Last night at out local Gamesmiths meetup I managed to get Pony Express to the able for the 5th time, this time with 5 players. As yet I haven't played with that many. Since playtest #4 I added town #6 to the board, and I inflated the route costs (2's became 3's and 1's became 2's) .
One thing I'll say is that with 5 players, the game took a LONG time. I'm fairly certain that's a product of the number of players - not some fatal flaw. However I'd really like this game to clock in at about an hour, not the 100+ minutes it took us last night.
As for the changes, I think I liked the inflated route costs. They seemed to do the job they were meant to do in that they differentiated the amount of money players were paying to travel. I had hoped that it would also mean that when a count up auction gets up to 8 or 9, there's a realistic chance the Auctioneer will actually get stuck with the parcel for $10. So far when the auction gets that high, it's worth just about anybody's time to claim the delivery. In fact, in last night's game Matthew proclaimed "Nine dollars? I'll FIND a way to do it for $9."
After last night's playtest, I'm pretty sure I need more towns, and more routes. The game worked alright, but with the new board there just aren't that many distinct paths from one post office to the other, and it was suggested that more routes would lead to more possible paths, and therefore better route planning.
On that note, it was also suggested that there ought to be more instances of the routes changing DURING the delivery phase. The Shotgun and Guide sort of do this, but for the most part once the hazards have been drawn, you know your route, and it's just a matter of waiting for your turn to take the next step on it.
I feel like there are 2 ways to address that...
1) View the delivery phase as simply a resolution of the route building done in the Auction phase. In this case the fancy turn order mechanism from Thebes/Glen More/Olympos is probably inappropriate and should be cut. I'm not entirely sure how to resolve the routes, but in this case it should be quick and simple.
2) Keep the turn order mechanism, which I like, and somehow make it matter more - find a way to make the routes change during the delivery phase so players need to reconsider their path choices turn-to-turn.
Of the two options, I prefer the 2nd one, because I really do like that turn mechanism, and I think it works well here. I'd also like the game to be about more than just the count-up auction.
I think for my next playetest I'm going to try going overboard the other way and just see how it feels - I'll mock up a new board with 12 cities in a 3x4 grid, horizontal and vertical routes at 2 cost, diagonal routes at 3 cost, and at most 1 hazard per route instead of 2 (to keep clutter down). I think
But how to make routes change in cost over the course of the delivery phase? Maybe a "Mystery" hazard where as soon as a player crosses it, it gets replaced by a new draw? I wouldn't want too many of those, as I want players to be able to plan.
Maybe more random package deliveries like I have?
Maybe just more shotguns and bears?
For example, towns could have 2 states - good weather / bad weather - and some way to toggle back and forth between them. There could be Rain (raindrop icon) and Snow (snowflake), each adding 1 to the route cost of any route to that town... and there could be items to help with each (Stetson lets you ignore Rain, Poncho lets you ignore Snow). But how to trigger that toggle?
I'm open to ideas... leave a comment if anything strikes you!