Monday, April 30, 2018

Crusaders - expansion thoughts

Spurred by a request from Michael, who's eyes got a little big at the sight of Pandasaurus' Dinosaur Island expansion kickstarter funding, I have started thinking about expansion content for Crusaders, in case it goes over well upon release.

My first thought was that (a), the game isn't even out yet, and (b) for many reasons, a kickstarter for a Crusaders expansion won't bring in any 2 million dollars... but Michael had a good point that waiting until the game comes out to work on an expansion just means it'll be longer before one comes out... and it would be better to "strike while the iron is hot," so to speak.

So now that I (finally) have declared Old West Empresario (a sequel to Pioneer Days, by a different designer) development to be DONE, I brought my trusty old Crusaders prototype to playtest day. One Two of my testers have played it, but not recently (one of them hadn't played since I was struggling to fix the Wave of Destruction endgame scoring!). Another had never even heard of the game. So a couple of weeks ago I taught them the game anew, just to get them familiar with it, so we could start thinking about expansion content.

Last week, I (finally) made prototype pieces for the only expansion idea I've had so far -- new buildings that can only be built where other players have already built something. I wasn't sure how well these would work, their goal was to add some more interaction (whenever you build, you open a building opportunity for an opponent), as well as some more choices in build paths.

NOTE: If you read the linked post, I had called the building that builds on Churches "Monasteries," but I will be referring to them as "Chapels" instead. Also, I swapped the Marketplace to be the one built on a Farm, not a Bank.

The first game (3 player) we played with them, they didn't seem particularly interesting. For one thing, I didn't like the idea of getting rondel control as you built buildings, so I just left off buildings that you build over Banks altogether, and only used 3 new building types. It didn't help that several players built a lot of Banks, so not many new building opportunities ere opened up. So we didn't really see the new stuff in play very much.

For the second game, a 4th player had arrived, which I figured might lead to more buildings in play, and therefore more building opportunities. Also, we decided it might not be so bad to be able to build the expansion buildings over your own buildings -- that way if you want a Keep, and nobody builds a Castle, you can still build a Keep... You just need to build your own Castle first. So we allowed that. Sure enough, with the ability to overbuild your own buildings, and the extra buildings in play from a 4th player, the new buildings saw a lot more action!

I was worried that if you could simply overbuild your own buildings, that players would simply move-build-build, move-crusade-build-build, and the game wound't be any more interactive than it was before. However, I was happy to note that only about 50% of the new buildings were built on players' own buildings, and the other 50% were built on opponents' buildings. That was pretty cool.

One more tweak we made was this: We felt like, in case of emergency, you ought to be able to build an expansion building even if nobody had built the pre-requisite building yet. To facilitate this, we said you could build the expansion buildings at cost+3 if the appropriate building was not present. After trying that, I felt like +2 would be enough. The final wording will probably be something like this:

Original buildings cannot be built where there is an enemy or a building (from the original rules).
Expansion buildings can be built for [cost] where there are no buildings, or for [discounted cost] if the appropriate building has been built in that hex already (by any player).

I'll show both costs in the upper right corner like this:

[cost +2]
[building: cost]

The Keeps (the ones that give you an upgrade) seemed a little weak. You can get an upgrade any turn you want, and you don't have to afford a building to do it. Building a Keep gave you the upgrade AND a couple of points, but it did seem a little unattractive, so we decided to try upping the point values on that one by +2. This way, if you build a Keep, you get an upgrade, and 3/4/5/6 points (instead of just 1/2/3/4). This also helps the fact that the level IV Keep (1vp per upgrade) maxes out at 6, while the original level IV buildings max out at 8 or higher, and the Church scores 6 points with no work needed.

The Chapels (the ones that give you extra cubes for your action wheel) were pretty cool. I had worried that ability would be super strong, so I made the first one give no effect, while the next two give you a cube. After playing, we didn't think it would be too strong to have a cube on the level I Chapel as well, so we tried adding that. The level 4 Chapel (1vp per wedge with 2+ cubes) also only maxes out at 6 points, and might be really hard to actually max out, so I might raise the VP value of that one by a coupe of points. Or, if the cubes do turn out to be strong, maybe it's ok for that one to score fewer end game points.

We played a 3rd game with those tweaks, and it worked out pretty well! After the game we talked about options for the 4th new building type, because I'd like there to be a new building for each of the original ones. Dave suggested adding powers, similar to my original rondel control, but more like some of the player powers I'd tried (like "you can build two buildings per action"), but I think that's a little too crazy - I'd rather have something you can show with icons. We tossed around other ideas:

* "+Travel"
I thought about how to reward someone who has built up a lot of travel... Dave suggested it might be cute to reward being close to Paris at the end with your Knights (like 2 points per Knight adjacent to Paris), because you generally end the game on the side of the board, and if you had a ton of Travel you could race back.

*  "+Troop"
This would theoretically reward having a lot of troops, but the Farm already does that. but then again, you could build these INSTEAD of Farms, so maybe that's OK. And if you try really hard, maybe you could build all of these AND all your Farms, and score really well off of your Troops. But I didn't want it to score in the exact same way as the Farm, so I thought maybe "score VP according to your biggest troop" might work. I'll probably try that, although it too maxes out at 5vp... maybe I could add some VP to the building to compensate for that.

Before this weeks session I plan to update my prototype again, making all the changes I've been talking about:
* Swapping the Castle effect (+Upgrade) to the building that's built over a Bank (I need a name for that one),
* Upping the VPs on the +Upgrade buildings by 2 each
* Trying the [+Troop/+Troop/+Troop/VP based on biggest Troop] effect for the Keep.
* Listing both costs for the expansion buildings
* maybe upping the VPs on the L4 Keep and Chapels

In addition, I have another idea for expansion content! this one is based on a suggestion that League of Gamemakers member Luke Laurie made, but I had decided not to pursue for the base game. I could replace the Influence action... instead of just collecting points, there could be a token on all (or most?) hexes indicating a number (cost to influence the hex), and an icon. When doing an influence action, you need enough cubes to cover the cost of the hex. When you do it, you take the token and put your player marker (a crest or coat-of-arms) on the hex to show that you have influence over that hex. The cheap tokens (3-4 cost) would have a 1-shot icon that you could discard for a +1 in that action on a future turn. The more expensive ones (5-6 cost) could have a permanent icon for one of the actions that you can use for the rest of the game.

Also, you could travel out of a hex that you have influence over for -1 cost (so influencing hexes helps you move around the board), and there could be a majority bonus at the end of the game for most influenced hexes, just like there is for most of each enemy defeated.

I like the sound of this, but I don't necessarily like the sound of losing the "just gain vps" aspect of the influence action, so I might make it so that you can still do that, OR you can influence a hex.

Finally, I'll want to come up with a few (maybe 4) new faction abilities to add to the game. I have nothing yet for those, the factions that didn't make the cut for the original game are pretty bad. it would be good to come up with a few that interact with the new aspects of the expansion (this new influence thing, or the expansion buildings) somehow. That'll take some more thought, and will have to wait another couple of weeks I think.

I'm excited to be working on a Crusaders expansion!