Friday, August 12, 2016

Deities & Demigods update

last time I listed some tweaks I'd made but hadn't necessarily tried yet. I'll revisit those here, and then explain the further tweaks I've made since the last post.

Let me begin by saying that I really feel like the game is working well and feeling solid. I'm happy with the progress thus far, and thinking back to the original versions, it definitely feels like a much improved game.

Here are the comments I made last time (in blue italics) as well as my comments on each:

* Buildings and artifacts no longer have set collection scoring.
I kinda liked the idea of set collection scoring on buildings and artifacts, like the Exploration cards have in Goa for example. However, it may have been a little out of control (or not), and more importantly, it was annoying to have to count up so many things at the end of the game. The more interesting rewards were the ones that gave you gold, favor tokens, devotion bumps, or advances on the Zeus track. So I just replaced all the set collection icons with those, and added another: 2 Troop movement.

This was a good idea, and last night I took it one step further... with the new icon-on-city-spaces thing (see below), I decided that buildings didn't need to have icons on them. They're strong action or end game scoring bonus is good enough, and you get the icon from the city (so long as you haven't built there before).

Also, removing the icon means I can revisit the balance of Building+Artifact vs Monument for level 4 Hephaestus, which was weighted too strongly in favor o B+A over M.

One player (the immutable T.C. Petty III) suggested that Artifacts were not attractive enough, and removing icons from buildings might help that situation as well.

* Building costs vs incentive to spread out and build in different cities.
Originally, each player was allowed only 1 building per city, so if you wanted to build another building, you had to move to another city before you could do that. There was some bonus for being the first player to build in each city, to give you some incentive to race to build in the cities before anyone else did.

More recently I've tried instead allowing multiple builds in a single city, with the rule being that you pay 1 gold per building already in the city... so if you stay put and build, it'll cost you more and more. Then the incentive to spread out is cheaper building. That was OK, but I wasn't sure I liked it.

My new tweak is this... each city now has 6 spaces for buildings. 5 of them each have one of the standard icons, the ones you find on the building and artifact cards:
- Advance x2 on the Zeus track
- 2 Troop movement
- 1 Gold
- 1 Favor token
- 1 Devotion bump

The 6th space has a better version of one of those:
- 3 Zeus track
- 3 Troop movement
- 2 Gold
- 2 Favor token
- 2 Devotion bump

The idea is that the FIRST time you build a building in a city, you may choose any remaining space to build in and collect the bonus. Any further building you build in that city is placed on top of your first building marker, and earns you no additional bonus. I had intended to also keep the cost of 1 gold for each building already built, but maybe with this tweak that's unnecessary... instead of paying more, you're giving up opportunity cost of getting those bonuses.

There's incentive to spread out so you can collect more bonuses, and there's incentive to act fast as the first player to build in each city has first dibs on the better-than-usual space.

One of those icons will be marked, and when players choose their starting city they will get the marked bonus (which will be the weaker version of whichever powered up bonus is in that town).

This seemed interesting, but I have since tried another version of the idea. Currently each city has a particular icon, and different spaces have a stronger version of it. For example, 3/2/1/1 Gold, 3/2/1/1 Favor, 3/2/1/1 different devotion track bumps... I made this change in hopes that (a) players may care more about which city they go to, and (b) there might be more of a race to build in cities because a 3 icon is much better than a 1 icon. I actually wonder if it should be 4/2/1/1, so that building first feels a lot stronger than building second.

* Virtual Zeus phase in cycle #1.
I was thinking that Zeus was kind of boring in the first cycle or two of the game, so in the last couple of games I have tried starting the game with a Zeus round before drawing any cards. This way Zeus would come up twice in cycle 1, but only once in cycle 2 (unless someone added a Zeus card). I've enjoyed this, but I don't know if it's necessary or not. Especially with the possibility of starting with extra Zeus track advances from your starting city this might not be important anymore.

Yeah, this was an interesting idea, but ultimately unnecessary. I got rid of it. I think more of the Initiative track advances make initiative fights interesting enough.

