Thursday, October 20, 2016

Essen interview with Würfel Reviews - role of the developer, among other things

One of the things I enjoyed most at Essen this year was an in-depth interview I did with Würfel Reviews about the role of the developer, as well as a bunch of other topics. It's about 45 minutes long, but I watched it and I am pretty sure I didn't sound too foolish! :)

Actually, I think it's pretty good, with a lot of good information in there. And I got to tell several good stories :) 

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Deities & Demigods playtests at Essen 2016!

I managed to get not 1, not 2, but 3 whole playtests of D&D in at Essen 2016! Well, 2.8 at least...

First off, I went to Motel One on Thursday night and joined the UK Playtest meetup. I mainly went there to connect with Matthew and maybe play D&D with him, but he was late, and the person herding cats got 3 players sent my way to play! I sat out to facilitate, since the playtesting round was only  hour long, and we had to do rules... we made it through 4 (out of 5) cycles and got some commentary afterward. 2 of the players seemed to grok the mechanics, and went about their business. One player had a really rough time grokking the rules, got nothing done, and predictably complained at the end that there wasn't enough time to do anything.

We used the recent Hera's Spite rule that when Hera arrives, players either sacrifice the demanded item or else take a Spite token. If they sacrifice twice, they can discard a spite token. Like previous versions of Hera, I think this just served to slow the players' progress without any real benefit.

Matthew arrived near the end of that game, and we got to talking, and ended up playing a 2p game of D&D, trying the same Hera rule. After that we both agreed that maybe Hera just isn't necessary at all. We also discussed changing movement to simply be 1-troop-1-hex rather than the whole Army thing (moving multiple troops at once), to make the rule easier to understand. We also talked a little bit about "terrain" meaning both some stuff to make movement more costly, but also some beneficial things such as a gold mone, and whenever you step on it, maybe you get 1 gold.

A couple of days later Matthew and I had a scheduled meeting to play D&D, so we played another game, this time with Andy as well, who had played only once before. This version is much improved from the one Andy played last year at BGGcon, but beyond that he didn't have much in the way of comment.

We played without Hera this time, and just counted cycles - neither of us missed her. So yet again, Hera has been cut from the game! Maybe she can come back as another expansion module, where you simply reckon her scoring condition at the end of each cycle.

In discussion afterwards I think we may have agreed that terrain may not be necessary after all. We did change to the simpler Ares movement, and added 2 to each level of Ares so as not to remove overall movement from the game, and frankly the added movement wasn't necessary. Next time I'll try without adding any movement, and if that seems too tight maybe I'll try adding just 1 movement instead. 2 was way too much.

We talked a little about theme, as Andy pointed out that Oracle of Delphi would share a description almost entirely, and especially where it comes to god tracks where you increment them until you eventually use their ability and reset them. of course, the two games are nothing alike, but it might be nice to avoid that conflation. Andy and Matthew suggested Norse gods, or Egyptian ones. I don't know if I have the impetus to make that change though, as I like the Greek theme, and by the time this comes out, people will likely have moved on from Oracle of Delphi anyway (or even better, this might re-invigorate sales of that title) :)

I would still like to get some player powers worked in, since players ted to expect those nowadays. I think I have a few already, but I'd like at last 4 different ones, and possibly more like 6 or 8.

As a minor note (and I say this mostly to remind myself), I think I'll add like 3 more troops per player to the game. Also, instead of placing a disc when you do a quest, maybe you should just lie your troop down, thereby losing it for the rest of the game. I think that could be good, and now that the number of discs remaining isn't a game end timer, there's no need for them to mark both quests and buildings.

I feel like this one is in the home stretch, so to speak!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Essen 2016!

As I sit here, in a SUBWAY Cafe in Atlanta International airport, entering the 2nd hour of 6 hour layover waiting to board a plane to Dusseldorf, I am trying to remember whether this is the 4th or the 5th time I've been to Essen.

A quick perusal of my blog indicates that the first trip was in 2012 - Michael and I went on what I described as a 'scouting mission', and at the time I had envisioned potentially returning to the big show to man a booth, much like we do at GenCon.

If memory serves, we skipped 2013, but returned to Essen in 2014, this time with Mischa. We did not have our own booth, and in retrospect I am pretty happy with that decision. Instead we scheduled meetings with various european designers, publishers, and distributors about partnerships and the like.

