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!

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