Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gearing up for v17 playtest

It's been a while since there was a progress update on the game, but I haven't been completely idle. I did have a chance to try out a couple of the ideas mentioned in the last post, namely (a) changed the Unrest track to 1/2/2/3/3/3/4/4/5 from 1/2/3/4/5/6/7, (b) when you choose "Govern", you get one reduction on the Unrest track for free (but may pay for others), (c) added 8 "trade route destination" spaces, valued 1-3, around the board, and (d) when a player foregoes one of the two actions he's allowed each turn, he may spend that action placing a "trade route" (a road piece from Settlers) on the border between two territories.

For (a) and (b), this change made the Unrest system seem less punitive, and gives you some additional flexibility -- you don't feel as bad about taking on Unrest -- but in practice it did seem that everyone stayed at about 3 or below, which is a bit more homogeneity than I'd like. I'm inclined to try (a) without (b), because pscyhologically, what seems to hold you back as a player from taking on more Unrest is seeing the number move up.

For (c) and (d), the intent is to separate the scoring category based on trade routes from the achievement tokens you get from trade routes, and to reduce the number of the latter that your trade routes can produce. And, to make trade routes easier for players to visualize. This change seems to have the desired effect -- you are forced to think about how to place your trade routes in a way that also connects you to other players cities/capitals, AND to place your own cities and capital in such a way to promote players passing through them. However, there seemed to be a great deal of homogeneity in the way routes were placed: basically, everyone's routes looked nearly identical. One thought I had was to instead place trade route destination spaces on the border between two territories. There are 28 territories, but 64 borders between territories, so placing the destinations on the borders makes them more of a target that can be approached in multiple ways. The main question at this point is whether to have all destinations be worth 1 (for the purposes of the "trade route" scoring category) or to have some be more lucrative than others. In either case, I think these will be hard-wired on to the board.

Finally, I am trying, though it is hard, to act as the "voice of the player", and to represent what the player wants to be able to do against the imperialistic designer, trying to suppress their happy-go-lucky fun with restrictions! And the one thing that I consistently find frustrating as a player is the occasional need for two-turn actions, where there are two things I want to do in succession, but can't because of the way the action board is laid out. Since the Generations only last (typically) 2-3 turns, having to spend two turns to do something I want to do is too time consuming. Now the action board does a good job of enabling most of the two-step combos you'll want to pull (eg Raid/Conquer, Govern/Build, Migrate/Populate, etc), and, indeed, that was why it was created in the first place. But there are some combos you want to do -- eg Migrate/Produce, to move and then recalculate production, Chronicle/Produce, to record a Chronicle and then produce the achievement tokens you'll need to pay for it, or Produce/Govern, to get the resources you need to reduce Unrest -- that the current board doesn't allow.

Now going to an extreme that lets you take any two actions you want would be a terrible idea, as it would lead to analysis overload, and would remove some of the structure associated with the combos as currently constituted. But it basically looks like there will be times that you would like to be able to use Produce with just about every other ability (except Raid, probably), and maybe the solution is simply to redraw the Action board to allow that; so, instead of a 3 x 3 grid with Produce in the center, maybe the board should simply be an octagonal ring, with Produce in the center. The structure of the outer ring would essentially be unaltered, but now all abilities would also be usable with Produce.