Saturday, November 07, 2015

A quick Pony Express update (and a new title!)

I got a chance to play The Pony Express twice recently, with all the recent updates. The updates were pretty good, but there are some other issues I needed to address. In no particular order:

Title:
I wanted to add this to the database, but there are too many games called Pony Express. I think The Pony Express is probably too close to that, so I decided on Riders of the Pony Express.

Express deliveries and 2 parcels to each town:
I don't miss the Express Deliveries, I like just awarding a static reward for arriving early. And I haven't had any issues yet with going back to 2 cards for each town.

I may have an issue with the 5 player game, so I might go back to 3-4 for a while, at least until I'm happy with the game at that player count.

Specific additional delivery items:
I like this change a lot, and since I needed 2 more items, I added 2 more of them. The ones that go to the corner cities are worth $8, and the ones that go to the central cities are only worth $6 (I figure they're easier to deliver). So you pick these up, you're not REQUIRED to deliver them, but they sit in your inventory taking up space until you do, and you get paid upon delivery (no sneaky picking it up, then dropping it later after collecting your $$!)

Start with a Map item in each town:
I liked this change as well. Each town starts with a Map and one random item out of the predetermined starting set, though I suppose I could just make that completely random. I kinda want the torches and Saloons to come out early though. Maybe I should make the saloons permanent... that's a thought.

Face down parcel cards:
One issue that's come up in the past is the face down parcel cards. Some players feel they "force" a certain path, and I can see that... so I tried a change. Face down parcels aren't from your boss, they're like side jobs. You're not REQUIRED to deliver them each round, but they take up space in your inventory. I made player boards to help sow this - you have room for 1 face down card and 4 items (expanded from 3), and if you don't deliver your 1st face down card, then the next one takes up 2 of your item slots (this is obvious graphically). Currently I'm saying that you have to deliver them by the end of the game, but another option is to simply apply a penalty if you don't (so if it's more expensive to deliver than to take the penalty, maybe you just take the penalty).

So far I like this change, but I have to try it a few more times.

Blind bid with cards rather than count-up auction:
I've been very hesitant to try this, as I think the count-up auction is fun and tense, and was kind of the origin of the game. I keep saying I should at least TRY the blind bid to see how it goes before dismissing it outright, and I even added cards to the box to try it with. I finally gave it a shot - here's how it went.

I gave each player 3, 4 5, 6, 7, and Jack from a deck of cards (bonus points for using a deck of cards in an old west theme game, I guess). After the auctioneer selects a parcel, players each select a card to play simultaneously. The numbered cards are the amount of money that player will do the delivery for, the Jack means "no thanks." If all opponents play a Jack, then you keep the parcel for yourself (and you keep all $10).

This actually worked alright, and one player said they didn't necessarily think it was "better," but it was more like what he would expect. I need to try it a few more times, but it's possible I could include both versions in the rules - one for gamer-types who want the specificity of the blind bid, and one for casual players who prefer the count-up auction.

One thing about the count-up auction though. I needed to find a way to eliminate players jumping in with a bid prematurely, before other players are ready to begin (like before the auctioneer even starts counting). The easiest thing was to start the counting at $1, since NOBODY should be claiming at $1, and then all players know when $3 comes up - it's not perfect, but it's better than premature bidding!

Turn order specifics:
I had a weird turn order effect that had to do with the order of play reversing when time markers land in a stack, so I think I'm going to reverse that to be that when markers are in a stack, they play from bottom to top.

Also, to better represent what's going on (and to make fair races between players), I specified that you don't move from town to town - you move from town to hazard tile, then on your next turn you arrive in the town, discard any parcels, pick up an item if you like, and then move to the next hazard.

Turn Order Track:
A player at Sasquatch suggested that it would feel better if players didn't have to pay for their trip at the end. Instead of starting at $0 and going up as you travel, I could start at, say $25, and go down... then award that money when players arrive. So instead of paying $15 when you arrive at the post office, you'll just collect $10, while I collect $13 (rather than paying $12) for may shorter trip.

We're coming up on the holiday season, which means this game is almost a year old! I think it needs some more testing, but I think it's making progress!

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