Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What a difference a month makes... Deities & Demigods playtest, new version

A whole month ago at Game Design Attack #4 I had a test play of Deities & Demigods. I posted some notes after that play and updated my prototype, but never got the game back to the table... until tonight.

I've been very busy with Chimera Station, which will be on Kickstarter later this year, so I haven't been playing much in the way of other prototypes, but tonight I finally got back to D&D. For starters, I can officially say that lesson #1 is this: Don't let a month go by between playtests!

I rushed home from work to get my table cleaned up and get the game set up. I remember basically how the game is played, and I had a vague idea of the changes I'd made... but as it's been a whole month since I've even thought about the game, when my players showed up I found myself floundering and reading through my marked up rules to see what we were going to be doing. It might have been even worse because these players had played an older version of this game, so they sort of remembered how to play -- but half of what they remembered is out of date!

So the start was a little shaky, and I felt dumb not to be more prepared... but once we got going things worked alright... for the most part. I did have to audible a card that I'd forgotten to update, and a rule or two that didn't jive with the new changes. But at the very least we were able to successfully finish the game.

In my last post I outlined changes I'd made to the prototype, I'll go through those here and comment on how they went in play:

* Use only 4 boards (at all player counts).
I did use 4 boards, and it worked pretty well. I had a note that maybe 3 boards would be enough for a 2p game, but I guess I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.

* Put 2 cities and 1 quest on each city board (2 quests and 1 city on the back).
 This worked pretty well in conjunction with the previous point. This makes for 4-8 each of cities and quests. I made a note that as a rule during setup, make sure there are at least 5 of each... I think 4 would be too few.

* Rather than interacting with cities and quests from adjacent nodes, have players travel into cities or onto quest locations.
This was a little shaky because the board wasn't really designed with this in mind, but I think it worked. The players had some trouble with it, but I suspect most of their concerns could be alleviated with better graphics/presentation/explanation.

I think I'd intended for only troops to enter cities and only boats to enter the seabound quest locations, but in  practice that seemed weird (and our board setup had an isolated lake with a quest that no boat could get to), so I ruled that troops could get to the quests even in water hexes. And I'd drawn little rivers into the cities from the hex sides that were adjacent to water, so I rules that boats could enter cities, but only from where waterways were shown. After the game I drew similar land areas leading to the Quests on water hexes, but I wonder f that's going to screw things up.

* At the suggestion that a victory point for level 1 Hephaestus might be too much, I might try changing that to 1 gold (or, 1 gold per city controlled to help incentivize controlling cities in the early and mid game).
I tried "1 gold per city controlled", and maybe that happened once. I definitely would prefer "per city where you have a building" (or similar "per building you have built")... but I'm not really sure that's better than 1 VP. The designer that made the suggestion was very adamant that it need to change. He was comparing it to the level 1 abilities of the other deities, none of which score you points. But I'm not sure that's a fair comparison... I think the proper comparison would be Level 1 Hephaestus compared with higher level Hephaestus. But I will continue to try the "gold per city" thing, including the Home City which I will be instituting for the next game.
* I'm contemplating changing Hera's income to "1 gold + 1 gold per city controlled" to help incentivize controlling cities in the early and mid game.
I didn't try this, but did try it for Hephaestus level 1 (see above). I didn't like tying it to "control" of a city, might be better "per building".

I still might try upping the Hera income to "1 gold per building" as well (or instead), but that doesn't make much thematic sense, and I'm not sure if it should be both here and on Hephaestus level 1.

* I've had combat in the game from the outset because I figured it went with the theme, and I'd hoped it wouldn't be much different than area majority such as El Grande. However, I'm not a player who really likes direct confrontation in games, and I think this is not the type of game that would really go along with that kind of interaction. So I will try removing combat altogether, or at least make it expensive and rare like I did in Escalation.
I dropped the combat altogether and to be honest, nobody missed it. It had never really come up before anyway (maybe because the board was too big before).

