Monday, February 22, 2016

Crusaders faction powers - some new, some tried and true. With commentary. And updates.

Since I'm bored at work waiting for 80,000 more files to download (freaking DropBox... like all technology, it's good while it works, and it's a pain in the butt when it doesn't), I figured I'd think a little bit about my games. Most recently I made some updates to Crusaders, modifying the board (2p, as well as 3-4p), and inventing 8 more faction powers to try out.

Yesterday I got a chance to play a 2p game, on the new version of the 2p board, and I took the opportunity to try 2 of the brand new, as-yet untested faction powers. I think that game went OK in general, but it'll take a lot more testing to check the balance of all these new faction powers...

Here's a current list of all the faction powers, both old (tested) and new (untested), with some of my thoughts on each:

After another playtest and some more thinking, I'm going to interject with red italic text. For production/art cost reasons I might want to stick to 10 Faction powers, in which case I'll be choosing the best/favorite 10 of the 18 I've currently got, so I'll mention here which ones might or might not make the final cut.

The Knights Teutonic
You may distribute Action cubes either clockwise or counterclockwise (as opposed to the usual clockwise).

This has proven to be a very popular faction power, especially among new players. I think it's a solid ability, and appropriately powerful. this kind of rondel control is what I originally had in mind when designing the game. This faction more than some of the others will interact strongly with the actual order of the Action bins on the rondel.

This is one of the original, staple abilities, and it will certainly make the final cut.

The Knights Hospitaller
Start with 11 Action cubes on your rondel. Once per turn when distributing Action cubes you may skip 1 Action bin.

I thought this would be a fun one, allowing a player to skip a bin in order to recharge another one faster, or to ignore a particular action altogether. Indeed, it's a useful ability, and proved to be strong enough that I nerfed it by removing a cube from the board. This faction has seen a lot of play, and I believe this version is appropriately powerful.

This is one of the original, staple abilities, and it will certainly make the final cut.

The Knights Templar
Start with 10 Action cubes on your rondel. Once per turn when distributing Action cubes you may place 2 cubes into the same Action bin.

Like the Hospitallers, I thought it would be fun to be able to recharge certain actions more quickly, to get people away from having to just use every action on their rondel about the same amount over the course of the game. I was correct, it is fun to do so, and this particular effect proved so strong I nerfed it by removing *2* cubes, and it still seems to hold its own.

This is one of the original, staple abilities, and it will certainly make the final cut.

The Order of Santiago
Begin with 1 rondel upgrade of your choice. When distributing cubes, you may begin with the original Action bin.

Originally this effect was "you can leave unused cubes behind" but for some reason that wasn't as clear, and really only worked if you "overpaid" for an action -- in other words, with normal "good play" you would avoid your ability altogether! So I changed it to allow you to start distributing in the original bin, which means you can recharge it faster. This didn't seem to be as strong as the other rondel control abilities, so I combined it with a rondel upgrade. This one isn't as fun as those first few, but I think it's fair and reasonable.

This one is nice because it has another way to control the rondel distribution, so at least 1 faction should have that. I'll have to figure out whether it should come with an extra cube, or a rondel upgrade, or what. I might cut the rest.

The Knights of St Lazarus
Begin the game with 2 rondel upgrades of your choice.

I thought it would be fun for a player to sort of choose their strategic path by allowing them a few upgrades. this only saves them 2 turns over the course of the game, but they get to use those upgraded bins immediately as well which is a big plus. I suspect most players will choose Travel/Build as at least one of their upgrades, as that's immediately useful, but I suppose its usefulness wears off fairly quickly if you're not pursuing a heavy building strategy.

So far this one seems to be the weakest of the original set of 10 factions. So much so that I'm considering upping it to 3 upgrades. At one point I considered simply upgrading the entire rondel, but a player suggested it would be more fun to sort of pick your upgrades to suit your strategy or play style (and I agree, though of course it'd be simpler and better to start with an entirely upgrade rondel).

Since this one seems so weak, it might not make the final cut. Or else I might give it 1 more upgrade and see if that feels any better.

The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre
-1 Travel. Begin the game with 14 Action cubes on your rondel -- place 1 additional Action cube into each Travel action bin.

