John, Steve, and I played a full 3p game of The Pony Express, and I'm happy to say that the game did work!
A few items that I want to change and other thoughts I had while playing:
* All routes need to cost a minimum of 1... irrespective of discounts. I think that's fine, I can just say that you can discount the route to a minimum of 1. No big deal there. Of course, the Guide could theoretically still reduce a route to 0, but that also means you necessarily get 2 turns in a row... I could just as easily have the Guide reduce the cost to 1 instead of 0, and that would be fine.
* I should clarify "dropping" items vs "discarding" them. When something is "discarded" it is removed from the board, and effectively the game. When a player has too many items, they need to "drop" one, which means put it into their current town.
* I currently have 5 Maps in the Auction deck. Each of these maps gives you -1 to each of 2 cities. I like them, but as soon as someone got 1 it occurred to me that I had to determine whether it counts against their item limit. I said it did. That seemed fine. Ok, so suppose you drop 1 to make space for something else... does the map card go into the town to be picked up later? Or is that weird because it's physically a card?
I could make 5 tiles that match those maps, and when you claim that map card then you grab that particular tile, but that's 2 components to do the job of 1.
I could say that THOSE maps are different, and when you drop them, they are discarded, but then they act differently than other maps. is that OK? You already get them in a different way than other maps.
And finally, I could say that the map cards do not count against your item limit... again, acting different than other maps. is that OK? you get them differently, and they LOOK different, so maybe that's acceptable.
One other thing that happened - a player was at item capacity, and claimed a map card in the auction phase.So what happens? I had him drop an item in the Post office space, and allowed the next player to pick it up on the way out, which is all kinds of weird and unintuitive.
Not sure which way I'll go on that one yet.
* I am strongly considering adding a rule that you can only have 1 copy of any given item. Steve had 2 Compasses, so he got -2 to each route. Thematically it doesn't make much sense that a 2nd compass would help you any... or a 2nd map to the same town for that matter. Perhaps the map could be excused, but I think overall I should limit players to 1 item of each title.
* Currently, Tumbleweeds are simply non-hazards. Steve had a suggestion that instead, when drawing a Tumbleweed for a route, it could mean you discard the Hazards on that route. Where there used to be something, now there's nothing but a tumbleweed.
If I try that, then I'd reduce the number of tumbleweeds WAY down (currently they're the most common tile). Instead of 9 of them, I might want 2. Though thematically, it's weird that a winding trail or a river crossing disappears. Then again, it's a little weird that a river crossing appears out of nowhere anyway.
* John suggested that I stage the hazards and items, or at the very least, identify some of them to come out in setup to make sure they are at last in play. For example, I could make sure at least 1 Peacemaker is in play in the first round, so that a player could go for it in order to deal with Bandits.
In that case I suppose I could make all the winding trails and river crossings show up at the beginning (you just didn't know about them at first), which might be more thematic.
* I have been worrying about how to do tiebreaks if multiple players claim at the same time in the auction. I think the way to go is to say that turn order is the tiebreak, but that only applies if you actually speak up at the same time. If you're player 1 and I'm player 2, and I speak up before you do, then you can't say "oh, wait, I'll take it for that amount" - but if we both speak up at the same time, then your turn order means you win the tie.
Overall I think it was pretty good. I will make some of these tweaks before trying it again, but I think it's definitely got potential. I still think I'll look into Dan's idea to make a board with 2 Post Offices, one in Missouri and the other in Sacramento or something like that.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
John, Steve, and I played a full 3p game of The Pony Express, and I'm happy to say that the game did work!
After fiddling with the physical prototype components and showing the game off to my friend Dan Keltner (co-designer of Isle of Trains and Bomb Squad), I decided that (a) I absolutely needed a larger board... probably more towns, but definitely bigger dimensions, and (b) my silly turn order idea wasn't likely to work out exactly right. So I made some changes to the plan, and printed a much larger board to try. Here are the rules I wrote down for the first version of The Pony Express that I'll actually play:
The Pony Express
by Seth Jaffee … v1.1 12/27/14
- 5 Rider figures (1 per player)
- 5 Travel markers (1 per player)
- 1 Game board with Travel and Turn Order tracks
- 60 Money tokens (15@5vp, 45@1vp)
- 45 Auction cards
- ...40 Parcels (4 per Town)
- ...5 Map cards (-1 to each of 2 towns)
- 36 Hazard tiles
- ...9 Tumbleweeds (+0)
- ...9 Rattlesnakes (+1 unless you have Torch)
- ...5 Bears (+2, killed by Shotgun)
- ...5 Bandits (+3 unless you have Peacemaker, killed by Shotgun)
- ...4 Lost! (+2 or discard a map)
- ...4 River Crossing (+2)
- 44 Item tiles
- ...10 Maps (-2 to a particular town)
- ...4 Guides (discard to pay for a route)
- ...4 Tips (Collect $3)
- ...4 Parcels (Draw a Parcel card and collect $5)
- ...4 Shotgun (Discard to kill Bear or Bandits)
- ...3 Torch (Ignore Rattlesnakes)
- ...3 Spurs (-1 if no Hazard)
- ...3 Saddlebag (Hold +2 Items)
- ...3 Saloon (Must take, discard immediately)
- ...2 Peacemaker (Ignore Bandits)
- ...2 Compass (-1 per route)
- ...2 Canteen (-2 on 2-cost routes)
- Each player receives the following in their player color:
- ...1 Rider figure (place at Post Office)
- ...1 Travel marker (place near Travel track)
- Place the board in the center of the play area.
