Jan 22, 2013

Shifting Focus

So, this happened.

I have decided to not try running another campaign for the game. While a wonderful amount of support was received, it wasn't enough, and I don't think I can close that gap on a second run. Time to focus on other stuff.

Captains of Industry should be out this year. Seth Jaffee and I are doing some final tweaks to the game. I did a playtest on Sunday to try out one of the proposed variations.

The game takes place over three ages. The end of each age was determined by a Progress deck. This deck contains three each of City, Country, and Recycle cards. The Country cards do nothing and are removed when drawn. The Recycle cards shuffle themselves back into the deck after being drawn. The City cards will end the age when all three have been drawn.

At the end of each round, a number of cards are drawn from the Progress deck equal to the number of Progress chips on the board. In previous versions, a Progress chip was added for every real estate built by a player, with a maximum of 3 chips. This limit meant that you could never be more than 75% sure an age would end that round. This is critical as it preserves tension in deciding whether to use your turn to prepare for next round or position yourself for an immediate end to the age.

Seth is worried that there might be a case where three pieces of real estate are built in a single round and that it could make the age end before anyone is remotely prepared. I therefore tested with the following changes:

  • Add a fourth Recycle card to the deck
  • Allow a maximum of four Progress chips instead of three
  • If multiple pieces of real estate are built in a single round, only add a single Progress chip instead of one for each real estate

The first and third changes will act to slow down the end of each age. The second change will speed it up. However, it will only do so after a fourth real estate has been built (which means the age has gone on for awhile) and the third change means it might require more than four real estate if multiple are built in a single round (which happens at least a couple times per game).

The results of these three changes were bad. The game slowed down way too much. In fact, the first and second ages took so long that the third age only lasted a few rounds (as opposed to the normal 10-15) because every single piece of real estate in the game was built, which triggers the end of the game as a failsafe. So, while the total number of rounds in the game was correct, the rounds were misdistributed. The last couple of rounds in the second age saw players having nothing meaningful to do. The third age ended so quickly that not a single third-age advancement was purchased (disasterous if you are pursuing the sell-research strategy as I was) and most market demand was vastly unfilled.

The problem was one of overcorrection. Two of the changes slowed the game down while the third change only prevented the game from taking ridiculously long but didn't affect the overall speed. My next test will use the following rules to fix the pacing:

  • The Progress deck will be made up of 3 City cards, 3 Country cards, and 4 Recycle cards (as in this last test)
  • The new limit of 4 Progress chips will be kept (I like these two changes together, because they shift the maximum certainty of age end from 75% to 80%, which is higher but was low enough to keep the tension)
  • Revert to the original rule of adding a chip for each real estate build

The game will still be less prone to sudden-end syndrome than it was originally (addressing Seth's concerns), but it will now be far less likely for the should-only-happen-one-in-twenty-times alternate end condition of "all real estate being built" to short-circuit the third age before players can do interesting things.

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