Thursday, June 29, 2017

Recent playtests: Deities & Demigods & Joan of Arc

Deities & Demigods

There are 33 playtests recorded in my Deities & Demigods record sheet google doc. This covers several iterations of the game, going back to May 17, 2016. In the last few playtests at Origins 2017, I used the latest version of Hera cards to determine start player each round. The first time I just shuffled all the Hera cards together and laid out 5 for the game. It was kinda lame that for the first few rounds, those conditions were irrelevant because, for example, it's completely impossible to have done a quest before the first time the condition is checked. But I thought of an easy solution to that - I took all the cards that WERE potentially relevant in the first round, and labeled them "A," and I took all the cards that were not relevant in the first round and labeled them "B." Then I shuffled them and used 3 "A" cards for cycles 1-3, and 2 "B" cards for cycles 4 and 5. I've played a few games with that setup, and it's really worked well.

I've tried a few of the draft player powers, and I guess they're alright. I'm not sure if I think they're necessary, but I suspect people would dig them, so I ought to try them some more and make sure I have at least 4 that I like. One problem with including them is that if you have diverse player powers, it's boring if you only have 4 for a 4 player game. So I'd really want to have 6-8 for more variety.

I'd still like to try the Hades expansion module, but that need not be in the base game box, so it's not all that important. Still, it would be cool to try out.

Joan of Arc

Since my last post on the topic, I did get a chance to play Joan of Arc (twice) at Origins.

The new column format for the tiles is cool, but frankly, for the current implementation, cards would
be more appropriate than tiles. So I have two choices...
* Give up on it being a "bag building" game. This could be OK, even if it is intended to be related to Orleans, but as a product I'd like to keep the bag building. Hopefully that's not just me being stubborn.
* Change the format such that tiles become the appropriate component.

Daniel made a comment that sparked my interest - he said it would be neat if you laid out the tiles in a more organic way or something, and activated them like a neural network. I'm not entirely sure what he had in mind, but to me that inspired the idea to connect tiles in 2D space (as opposed to vertical columns), and instead of the tiles having 2 sections with income (one that gets covered up), maybe they have an icon in the center, an little 1/2-icons on some of the edges.

So instead of columns, maybe you have three 2x2 square areas to put tiles, and you want to combo up tiles so that they have matching 1/2-icons on the sides so you get extra income.

I actually can see several different ways to do this... 2x2 squares, plus shaped areas where the 4 tile spots are orthogonally adjacent to a center space with printed income, or even columns where the tiles have the 1/2-icons on the top and bottom only.

Today I showed the idea to David Short, and he had an idea for a single, bigger grid of spaces to put tiles into, and then you activate a row or column. I added that maybe you could activate a 2x2 square instead. So you add tiles to a 4x4(?) grid, then activate a row, column, or 2x2 square inside that grid, take the income, then discard the used tiles from the board. I'd have to figure out how exactly you add tiles to the board and activate them to make it non-trivial (add 3 in a row, activate that row). David suggested that you could have 3 activation tiles, 1 showing a ow, 1 showing a column, and 1 showing a 2x2 square, and when you use one to activate that configuration, it's gone till you've used them all. There's something interesting about that, but I'm not sure it solves any problems. However, maybe if you had to place in one of those configurations and activate a different one, that could start to work. For example, maybe you place in a column, then you activate a row or square. Then you can't possibly activate more than 2 of the tiles you just drew. Or maybe you can only place in a single row or column, and then activate the other, but you can do a 2x2 square if it's complete (4 tiles). Or only the center 2x2 square. I'll give this some thought, because it might be a better personal puzzle than the three columns thing.

Another, different idea that David also suggested, more similar to the current column idea with the tiles I already have, is to stack them... so you place 3 tiles into the column, but not overlapping, then you stack the next 2 tiles on top of those, offset so you cover the top half of 1 tile and the bottom half of the next. Finally, if it gets that far, you stack the last tile on top of the top 2, making a sort of pyramid. This would maintain the idea of getting 1/2 of the stuff on the tile sometimes, and it would make tiles the more appropriate component, but I'm not sure it would work as well as some of the other ideas.

Those are all juicy ideas that are very interesting, but they are almost completely separate to some of the other changes I want to make, such as adding static effects on spaces for when the battle tile is gone, or changing up the stat tracks, or adding cannons. I DID increase the costs of sieges, somewhat arbitrarily. I probably will need to revisit those costs a bit. And I'd like to maybe make some more end game goal cards, perhaps a series that wants you to advance a certain amount on the stat tracks, so you'd be extra interested in training.

That's all the updates I have for now.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Deities & Demigods - the return of Hera

A few different times in the past, Hera has played a role in Deities & Demigods -- usually, in one way or another, controlling which deity cards get added to the Olympus deck. Each time thus far, she's been cut.

