Monday, December 22, 2014

Crusaders - Keep on Crusadin' (also a Steam Works test)

Yesterday I had a GREAT playtest day!

5 people came over, plus myself and my roommate, and played a total of 5 games of Crusaders and 1 game of Steam Works. I'm happy to report that all of those games went exceptionally well!

Steam Works

Dave, Russell, Sean, and I played a 4p game of Steam Works, and we used the B sides of the character cards. Well, 4 of them anyway. Dave and Russell looked at the others as well and marveled at how each one was probably crazy good. They did mention that it's probably good if they're all "too good" rather than "too bad" because people will enjoy playing them more. Now to see if they're balanced!

The game went well. The scores were pretty close, with Sean (having never played before) scoring the lowest, Russell scoring next lowest, failing to accomplish what he was trying to accomplish, and Dave beating me by 9 points, while in the last round I accidentally handed him about 5 points by making a dumb play. So all in all that was pretty close, and it seemed like the characters we used were pretty fair.

I need to play some more to get more experience with all of the B characters and make sure they're well balanced! Luckily it looks like designer Alex Churchill has done a good job so far with their balance and with testing them.

Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done

Lately my main focus has been on Crusaders. Since October it has progressed very well and very rapidly to the point where I'm starting to think it might be about done!

I've been keeping some records, and the game is pretty consistently lasting about 45 minutes (3p) to an hour or so (4p). There appears to be, pretty consistently, about 27 rounds of play. One game was only 23, either because people were Influencing more heavily, or because Mandy missed marking the round a few times - probably a little bit of both ;) This is good information, and will help me determine some tweaks if I decide the game is too long, though player feedback has been that the game is a good length, both on the clock, and in terms of how much stuff you get done.

I can't say it enough, the games have been going VERY well. I've been trying to watch the power level of the Faction cards so I can tweak them. Here's what I'm currently thinking about each:

The Knights Templar
Once per turn when distributing action cubes, you may drop 2 cubes into the same bin.
This has been touted as "very strong" by several testers, and if you think about it, it does allow you to refill an empty bin in 1/2 the time. I do think this is the strongest ability, but I would like to see it exist.

I tried it with a drawback: you can only double drop if you had unused cubes ("You may use -1 cube for your action. If you do, when distributing action cubes you may drop 2 cubes into the same bin.") But I didn't like that, because it just meant I didn't use it most of the time. It certainly worked as a nerf, but I might prefer a different one...

My next thought is to allow the Knights Templar to use the ability every turn if they want, but make them sacrifice an entire Action cube (or 2!) for the game. I.e. "Begin the game with 11 (10?) Action cubes. When distributing action cubes you may drop 2 cubes into the same bin.)

The Knights Hospitaller
Once per turn when distributing action cubes, you may skip an Action bin.
This has been a universally popular ability. I don't think it's too strong, in fact I think it's about right.

For now I'll leave this one alone.

The Knights Teutonic
You may distribute action cubes clockwise or counter-clockwise
This has been used many times by any player that has it, but in the end the players often feel like it's not as strong as the Knights Hospitaller. I'm not so sure, I think it's probably on par.

For now I'll leave this one alone.

The Order of Santiago
When distributing action cubes, you may leave any number of unused cubes in their original bin.
This power sounded strong to me, but I haven't seen it used well. I'm not sure if it's just very subtle, or if it's really not that useful. But I do like the existence of the ability, so I might try buffing this Faction by either giving it another Action cube or a Rondel upgrade.

The Knights of St Lazarus
Begin the game with X Rondel upgrades.

I started with X=1, and that seemed very weak. I tried X=6 (your whole Rondel upgraded), and that seemed very strong. Yesterday I tried X=3, and that seemed OK. I might like to try X=2, though I'm pretty sure either 2 or 3 is correct.

The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre
Begin the game with X additional Action cubes.

I started out with X=1, and I wouldn't say it seemed weak, but I worried players would feel like they didn't really have an ability. I've been using X=2 now, and I think that might be the way to go.

For now I'll leave this one alone.

I might like to try another couple of Factions:
* Begin the game with 1 additional Action cube and 1 Rondel upgrade.
* Begin the game with only 6 Action cubes (1 in each bin). +1 Crusade/+1 Build/+1 Travel/+1 Muster/+1 Influence.
* Santiago power above + Extra Cube (assuming Santiago gets a Rondel upgrade)

The last thing I might want to tweak is the fiddliness of the scoring - especially the wave of Destruction at the end.

One thought is to just get rid of the Wave, but I think it serves a purpose. I don't really know how to make it more clear or better though. I am considering changing the board a bit, making the 5's on the right side of the board into 4's, and the 6's into 5's, thereby making fewer rounds of destruction, maybe simplifying the endgame bonus a little bit, and also reducing it (I think the buildings are worth a little too much).

There have been some player requests to remove the necessity to take Influence tokens every turn, but the ideas to replace it aren't really any less fiddly, so I might stick with what I've got there.

And finally, I'm not super thrilled with the game end. The game is good, and fun, but then it's like "oh, by the way the game is over." I would love a more exciting game end. Though some players have said that the dwindling pile of VP tokens gave them a feeling of pressure to get things done.

In any case, I'm stoked to play this one again! I have sent out PnP files to a couple of friends who may construct a copy over the holiday season. I'm dying to hear what they think of it!

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