Monday, August 31, 2015

Suburban Sprawl Submitted (Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Dexterity Challenge)!

Recently I posted about the Dexterity Challenge being put on by Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Games. In short, I had an idea for a dexterity based city building game where you toss buildings into play, and depending on what lands where, you score points... I imagined interactions such as "people don't want to live by factories, so there's a disincentive to put Industrial buildings near Residential buildings" and "Commercial buildings are better off near lots of Residentials, because then people will shop there."

Soon after that post went up, I was contacted by designer Matthew Dunstan (Relic Runners, Empire Engine, Elysium), who said the idea really struck a chord with him. He even asked if I wanted a co-designer on the project... "why not?" I thought - I like co-designing!

With Matthew on board, we iterated through 2 titles, 3 major revisions, and several versions of each revision. Each major revision was better than the last, and today as I sent in the submission email, I'm happy with where the game ended up. I'm not sure if it'll win the contest, but one of the initial design constraints I put myself under was to make the game fit Dice Hate Me's Rabbit line - the small box line of games in which Isle of Trains is a member. So Suburban Sprawl is merely 56 cards, and optional score sheets!

Here's a short description of the game:

Wish us luck!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Odysseus: Winds of Fate - 5p playtest with recent changes

Last night I had some players over to playtest - and I think these players are down to become a regular playtest group! I'm really excited about that. They're great, enthusiastic players who are willing and eager to play prototypes.

Playtest Night!

Last night we began with a game of Now Boarding while we waited for everyone to arrive. That game went alright, but it will need some ore testing to determine whether it's "just ok" or if it can be a great co-op game worthy of publication.

Odysseus: Winds of Fate

Once everyone arrived, I got out Odysseus: Winds of Fate because I really wanted to try it out with the recent changes I made to the prototype. I was a little unhappy with how fiddly the game is to explain, and I worry that that's a symptom of a bigger problem (that the game is too fiddly)... some of the players didn't fully grasp what was going on at first, though by about 1/2 way through I think everyone knew what was happening.

New cards - Adventure vs God tile
The new cards with an inverse relationship between Adventure value and God icons worked very well. I'm not sure why I didn't try that sooner - hopefully the answer isn't some dumb reason like I was too lazy to update the prototype!

Claim Rewards In Reverse Turn Order

I tried claiming rewards upon passing, so in reverse turn order, and that seemed to work well too. I liked the sound of removing the consolation to make the game less fiddly, but worried that card flow would be too low. In a moment of weakness I decided to try this: when passing, you claim a reward token, then EITHER take the reward OR you get your consolation based on passing order. I regretted this almost immediately. At first I felt like there was not enough card recharge... in the end that turned out to be not necessarily true, players were able to get cards if they wanted them most of the time, at the expense of the reward on the tile sometimes. The problem was more that players were OFTEN  choosing the consolation over the reward! This could mean a couple of things... maybe the consolation is too high,  maybe the rewards are too small. Either way, it was not fun to have to ignore all the interesting reward effects! I absolutely want to go back to getting BOTH the reward and the consolation - though it's possible that the strength of each of those may be off.

Extra Consolation If Passing Off The Bat

I forgot to include something that might be good... If you pass without having played any cards at all, I might like to award 1 additional card. This is a small thing, and may not be strictly necessary, but I like it for players who have spent all their cards to be able to recharge better. Then again, now that you get first pick of the rewards, maybe that's not necessary after all.

More God Tiles

I doubled up on the god tiles at each location. Actually, I didn't make more Zeus tiles, but I probably should have... The idea was to get more god tiles into the game, because I felt like players weren't getting enough of them. So at each location I had 2 tiles, and I awarded 1st choice to the player who played the most god icons, and 2nd choice to th player with 2nd most icons.

Of course, almost immediately I ran into the question of what happens on a tie. I had said "whoever played fewer cards wins the tie," but realistically that will often just leads to another tie. To solve that, I had the bright idea to add a unique index number to each card, and say that "the tied player who played the card with the highest index wins the tie," and then I painstakingly added a number from 1 to 72 on each card - numbering from high value to low (so the cards that fight for the god tile are better for tiebreaks on the god tile), swapping back and forth from Hinder to Help cards, trying to keep it fairly even. About 4 cards in I started saying to myself "you know, I should just break the ties based on turn order instead." I wrote all the damn indexes, so I'll try that next time, but I highly suspect I'll switch to simply breaking the tie in favor of the player earlier in turn order (the player who stuck in longer for this particular fight).