In my last post I described a potential issue that I've been worried about, which is that a player concentrating on Zeus when nobody else does can basically choose all the cards that go into the deck. I will reiterate that I don't think it's necessarily too powerful to be able to do so, but that frankly, it's not fun. Not for the other 1-3 players in the game anyway.

In that last test (UKGE with Andy, Matt, and Ian), I tried a rule to combat that dynamic, which was simply that you cannot be Start player twice in a row. In that game, the dynamic I'm worried about didn't actually come up and neither did that new restriction -- not really, though it's possible players made some decisions based on it (like, I believe Matt would have played differently when he was start player if he were allowed to get it again). To tell you the truth, it's not "being start player twice in a row" that I'm really trying to avoid... it's dominating the Olympus deck that I'm worried about. My "simple" fix of disallowing start player 2 rounds in a row didn't seem like the best idea after all. For example, consider a 2 player game - that would remove any sort of ability to "go for" start player!

I want to keep in mind that it's very possible there's no problem to begin with, and that concentrating on Zeus allows you to control the rest of the game... and maybe that's just fine. Matthew said he'd run some tests with the rules as they were, and maybe force that dynamic to come into play and see if he thought it was a problem (he said he hadn't seen it come up, or didn't notice any issues with it so far).

Out of the aftermath of all the discussion, I have updated my prototype to try what I figure is probably the best solution that came up: re-introducing Hera cards into the mix. This time, Hera will have a handful of cards (could be tiles, or 1/2 size cards, or whatever), of which 5 will be placed face up at the beginning of the game, 1 per cycle. These cards will indicate a condition, and at the end of the cycle, that condition is checked, and the player who best fulfills the condition becomes start player (and gets to add a deity card to the deck). Ties would be resolved by the initiative track, so sometimes (and especially in the first cycle) I suspect the dynamic will be the same as the current game. But the point is, instead of just bumping up your minimum devotion to Zeus and adding a 2nd Zeus to the deck for likely uncontested access to start player, you'll have to do different things each cycle.

In my first attempt at these Hera cards, there are 2 cards that kind of lean toward concentrating on each of the deities, but only 1 for Zeus, since he also controls the tiebreaks. Here's what I tried for the first draft:
* The player with the most A/B/M cards in play becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most building markers in a single city becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most troops in play (not on quests) becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player who controls the most cities (including ties) becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most gold becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most total devotion becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the highest quest bonus becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most completed quests becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player farthest along the initiative track becomes the start player.

A few of these are unlikely (or impossible) to have any real effect in the first cycle, which just means the initiative track will control in that case, just like it does now. But I think all of them could come into play starting with the 2nd cycle, and some during the first as well.

I definitely don't love adding another stack of cards to the game, and I also dislike adding more process to the end of the cycle. As I type this, I have a feeling that "concentrating on Zeus so that you can control the direction of the game" is probably a valid strategy that should exist. But I'll give this a try at least once or twice and see how it goes.

If I don't like how this goes, I think I will revert to the last version saved, and maybe just make the initiative track a little less lucrative, so if you're climbing that track, it's because you want to control the direction of the game, rather than you incidentally controlling the game while climbing the initiative track for other reasons.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Deities and Demigods - update

Had a nice 4p test tonight with Matthew, Andy, and Ian. I implemented some of the tweaks from yesterday's post - start player must change hands, and monuments can either bump devotion or earn the favor if the deity

I liked the monument change, and the more I think about it, the more I would rather have the either/or monuments than add more monuments, especially if the monuments wouldn't be the same effect (though that's not really important, I mean the buildings don't all have the same effects). So I think I'll keep trying that out, and it will probably be a keeper.

The start player rule didn't really come into play. It almost did, and would have been disappointing for Matthew (though to some extent that might be because he's used to being able to keep start player, if that were never the rule then it might not be as bothersome for a player). Discussion after the game made it clear that solution was not popular amongst these players. Several other options were presented and discussed, some reasonable options, some (in my opinion) either too fiddly, too complicated, or don't actually address the problem I'm referring to.

One thing that might be wrong with that proposed fix is that it might not scale well for player count. In particular, in a 2p game it would mean the start player will alternate, and you cannot fight for it. Is that bad? It sounds kinda bad.

One possibility is that maybe I'm too sensitive to a potential problem that really isn't that bad. Matthew said he hadn't noticed it being a problem in his games, but I swear it seems to come up in a like 20% of mine... Or else I've inflated that in my mind because I'm so sensitive to it. I've asked Matthew to play some and watch for that dynamic, maybe play to force it, and see if he finds what I'm worried about. I intend to do the same.

Of the other fix ideas, maybe the .later promising is to decouple the start player from the Zeus track and use some other measure to determine start player. I inherently don't love this idea, because not only does it add rules, bit do.ponents and dynamics for something that currently works well most of the time. However, it might be necessary to fix that one issue.

But what to attach start player to? Well, maybe Hera should be called off the bench again... There could be a small Hera deck, or set of Hera cards, that would indicate the aspect of the game that will be measured each round in order to see who gets start player. This is somewhat similar to the last incarnation of Hera cards, which gave bonuses based on some conditions. In this case the bonus would be start player.

