Monday, March 10, 2014

Alter Ego: Game Design Retreat playtest (3/8/14)

I got Alter Ego to the table during my Game Design Retreat last weekend, for the first time in a year and a half (!)... and with a few caveats, it went VERY WELL!


* The game took a very long time. I was not surprised to have a pacing problem, but I think it can be overcome - At this point I'm not as worried about the amount of time it takes as I am about whether or not the game works!

* I want to re-do the Henchmen deck. I knew this would be true.

* I probably need to reduce the number of tokens it takes to trigger an Arch Villain. The players were too strong by the time the Arch Villain arrived, and the ending was a bit anticlimactic.

Good stuff:

* The new version of Equipment seemed to work much better than the old version! I used some cards that you buy directly into play (they do not count as being in your display), and have activation costs. That way in order to make use of them, you have to constantly play Job cards to get $s to spend. I want to make some that are also good to buy if you don't concentrate on money, they'll have some static effect you don't need to pay for each turn. Also, I'd like some Equipment that goes into your deck as well and does stuff, so I'll make some of that again, but with an eye toward the right type of effects (and maybe I'll call them Events instead of Equipment).

* The Teamwork tokens really seem to make the cooperative feel in the game. The fact that players can use each other's cards by trading Teamwork tokens back and forth had everyone talking on everyone's turn about what card they should add to their deck, which Henchman they should go after, etc. It sounded a lot like other "real" cooperative games sound during play.

* The player boards and turn sequence (skipping phases when no cards are played) also worked well.

* The players really seemed to like the game! They appeared to be having fun while playing, they claimed to really enjoy it, and they were even sort of role playing up their roles. For example the guy who concentrated on money and equipment really felt like Batman, using all his wonderful toys to fight crime, and throwing money at problems.

* The limit of 5 Civilians of each type seemed like it worked alright. That could obviously change with other tuning to get the pacing right, but in the early game the players did say they felt like they were on the ropes with respect to the Civ tokens.

Changes and updates I'm making for the next playtest (hopefully Friday):

* I added and tweaked Equipment cards (and events) based on the playtest commentary and seeing it in action.

* I had forgotten that the boost icons were intended to be PER CARD PLAYED, not per phase... so a $ icon is supposed to give you 1 additional $ per Job card played, not just once no matter how many Job cards you play. That's a pretty big difference, especially once you get a few of them into play. The idea though is that I want every Job card not played to feel like a big deal. I don't want players to build up icons and think "ok, well I better play 1 Job card, but the rest aren't a big deal" - I want EACH job card to be worth a lot, so it's painful to play Hero cards instead. I have to be a little careful not to make the Equipment so good that you can ignore training and Hero cards altogether and just go all JOB all the time.

* Similarly, I think the Hero boost icons are supposed to boost each card OF THAT TYPE that you play. So if you have a Speed boost icon, it'll trigger when you have a Speed card in your display, but not when you have only a Will card. However, it'll trigger twice if you have 2 Speed cards in your display! This means getting a Hero boost icon trophy makes it much easier for you to defeat things that have THAT symbol, but not things that require diverse symbols. For example the 5-cost Henchmen that cost 3 of one icon and 2 of another.

* I re-did the Henchmen deck... I added some easy-to-beat Henchmen that take 2 of the same colored hostage, to make the deck a little more scary. Before I had henchmen that either attracted the attention of Villains, or else gave the players some benefit. I changed that to make most Henchman do both. I especially like that for the early game (cheaper) Henchmen, because that way going after boost icons will also usher in the Arch Villain, and players will have to be careful. I might have overdone it though, I want to make sure players have the ability to rescue hostage without accidentally summoning the wrong Arch Villain.

* I also added Teamwork icons to the Henchmen as well as Display +1 icons.

* For reference, Calling the Cops on a Henchman saves 1 Civ, and if that's the last Civ, the henchman is removed from play, and does NOT trigger the affiliated Arch Villain.

* I haven't done it yet, but I intend to revamp the Arch Villains, adding a status effect when they come into play. For example, maybe 1 version of the Mastermind has created distractions to occupy they police, so once they're in play you can no longer Call the Cops.

* It was suggested as well that one of the Arch Villain types require a broader range of icons to defeat. Where the other types encourage you to specialize in an icon or two, currently none require a more balanced assortment of icons. That was sort of on purpose, so players could reasonably build their deck toward defeating the Villain... but maybe a Villain requiring all the symbols would be interesting.

* I'm going to update the player boards as well, just to make sure everything is up to date. I'm considering reducing the card draw of Family cards to 1 per card, +1 (or 2) automatic during the phase. I.e. as long as there's a Family phase, you draw N+1 (or maybe N+2) cards, where N is the number of Family cards in your display. This way the Card draw boost icons might feel a little more strong and useful. Currently you draw 2N cards, which seems like a lot.

* The new mechanism for Equipment has 3 face up from a shuffled deck, and as a standard option players can spend 1$ to cycle 1 of the cards, or 2$ to cycle all three. This way a player who happened to have 1 Job card could have SOMETHING to do with that money. I'll add these actions to the player board.

* I think I might reduce the display size to 4. I think that will emphasize the main agonizing decision in the game - which cards do I play. I'll keep the hand size the same, so if you play no Family cards, you choose 3 of your 4 cards to play (plus add 1 from the supply). With the addition of Display +1 icons on the Henchmen I think that'll work out well (people can earn a bigger display).

I'm excited to be working on this game again, and even more excited that the prospect looks promising!

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