Monday, August 16, 2010

3p test and the receding finish line

We had a good 3p test last week; I will post a report in the game's DropBox folder. We had a player who followed a building strategy and scored huge points from his building accomplishments (we think that scoring category may be a bit loose), but I hit on a quirky combo of advance cards that brought him back a little bit: using "Replacement" (remove a structure from a territory and put another in its place) and "Altruism" (you may take a build action in another player's territory), I was able to tear down his valuable Cities and replace them with much more innocuous Storehouses and Amphitheaters. We couldn't decide whether this combo was too powerful or in the spirit of the game, and we do have ways to soften it if need be, but it was fun to see it play out.

We all agreed after playing that mechanically, the game seems more or less complete; we couldn't think of any major structural flaws in the game, although there were a couple of good suggestions for ways that things could be done slightly differently. One particularly interesting idea is to make each chronicle card pay out the same value regardless of which of the six categories you're using it to score for. Currently, each card has 6 categories on it, and gives a threshold and VP payout for each. The concern is that this could be too much information for new players to process, and a more unified framework would make the game easier to learn. I'm worried about scoring homogenization but I think it's worth a try.

So I think that for better or worse, the game has entered its fine-tuning phase. But it's unclear exactly how much fine-tuning it needs. One player made the simple yet alarming observation the other night that, perhaps there are too many territories on the map; perhaps the distribution of territory sizes is incorrect; I added another later: perhaps players have too many peasants (25). I've held most of this stuff fixed throughout the development, and hadn't really thought about changing them. But fine-tuning the game might indeed require adjustments. While adjusting these handles is easy, it's unclear what the "correct" balance will be.

Part of it comes down to what sort of experience the game is trying to create. At present, the game is slightly "loose" -- you mostly have access to as many resources as you need to do what you want to, and you mostly can avoid combat with other players. This is partly because combat is expensive, but also because it's not especially necessary. But what makes adjustment challenging is the possibility for unintended impacts on other systems. For example, reducing the number of territories will put players in closer proximity, but that could also make it easier to form Trade Routes, increasing the number of Achievement Tokens that each has available, which will loosen the game up even more.

Bottom line, it will just need some thinking, and some trial and error. I'd love to punt the tweaking to a developer as I suspect I'm too close to the game to do a really good job of it. But to get started, I'll at least start by removing the "6-capacity" territories and replacing them with 3s, and if that goes well, maybe reduce the number of peasants each player has from 25 to 20.