 But what to measure? Well, I used to want city control to matter more during the game. Should number if cities controlled, or maybe current city scoring (5/2/1 for most/tied/min1 troops), be the factor that earns you start player? Or does that just make Ares stronger instead of Zeus? And what happens in case of a tie? I'd rather have an unambiguous measure.

It could be an auction of some kind, blind bid (boo!), round-and-round, or once around perhaps. This would give something else to do with gold, which might be welcome... But it adds a whole mechanism to the game which I'm not too fond of doing, plus added game length. And it might sort of just transfer the problem from players who concentrate on Zeus to players who concentrate on Hermes.

I kinda hope I'm just wrong that there's a problem to worry about, because leaving things the way they are seems easiest!

Friday, June 02, 2017

I think Deities and Demigods is about done.

I played Deities and Demigods tonight at UK Games Expo... I haven't played it since Jan 22 at AZ Game Fair.

I've been thinking for a while now that the game is about done. There are a couple things I'd like to try, but they're small details... I think that overall the game is in really good shape.

Things I'd like to try:
Add 2 quests...
* Have 4 buildings in the same city.
EDIT: that would be too hard. Maybe just 2 buildings, as you could theoretically do that in the first cycle, but only if all the stars aligned. Maybe also 3 buildings in a city. But if these 2, in one case maybe you should have to lose a building marker too. So like "2-stack to 1-stack", and then "3-stack".
* Have 2 cities with 2 buildings each.
EDIT: that actually sounds kind of hard. But maybe that's ok.

Maybe try a rule that the same player can't be the start player 2 turns in a row. If they are at the top of the Zeus track, then start player skips to the next player in line (more on this later).

Maybe add 4 more Monuments that don't bump minimum devotion, but instead let you earn the favor of the deity. The current ones are good early but not late. These would be good late, not so much early. If that's too much for some reason then another idea is making the existing Monuments say "...or earn the favor of this deity". So at least they remain relevant all game when not snapped up early. And in my experience, they are only sometimes snapped up early (certainly it's uncommon that they're ALL snapped up early).

I had an idea (it might have come from a player) that maybe a 5th spot on each devotion track that lets you earn the favor of that deity might be cool, as another way to get a scoring card that doesn't require Zeusing. I'm not sure how necessary that is, and I worry a little that it'll be too easy to get a lot of those, but it would be easy to try.

I'd like to try the Hades expansion. I'm not sure if it should be a separate expansion, a promo, or a module included in the box.

Things that have been "on the list" that I don't think are necessary:
Adding any kind of terrain, or otherwise making the map more interesting. It's something Matthew has brought up a few times, and while it sounds decent, the more I play, the more I'm just not sure it's necessary. To me it sounds like promo or expansion material.

Adding more troops. I tried going up to 15 troops, but I think it may be a mistake. I THINK I want people who go for quests (and sacrifice guys for min devotion bumps and vps) to have a hard time fighting for city majorities. However, that fight is lackluster if everyone does do quests and therefore only has 1-2 troops to devote to each city. I keep thinking maybe 15 or so troops would make that fight more interesting, but whenever I try it I feel like it just allows players to do all the quests AND win a lot of city points. 12 troops is enough to do every quest and have 1 troop in each city. If you do the quests and still want to fight for city points, you'll have to fight for just 1-3 majorities, while players who don't do a lot of quests should be able to win more majorities than that, as well as some other points for being present in other cities. In tonight's game I only got 6vp from quests, and beat the guy who got 21 because I wasn't challenged for majority and got 3 of them with only 4 troops, for a total of 17 city points. So I got 23 total from quests + Cities, while he got 26 total. I think that's probably fair.

Probably my biggest concern is a player concentrating on Zeus, getting ahead on the initiative track, adding more Zeus to the deck, and upping their minimum devotion to stay on top. Not because it's an overpowered strategy, but because it means nobody else gets to choose the cards that go into the deck, and that kind of spoils the game in some ways (at least for the other players). The thought I had tonight to simply keep that from ever happening is to add a rule that the start player MUST change hands each cycle. I don't like adding rules, especially arbitrary ones like that, but I think it would completely solve that potential problem, so maybe it's worth a shot. As above, the start player would simply go to the player with the most initiative that doesn't already have it. Then you could concentrate on Zeus all you want, you'll get your scoring cards and other rewards, but you won't get to choose every card that goes into the deck. You'll probably get to choose 3 of them though (more than your share). I've found that the best plays are ones where the start player moves between the players a lot.

So if that's true, if the game is really about done, then I guess it's time to make a quote request and see if it's financially viable, or if I have to consider component changes and stuff.

I think I have a problem with waiting too long to finish my games, or to call them finished. Rather than leaving it sit for 4 months, I should have been sending it out for blind testing. I need to get better at that if I want to see my high-potential games get through the process...