Destiny and Timeline Payoffs

I've been consternated about the payoffs for the Destiny and Timeline bets for some time. This time I tried using all of the cubes on the respective tracks, PLUS 1 cube per player, as the total prize pool for the bet, divided evenly between qualifying shares (you still get 2 shares for being exactly right on the Timeline bet, and 1 share for being off by 1). That seemed to work out, and I'll try it again next time.

I've been noticing that Safe Return seems to be less common, while most games end with a Dead or Stranded result. Most times Odysseus ends up in the "death spiral" - which may account for this discrepancy in destiny results. After the last few tests I've been thinking that when Odysseus encounters a face down tile, rather than a calculable outcome, I should just draw an Olympus card and let the gods choose which direction to send him. This would also allow for another of effect trigger, getting more god action in the game, and maybe this would remove the tendency toward the death spiral (though it could potentially still happen). I'll try that next time.

Next Test

I look forward to playing the game again. I've signed up to run it at the upcoming UnPub Mini AZ on August 29th, though I'd love to play it again before that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Now Boarding - revisited

Two years ago I posted the rules to a game that Tim Fowers and I designed at Game Design Attack #1: Now Boarding.

Now Boarding is a cooperative optimization puzzle with time pressure for 3-4 players. Each player controls an international hub and nearby city airports, and together you must usher randomly drawn passengers to their destinations before they lose too much patience. This goal gets harder and harder each day as more cities enter play and more passengers come through your airports. In order to help achieve the goal, you'll need to build up your infrastructure, buying new planes and gates, upgrading local airports to hubs, and buying concession stands to keep passengers happy during layovers.

Tim and I discussed, designed, prototyped, playtested, and iterated on Now boarding at Game Design Attack #1, and later we made nicer prototypes. Unfortunately, my nice prototype fell victim to a robbery where the thieves took nothing but a duffle bag full of game prototypes - worthless to them, but invluable to me :(

Last weekend I finally got around to re-creating a prototype of the game, and I hope to play it tomorrow night. The latest changes (from September 2013) involved concentrating the time pressure on the Departure step of the turn, the step where all the puzzle-solving decisions are made, and leaving the bookkeeping parts of the turn off the clock. I think that sounds like a good idea, though I remember some of my friends (Mandy and Russell, who really like co-op games) wanted to get rid of the time pressure altogether - they just wanted to solve the logistical puzzle together. I think it's more fun with time pressure, as the puzzle itself isn't terribly complex. Perhaps the untimed version could be "easy mode," while to make it harder you could impose a time limit on the Departures step.

I've updated the Now Boarding rules accordingly. I'm sure I'll post after tomorrow's session if I get a chance to play this game. Also on the docket is the latest version of Alter Ego (with simultaneous play), so maybe it'll be a co-op night... though I'd really like to get Odysseus: Winds of Fate to the table as well now that I've finally updated my prototype.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Winds of Update...

I've been meaning to make a Winds of Fate update, so I figured I'd post here so I don't forget by the time I get around to it.

My latest thought is to give the Adventure cards cards two different values, one value for the adventure (as they have now), and a separate value for competing for the God tile. Of course I'll set them up so that if you're play is strong toward the god tile, then you're automatically weak for the adventure... if you want to score off the God tile, then you are probably giving up control of Odysseus' destiny. Or if you care about the outcome of the adventure, then you're probably not winning the God tile.

This solves one problem, however it doesn't solve the other... In both cases you're encouraged to stay in the adventure. No matter what you're just basically playing cards to get the bigger prizes.

I have a potential fix for that. Currently the structure is that you play cards until you want to bail (either because you are out of cards, or you don't care to play any more), and when you bail you get a "Consolation" of cards and/or points. The earlier you bail, the more cards you get back to make you stronger in future adventures. the later you bail, the fewer cards you get, but the more points you get, and the better reward tiles...

The fix I've been meaning to try is drafting the reward tiles in REVERSE turn order rather than the new turn order. Specifically, when you bail you draft a reward tile right then. So if you stay in, you're fighting for either control of the path, or for the god tile, at the cost of better rewards.

In fact, this could remove the consolation altogether. I worry a little about card recharge not being enough, but maybe players can draw a couple cards as a standard, or I could make more card rewards, or players could opt for cards in lieu of the reward (so if you spend more cards and stay in longer, then you get a lesser reward, you might just take cards instead).

I just wanted to get this down so I don't forget it. hopefully soon I'll get around to updating the prototype.

Edit: I have updated my prototype, and I hope to play by this time next week.