 tokens in the supply (that's how many blank tiles I happened to have with the planet tiles), and by the time the game end triggered we each had about 4 planets face up, about 2 traded resources, and a few tech upgrades. I'm not sure how many tokens I should have in the supply, but I'm more and more convinced that the mechanism will be fine.

All in all a great night of playtesting!

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