Sunday, January 14, 2018

Eminent Domain Origins progress

It's been a while since I last posted about Eminent Domain Origins, my Terra Prime reboot in the EmDo universe, so I'll begin by revisiting the changes discussed in that post and offer my current thinking on them. Then I'll mention the latest modifications, and how those went in yesterday's playtests.

New modifications discussed 10/27/17:

  • Add one "any module" slot to the command ship.
After trying this a few times, I ended up removing it, and I prefer the game without it. The expansion (being included in EDO) added an Extra Module Slot tech, which is pretty cheap and allows players to get extra slots if they want them.
  • Add 1 "any resource" hold to the command ship.
I have continued to like this, and decided to keep it. With this extra slot, players are not required to purchase a cargo hold in order to carry 1 Yellow cube, or 2 Blue/2 Green cubes, which means they are able to go for various technologies without having to buy a cargo hold first.

I also updated the cost and effect of a few technologies.
  • Set direction on tiles, so there's no possibility of illegal placements or configurations.
I have been using completely random orientation for space hexes, and I've come to like it just fine. The map is more different game-to-game, which is probably a good thing. 
  • Re-examine distribution of hazards on exploration tiles (I haven't done this yet).
I still haven't done this, and I still might. I have more to add to this now, see below...
  • Change Weapon module cost (a simple $20 each. Or even just $10?)
I've kept the $10 weapon cost, and I've been fine with it. I also did nerf alien scoring down to 1vp/alien killed instead of 2, which seems fine, but I wonder if alien hunting is no longer as strong a strategy as it used to be. Maybe that's OK, as it used to be fairly strong!
  • Consider changing the Shield action (people have trouble with "Do one, the other, or both: Buy a shield module for $10, charge shields for $10"). Maybe recharging shields should be free?
After some hemming and hawing, I think the best thing to do is just keep the Buy Shields rule the same... in one action you may optionally (1) Buy 1 shield module for $10, then optionally (2) charge all of your shields for $10.
  • Change Delivery Optimizer to "+1 LP when you complete a demand tile. At game end: 1vp per demand tile collected."
I have continued to use this, and I think it's fine. If you buy it before completing any demand tiles, then it's the same as it ever was. If you buy it after you've completed some tiles, then it's a little bit better than it was.
  • Start with energy on your built-in shield?
I have been doing this, and it seems OK so far. I have a new idea that will make this point moot, see below...
  • Colonies immediately produce as soon as they're created, so there's less wasting actions waiting for the new colony to produce. 
I have enjoyed this, but I have a new idea that will make it moot, see below...
  • Ignore the "no planet adjacent to Terra Prime" rule as well, all of this hopefully just speeds up the game a little bit.
I have been doing this, and I think it's fine. I am planning on keeping this rule (that is to say, removing the restriction).

  • Ignore the limit on Exploring, and just have that be wrapped into the Move action 
I've been fine with this. I've decided to embrace just about anything that removes stalling and waiting from the game.
  • Wrap the Pacify and Attack actions into one. 
Yeah, this can be 1 action, dealing with aliens. You can shoot them, or you can "Pacify" them (might change that to Befriend or something). I reduced the cost of Pacifying aliens to "1 cube per icon," rather than "1 cube per icon plus 1." Perhaps for that reason, I've seen more pacifying of aliens lately, and it's kind of neat - you give them a brown and a green, and maybe they give you a yellow and an energy (on the reward tile) -- it's like a trade.
  • If I remove the Explore limit, then it might mean I ought to allow exploring out of a wormhole (I'd rather not do that), which leads to exploring 2 tiles at once (or that).
I have allowed this, and so far it seems to be fine. Again, I think it just sort of speeds up the game.

  • Finally, the Afterburner module (pay 1 Energy for 2 actions this turn) seemed WAY too good. I think it was probably a little too good before, but it didn't seem that bad because to power it efficiently you had to fill your module slots with shields... but with the additional module slot (see above), you could pretty easily get 3-4 shield modules and 2 Afterburners, and do 7 actions per turn, only needing to spend one of those actions every 3-4 turns to refuel. That felt like too much, even if the player who did it didn't score very well (I think it took him too long to set up and start abusing that). So losing the extra module slot might make the Afterburner OK again, but I might try another version.
I'm currently of the opinion that without that extra module slot, the 1 Energy = 2 Actions Afterburner is probably OK.

Now I'll discuss some of the more recent changes:

  • Hyperdrive: Cost changed to Yellow+Blue+Brown, points removed, effect changed to: "After each (->) spent on a move action, you may immediately take an additional move action."

