Sunday, September 24, 2017

Recent testing: EmDice

Looking through my blog, it appears that it's been a full 4 years or more, I think, since I have played my Eminent Domain dice game, affectionately titled EmDice, though I could use a better before going to print.


I had considered the game "basically done," and figured it would eventually get the green light from TMG to go into production. I even got some manufacturing quotes, including one as recently as January of this year. Now that my big projects are finally done out of my hands (Pioneer Days and Harvest debuting at EssenCrusaders and Oblivion in production), it's about time to prioritize what to work on, and revisit some of these older titles to see if they're up to par.

So for the first time in ages (it was not trivial to actually find the prototype!), I got EmDice to the table. One player surprised me by saying that he liked it better than the card game!

One thing that sometimes bugged me about the game was that when re-rolling dice when dissenting, because you don't have good options or don't like your hand, you could easily end up with an equally bad hand over and over again. I guess that's how dice games work, but the thought crossed my hand that perhaps when dissenting you should be able to EITHER re-roll all dice of 1 face (as currently is the rule), OR choose any 1 of your active dice,, and change the face to what you want. My players didn't think that was necessary, perhaps it could be a tech ability or something, but maybe it's not needed as a basic rule.

NOTE: Try some power as "When dissenting, instead of re-rolling dice, you may change 1 active die to any face."

I made 2 more observations while playing...

Warfare leader bonus
In EmDo, the leader bonus for Warfare is that you get an additional Warfare symbol, and you get the option of attacking a planet instead of collecting fighters. Other players generally cannot attack when following Warfare, only as an action, or when they are leading the role. In the dice game, there aren't actions, so you ARE allowed to attack when following, which I think is the right call. It follows then that the leader bonus should be 1 warfare icon OR -1 Warfare cost. You still have to choose to either collect Fighters OR attack, but as the leader, when you attack you get a discount.

A way to represent that a little more concisely is to say that the leader bonus for Warfare is actually just "+1 Fighter" (not a Warfare symbol or a discount). That's effectively the same in the case you're collecting fighters, and it's about the same in the case you're spending fighters to attack as well. The only real downside is if you want to attack, need the "discount," and there's exactly 1 fighter in the supply, and you don't want the game to end (you're about to spend Fighters after all). But maybe that's so rare I shouldn't worry about it. Russell also suggested it might be more clear to keep the delineation of either getting fighters, or spending them. This more concise bonus allows you to get 1 Fighter then attack at the same time, which is potentially less clear cut for some players.

NOTE: Try Warfare leader bonus: "+1 Fighter"

Combine Produce and Trade
Something that ended up being a big breakthrough in EmDo was realizing that Produce and Trade was a terribly swingy and risky strategy when those two actions were each on their own card. The game became much better when they were combined into 1 card. It occurred to me as we played the other day that I had put Produce and Trade icons on their own die faces, causing the same problem here as it did in the card game!

The problem wasn't quite as pronounced in EmDice as it was in the card game, probably due to the Dissent rule allowing you to re-roll unneeded die faces. But it was still there, and frankly I was embarrassed I had gone that route!

The obvious solution is to combine Produce and Trade icons onto the same die face. In the card game, this left me with 5 basic card types, but there are 6 faces to each die, so I would need to fill 1 more die face. My first thought was to add a 2nd Survey symbol to each die, since that's pretty important. But why not borrow from the base game yet again, by adding a Politics icon to the die?

That makes sense, the die faces would then be Survey, Warfare, Colonize, Produce/Trade, Research, Politics. But what would Politics do? In the card game, Politics cards in your starting deck were sort of Pseudo-wild. You removed them from the game, replacing them with the role card of your choice. Making the politics icon COMPLETELY wild seemed way too strong, but maybe pseudo-wild would be ok. My first thought was "2 POL = any 1 icon", making POL icons bad unless you have them in pairs, then they're good. But that's probably too harsh - often times you'd have only 1, and it would be useless. I had also thought of allowing all POL icons to be re-rolled during a dissent, in addition to whatever you chose, but that's just adding more rules as band aids.

My next thought seemed better - discard a Politics die to change another active die to whatever you want. Maybe this addresses the concern I had at the beginning of this post as well.

Dave had a concern that it would remove much of the interaction in the game -- looking around the table to see what people are capable of. If you happen to have 3 POL icons, then you could follow any role you want! Of course, you could only do it for a maximum of 3, and you'd be completely out of dice after that. So I might try it, but with an eye toward Dave's concern, to see if it degrades the game at all.

Other thoughts on what Politics could do...

  • Agendas: a set of cards, deal 3 out during setup. They have actions on them, and on your turn you spend Politics icons to do that action. This could add variety to the game,a s the cards could be different from game to game.
  • Another version of pseudo-wild: "You can always spend X POL icons as X-1 of anything else."
  • Add a politics role, in which you spend Politics icons similar to how you spend Survey icons, buying Clout tokens from a display (mirror the Survey/Planet display, but with Clout tokens). This adds another track, and another bag of tokens though, which isn't ideal.

Of those, I think I'll start with "Discard POL to change another active die."

NOTE: Try combining Produce and Trade into 1 die face, and add Politics die face.
NOTE: Try Politics: Discard this die to change another of your active dice to any face.

So, while I thought EmDice was "basically done," it turns out I can see a few tweaks worth making. I think I will update my prototype and get it to the table again next week, maybe I can finish it up and get it into production before it slides back onto the shelf!

1 comment:

Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

Hey Seth,

good thing you came back to EmDice, I thought it was lost for good after not hearing anything for years.
From my subjective view it seems that you do would not do TMG and yourself a favour by publishing EmDice now; the hype for dice interpretations of card or board driven games seems to have trickled away in the last years.
Essentially, your potential focus group would have two traits:
- they like Eminent Domain. I assume hardly anyone buys "X - the dice game" without knowing and liking X.
- they like dice in games (which is the group I generally do not belong to, though there are exceptions).

That said, TMG and you will know better than me how well Microcosm and Battlecruisers sold (though both of these were card games, so they likely had a larger group of potential buyers than EmDice might, since EmDo also is a card game), and will be able to extrapolate if EmDice could sell well for you.

Apart from the economic side, I'd love to see some interesting twist that distinguishes EmDice from EmDo mechanically, apart from using dice instead of cards. From what I have heard (never played it myself), Roll for the Galaxy did a good job with dice you could earn with different probabilities of symbols, which in turn meant you could tune your bag of dice in a way similar to tuning your deck in EmDo.

What sets EmDice apart from EmDo as well as its dice heavy competitors as it is right now? Could it sell better if it was not in the Eminent Domain universe but rather e.g. in the Belfort universe?