Originally this faction simply started with 1 extra cube, and while that's obviously benefitial, it didn't FEEL like an ability. So I quickly made it 2 extra cubes which you could place into any 2 bins you want. Eventually I specified that the extra cubes go into the Travel bins, mostly because a new player could have a hard time deciding where to put them, but partly because this faction seemed to be a bit too strong. I played that way for quite some time, and while the Holy Sepulchre didn't win every game, it certainly seemed like the strongest faction. I wasn't sure if it was really too strong, or if it was just more straightforward. Having extra cubes on your rondel makes all of your actions a little stronger on the average, it doesn't require any further decisions to gain that benefit. On the other hand, a player with a trickier ability might not gain its full benefit due to poor play.

I have recently decided that this faction is likely too strong, so I added the "-1 Travel" drawback. Now the faction is on the average better at ll of the actions, except travel. I haven't tried it with this drawback, but I suspect it'll be OK.

This is something of a staple, so it will probably make the final cut unless it proves too strong (I haven't tried it with the -1 Travel nerf yet).

The Knights Calatrava
Start with 6 Action cubes on your rondel (1 in each Action bin). +1 Travel, +1 Muster, +1 Build, +1 Crusade, +1 Influence.

This faction is possibly my favorite. It's very tricky and hard to use well, but can be very powerful when used correctly. As such, I tend to not use it with new players, and I describe it as a sort of "advanced" faction, which shouldn't be used until you're familiar with the game.

That might be an indictment, I'm not sure I want to include a faction that could cause a bad first play (I highly suspect that many players would ignore any warning not to use it in their first game).

As my favorite, this one will probably make the final cut, though if it's truly difficult to play then maybe I ought to cut it.

The Order of Aviz
Begin with 13 Action cubes instead of 12 -- place 1 additional Action cube into the Action bin of your choice. When distributing Action cubes, you may begin with the original bin.

Similar to the Order of Santiago above, but with an extra cube instead of an upgraded rondel tile. I suspect an extra cube might be better than an upgrade, but maybe not by enough to matter.

See the Order of Santiago, above.

The Order of Alcantara
Begin with 1 rondel upgrade of your choice, and 13 Action cubes instead of 12 -- place 1 additional Action cube into the Action bin of your choice.

This faction rounded out the set of combinations of +1 cube, 1 rondel upgrade, and the "start distributing in original bin" ability. It does feel better than just 1 extra cube (of course), and so it's probably about right -- if a little boring.

This was originally a sort of filler, and now that I've invented more powers this one might not make the cut. It's somewhat boring after all.

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
+1 Travel. Begin with 1 additional Knight in play.

I came up with this one a while ago, and originally it just started with the extra Knight. It occurred to me that additional knights aren't that great without extra travel as well, so I added +1 Travel as well. Ever since I did that, I actually like this one quite a bit. Most players will find that they need to build at least 1 Castle in the early to mid game in order to be efficient enough with their actions. Once that happens, there's a strong desire to build a 2nd Castle as well to get the extra travel. Once you're 2 castles in, you're well on your way down that "tech tree" -- no matter what your chosen strategy.

This faction frees players up to sort of ignore castles and concentrate on other things if they want to.

I like this one a lot, so it will probably make the final cut.

The following factions are brand new and have not really been tested. They are less about rondel control than some of the original faction powers, and more about allowing ways to pursue particular strategies in interesting ways:

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
Begin with 1 rondel upgrade of your choice. You may treat the Influence action as if it were Build.

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
Begin with 1 rondel upgrade of your choice. You may treat the Influence action as if it were Crusade.

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
Begin with 1 rondel upgrade of your choice. You may treat the Build action as if it were Crusade.

These three factions are my response to requests from players to be able to build 2 buildings in 1 action, or crusade against 2 enemies in 1 action. I couldn't put a reason to it for a while, but I suspected that would be too powerful. I think I've figured out why... the game is largely about using your rondel efficiently -- ordering your actions so as to minimize waste cubes. Allowing players to build 2 buildings in 1 action means they need worry less about overfilling their build bin, which is counter to the sort of central puzzle of the rondel.

However, I thought that if it were really powerful, maybe it could be a faction ability. but to avoid rules questions, I addressed it by allowing the player to use one action as if it were another. Each of these three factions can do one of the following, respectively:

* Build+Build
* Muster+Crusade
* Crusade+Crusade

Because simply being able to substitute the actions like that might not be strong enough, I added a rondel upgrade, which means these players could utilize these fancy action combos right out of the gate, which I think could be pretty cool. In the 2p game I played yesterday, I had the Influence=>Crusade faction, and it was pretty fun. Hard to say about balance though.