Now that there's no "explore" limit, it doesn't make sense to allow it 2x/turn. I COULD just have this be a thruster that doesn't take up a module slot, but in an effort to be more interesting, I thought I'd try this effect. It lets you move after moving, which is like saying your move actions move you 2 spaces (worded that way to avoid rules issues, for example Alien attacks). This will therefore help you zoom across the board, which could be good for a delivery strategy, or a colony strategy that wants to get to and from the red zone quickly, or maybe even an alien hunter.

  • Cloaking Device: Cost increased to Yellow+Green+Brown. 

Cloaking device has always been a very strong tech, and so it should cost a little more. Also, this way the costs are more evenly distributed. hyperdrive costs Y/Br/Blue, cloaking device costs Y/Br/Green. And cloaking device is better for an alien hunter, so using green makes sense, while hyperdrive may be better for a delivery strat, so using blue makes sense there.

  • Wormhole: 1 move action will move you into a wormhole and out of ANY wormhole (used to be 2 actions)

In an effort to make the wormhole rules less confusing, I'm trying this change. This way you're never in a sort of limbo space "inside" the wormholes, so you won't ever try to short range scan something from inside the wormhole (which a player did, and I realized doesn't make sense). I've tried this twice now, and as a result, the wormholes seem to do a much better job at what they were supposed to do... shrink the board in the late game! There are currently 3 wormholes in the green zone, 2 in the yellow zone, and 1 in the red zone, but I might change that a little bit. I might add another in the red zone, and I might go back down to 2 in the green zone, or even just 1, but make it always in the same place (see below).

  • Add free resources to the blank green zone exploration tiles

It was pointed out that exploring a tile and finding it blank is super boring, but I couldn't think of anything else to put on the blank green exploration tiles. I don't want the green zone to be dangerous, so no aliens or stray asteroids. It would be lame to find a sunstar ("Treat this tile as if it were blank") there on turn one. I already have some wormholes... so the only thing I can think of is a free resource. I tried it with a free brown whenever you explored a blank tile, which was kinda interesting because it maybe speeds up your ability to get tech, especially if nobody builds a mine.

Later I had a different idea which I might try that would make this a moot point. What if the green zone just didn't have exploration tiles at all? And what if there was always 1 wormhole, in the center green tile (the only one that's 2 moves from Terra Prime instead of just 1)? It could make some thematic sense, that the Terran Federation set up their first space station just outside a wormhole -- maybe that's how they got there. This would remove the need for exploration tiles on the green zone, and would make blank exploration tiles irrelevant. And that wormhole placement MIGHT make for more interesting games than when a wormhole occurs 1 space from Terra Prime (not sure).

  • Nix production, just spend an action to get a resource.

One thing that's been a bit of a hassle with Terra Prime is clutter on the board, and it's always been easy to forget to produce on your colonies at the start of your turn. I've never worried about that, as it's easy to tell if a colony should have a resource or not, but I've never loved having to figure that out (and it happened all the time). So what if you din't have to produce goods and place them on the board? What if you could just always get a resource as an action? That would remove one of the interactions I liked in the game -- competition to pick up certain resources, but the assurance that YOUR resources would always be there for you. However, I don't know if that interaction is really such a big deal, and having to stall or out when someone takes the resource you were going to get seemed like a feel-bad moment. As my playtester kept putting it yesterday, "being able to do things is better than not being able to do things." So I thought I'd give this a try. So as not to be degenerate though, I thought it should be limited to once per turn per colony, so you can't sit there and fill up on cubes so easily.

In the first playtest yesterday I tried this, and it worked pretty well. It felt a lot like the regular game, the only real difference being you never got screwed out of a resource, and I didn't miss that dynamic.

I wondered if the arbitrary 1x/turn limit was really necessary -- after all, you're already a little bit restricted on what you can carry. So in the 2nd playtest I tried removing that limit, even though I suspected it would cause a problem. Sure enough, I didn't like the result. Without the limit, there's less reason to visit someone else's planet to get resources, and with the Matter Converter tech it got a little ridiculous -- you could just go to the closest planet, pick up 57 resources, then come back and deliver them all for money and points.

So, even though I don't like arbitrary limits and I'm trying to remove rules, I think the 1x/turn/colony limit is necessary. This rule still allows me to chop off the production phase, which needs to be awkwardly explained before anybody has any colonies, and it gets rid of the "should this colony have a resource?" questions entirely. It also makes obsolete the idea of producing a resource immediately upon colonizing (which is just one more step in the fairly lengthy colonize process).

