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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Notes from Eighty-eight Playtest

Brandon (left), Lester (right), guest (center)

What we tried

This was a play through of the latest edition of the game, with two veteran playtesters (one who hadn't played in a while), and a new player.

What went really well this time was teaching the game. This was roughly my fifth time explaining the latest version of the rules, and they're really clicking into place; enough so that the new player was able to win his first game (and I only held back a little).

Teaching Script

Players each control these two characters (show and tell which is which), a hunter and a gatherer. Every turn, the first thing you need to decide whether to do is hunt or gather.

The characters go around exploring and collecting things.

Then you'll come back and turn in those things at the village to score points on hunt and gather tracks (move scoring cubes).

At the end of the game we remove our higher score (remove one score cube), so it's important to do well at both. (If new players don't volunteer something about a balanced diet, mention here. In this case he did.)

Now lets look at a typical turn (take out gatherer). We can walk up to 4 spaces (show, and mention no diagonal moves) but we'll typically start out closer to home. We can explore two times (pick up disk, keep hidden). If it's deadly we'll have to show it. If it's a plant we can pick it up. But only one type of plant at a time. (collect a plant tile)

You put a claim disk down on the space where you collected something. Both your characters can now walk over that space for free.

Now let's look at hunting. Hunters need equipment. On your first turn of the game you'll get 4 points worth, here are costs (point to bottom of cards). Characters can swap equipment if they're on the same spot.

Let's take a sling and a spear. (Show exploring, find a non-deadly animal, and a hunting roll.)

OK, time to score points. Scoring takes whole turn, no exploring, just walk home. (Take home character with best scoring opportunity, show how that works. Take other character home to score.)

Show other hunting equipment, Bow & Arrows, Atlatl (spear-thrower). Mention that you can trade in equipment to upgrade.

Talk about deadly animals and death, but re-assure that families were big back then, so if a character dies a cousin or nephew will step in, and you'll get an additional goal and a couple points for new equipment.

Show gatherer equipment. The pouch works well to remind players that gatherers can only collect one type of plant at a time.

Show a couple secret goals.

Deal out secret goals and start play. Remind players that they must both hunt and gather, because only the lower of the two counts in the end.

Conclusion

That's about it. The tar pits on the board usually come up as questions (simple to explain you can't walk there). It also helps to show people how the back of their secret goal cards works as a player board, and is important so that you can tell who has plants or animals they haven't scored yet.

There are more details, and this isn't a word-per-word script, but a structure that worked well, did more showing than telling, and reinforced some of the more important rules by mentioning them more than once.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Upgrade Kits

I've sent out upgrade kits to the remote playtesters who participated in the first big round of blind playtesting. This post is a supplement to the card labeled "Instructions" hiding in with the player aids. (It is double sided!)

Here is an overview of what's new:

  1. Starting points are always 4, regardless of the number of players.
  2. There are a few more goals, and goals are worth more points.
  3. The hunting system has been simplified. Instead of weapons having attack modifiers, now you just need to roll the number on the equipment card.
  4. When a character dies, the next time you use that character you get an extra goal and 2 points for equipment.
  5. The better equipment is now more powerful, but more expensive.
  6. You can trade in equipment to get better/different equipment throughout the game.
  7. There are 50% more exploration disks so the game takes closer to an hour than 45 minutes.
I hope you enjoy the changes!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Notes from Eighty-seventh Playtest

What we tried

Dying, lots of dying. We needed to test whether the game would fall apart when players aggressively gathered goals by intentionally killing their characters.

Notes

It worked! We broke the game for the first time in years. The timing couldn't be better, as I'm about to send out upgrade kits for the holidays, and a copy to a publisher.

Dan was the most aggressive, taking only a club every time he died, and getting himself killed nine times! I tried to balance getting goals with successful exploration, trading in clubs for a bow, bow for an atlatl, and finally atlatl for a pouch, successfully collecting 15 disks.

Here is the final score break down:

Dan's base score (lower of two) was 32.

Out of ten goals, the following scored:
5 points Temperate,
18 points Speaker for the Dead,
8 points Omnivore,
10 points Brave/Foolish,
8 points Wanderers,
12 points Copycat of Specialist

...for a total of 93 points.


My base score was 42.

Out of five goals, the following:
6 points Territorial,
5 points Hoarder,
12 points Gambler turned in for Specialist

...for a total of 65 points.


