Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Another Alter Ego playtest: Gamesmiths, 3/17/14

At Gamesmiths last night I hosted a game of Alter Ego in which David, Eisen, and John Morgan took on an Anarchist...

It was an informative playtest. From the outset, David saw some equipment that looks like it would work well together - one that allows you to buy 1 (or 3) Speed icons for $1 (or $2), and another that allows you to spend $1 to change a Speed icon into any other icon. He was very proud of this combo, and while he was sure it was a great combo and a great strategy, it being his first game he may have concentrated too heavily on setting it up in the early game and not enough on defeating Henchmen... which is a "trap" I sort of want in the game. Trap isn't the right word really, one of the main strategic decisions is when to focus on your Alter Ego life and when to focus on your Hero life. If the players spend too much time building their engines, then by definition I want the city to be overrun by Henchmen.

Morgan on the other hand began by going for Hero cards - mostly Smarts at first, but he ended up with a little bit of everything. As such, he was the one to beat up Henchmen, and he racked up a number of trophies (boost icons) - many of which were Hero icons... eventually he had one of each Hero boost icon in play except for Speed. So in the late game he was able to beat up a whole lot of henchmen.

Eisen didn't really specialize in much, he played Family cards a lot in order to get some teamwork tokens, and he beat some Henchmen up here and there, he ended up being more of a support character... which I think is fine, but I'm not sure if it was as much fun.

One thing I've noticed over the last several tests is that the Henchmen build up (as they're supposed to) and then the players struggle to catch up and stabilize (as they're supposed to), but if they make it over that hump, then it's smooth sailing all the way. This climax comes at the wrong time, because the Arch Villains aren't triggering early enough. I need them to be coming into play just about the time the players have stabilized and feel like they've caught up to the henchmen, so that rather than relax, BAM - there's a new, bigger challenge thrown at them.

What I think this means is that the Henchmen deck needs some tweaking. There need to be fewer Henchmen with no affiliation, and maybe more with multiple affiliations. David suggests the deck should be smaller, but I don't know if that's necessary. I still think the costs are OK as they are.

Another thing that has come up almost every time I've played the game is that the feeling of neglecting your Alter Ego life isn't coming through like I want it to. My personal opinion is that it's actually working darn near perfectly - if you neglect your family, your next turn's options are limited to what you've drawn... if you neglect the Community, you're at the mercy of the deck as to which Henchmen enter play... if you neglect your job, you don't get to use fancy equipment. But the big problem is, rather than that feeling like a result of your actions, people tend to feel like it's the luck of the draw... they don't recognize that they had some part in it, and they prefer to blame the deck for pulling out too many Sadist affiliated Henchmen when they wanted to fight the Anarchist (or whatever) rather than play more Community cards.

So, because it's come up more than once, and because the current version is failing to communicate the point of the game, I'm going to try the following... You never skip any of the phases. Every turn you have each phase of the game - Income (Job), Support (Family), Patrol (Community), Fight (Hero), and Recoup. Boost icons will go back to how I had them in the last test - more like EmDo planet symbols, boosting the phase, not each card of that type played in the phase. Here's the kicker - during each phase (Income, Support, and Patrol), if you played no card of the appropriate type (Job, Family, Community), then you put a counter on your player board in that phase. During Recoup, when it's time to take a card from the stacks, you check your player board... if you have 3 (2?) counters in any phase, then you MUST choose that phase's card from the stacks (rather than any card you want). Then you clear out those counters. If you have too many counters in 2 phases, then you must take cards of both of those types from the stacks, and then you'll have to play fewer cards from your hand (you'd take the required cards, then play from your hand to reach your display size).

This way it will be more obvious that if you're neglecting your job, then you get penalized for that. My concern is that it may sort of force players to just do a little bit of everything, and I do want them to have the ability to choose the cards for their decks. But I could see this potentially working out, it's definitely at least worth trying.

After some discussion, I have another thing I want to try - it's kind of a combination of the current "Arch Villain" thing and the ideas I've had for a Nemesis. And it could potentially increase the cooperative feel of the game as well. I think I'm going to give each player their own player colored tokens (ideally they'd be cardboard tokens with their insignia on them), and whenever you defeat a Henchman, you put YOUR token on he Arch Villain. Once in play, ONLY the player (or players) with the most insignias on the Arch Villain can actually engage them in their Fight phase. So not only are the Arch Villains getting upset that their Henchmen are getting beaten up... they're specifically getting upset AT YOU for beating them up. This way I think it could be acceptable to have to fight multiple Arch Villains in a game, maybe as a difficulty knob for example.

We talked a bit about some possible static effects that the Arch Villains could have. David suggested that each Villain could have multiple effects, and for an easier game you just use the first one, while for a harder game you use both the 1st and 2nd one. That could be doable, but I'm not sure if all the ideas I've got for static abilities will scale so easily.

I do like the idea of static effects, and I'm excited to figure some out and get them in the game. I think they could be thematic, like the Sadist abilities would kill off Civilians, removing them from the game, while the Anarchist abilities would change up the rules, and the Mastermind abilities would make the game become harder by removing options from the players.

Well, time to do some updating so that I can bring the game to MidSouthCon this weekend!


Seth Jaffee said...

For the record, I updated Alter Ego and played another game at MidSouthCon... some good and some bad came out of it. I'll be doing another update and trying it again next weekend at SaltCON with Mike and the TMG crew, as well as whoever else I can get to try it.

Seth Jaffee said...

... Hmm... Maybe the way to go is to randomly choose just *1* Arch Villain for the game (maybe more than 1 for harder 'levels'), and then trigger him when his henchmen come INTO play, not when they LEAVE play.

I'll have to think about that.