- Shuffle the Auction cards.
- Shuffle the Item tiles face down beside the board and place 2 of them in each Town.
- Shuffle the Hazard tiles face down beside the board.
- In random order, each player places their Rider onto the Turn Order track.
- Place the Money tokens in a supply pile.
- You are ready to begin!
- Deal each player 1 Auction card from the deck. This will be a Parcel you must deliver, or it will be a Map card which will help you ride more efficiently in the Delivery phase.
- Turn 2 Auction cards face up for each player in the game. In turn order, according to the Turn Order track, players will take turns being the Auctioneer.
- The Auctioneer chooses one of the face up Auction cards and collects $10.
- The Auctioneer will then start counting slowly upwards from $3 (“$3… $4… $5… $6…”) until they get to $10, or until another player claims the card.
- If another player claims the card, give them the card, as well as the money according to the last amount you announced. You keep the rest. Example: Dan chooses a Parcel bound for Town #3 and collects $10. After counting to $6, Seth says “I’ll take it for $6!” Dan gives Seth the Parcel as well as $6 of the $10, he keeps the rest.
- If nobody claims the card before you get to $10, then you keep the card – you are responsible for delivering it.
- The next player in turn order becomes the Auctioneer, and another card is selected.
After 3 rounds of Auction and Delivery, the game is over. The player with the most money is the winner.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
I have put a little more thought into the recent ideas I had for a game about the Pony Express. Here's how the skeleton is shaping up...
I will need a game board, so because that's generally my weak suite I once again I went to Twitter to crowd source one. John Lonnie came through again with a nice image that will serve well as a basis for a game board. I had asked for something with 10 towns plus the post office, and he sent me this awesome looking map:
I've sketched out some trails between the towns, and I'm starting to think I might need more towns in the game. But that remains to be seen - for now I'm going to stick with 10.
Each trail will have a "cost" associated with it - what you pay to traverse that trail. The game will be about making deliveries for money, and the rider who profits the most will win the game.
Set out the game board and draw 2 Item tiles per town. These items will be available to pick up during the game, and they will give you benefits such as discounts on routes.
Each player will be dealt 1 Parcel card, and then 2 more parcel cards per player will be laid out face up to be auctioned off. The player with the least money (recorded on a Money track around the board) will be the Auctioneer, and will choose 1 Parcel card to auction off. The Auctioneer will also be given $10.
Starting at the minimum bid ($3 or $4), the Auctioneer will count up ("$3... $4... $5... $6...) until another player speaks up and claims the delivery ("I'll take it for $6!") The Auctioneer will give that player the Parcel card, as well as $6 (out of the $10 they received). The Auctioneer gets to keep the rest. If nobody claims the Parcel by the time the Auctioneer gets to $10, then the Auctioneer must keep the Parcel - they are now responsible to deliver it, but they also get to keep the $10 they received. Again, the player with the least money becomes the Auctioneer, and this process is repeated until all Parcel cards have been auctioned off.
After all of the Parcels have been claimed by riders, we move to the delivery phase. Before any deliveries are made, a Hazard tile is drawn and placed on each trail. Hazards are things that make the trails more "dangerous" - and therefore more expensive to take. Some hazards will be negated by certain items.
In this phase of the game, the player with the MOST money will be on turn. On your turn in the delivery phase, you move your rider from one town to the next, paying the cost of the trail in between, as well as any penalties from hazards or bonuses from items. When arriving at a town, you make your delivery (if you have a Parcel for that town), and you may take 1 of the Item tokens at that town. Or maybe you must either do one or the other - I'm not sure about that yet.
I'm thinking a rider should have a maximum number of items they can carry, so if they get too many, they'll have to discard down, or leave an item at a town perhaps. Then there can be an item (saddlebags) that increases the number of items they can hold.
Once all riders have returned to the Post Office, having delivered all of their Parcels, then the next round begins. I'm thinking 3 rounds, 10 towns, therefore I'll need:
The game will be over after maybe 3 rounds, and the player with the most money remaining will be the winner!
Monday, December 22, 2014
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 WorksDave, 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 DoneLately 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!
Sunday, December 14, 2014
I sent my prototype of The Knights Templar home with members of The League of Game Makers - a design group out of southern California, and I heard tell that they may have played it today... I eagerly await their feedback!
