This past week we met once in class, and twice out. (One of those times was actually the day before class, but it didn't make it into the last entry, so I'll write about it here). We fine-tuned the rules, going through one iteration of card design each time, and play-tested with some non-class players.
For the meeting on Tuesday before class, Isaac and I made up a preliminary rule-book that described how to go through a turn (at the time it was picking 2 actions out of a list of 5), described the two win conditions – 16 buildings being built, or running out of money. The document also had some ideas for card values and names. Hai Ann and Trisha brought in a set of cards based on that document, and we met at a table near the Livingston student center Dunkin Donuts.
Before we even started playing, we realized we didn't have enough cards to finish a game. There were also 3 different sets of card values – the ones drawn on the cards, values Isaac brought with him on a paper, and the ones in the prototype rules document. We tried to use Isaac's, but it turned out to be too confusing to try to play with values that were not on the card, especially when there were conflicting values drawn on the cards, so we switched to those.
I found our first attempt at playing the game very boring, but everyone else enjoyed it. I chose a character that had a cool skill, but started with no money. The way the deck was shuffled and Isaac started, I ended up drawing gold my first turn, having it stolen by Isaac, then the mine collapsed and I had to pass at least one turn, then just drawing gold for several more turns while everyone else did interesting things. So that was that was one major issue. We also found out that winning the game could be done too quickly. In a few turns, Isaac was able to buy anything he wanted from the store. He commented that we unknowingly set the price of some of the buildings to be the same as the price of a pick-ax.
We stopped playing pretty much right there, since the card values were basically broken. The game could be won very fast by a player before someone that started with a bad character choice could even start playing. Trisha came up with a preliminary solution to that problem very fast, and we spent the rest of the meeting – 1.5 to 2 hours – implementing that. The implementation consisted of Isaac naming cards, and Trisha giving us a value/effect for the card. She came up with a price range for building cards (all these values would be cut by half next play test, but the synergy and effects made it to our current prototype) and the tool/action cards.
At this point we had two disagreements about the post office and using it to trade. My suggestion was using it to pay for any agreed-upon trade between a visitor and any other player. That was unanimously (except for by me) rejected, I still don't know why, but a week later I'm glad it wasn't implemented. Argued for it for about 10 minutes though. As cool as the idea sounds, later play tests show it being both useless with our decks, and disruptive to the game balance. No one wanted to trade anyway, and players interacted enough on their own during the game. There was also enough to pay attention to between two shops, card synergy, hand management, and so on, that having to consider other players' cards as another source of resources would have become overwhelming. The other idea that was rejected was having forced card-swaps with other players. Stealing was implemented, but forced card swaps felt wrong.
During the class meeting, Hai Ann brought an updated color deck, and we tried another play-test. It was a lot more fun, but we didn't even come close to winning, it took too long to get closer to the win condition. This test was also cut off early, and this is when we halved the building costs. Now they overlapped with the higher end tool costs, but on our next playtest, it looked like this condition would be attainable. We cut it off when we started getting a lot of ideas for new rules and cards, and worked on that. After talking about the game representing a town, Trisha came up with the idea that the game could be won when enough of each part of town was built, and based the requirements on some famous Hierarchy of needs. We grouped the cards more-or-less into those needs, gave each need a color, and a pyramid-like progression of how many buildings would be needed from each level. The professor gave us several good ideas to strengthen this theme – making the workers require housing, and facing the buildings inwards, and discounts for higher tier cards when buying lower ones among them.
Our final meeting was at Hai Ann's apartment on Friday. I was about 10 minutes late (bike maintenance issue), but when I got there Hai Ann, Trisha, and two of Hai Ann's friends were deep into the game. They seemed to be enjoying it, and this is the first time the game was tested start to finish, and the first time it was done with outside players. The game took about 45 minutes, and the entire time the four players were into it enough that Isaac and I were pretty much ignored, which I think is a good thing.
We didn't have time to implement many new rules during that meeting, but we did find some problems and make some observations during that play session:
- balance seemed OK – Scores were reasonably close at the end, Trisha won, but one of the new players were almost tied for second
- some game cycles forced players to draw gold several turns in a row – boring for a turn or two, player wanted more actions. One possible fix, currently implemented, is 3 actions per turn instead of 2. Problem with that is that 2 works during the beginning. Maybe 2 to start, and an easy way to increase 3 at the right time in the game – pending solution we're happy with.
- Being a chaos player (this is my role in about 75% of games I play, card and otherwise) isn't possible to game-breaking extent. The most I can do is be mildly annoying, the tools are just too expensive. I never have enough money to do more than one annoying thing every few rounds, and those actions were easy to recover from.
- The amount of concentration required to play seems to have luckily turned out about how we wanted it. The 2 design-team and 2 new players had interactions about ¾ game related, ¼ unrelated social, and I didn't notice anyone getting bored, even during the aforementioned gold drawing cycles. That might be a result of the players being friends though, I get bored on cycles like that in other games.
- We found that we didn't balance our deck right. Two cards critical to winning (some high level buildings needed to complete the town) didn't come up for 45 minutes. Hopefully fixed by taking out some of the huge surplus of low level cards, and adding some high level ones, but we didn't test yet.