Conclusion

I think I can kill two birds with one stone here. By limiting the number of goals a player is allowed to collect to 5 or 6, I can also keep the Speaker for the Dead goal down to 8 or 10 points.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Notes from Eighty-sixth Playtest

Emi (playing blue) dominated her boyfriend Mondo (red)

What we tried

I took the Specialist goal for myself so that I could try a more difficult variant of the scoring:
1 point per set of 2 or more.
-or-
6 points per set of 3 or more, maximum 12 points.

I wanted to try a suicide strategy to get lots of goals, but that was incompatible with the Specialist goal, so it would have to wait for later.

Notes

The Gambler goal needed to be clarified to make it clear when to play it.

I told another playtester an opening strategy I had in mind which involved passing equipment back and forth between your characters as they went on suicide runs, but she wasn't playing seriously and didn't execute the strategy well.

Conclusion


The Specialist goal is much improved, you really have to work at it. Emi and Mondo, who have purchased their own copy of the game, enjoyed the improvements including the longer play and more powerful weapons.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Notes from Eighty-fifth Playtest

What we tried

Same rules as last play. The focus now is testing the goals, and trying to die to get more.

Notes

This was a very evenly matched high scoring two player game. We each even made the same mistakes. The final score came down to the goals, we each accomplished both of them.

Conclusion

Specialist, the goal that scores you points for multiple disks of the same type may scale up too high, and despite that doesn't seem to be a goal players pay much attention to during the game, but that concern might just be because I lost two it twice in a row.

Other than that this game is playing smoothly. Next time I do want to try dying more. I'll spend all my starting points on spears for my hunter, and send my gatherer out scouting to find the wolves.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Notes from Eighty-fourth Playtest

Kris and Ryan

What we tried

Instead of a choice between a goal or equipment when a character dies, you always get a goal and only two points for equipment.

I also removed restrictions from trading in equipment. Instead of being required to upgrade, you can now swap out for equal or lesser value.

Notes

This was Ryan's second game, but Kris and I decided to take the gloves off and play as hard as we could. But Kris died on the first turn, so it was an uphill battle. But the game is long enough now (closer to an hour than 45 minutes) that he had time to almost catch up. I triggered end game and prevented him from making a big score and was 10 points ahead. I also accomplished a large goal. Then Kris scored his goals, the first one caught him up to where I was before my goal scored, and the extra goal he had from dying on the first turn pushed him ahead. Very tight and exciting game!

Conclusion

There are goals that can now be completed which were nearly impossible before, Wolf Hunter (kill two wolves) and Crack Shot (kill two rabbits or two squirrels). This is simply because there are now three of each animal instead of two.

I'm still a little bit concerned that a "suicide strategy", getting killed intentionally to get a bunch of goals, might be successful. Back when players got a goal and three points worth of equipment that was definitely a problem (although a pretty advanced strategy), but now it's two points, and the better equipment is more expensive.

Kris, who has been playtesting this game from the beginning, through many revisions, said something great. He said that the game now has the same level of decision making as a much earlier edition of the game, but with much simpler rules. That to me is a breakthrough. Also, the experienced players trounced the score of the newer player, pretty good for a game with both input and output randomness!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Notes from Eighty-third Playtest

Kris, Ryan, Nigel, and Lester. Despite his body language here, Lester won soundly.

Background

This is the first playtest with new players since this latest round of updates, changing the equipment numbers, the amount of disks, and the points on the goals. I taught two new players, and got two of the original playtesters up to speed with the latest changes. I did not play myself, instead I took notes about every play.

Play by Play


Lester

Bought a Sling and a Spear.
Hunter: used a spear to kill a wolf.

Kris

Bought a Pouch and Torch
Gatherer: used the torch on a boar, explored but failed to pick anything up.

Ryan

Bought a Sling and Spear
Hunter: spear fails against Bear, died.

Nigel

Bought a Pouch and Torch
Gatherer: picked up something.

Lester

Hunter: failed to poach rabbit with his sling.

Kris

Gatherer: rolled to live against wolf
Collected plant

Ryan

Re-spawned hunter, bought Sling and Spear.
Hunts wolf with spear, failed and died.

Nigel

Gatherer: explores and gathers a second different plant.

Lester

Hunter: fails to poach (it was a plant), fails to find animal with another explore.

Kris

Gatherer: collects a second plant.

Ryan

Re-spawned his Hunter, buys a Sling and Spear.
Hunts deer with spear, succeeds.

Nigel

Gatherer: used torch on bear, ended turn early for safety.

Lester

Gatherer: picks up plant.

Kris

Gatherer: went home, sold herbs for 6 points.

Ryan

Hunter: sold deer for 12 points.

Nigel

Gatherer: sold berries for 10 points, herbs for 8 points.

Lester

Gatherer: sold nuts for 10 points.