* Simplifying the board to a simple hex board.
I've always enjoyed the movement rules where you move on the vertices of the hexes rather than from hex to hex. But since I made the Quests and Cities reside inside hexes, that line has blurred. Some players get a little confused by the movement rules. It's possible the troops should just move from hex to hex and NOT reside on the hex nodes after all.

This dramatically reduces the size of the board, but if I similarly reduce the amount of troop movement you get from Ares then everything should still work similarly... so instead if 3/7/11/15 troop movement, you'll only get 1/3/5/8, and instead of costing 2 troop movement to bring a troop from your supply into play, it'll only cost 1. This simplifies Ares a bit, and the lower numbers might make movement turns easier and faster to execute.

This has turned out to be a fine change. One of those "kill your darlings" moments. I had initially imagined a grand, epic scale, and moving around the nodes makes the board much larger... but in effect this is the same thing, and it's much simpler to describe and perform the actions.

Some other issues that have arisen are mostly to do with game balance  and the values of certain things such as the favor of the deities (scoring for the cards in your display). I've iterated through several versions of those. The current version is as follows, which makes the deities basically worth 1-4vp. In a couple cases if you go extreme you can get a little more out of them, but if you do then you'll be sacrificing in other scoring areas, so that's probably OK:

Zeus: 2vp per other unique deity
  ...encouraging you to get multiple different deities. This might ought to be just "per unique deity"
Hermes: 1vp for each level of devotion (cube level)
  ...encouraging you to save up devotion to Hermes, because hoarding cash wasn't really working right.
Ares: 1vp for each devotion track with increased minimum
  ...encouraging you to not only get min bumps, but to spread them out. Indirectly this rewards questing, because that's where a lot of min bumps come from.
Hephaestus: 2vp for each city where you have 2+ building markers
  ...encouraging you to build, but without necessarily moving a lot.

Another main thing I did (haven't tried it yet) was to add a cost to increasing minimum devotion. Bumping up the minimums is strong -- and I want it to be. But a double bump is proving to be VERY strong, potentially too strong. I had a few ideas to combat this, and the simplest to try is adding a cost to it. Your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd min bump on any devotion track will cost you 1, 2, and 3 Favor tokens. This means you lose a few points for specializing in a deity and taking advantage of the power that entails, and furthermore it may not be trivial to GET the favor tokens, thus increasing the demand for things that provide them (some of the artifacts for example).

I added a Favor token to the Monuments, mostly to make them compare better to Building + Artifact, but as a happy accident it means if you build a monument, you'll have a favor token to spend on the min devotion bump.

This might be awkward, and lead to things like a player doing a quest and not getting the min bump reward because he doesn't have enough tokens, but maybe that's OK. And if this cost turns out to be too high, I could try 0/1/2 tokens instead.

Other potential schemes to combat this dynamic (in case the cost doesn't pan out):
* Only allow 1 min bump per track total (I don't like this because there are plenty of min bumps to go around, and I feel like everyone will just "specialize" in everything)
* Increase the length of the tracks (to 5, probably). this might mean also changing the cost for showing devotion to 0/1/3/6 for 1/2/3/4 bumps, which could be OK, but I might miss the tension of being broke and therefore having to resolve a deity prematurely because you managed gold poorly. Maybe that's OK though, you'd still have the "increase devotion or cash it in" decision, which is the meat of the game.

The other main thing I've been concerned about is duration. Currently the game feels fine when it lasts 4 or 5 cycles, but if it goes on to 6 cycles, I feel like it's dragging and overstaying its welcome. So I need some way to ensure it ends after 5 cycles, but arbitrarily doing so is lame. I'm going to try ending after 5 cycles at most, and the game could end early if the triggers occur, and I've got some ideas to spice that up a bit perhaps, which involve re-introducing Hera as a sort of game timer.

Related, I'd like to see control of cities play a bigger role in the midgame, which could come into play via this Hera scheme. I've got a few ideas of how to implement her rolling around, and I'll let you know which I decide sounds best, or which I end up trying out.

That's about it for now. Looking forward to trying the game again!