May 29, 2008

Spielbany May 2008, Part 2

In my previous post, I described the results of the test last Saturday of Titans of Industry. That same day I was also able to get feedback on Privateering.

Privateering began life as a drafting game where players were building competing television shows. However, based on feedback from Zev of Z-Man Games, I decided to retheme the game to avoid similarities with already published games. While doing so, I ended up adding another layer of gameplay on top of the drafting mechanic. The new mechanic is both flavorful to the new theme and strategic, without severely complicating the game. The second point was important, as I don't want this game to stray from light territory into a medium-weight game.

Here are my notes from the playtest:

6:56 pm_______7:05____7:14____7:24_____7:31

pair up bounties
crew cards do double duty

After winning two big showdowns in rounds 1 and two, it was basically impossible for the other players to catch up to me, which was unfortunate. I don't want players to be able to lock in a victory before the end of round 3 at the earliest. Mathematically, it was theoretically possible for them to catch up. But as a matter of practice, no, it wasn't going to happen. Certainly not while they were still competing with each other for points in addition to chasing me. Ideally, no one should feel comfortable of a victory until the draft for round 4 is complete.

The consensus at the table was that the major problem was that the showdown mechanic I had added was too much of an all-or-nothing proposition. Not only did someone who lost a showdown have nothing to show for it, but he or she had also blown so many cards on a lost cause that it was now that much more difficult to catch up in later rounds.

The solution devised (major credit to Jeff on this one) was to create pairs of bounties, instead of just individual ones. This served two purposes. First, it meant that you had two chances to score points when you gambled resources by sending a crew out after a bounty. This mitigated the previous all-or-nothing proposition.

Second, it increased the strategy of drafting. Originally, a player would likely identify one bounty and go after the highest-value cards that had that bounty's flag. Now, with bounties of different flags paired up, there is an incentive to draft cards that might be of a lower value but which can help capture both bounties in a pair. This is because I designed the crew cards to have an inverse correlation between value and number of different bounties against which they are effective.

The other fix I decided on for Privateering was to reduce the range of possible points for any one bounty. In the tested version, bounties ranged in value from 2-24. I had thought that balance was achieved in the long run through a distribution among flags that was even overall. However, the problem was that in any one round, only one or two bounties out of four really mattered, which led to a drafting frenzy focused on those bounties' flags.

Oh, and I ditched the bluffing cards. The players said that they really didn't add much, and were more fiddly than anything else. With the new paired-bounties rule, bluffing would become even less important of a strategy, as there will already be uncertainty as to for which of the two bounties any given player is aiming.

Thankfully, the fixes for Privateering are relatively minor, component-wise. I should be able to get another test of it together before too long.

That day I also helped test some other designers' games. One was a card game whose cards contained words and their components. The game played out essentially like a game of dominoes, where players created chains of matching components.

The second game was an Indiana Jones-themed adventure game called Lost Adventures. This game used components quite cleverly to implement a clue-hunting mechanic distinct from and far superior to that used by the likes of Clue and Mystery of the Abbey.

The last game I played was a word-creation game where you weren't limited to the letters on the board, but those were the only letters that could score. This mechanic certainly distinguished it from existing word-creation games.

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