Kris

Hunter: bought club, misses rabbit.

Ryan

Hunter: upgraded Sling to Atatl.
Missed boar, died.

Nigel

Hunter: bought a Bow & 2 Arrows.
Shot bear with bow twice, killing it.

Lester

Scored 15 points for wolf.

Kris

Attempted to hunt a boar with his club, failed and died.

Ryan

Re-spawned gatherer, bought Pouch and Torch.
Gatherer: explores and collects a plant.

Nigel

Buys 2 torches.
Gatherer: collects a plan.

Lester

Hunter: kills boar with spear.

Kris

Re-spawns hunter and buys Bow & Arrow, and a Sling
Hunts and kills a rabbit.

Ryan

Gatherer: finds a non-deadly animal, collects a second plant type.

Nigel

Hunter: found a bear a and shot it with his bow, killing it.

Lester

Sold boar for 15 points.

Kris

Hunted wolf with bow, killed it.
Decided to play it safe and not use sling for his second roll, and rolled a 7 which hit with the bow, but would have missed with the sling.

Ryan

Sold plants for 15 points.

Nigel

Sold nuts for 5 points.

Lester

Bought pouch and torch.
Gatherer: collects a plant.

Kris

Sold wolf for 15 points, rabbit for 7 points.

Ryan

Collects plant

Nigel

Would have liked to swap for a torch for an arrow, but current rules only allow upgrading, not equal value swaps.
Gatherer: found two non-deadly animals.

Lester

Gatherer: collected a second type of plant.

Kris

Bought a torch.
Gatherer: found a non-deadly animal.

Ryan

Bought a Bow & Arrow.
Hunter attacked boar with bow, and killed it.

Nigel 

Gatherer: collected a plant.

Lester

Gatherer: sold berries for 5 points, nuts for 8 points.

Kris

Gatherer: founds non-deadly animal.
Collected a plant.

Ryan

Hunter: sold a boar for 12 points.

Nigel

Gatherer: used a torch to fend off a bear.
Collected a second plant.

Lester

Gatherer: collects a plant.

Kris

Bought Arrows.
Hunter: went after a deer with his bow and killed it.

Ryan

Gatherer: collected a second plant type.

Nigel

Hunter: sold a bear for 10 points.

Lester

Gatherer: sold berries for 8 points.

Kris

Gatherer: sold herbs for 5 points, nuts for 5 points.

Ryan

Bought 2 arrows.
Hunter: Missed a squirrel with his bow.

Nigel

Sold a bear for 15 points.

Lester 

Hunter: missed a squirrel with his sling.

Kris 

Hunter: killed a rabbit with his sling.

Ryan

Gatherer: sold herbs and nuts for 16 points.

Nigel

Gatherer: sold berries for 10 points.

Lester

Hunter: attacked a squirrel with his sling and got it.

Kris

Collects plant

Ryan

Hunter: went after a wolf with with his bow, and got it.

Nigel

Bought arrows and a sling.

Lester

Gatherer: explored twice, doesn't pick anything up.
Triggered end game.

Kris

Hunter: sold a deer for 15 points, and a rabbit for 4 points.

Ryan

Hunter: sold a wolf for 6 points.

Nigel

Hunter: sold a boar for 6 points.

Lester

Hunter: sold a squirrel for 4 points.


Secret Goals 

Kris failed at Pathfinder, Nigel had an equal path.
Ryan wasn't successful at Homebody.
Nigel got 4 points for Isolationist.
Lester couldn't use Copycat because it only works on neighboring players, and Ryan was across the table.

Lester won by correctly assessing the end game, and running out the clock the game before Kris could pull off his master plan.

Conclusion

The consolation prize when a character dies needs adjustment. The rule we've been trying is that you get either 4 points for equipment, or an additional goal, instead of 3 points and a goal. But, even with the more valuable goals, players have not been drawing them. It's too easy to turn 4 points into an atlatl or bow.

I'm considering having characters come back with 2 points and a goal, or else a choice between that option or 4 points. Further playtesting is required.


Another rule I've been debating is the upgrade rule. I think it's great to be able to turn in your starting equipment and purchase something more expensive, but there have been several instances, including in this game, where exchanging for equal value equipment would be a great strategic move. I'll have to playtest that. The quest remains: is it too dangerous to simply allow players to turn any amount of equipment for temporary points, even if that means they might downgrade. Downgrading could be part of a suicide strategy, which I'm trying to keep out of the game. But every rule that gets added to an otherwise tight game puts it in jeopardy, and I might have to lose the whole concept of exchanging equipment. So, more playtesting is required.