Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Perfect planning

There are some good discussions underway about the potential for perfect-planning in the game, particularly with respect to the scoring system. Although some people like games with a high degree of analysis, perfect planning can bog a game down which can really extend its length. There are 3 aspects that I'm watching:

-- Because each scoring card requires you to meet a specific threshold of "whatevers", players may take a long time deciding which card to take, as they calculate out the exact number of "whatevers" they can get before the next scoring round.

-- Because there are 6 different scoring categories and 7 scoring cards, new players, who haven't locked in to a particular strategy, may spend a long time selecting choosing a card that best fits their empire and will give them the most points.

-- Because the scoring cards are held face up and are drawn before they are scored, player X could spend a long time perfect-planning a way to get player Y's holdings below the threshold of the card that Y holds so that Y can't score his points.

I think my plan at present is to monitor problem 1 for now to get more insight into whether it's very serious, and to address problem 2 by perhaps providing more strategic guidance to new players when teaching the game. For problem 3, a suggestion was made that would allow players to select Chronicles face-down in such a way that you'd know what category a person was going for but would not know the threshold or VP value of the card they've selected. This imperfect information might make the scoring rounds more exciting, in addition to (possibly) mitigating the third problem, so it might be worth a try.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

4 player playtest

We had a lively 4 player session the other night, to test out the new action selection system. The game wasn't significantly shorter as hoped, but several of us are slow, deliberate players anyway, so it's difficult to say for certain. The new mechanic was a success and was well received. The ability to choose two abilities creates interesting situations. For example, I know I can initiate up to 3 combats each generation, but only once each can I pair combat with the migrate (lets me move warriors AND peasants), raid (lets me move warriors only, and loot resources) and produce (grab bonus resources from one territory) actions. That means each use of the combat action will give me slightly different abilities, and I have to plan carefully if I expect to need to fight multiple times in a given generation. And most of the abilities, especially build and advance, have similar considerations.

Overall, the session was a good success, and the final scores were very close (44/41/33/32), with the winner determined by the game end bonuses. I anticipate only two small changes prior to the next session (no Events in the final epoch, and don't reshuffle the Events until the deck is fully depleted). The newly rebalanced scoring cards seem to be producing fairly close games, and none of the payouts seem too generous or too stingy so far.

One concern a player brought up: since Roads homogenize the trade route landscape so much, does "Trade Routes" make sense as a scoring category? Will players be very differentiated in this, or can any player basically score the same as anyone else? Something to watch for.

A report on the session has been placed in the DropBox folder.