Sunday, December 07, 2014

Crusaders - great playtest 12/6/14

I had an excellent playtest of Crusaders (formerly The Knights Templar) on Saturday. 4 players (only John had played before, and that was an earlier version) all liked the game, one even said he'd buy it as-is if it were on Kickstarter right now.

One thing I liked seeing in that playtest was the emergence of a few different strategies. I mean, three of the player kind of ran to the right hand side of the board (range 6), but 1 didn't. The winner actually stayed closer to Paris and built a lot of buildings - all the way to level 4 Bank and level 4 Palace.

Nobody did much in the way of Influence as a strategy. Everyone once in a while would Influence for 4 or 5, or they did a small influence action and instead upgraded their rondel. No Churches were built. As a result, the game went on longer than I've seen, and more Crusading happened - each Enemy ended up at about 10 strength by the end of the game. That was kinda interesting, and it required players to invest in Troops, which means they started building Farms in the mid game as well.

Based on that playtest, I came home and made a few small tweaks:

* I upped the range on spaces in Britain and Africa (where you need to cross water to get there)
* I added building icons to starting spaces and Paris, offering a discount on those buildings, so players have a reason to choose one over another.

Both of these tweaks are an attempt to encourage players to build in the early spaces. I expect there's a good dichotomy between building early (near Paris) for benefits/powers and building late (far from Paris) for points. In my mind, players will build the buildings they want to use early, and then late they'll look at what's been built (possibly by other players) and they'll build that for points - or they'll stick to erecting the same building over and over, in order to milk that strategy as much as possible. However, I think players look at how he endgame scoring works, and they think "I need to build farther away from Paris!" If players refuse to build at Range 1, then Range 2 becomes the new Range 1... but I'm not sure if players are realizing that.

So maybe with a discount on certain buildings players will build on turn 1, and that will start to differentiate them (I put 2 icons in each starting space, with each building type represented twice in total). I don't know if that will be the final or best rule, but I do know that I need to do something to make Paris more interesting.

One thought I'd had before was to put 1-2 building icons on each space, and either indicate that that's the ONLY building that can be built there, or say that building gets built at a discount, or award extra VP for building that building in that location... I don't know if I need to be that draconian about it, but the idea is in the back of my mind. I'd prefer if players just built what they wanted to build to support their strategy.

Still to come
I have a few more tweaks still to make. I mentioned that I want Paris to be more interesting somehow, and I haven't figured out how to do that yet. In addition, I want to make the Enemies different from each other. I've got a few ideas about that...

* I could make 1 Enemy as I have them now, where they start weak and worth little, and as they get beat up, they become stronger and more valuable.
* I can make another of the Enemies a more static strength, such as 6, so that in the early game they are prohibitively strong, but in the later game they're not so bad. This would give the board a bit more topography, and it would help make players care where they move, rather than just moving onto any Enemy space.
* The third enemy could behave similar to the first one, but at a different rate? Or it could behave altogether differently, maybe starting strong, and then getting weaker and weaker as they get defeated... is that interesting?
* I have considered giving the Enemy token to the player who defeats it (this would be possible once I institute an Enemy track to keep track of their strength), and then awarding some kind of bonus for either sets of enemy types, or groups of similar enemies, or both.

If I institute some of those tweaks, I think there could really be a "build up your Troops" strategy (build Farms, muster Troops) which races to defeat the Enemy that starts out strong, while other players are beating the weaker Enemies, and then when the weak enemy becomes stronger, they will become a juicy target as well.

I definitely want to see various different strategies come to light - heavy Crusading, light Crusading and heavy Influence, Building, etc. I think the updated powers help in that respect, and I wonder if I don't need to make them even more powerful or interesting.

I do notice that with the building costs as they are, if you hope to build level 3 and 4 buildings of ANY type, you pretty much need to build a couple of Banks first. I'd prefer if that were not the case, so I'm considering reducing the cost of all NON-BANK buildings to 3/4/5/6 (instead of 3/5/7/9). This means that if you ignore Banks, the cost to build 4 Palaces (for example) is the same as the cost to build 4 Banks - in other words you could reasonably expect to build level 3 and 4 non-Bank buildings without having to invest in Banks. My big concern there is that if you DO build some banks, it might be way too easy to build level 4 Buildings of other types. Maybe that's OK?

I'm pretty happy with the reactions to this game so far, it's come a very long way in a very short time (since I finally made a board and tested it). I'm looking forward to feedback from the League of Game Makers.

Speaking of which, I gave them a copy of my prototype after BGGcon, but I've made some significant changes since then... will their feedback be helpful? YES! It will... basically, the main differences between the version they have and my current version are threefold:
* Variable and upgradable rondel
* Updated building powers
* Faction player powers

The version they have is basically what I would make the "standard" setup which players would use in their first game, before they start adding the complication of a randomized rondel.

The Faction powers are cool, but I'm not sure they're balanced, so it's very interesting to me to see feedback without using them.

The updated building powers are probably better, but in general the buildings do the same things they always did, so they support the same sorts of strategies.

I'll be sending them updated files in case they want to make new player boards and rondel pieces and try the updated game, but I'd like them to play the version they have first and see how that goes.

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