In the meantime, I had a couple of friends over today and played two 4p games back to back, with all the latest tweaks, including a brand new Enemy track indicating the strength of each enemy... one Enemy grows in strength (though I flattened the curve at the high end), another is a standard 6 strength all game long, and the third starts out very strong and gets weaker as people defeat them.
I'm not 100% convinced that the "discount of 1 for indicated buildings" is the BEST way to do it, but it seemed to work alright. As expected, each players first turn was "Build one of the 2 buildings I get a discount for" - which makes me wonder if I shouldn't just tell people to start by placing one of those buildings into play. But we did start by building 3 different buildings, and the tweaks led to a lot more early building.
In the first game, John and I both went or a heavy Build/Influence strategy, though I seemed to do a better job of it than he did. Dave went all-out Crusading. I ended up winning the game, beating Dave by about 20 points, but I'm pretty sure that with 3 potential Influence spaces (looking at all the upgradable spaces), the Level 3 Church ("+1 Influence per cube") might be a little too powerful: I got AT LEAST 15, maybe more like 20 points off of that building itself. If that were merely "+1 Influence" then it only would have been 4 or 5 points instead, making the scores very similar between the Build/Influence strategy and the Crusade/Build strategy.
In the second game I nerfed the Level 3 Church (down to "+1 Influence"), but it didn't matter much as nobody really pursued an Influence strategy anyway. In that game I made another adjustment, reducing the costs of the non-bank buildings to 3/4/5/6 rather than 3/5/7/9 (as I discussed in my last post). This way I hoped that a player could get to the high end of the Building tracks without being FORCED to build Banks. I went all out on Farms, mustering Troops, and Palaces, hoping to crusade a lot, but I stumbled a bit in the early game, and didn't really do as much crusading as I would have liked. Dave on the other hand managed to completely dominate the board, Crusading like crazy, building lots of buildings far from Paris. He managed 135 points while the rest of us had 80-90 points.
I'm starting to get some data on the faction abilities and their relative strengths:
* The Knights Templar (drop 2 cubes into 1 bin) seems to be very strong
* The Knights Hospitaller (skip a bin) seems very useful, though not too strong so far
* The Knights Teutonic (distribute either direction) seems good when using a bin with few tokens in it, but less useful when doing large actions - which I htink is probably fine.
* The Knights of St Lazarus (start with 1 upgrade) seems pretty weak, I might make that 2 upgrades or something.
* The Order of Santiago (may leave unused cubes behind) sounds like it could be very strong, but I haven't seen it in action enough to make a determination.
* The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre (start with 13 action tokens) FEELS weak/boring, but it's hard to quantify its power. I had this one in the 1st game, when I won.
The "discount" thing on the starting spaces kinda kills the obvious benefit of The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, who could otherwise build on turn 1 when noone else could. I might combine that faction with Lazarus, allowing a player to stat with an extra cube AND an upgraded space, or I might let the Holy Sepulchre start with *2* extra cubes, and Lazarus start with *2* (or more?) upgraded spaces. For example, would it be broken to start with ALL of the action bins upgraded?
Things to try/keep trying:
* The Knights of St Lazarus: either "all bins upgraded" (or maybe "swap the order of 2 action bins, and upgrade 1 (2?) action bins, or something like that).
* The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre: Start with 2 extra Action cubes.
* Somehow weaken The Knights Templar maybe? Limit the ability somehow?
* Non-bank buildings cost 3/4/5/6
* Recalculate strength of all buildings (especially with new costs, above)
* Make the higher cost troops better (+2 Crusade, add vp)
Sunday, December 07, 2014
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.
Saturday I had a great test session of 2 of my games. One of them was an old favorite I've been posting about recently... Odysseus: Winds of Fate.
This game has eluded me for years. I've always loved the story of it, and I like the structure, but for some reason I have simply not been able to find a configuration of rules that I'm really happy with. This specific game of O:WoF wasn't technically the best play ever, but it was informative, and I think with some simple tweaks I'm finally at a point where I'm happy with the game!
Today I made those tweaks, and I'm excited for the next playtest - I expect it to go much better than previous tests. This month is usually a good one for game design, as holiday season brings friends home from out of town, and people on breaks from work means it's more likely I can get playtests in. I'm excite and hopeful to see how the latest and greatest version of Winds of Fate plays out.
Mind you it's not quite done... I think the biggest issue left is that there's too much process involved. I've tried to make the steps as simple as possible to follow, but I noticed today that even I was forgetting things in the latest playtest! I'd like to clean that up some, and make the game a bit more streamlined, but without losing any of the major pieces. I might be able to address this to an extent by setting expectations. Maybe this game is more like a What's Your Game game (somewhat fiddly rules, but they make sense in the end) than it is a normal TMG game (streamlined process, fewer fiddly rules). That's probably OK, but if people are expecting a simple, streamlined game, then they might not enjoy their first play as much... so maybe I need to find a way to set expectations properly.
In the meantime, here are some photos of the updated prototype, and a link to the latest rules.
Set up for a 4 player game: