Thursday, May 26, 2011

First Playtest

We had a meeting of the Sydney Game Designers last night, with Simon and my housemate Adam attending, and it seemed as good a time as ever to try out my new game. I've tentatively called it "The Forgotten Universe", but I'm sure this will change as much as the game will in time.

I hadn't had much time to self-playtest the game, but I was surprisingly happy with how it went. I think everyone liked the various spaceship cards and the cool things you could do with them, and the planet's abilities and the idea of scavenging dice from planets. But there was one glaring problem, which probably dominated the way the game played. The rondel.

I had originally designed the spaces on the rondel (in clockwise order): Fly, Contact (an extra action I added where you could play a Contact card), Scavenge, Build, Fly, Cog, Planet and Scope. Each turn a player could move up to three spaces clockwise on the rondel, taking the action they landed on. Additionally, if they overtook someone else's piece on the rondel in doing so, that player could also take the action they landed on. For example, if I overtook Adam's piece to take the Fly action, then Adam could also take the fly action for free. This part seemed to work well, except for the possibility of taking an action twice in a row (once free when you're overtaken, and then moving to the space on your next turn) - maybe I should make it that pieces can't share spaces?

The real problem was the order of spaces on the rondel. I thought that I wanted players to have to plan what they wanted to do, and to make it hard for them to just hit the same three spaces turn after turn, so I purposely put actions in a reverse order to what they would be wanted, for example, putting Scavenge just before Build, when in reality players would normally want to build first (to gain a dice storage bay) just before they scavenged.

I had thought that this would increase the choices and hence strategic depth in the game, but I think it just turned out to be annoying, and stodgy. At the end, Adam suggested a smaller rondel, with six spaces, and with some actions combined (I'll get to this later).

The other thing was that Phase 2 space wasn't explored for much of the game because nobody got parts to improve their flying ability, and so couldn't get the 2 points of flight needed to make it to the outer rim. A fix was suggested was the have a special Fly 2 space, which meant that this action would be available to all, but you would still have to make a bit of an effort to fly between the two areas of planets. So what to do with the other Fly space? Combine it with the other actions! The two actions that were used the least in the game were definitely Contact and Cog, so perhaps these are good starting candidates?

So, for the next game, I think I'll try this: Fly 2, Scope, Fly/Contact, Build, Fly/Cog, and Planet. I think I'll keep it possible for players to move up to three spaces, so perhaps we'll see even more overtaking with a smaller rondel. I'll be interested to see how this plays out.

But overall, it was a very promising start, and I can't wait to try again with these new changes! As to the result of the game, I won with a combined military/settle strategy, ending the game when I had placed the last of my six settlements (and even having the Contact that gives me 2 VP for each settlement). The game had seemed to go long enough, but I'll have to monitor this as an end condition. The other one I was playing with was the game ends once all planets have been turned face-up, which was effectively impossible with the Flying problem. Adam seemed to not focus enough on one strategy, building a lot of parts to his ship, and Simon went for a Contact route but couldn't fill the order in time (it would have been a lot closer if he did). He was using a Cog strategy to get there which was good to see. So the pieces are there, I just hope they'll come together in a great game!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Coming round to a solution - perhaps!

I think I might have found a solution to my role selection dilemma - a rondel with a twist! There would be 6 or 8 spots (depending on the number of players, I might double up on some of the actions), with each player able to move 1-3 spaces on the rondel each turn. The catch is that if you ever catch up or land on another player as you take your move, they are able to take the action you're taking as well!

So there would be a balance (hopefully) between setting up your strategy, which would probably revolve around 2 or 3 actions that you would want to hit as often as possible, and not trying to give your opponents free actions. And if you do have to give them free actions, choosing actions that are much more advantageous to you would be a good tactical play.

I've also decided to combine the contacts and ships deck to one deck, and changing the Central planets ability to playing a Contact card from your hand. I'm slowly working through all the cards, half of the ships are done so far (still most of the planets and all of the contacts to do). I'll put more information on the ships and their abilities up here once they're done.

Searching for Role Selection Mechanics

So I've been able to do some more thinking about my new game, and design some of the cards, and while its going slowly, I should hopefully have a prototype ready for the next meeting of the Sydney Board Game Designers. I've solidified the actions available to players, but more importantly I've decided that instead of players placing worlds themselves in the tableau, the worlds will be arranged at the start of the game face down in a 5 x 5 arrangement. The inner 3 x 3 square will be known as the 'Phase 1' worlds, with the outer ring of 16 worlds known as 'Phase 2'. This mainly has implications for movement, as it will take one movement point to move between worlds, but 2 movement points to fly between Phase 1 and Phase 2 space. Players will only start with spaceships that have 1 movement point, so they'll have to upgrade if they want to explore further.

The only planet that will be revealed at the start is the central planet, where all the players start. This planet will have the planetary actions 'Black Market' and 'Gain Contact'. The Black Market is where players can sell dice they've acquired for either more cards or VP, and the Contact action allows you to look at the top three cards of the contact deck, selecting one and discarding the others. Contacts give you VP if you meet certain conditions during the game, and represent supporters of your scavenging trade. For example, one contact might award you a certain number of VP at the end of the game if you have at least one dice of every colour on your ship of value 3 or higher.

