Jul 23, 2008

DexCon 2008, Part I

I attended DexCon 2008 with one purpose in mind: get feedback on Titans of Industry from my friend and actual game designer, Andrew Parks.

I arrived Friday morning and spent some time going around a meeting up with friends. I had brought a copy of the first game I ever made, Programmer: Battle for Bandwidth, with me to give to Carl Olsen, a fellow game designer. Carl is one of very few people who ever actually liked Programmer: BfB. Since I have long since abandoned the game as fundamentally flawed (its premise makes it too complex for a fun filler game and it is too random for a serious strategy game), I decided to give my prototype to Carl in the thought that at least one person on this planet will derive enjoyment from it.

I played a game of Louis XIV (second play ever) and I find myself liking it more and more. Eventually, Andy arrived and we got right into testing.

The testers were Andy, my friends Anni and Doug, Carl, and Andy's 12-year-old daughter, Sarah. At first I was hesitant to have someone so young testing what is an undeniably dry, heavy economic game. As it turns out, Sarah is an amazing tester who understood the game in ways that surprised me. She reportedly loves Acquire, one of my favorite games, and in the end I was grateful to have had her play my game.

The two big changes is this version from the previous test a few days earlier were the addition of turn order bidding and new Age I advancements.

The first change, turn order bidding, was the result of feedback from my regular tester and artist, Dan Glaser. He observed that being the first player in an age was extremely valuable because it meant first crack at the newly-emptied markets. We discovered this advantage was especially crucial to doing well in the third age.

To deal with this, I made players begin each age by engaging in a blind bid for turn order. This did not work well. First of all, the bids were much lower than I thought they would be. Half of the time, players bid zero. Secondly, The just didn't fit. The players remarked that the felt the blind bid did not feel like a natural part of the game.

The second change was the new Age I advancements. The old advancements just gave a player one extra dollar each time they sold a specific good. The problem was that this just was not enough of a bonus to get players to spend multiple turns acquiring them by building universities, producing research, and acquiring the advancement itself.

The new advancements allowed a player to replace an existing cube when placing a new one of a specific type by giving the owner of the existing cube twice its chosen price. This was intended to solve a couple of problems. First, it allowed players to deal with market lock-up. Even if a market was saturated with cubes, it was now possible to replace the existing cubes. This cost money, but it allowed players to steal points and maybe even market dominance. Second, it discouraged "bottoming-out", the tactic where players always price at the lowest available spot to guarantee purchase. Using this tactic just meant that it would be cheap for an opponent to get rid of your cubes if they had one of the new advancements. Protecting your cubes required you to price high, reducing the incidence of bottoming-out.

These new advancements failed because, well, no one bought them. I now realize the power of these advancements don't really kick in until the mid-game, so they were unavailable by the time players would want to purchase them.

The game lasted almost three hours, but that included quite a bit of mid-game design discussions, so that timing is pretty meaningless. The major feedback points I received were:
  • Anni: There were turns when nothing at all productive could be done.
  • Carl: Players should be able to buy their own goods before anyone else.
  • Andy: There needs to be a way to let players get goods that no one is producing.
  • Andy: It is difficult to plan a long-term strategy.
  • All: Real estate needs to give more victory points.
I will discuss their feedback in my next post.

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