Instead the rule is that you may pass through but not end movement on a node containing opposing units. Any number of units can co-exist in a city, and in fact control of a city is based on number of units there.

I had to change a couple of cards that dealt with combat. I changed them so they had to do with gaining or losing control of a city.

* I'm considering removing the deck of building cards, and instead allowing building tokens to count toward control of a city... it would be easy and intuitive to count control that way, just count up all of your wooden pieces in the hex. I'm not sure if I like that idea or not though, and I suppose if I didn't want buildings to count toward control, they could be punchboard tokens rather than wooden discs in the final game. It would reduce components and clutter to just cut the building deck though.
I liked the idea of cutting the building deck, but I'd want to reconfigure the bonus icons... to approximate this I just said A=D, B=E, and C=F... that part was fine, but changing the buildings like this was a big mistake.

You lose a unit to build (which I like, as it keeps Hades relevant), so making the building count toward control doesn't actually gain you anything. So without getting a building card, there's really not much incentive to build buildings over artifacts! In fact, I'm wondering if there ever really was such incentive... I think the Building Cards might be a little more powerful than the artifacts in some cases, but only in some cases, and only maybe (there ARE a number of building cards with end game bonus scoring opportunities).

If I'm going to remove the building cards, then buildings would have to be a whole lot better than they are now. But I think I want the building cards back. In addition to bringing them back, I might try counting the buildings as 2 units toward control, so they help you control a city AND they give you a powr and potentially set collection scoring. That will make them better than Artifacts for sure.

To parallel quests, maybe there should be a reward for the first player to build in a city... but what? I don't think a devotion or minimum devotion bump would make any sense. Maybe some gold? Maybe you get to place a 2nd building marker (counts as extra influence toward controlling the city)? Maybe you place the building token upside down, indicating that it's worth 3 influence instead of 2?

* If I cut the building deck, I'd have to adjust the scoring icons... instead of 4 each of 6 icons, I'd probably do 3 each of 4 icons. I could also consolidate the 12 best card effects I currently have between artifacts and buildings.
I didn't do this (see above). I would do it if I do end up ditching the building deck, but currently I think I'd like to keep it.

I suppose I could combine them into 1 deck, where a building gets you both the building marker and a card, and the artifact only gets you a card, but that might be tougher to swallow thematically.

* I keep going back and forth on the turn order track and what happens if you gain initiative and land on another player's marker. Currently you always go on the bottom of the stack, no matter which direction you were moving your counter. I might change that to top of stack if advancing and bottom of stack when losing initiative and see how that goes. I think I was trying to be consistent, and I liked always going to the bottom of the stack vs always going to the top, but maybe that consistency isn't necessary.
I did try it with top-of-stack if advancing and bottom-of-stack if descending, and I think I did like it better that way.

* I don't know if this will be necessary, but if I decide I need a fail-safe way to hard cap the game at 6 cycles, I could try this... take all the Hera cards out of the deck, and instead have a supply of 6 Hera cards. At the end of each cycle, add a Hera to the deck. When that stack of 6 runs out, that's the last cycle (6 total). The game end may trigger before that, but it would keep the max length to 6 cycles. This would make Hera come up less often in the first 2 cycles, and more often in cycles 4-6, which might actually be good to facilitate more opportunities to earn the favor of the god cards.
This is still a viable idea, but I don't know if I like it. I might try it some time. I'll note that I only really need 5 Hera cards for that, not 6... add 1 at the end of each cycle, and when there isn't one to add (after the 6th cycle), the game is over.

* With a smaller board it's possible that 4 cycles would no longer be too few, so I could even change the above idea to 5 Hera cards instead of 6 (for a maximum of 5 cycles).
Not sure about this (see above), but as I mentioned, this would only require 4 Hera cards, not 5.

Now that I have the game more fresh in my mind, and I've given those things a try, I am well armed to take the game with me to London tomorrow (er, today... in about 12 hours) and hopefully play it with some people while I'm there.

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