In 2015, Michael decided he didn't need to be at Essen himself, and that he much preferred Tokyo. So while he has now attended Tokyo Game Market a few times (making great friends and partners, and picking up great titles such as Flip City, Yokohama, and Ars Alchimia, to name just a few), Mischa, Daniel, Andy, and took on Essen by ourselves. And a bit more organized this time. Daniel and Mischa filled their schedules with business meetings with partners (for both incoming and outgoing licenses), while Andy and I spent our time taking pitches from designers and checking out new releases for potential licensing.

This year will be pretty much the same I think. Andy and I will be taking pitches and checking out new releases (that reminds me, I'm supposed to be identifying potential titles to pick up!), while Daniel and Mischa again maintain existing foreign partnerships and forge new ones.

Unfortunately, I haven't had the bandwidth to really get excited about any new offerings... the only one I can think of offhand that I'd like to try, The Great Western Trail by Alexander Phister, is already picked up for US market by Stronghold Games. Lucky for me, W. Eric Martin puts together a terrific list of all the new releases each year, and Richard Ham (a celebrity in the game review space who has similar tastes to mine) maintains a list of his games of interest, and recently posted a 3 hour podcast discussing the games and expansions of interest to him. I've already listened to most of that podcast, but in a minute I'll be diving into both of those resources and looking for potential TMG pickups, as well as stuff I might like to check out for myself.

I'm curious to see how Essen goes this year, and whether I am going to think it's worth it for me to go, or if I'll do what Mike did and start opting out of the trip in future years. Last year we only signed 1 title from those pitches (though Guilds of London has been a successful title thus far), though it's refreshing to see designs from European designers - they seem different from the pitches we see at GenCon.

Side note: A further inspection of those blog posts have reminded me that I did not think to bring my Camelback this year. Drat. Fortunately I seem to recall water being more available last year than it had been in the past.

Deities & Demigods update

I haven't been posting as often lately, nor have I gotten in as many playtests of Deities & Demigods as I'd like (though apparently I've been testing more frequently than Matthew... I haven't heard from him in a couple of versions now!). However, I HAVE gotten some plays in, and I've learned a thing or two about the recent tweaks and proposed changes. Here's what's come up in the last few plays, using the last blog post as a point of reference:

1. Building reward icons in cities
I have been playing with the most recent versionI described, and I think I like it. Each city has a particular reward, and when you build you get 3/2/1/1 of it. At the start of the game (in reverse turn order) you select a starting city and place your marker on the LOWEST reward space and collect that reward. However, when building in a city where you already have a marker, you stack atop your other marker and collect no additional icons, whereas if you Ares over to another city first, then building allows you to collect the highest remaining reward icon.

For now I'm keeping this version of the rule, because it seems to be working well. It also means the buildings have no icons printed on them, just a big effect or endgame scoring bonus. The artifacts have a smaller effect plus an icon. The monuments still increase your minimum devotion, they also have an icon PLUS a favor token PLUS potentially another icon from the city. I think this makes monuments compare favorably to B+A.

2. Cutting virtual Zeus
I currently think that just having 1 Zeus in the deck is the way to go, especially with the initiative bumps available on artifacts and in cities.

3. Simplifying to a simple hex board
This has been working well. I would still like to see some semblance of terrain (even just water vs land) in the end, but maybe that's just unnecessary complication :/

4. Favor of the Deities
I did some more tweaking of the deity scoring, which makes them worth a bit more (at least potentially more)...
Zeus: 2vp per unique deity in your display (rewarding diversity)
Hermes: 2vp per devotion track at level 4, 1vp per devotion track at level 2/3 (indirectly rewarding showing devotion to deities)
Ares: 1vp per minimum devotion increase (indirectly rewards doing quests)
Hephaestus: 1vp per city with your building marker (rewarding building)

As a side note, I'm beginning to think that level 1 Hephaestus should give 1 gold per building marker, not per city with your building marker... so it doesn't require Ares to do something. The Hephaestus favor bonus could be harder to cash in on, and therefore be "per city with your marker".

5. Adding a cost for increasing minimum devotion
This turned out to be a bad idea, I didn't like it and I removed it after 2 tries.

It's possible that nothing needs to be done about this beyond making the min bump on the initiative track harder to get.

6. Game duration and Hera
I think forcing a 5-round game is the way to go, and adding Hera made it feel less arbitrary. The version I tried was this:
Shuffle 4 Hera cards into a face up stack. At the end of each cycle, add the top Hera card to the deck - if there isn't one, then the game is over. When Hera arrives, she makes a demand (each Hera card has a different demand).

The 1st version I tried was that Hera was simply an opportunity to earn extra points by satisfying her demand. Choosing not to only cost you the opportunity to score points. This turned out to be fairly boring though because often times players would ignore the demand and nobody took advantage of the opportunity. Maybe that could be addressed by tweaking the values of the rewards, but I tried something else that I thought might be more interesting...