After playing another game, I'm thinking these three could be combined into 1 Faction: "You may treat the Influence action as either Build or Crusade". I might try that next, and if it seems good then it might make the final cut.

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
Gain 1 Influence token for each unused Action cube.

This was suggested by a player. Basically, it makes up for bad logistics by paying a player 1vp per excess cube. This is similar to, but different from, just adding "/INFLUENCE" to each rondel tile -- in that case you could get a lot of bonuses from having built churches!

It could be that those bonuses would be OK, but it sounds like too much to me. If the current wording proves disappointing (because playing "well"' means dodging your ability), then I could try wording it the other way, or I could try adding a cube to the rondel or something.

I haven't tried this one yet, and it's hard to tell if it's good or bad, fun or not.

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
Choose one enemy (Prussians, Slavs, or Saracens) and mark it on this card with one of your Action cubes.
+1 Crusade against that enemy.
+1 of that Enemy toward end game bonus scoring.

This was originally going to be 3 different factions, one for each Enemy. However, I didn't want too many factions that promoted Crusade strategies, so I smooshed them together into a single card. That worked out, because I suspect the ability is pretty darn good, so losing a cube (using it to mark which enemy you "hate") is probably appropriate. Of course, that's just conjecture at the moment, I haven't played with this faction yet.

I tried this one, and it seemed interesting. More testing is needed to see if it's appropriately powerful, but I could see this making the cut.

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
You may Build where an opponent has built at a cost of +1 cube.

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I was worried that too many factions were crusade-centric, and I wanted something to help a build-heavy strategy out. One of the issues with heavy building is that the building spaces dry up pretty quickly, and by the end of the game you need to do some relatively healthy crusades in order to open up a building space. To address this, I actually tweaked the board to add a couple of spaces without enemies in them toward the right end of the board.

This faction allows you to build where another player has built -- not yourself, that seemed too easy. This way you could follow a opponents' knights around and build where they built. I thought about requiring you to build the same building that the opponent had built, or requiring it to be different, but eventually decided that the flexibility to build whatever you want would be best.

However, I didn't want to simply say "this player can build with abandon!" so I added that building over another player's building costs an extra cube. I wonder if it shouldn't cost *2* extra cubes! This faction also raises the question of whether the bonus tiles apply to the 2nd building. Historically, I've removed the tiles once a building is built in order to reduce clutter. During yesterday's game my opponent had this faction, and we decided to leave the tiles in place (and allowed the printed discounts to apply as well, like in Paris). After the game though, we both thought the tiles should in fact be removed from the board. that way there's still something of a race to get to the juicy spaces. If they are removed, then +1 cube is probably enough of a cost for overbuilding. I suppose for the same reason, maybe the discounts printed on the board shouldn't count for the overbuilder either?

Need more testing, but I like promoting a Build strategy.

Side note: I've been thinking that maybe the bonus tiles aren't potent enough... I think the 1 cube discount is probably good enough, but +1vp isn't terribly exciting. After the last game I thought maybe I'd up all the +1vps to +2 (and the +2s to +3). However I just had a potentially better idea... maybe when you build in a hex, you TAKE the tile, and count it as 1vp at the end of the game! Maybe I'll try that next time I play.

Regarding this note, I tried it and I think it might be good. Need more testing.

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
Begin with 13 Action cubes instead of 12 -- place 1 additional Action cube into the Action bin of your choice.
Leave a region containing an Enemy for 1 Travel instead of the usual 2.

I'm not sure how useful this faction really is, but it allows you the freedom to rush to the right side of the board and get the juicy building spaces very quickly. As the easier travel seems somewhat limited and not necessarily powerful I threw in an extra cube.

This one might not make the cut, but who knows -- maybe it's fun.

Haven't tried it. I suspect it's not going to make the final cut.

The Knights ________ (could use more titles!)
When you begin a crusade action, you may swap an enemy token where your knight is with an enemy token from an adjacent region.

This one sounds interesting to me. It can allow you to pursue end game majority bonuses, particular Saracen buildings, and potentially even inter-player interaction by swapping an enemy out from under them. I'm not certain how strong that is, but it seems like it's probably worth a try.

This one sounds interesting, and I'd really like to give it a try.

And now I'm down to 66,000 files downloading, and it's 6:00 pm. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to finish my work!

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