Jun 3, 2008

Titans of Industry Playtest Analysis

In my previous post, I linked to a recording I made of a playtest for Titans of Industry. Over the past couple of days, I have listened to that recording and taken notes.

The rules explanation took about 20 minutes. I need to find a way to pare this down. When you're showing a game to a publisher, 20 minutes spent on the rules is too much. It makes the game seem overly complicated. I think the cause was not the rules themselves, just my inexperience at explaining this particular version's rules.

There were five players (in order): Elliot, Ray, Jeff, Cynthia, and Dan. The first age lasted 27 minutes and 33 seconds, with each player taking five turns. This means that the game moved at a healthy clip of about 1 minute, 6 seconds per turn at the beginning of the game, meaning a player's average downtime between turns was under 4 and a half minutes. As this was the first time any of these people had seen the game, I feel that this is an acceptable turn time for a game aimed at the heavy-strategy end of the market.

The scoring after the first age took 2 minutes, 13 seconds. Again, I was happy with how quickly the players were able to do this, as the scoring system for Titans of Industry is relatively complex.

The second age, which was designed to have twice the length as the first, took 2 hours, 12 minutes. This was way slower than I'd hoped. I intended for this age to take no longer than 45 minutes to an hour at most. However, some of this time can be chalked up to a need for me to step in for Cynthia, who had to leave shortly after the second age began. There were 22 full rounds plus two turns taken during this age. Players took an average of 1 minute, 18 seconds per turn. I had hoped that by this point in the game, players would be using less than a minute per turn. If that had been true, it would have saved over half an hour. As it was, players saw an average downtime between turns of 5 minutes, 12 seconds.

The second round of scoring took 6 minutes, 3 seconds. This was a little slow for my taste. Even though the scoring was more complex this time around, looking back at what needed to be done, there was no reason it couldn't have been finished in less than 5 minutes.

After seeing the amount of time that the second round had taken, I decided to find an easy way to shorten the game without reducing the complexity of the economic model or cutting away potential strategic choices. After some thought, I decided that instead of an age ending when all of its real estate spaces were built, it would end the moment a majority of its real estate spaces had been built. Since the third age had eight spaces (two for each of residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation), this cut the necessary number down to five.

Though this reduced the age-end trigger by 37.5% percent, I felt that it would actually speed the game up by more than that amount. This is because previously each sector was guaranteed to get two building's worth of demand. Now, that demand might have varied in one direction or the other, but only by a difference of one to three demand. That meant that it was possible for a player focused on the energy, durable, or consumable markets to focus on those markets to the exclusion of the real estate market. With the rule change, the difference in total demand could be as high as five or six, which could significantly hamper a player counting on that demand to score points. Such a player would be forced to compete in the real estate market as well to ensure that the demand for his or her goods was plentiful. This competition would drive the game to the age-end trigger faster than normal.

I decided that even though the second age took over 2 hours, the rule change should push the third age to under 45 minutes. Given how poor my previous assessments have turned out, I was due to get one correct . . . right?

The third age took 1 hour, 9 minutes and each player took nine turns. The average turn length was 1 minute, 33 seconds and the between-turn downtime was 6 minutes, 9 seconds, which was disconcerting to say the least. This time the problem stemmed from the mechanic I am using to simulate diminishing marginal returns. This mechanic does nice double-duty as a money sink in case too much cash gets injected into the game's economy. The mechanic just proved too complex for players to calculate on the fly, leading to turns that took a couple of minutes even when the player knew exactly what he or she wanted to do before the turn even began. In addition, this age saw much more table discussion, which distracted players from their turns.

The scoring after the third age took 10 minutes, 20 seconds. I am fine with this, because game-end scoring involves more factors than previous rounds.

The final scores, after converting each player's money into additional victory points at a ratio of $10 : 1 point, were:
Elliot 73
Ray 105
Jeff 81
Cynthia / Myself 67
Dan 105

However, after converting the money to points, Dan had two additional dollars left over, so we declared him the winner. Two interesting things can be gleamed from the score distribution. First, the spread between the winner and last place is quite large. This is unacceptable and I will have to examine why this happened. Second the two players at the top were separated by an incredibly thin margin. This is a really good sign because these players followed wildly different strategies. It shows that there is definitely no single path to victory. Realizing that was the bright point of my day.

I plan on holding another playtest for this game during this upcoming weekend. On my list of changes to implement before then:
  1. Remove inflation until the third age.
  2. Trigger the end of an age after any 5 buildings have been built.
  3. Add a build cost of one wood to the University.
  4. Radically simplify the diminishing returns mechanism.
  5. Create more advancements and make them age-specific.