Sunday, August 21, 2011

Deer in Color

Deer, art by Bob Garvin

Notes from Fiftieth Playtest

A two player playtest with Cybil and myself.

Rules Tried
Villag:e 2-2-3-4-5
Scouting: 3 spaces, no start/end requirements. Only character with lowest score on their track and no tiles can scout.

Secret Goals & Evaluation
Productive as it is now gives a small reward to a player who is doing well. Let's try changing it to 7 points for collecting the most, which might encourage a different strategy.
Omnivore was a fun one to play, helps keep you focused on balance which is good to be doing anyway. Maybe should be only 4 points.

Scouting was used once, but too late. Also, if other player is picking up every turn you fall even further behind.

I'm going to call the village set at 2-2-3-4-5. That bottom slot rarely, if ever, comes into play. But if it does it's on the last turn by a player who got totally hosed by the players before.

To Research
Should the village value track go from low to high or high to low? Cybil is convinced that they normally go high to low, but I'll have to find other example games to verify.

Notes from Solo Playtests Forty-seven to Forty-nine

Here are some rough notes from three solo playtests trying (and failing) to test out some scouting rules variants, but making good progress on the new secret goal rules.

Playtest Forty-seven
Solo playtest, 3 "players"

Rules Tried
Village: 2-2-3-4-5
Scouting: 2 spaces, normal movement. Only restriction is that the character can't have collected any tiles.

Secret Goals & Evaluation
Friendly Neighbor is easy with 3
Master Scout is hard when other players scout -
Brave should have alternative condition - most deadly animals 3 points.

Scouting worked well, but has a bit of a "take advantage of your lead" feel to it, which is the opposite of what I'm trying to do.

Playtest Forty-eight
Solo playtest, 3 "players"

Rules Tried
Village: 2-2-3-4-5
Scouting: 3 spaces, only by player with lowest combined score by a character without tiles. If tie, least tiles. Still tie, no scouting.

Secret Goals & Evaluation
Bear Wrestler is very hard to accomplish, worth the 8 points.
Homebody is not too hard, and conveys some strategic advantage when accomplished and so should remain at 3-4 points.
Crack Shot, as with any other goal requiring 2 specific tiles this is very easy to get blocked out of. Have to think of an alternate goal, 2 rabbits?

Forgot about the scout rule until it was too late for the blue player. Scouting later in the game only makes you lose sooner. I'll have to try it again, but fear the required math makes it too fussy a rule.

Playtest Forty-nine
This would make a good
default 2 player setup
Solo playtest, 3 "players"

Rules Tried
Village 1-2-3-4-5
Scouting: 3 spaces, no start/end requirements. Only character with lowest score on their track and no tiles can scout.

Secret Goals & Evaluation
Hoarder is hard to intentionally get 3 of the same, even by scouting multiple times. Maybe switch rewards to 3 for 2 and 5 for 3?

Bushwhacker (most spaces) will take some practice to do well. Maybe more points?
Explorer is fun, but 6 may be too many points, often advantage to escape the crowd near the village.

Scout, by the time I remembered it, was not enough to catch up. A turn or two earlier it might have helped.

It's time to step back and re-think the scouting rules, or scrap them entirely. I do like the increased strategy & memory they add, but if the rule isn't helping people who are behind catch up, or worse, giving an advantage to players in the lead, then it's not helping.

Secret goals are fun. They're more engaging throughout the game than the old end-game scoring. But I'll have to watch out for goals that can be spoiled easily near the beginning. Perhaps the answer is that each goal should have 2 parts - 2 ways to accomplish it with different points for each?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Secret Goal Rules

Up until now the end-game scoring bonuses have been based on guessing which track (Hunt or Gather) will have the highest score at the end. While players could manipulate this a little, and might make a decision during the last few turns based on it, the only thing it really did was provide a way for my playtesters to tell me how balanced they think the game will be after I present a new rules change, but before we play.

In place of this rule which wasn't really working, I am pulling forward a feature that was planned for the "characters" expansion: variable player goals. At the beginning of the game each player gets a card with their own goal conditions and point bonus.