The 2nd version I tried was that you MUST meet Hera's demand, and if you do then you earn a favor token. This was a bit better because players actually had to care hat Hera's demands were, and she actually had an impact on the game. However, it amounted to just handing out a bunch of points to all players most of the time, and also we had to lose random stuff whenever Hera arrived. Sure, we theoretically knew it was coming, but it could have worked better... this seemed a little harsh.

What I would like to try next time is this... when Hera arrives, she makes her demand. If you refuse to (or cannot) give her what she demands, then you get a Spite token. Spite tokens come with a scoring penalty at the end of the game. If you do meet Hera's demand, then you avoid the spite token. If you DOUBLE the demand though, you get to DISCARD a spite token (or if you have none, collect a favor token).

I hope this will make people WANT to pay the demands sometimes, and if you specialize in one type of thing, then maybe you'll overpay those demands to make up for failings elsewhere.

I was thinking the penalty would be triangular negative scoring, but maybe a majority thing would be better.

I still might like to see city control matter more during the game, and I worry that going heavy Zeus and dominating the initiative track might be too strong. But other than that I think the game is in good shape!

Friday, October 07, 2016

Eminent Domain: Still good!

Last weekend was RinCon, and I'll probably write a separate blog post about that. This post is about one thing I did at RinCon...

Old college friends Becky and Chris ran an Eminent Domain tournament, and they billed it as a Play With The Creator event. The idea was that ahead of the tournament I would teach the game, but I had a scheduling conflict, so my friend John taught it instead. I arrived in time to play, and so as advertised, players got to play Eminent Domain with the creator of the game!

There were 10 players other than me, and most of them had never played EmDo before. John is a shark, besides me he's probably played more EmDo than anyone in the world! And he's very good - he said that when he and I play, results are probably 60% in my favor. I think another player had played once a long time ago, the rest were brand new.

With 11 players, we had two 4p games and a 3p game, and the winner of each went on to play in the finals against me. Also, if I won the 1st game, then the 2nd place player from my table would advance.

It has been a REALLY long time since I've play Eminent Domain, and it's been EVEN LONGER since I played the base game without Oblivion expansion stuff. The first game was really interesting, as one of the new players seemed to grasp not only the rules, but perhaps a more advanced strategy... She took a Produce role in the 2nd or 3rd turn, right after colonizing her start planet - a move I usually warn against when teaching the game, because it puts a Produce/Trade card into your deck, which are mostly useless early in the game. While this may be considered a mistake, it's not the end of the world, and this player got a few more planets into play and called Produce and Trade rolls left and right, quickly getting to a P-T cycle of 3 or even 4 resources! Seeing this, and drawing some planets with Produce symbols on them, I tried to pivot into a P/T engine as well, though for some reason it took me a little while to get there so I wasn't able to capitalize on it too much. In my penultimate turn I did a produce role, fully expecting that opponent to fill up her resource slots, but lucky for me she only had 1 of her many P/T cards in hand! In the end I beat her by a single point, a margin which may have easily been reversed with just slightly more efficient play in the early game, or even just a better draw on that previous turn!

The finals ended up being that opponent and myself, John of course, and a guy named Taylor that I used to know 20 years ago from when I played Magic. In this game I started with an Advanced planet, and I happened to get more Advanced planets off the top of the deck, 2 of which had Research symbols (I;m sure John was jealous, those are his favorite). I went quickly and heavily into Research and obtained the level 3 adaptability tech with several rounds left to play. Online some players complain that this tech is too good, because if you get it early then you dominate the game. Well, in this case I didn't feel like it really helped me very much, apparently I didn't have a high concentration of standard Research cards. I only used it about twice. but the fact that it was worth 5 points was a big deal, and I was able to get a big Specialized trade off on the last turn for another 4 extra points, and I ended up winning by a wide margin. Of course John came second, then Tyler 3rd and the other opponent (I'm sorry, I forgot her name!) was last.

TMG had donated a couple copies of EmDo and each expansion as prize support, and I of course passed down any prizes. John already has EmDo and Escalation, so he only took Exotica. Tayler already had the base game as well, so he took the other Exotica and an Escalation. So even in fourth place, the other opponent walked away (very happy I might add) with copies of EmDo and Escalation in hand!

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the game, and I had a great time playing EmDo again. Man, that game holds up. I really am proud of it, and I feel like I should promote it more.

So if you still haven't tried it, play Eminent Domain!