So with the planets now pre-dealt, the deck will only consist of spaceship wrecks that you can add to your ship. I'm not sure if this is enough for this deck, but time will tell.

The real issue that I'm spending my time thinking about is the mechanism to select which roles players will select each turn. Initially, I was thinking that players could each select two actions secretly (perhaps by placing markers on a card with 6 boxes, one for each of the available actions): one that they wish to take that turn, and one which they think an opponent will choose. When everything is revealed, players take the action they selected (activating all cards and planets that they control or have settled/conquered for that action as well). If they have correctly guessed, and at least one opponent has selected the action that they bet on, that player would get to take that action as well. But I'm thinking that this might be too swingy, as a player who guesses correctly a lot will get ahead very quickly on actions.

The other idea I was tossing around in my head was a sort of rondel mechanism combined with a turn order mechanism much like in Glen More, where the player last on the rondel selects which action they would go to (say, within 3 spaces), and then each other player may take that action as well, perhaps moving forward 1 space. So there would be some sort of balance between choosing not to follow, and therefore getting to choose your own action more, or following a lot? Mmm...I'm not sure how that would work out.

Anyway, I'll be thinking about this for some time yet - anyone got any ideas for a good role selection mechanism?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A New Start!

Welcome to my new blog about board and card game designing, also known as the dumping ground for my numerous ideas and designs in their various incarnations. My name is Matthew Dunstan, and I’ve recently founded the Sydney Board Game Designers group, seeking to develop and hopefully publish new and exciting games from new Australian designers.

I suppose I should start by outlining what my aims are for this blog (and so I can look back in a few month’s time and wonder where it all went astray!). Firstly, I want to gather my design thoughts and processes in one place, both to help myself and hopefully other people thinking of starting out in the world of game design. I’ve only been designing since the start of this year, so I am still very new to this gig, and I’m sure I’ve got plenty to learn. Hopefully my mistakes (and *fingers crossed* successes) will be of help to other designers.

I also want to talk about other exciting designs by other Australian designers, and raise their profiles. I’ll be including some interviews with some of the fellow members of the Sydney group, and other designers should they be ok with it. I’ll also hopefully have regular reports of our group’s playtesting sessions and updates about current designs.

Alright, enough with the introductions! What am I thinking about at the moment? Well, I just got introduced to Race for the Galaxy a few weeks ago and have been playing it whenever I can since then. I love this game! The interactions between the different cards, the duality built into some of these cards to function as miniature engines (an example being the planets which combine a simple produce with a simple consume power), and the many different intricate strategies that I am still discovering. Of course, towering over all of this is the beautiful design that is the role cards, and all the “surely he’ll settle this turn…hmm, I’ll produce then and get this settle this sweet production planet first then” thoughts that you go through in a game.

So of course I am led foolishly to design a game that emulates Race for the Galaxy. My idea started with this idea of you being some sort of space scavenger, scouring the galaxy for relics and technologies of long-dead alien civilizations. Players will place worlds as they discover them in a tableau of worlds, which they can navigate in their spaceships. These worlds serve two purposes: firstly, they will usually contain some samples of technology (represented by coloured dice – different colours will identify different alien races). The number showing on the dice will indicate the sophistication of the technology, or perhaps how well the player can use and understand the relic that they’ve just found. Either way, players will be able to improve the technologies they find (moving the dice to higher numbers), which will allow them to do more powerful things with the technology, or to sell it for more victory points.

These technologies are able to be scavenged by players without having to invade or settle the worlds, the idea being that these planets are basically deserted, with only ruins remaining. However, there will be some worlds which either need to be overcome by force (perhaps because the aliens left some defensive systems which are still intact) or need a research station to be settled on them to provide a different sort of benefit to players.

The other type of card in the game will be space ships – hulks, again left behind by more advanced races, which can be scavenged and attached to your spaceship to improve its capabilities. Sometimes these cards will help you fly further in a single action, or provide you with weapons to help invade planets for example. The catch is that often these parts will require to be powered by alien technology (the dice which can be scavenged from planets).

Spaceship cards will be split in half, with different capabilities on each half. As you play a card, you have to choose which half you’ll use, and then you’ll slide it under your current spaceship on the appropriate side.

So this seems like a decent start. But I’m still a bit stuck for an action selection mechanism. At the moment, I’ve figured out 6 starting actions for each player:

Military - conquer planets which are hostile

Discover - place new planets face down in the tableau, or place a research station on a planet which is already face up (and where your spaceship is currently)

Manufacture - various worlds and spaceships will have manufacturing powers, mostly related to improving the dice you currently have on board, or selling/using these dice.

Build - Add a new spaceship card to your spaceship

Fly - Move your spaceship to a new planet in the tableau

Scour - Draw new cards from the deck (containing both new planets and spaceships).

But I don’t know how they should be chosen, and how to make this sufficiently different to Race for the Galaxy. For now, I’ve decided that each player will choose an action each turn, and every player can take this action when it is chosen. Different cards will improve what you can do when certain actions are selected by you or the opponent, so this will hopefully provide some tension when trying to use the actions which most help you and least help your opponents. But I’m still thinking of how to make this better. I’m also concerned about how similar this is to Race for the Galaxy (even though the gameplay I think will be very different).