The high level purpose of these goals is to prevent the players from knowing who has won until the very end, to keep everyone engaged. The in-play purpose of individual goals will often be to encourage players to do things they wouldn't normally do. Much like Dominion: Cornucopia encourages players to buy a wide variety of cards.

Here is my initial (rough) batch of rules:

  1. Pathfinder: 4 points. Most spaces in a single line.
  2. Paranoid: When counting the size of your territory, only count spaces that are touching diagonally.
  3. Gatherer: 5 points. Highest single score is in the Gather track.
  4. Hunter: 5 points. Highest single score is in the Hunt track.
  5. Master Scout: If you can name all the face down tiles at end of game 2 points each, max 8.
  6. Brave: 7 points. Kill at least one of each deadly animal.
  7. Friendly Neighbor: If you have claimed spaces touching a space of each opponent, gain 1 point per player.
  8. Homebody: 4 points. Most spaces touching the village (ties count).
  9. Crack shot: 6 points. Kill 2 squirrels (don't need to sell).
  10. Bear Wrestler: 8 points. Kill a bear with a spear and naked hands (+0 to hit, 1 damage).
  11. Explorer: 6 points. Space furthest from the village (as a character would walk). Ties do not count.
  12. Bushwhacker: 3 points. Most spaces claimed. Ties do not count.
  13. Hoarder. 2 points for selling 2 of the same tile, 6 points for selling 3 of the same. 8 points for doing both (with different tile types)
  14. Productive: 3 points. Most sales. Ties do not count.
  15. Omnivore: 5 points. Same number of plants sold as animals.
In order for these rules to work players will place tiles that were sold to the village under their goal card. This also helps clear up ambiguity around the discard pile rules.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Notes from Forty-sixth Playtest

Board at End Game
This was the second test of a super powerful form of scouting where you can start from the village and explore every empty space you pass. When done correctly (*cough* playtest 45 group *cough*) this will let you explore 3 spaces, gathering lots of information and rapidly accelerating the end of the game.

Another note was that it's a good way to guarantee those 3 tiles are adjacent to your own area.

To Try:
Scouting follows normal exploration rules (4 moves, 2 explores, 2nd explore ends the turn). It would still be restricted to when you don't have any tiles, but it doesn't matter where you start or end your turn. My hope is that this would make it more consistent with other rules, more versatile than it is now, but less powerful in influencing the pace of the game.

Village 1-1-2-3-4
These values are the best so far at balancing the Hunt and Gather score tracks. They punish players who hoard a bunch of animals and try to sell them all at once.) Three out of four players scored higher in Gather, though not the player who won.

But the numbers are too low. I would like there to be more choice in which weapons you take, but in this game the points were so tight I actually went out hunting a second time with a club, even though I had the points to buy something else. And that turned out to be the correct decision, I clubbed a bear and got 2nd place, 2 points behind first.

Also, with the points so low the "secret goal" scoring made too much difference. The winner should have been a runaway winner, but the 10 point swing of guessing wrong while others guess made it really close. Now if we had worked harder to make those goals, that would be a different story...

To Try:
Values: 2-2-3-4-5. Those are very similar (although proportionally they're closer in value to each other). And again, I think that will take us one step closer back to where we started and I'm predicting we will end up: 1-2-3-4-5.

Wounded Animals
There was a suggestion that instead of the hunter getting to choose where a wounded animal runs, that another player should do that. We had been using the driving of the animal (not without historical precedent) as part of our strategy, moving the animal into a more strategic position for our area majority bonus. But I'm willing to try any suggestion, so we'll give it a go.

One effect of having one of your neighbors move the fleeing animal would be to weaken the higher "to hid" odds but lower damage weapons, the Sling and the Bow. Now, compared to the Club and Spear I might be OK with that, it's my opinion that Club and Spear are a little weak. But it would also increase the power of the Atlatl, and that would be bad. It's taken a long time to get that thing balanced.

Rabbit in Color

Rabbit, art by Bob Garvin