  • Define Sunstar exactly

I think the simplest rule for sunstars is "treat this space hex as if it ere blank." In fact, it may be good to have a few blank space hexes (with a sunstar icon on back), and when you reveal a sunstar, you simply replace the hex with a blank one.

This has an unintended consequence (though one I'm OK with) of removing asteroids from being in the way. There's one rule clarification that's probably necessary... what happens if you explore into a sector with an asteroid field, and find a sunstar on the tile with the asteroid field? Do you roll for the asteroids? I think the answer would be no - you'd move in, flip the tile, replace it with a blank one, and then see if you roll for asteroids. I think that makes the most sense.

The other alternative would be move in, roll for asteroids, then explore the tile... either way would work, but I just want the rule to be clear and consistent.

  • Draft starting resources

At the beginning of the game, it's possible the first players have an advantage over later turn players. That's why the later turn players got more money to start with. I've been increasing that compensation lately, such that players start with 10/20/30/40/50 based on their turn order. In related news, I had started players with their built-in shield charged with energy, just because people seemed to want that.

Adding 2 more paths out of Terra Prime helped the turn order thing a little, but it occurred to me that I could try something new: I could make starting resource cards for players to choose from. I like how that works in Chimera Station, where you draft starting resource cards in reverse turn order. I was going to try using that here, but in the end, this is what I tried:

I made 3 P1 cards, 6 P2-3 cards, and 6 P4-5 cards. For each player, I dealt 2 cards for their position, and let them choose between them. The P1 cards are worth about 10-20 credits, the P2-3 cards are worth 30-40 credits, and the P4-5 cards are worth about 40-50 credits.

I kinda liked this, and more importantly, I think players would see this as more interesting, more variety in the game. Originally the game achieved this by having the first N reward tiles (1 per player) give you some module which would set you apart from other players, differentiating the player profiles. Since everyone's early game should really be "establish a colony ASAP," this meant everyone would have a nudge in one direction or another. Of course, it'd be at random, not chosen.

Adding these starting resource cards are neat, but now I'm sort of double dipping on that mechanism. You might choose a starting resource card based on how you want to approach the game this time, then after dropping your first colony you might get something that works well with that, or something that doesn't. I don't love that, so I might just take out those first stage rewards altogether.

  • Ion Cannon useful all turn

I've noticed a few times that when using an ion cannon (spending an energy for 2 weapons), sometimes you don't defeat the aliens, and then your next attack is super weak unless you spend MORE energy. I don't like that, so I think the ion cannon should continue to work until the end of the turn.

This would be consistent with the afterburner, I think. You'd activate the module by placing an energy on it, while active, it does its thing. At the end of your turn, you'd clear off any energy on your afterburner or ion cannon. I think this will make the ion cannon a lot more useful, a player with enough actions could potentially use a single ion cannon activation to fight several alien clusters!


Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

Hey Seth,

again, I did not play Terra Prime and did not read the rules, so I don't really have a feeling about what is a good and what a bad idea. I get from your description though that you try to streamline the game by a fair amount. I read that hopefully players colonize in their first turn, implying that there is no scenario where there is a comparably good action to take. So what if you were to incorporate this first colonization into the game setup (and consequentially, start bonuses), and just start the game with turn two?



Seth Jaffee said...

@Josh - I guess it would be hard to follow this post without having played or followed Terra Prime! Maybe I should post a thorough description of how the original game worked to explain these changes better.

Anyway, your suggestion to start the game in then 2 or 3, after everyone has made a colony makes sense in general. A common development trick is to sort if play the first turn or two for the players, thereby starting the game after any scripted or rote actions are done.

However, like any rules of thumb, that trick should not be applied blindly. While it's true that players in Terra Prime should really spend their first turn or two creating a colony, in this game there are a series of decisions as to which colony to choose on the board, and what color to make the colony. The board is modular, so the locations, point values, and colors (types) of colonies will be different from game to game.

I'm sure I could figure out a way to play the first few actions for each player, but if I did, then the setup rules could get cumbersome very quickly, and if they require players to make strategic decisions, then that puts a barrier up to learning. In my opinion, sometimes it's better to let players go ahead and play through that first turn, even if it's very similar every game (for example: pick up a colony marker, move, colonize; or pick up a colony marker, scan, move; or pick up a colony marker, move, move (toward another colony spot)), and keep the rules clean and consistent and the setup simple.