Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Playtesting preparations

Tomorrow after work I plan to bring my prototype of "East India Company" to Game Parlor in Chantilly, Virginia, for a playtest session with some of my gaming buddies.  One problem I had with this prototype at the UnPub ProtoZone event at Congress of Gamers last month was that the labels I had made for the ships didn't stick well to the spray-painted basswood ship pieces that I'd made.  So I spent this evening re-gluing all the labels with Elmer's white glue.  I'll leave them to dry overnight in the hope that they won't start peeling off again tomorrow afternoon.

English galleon with a full load en route to European markets

I have four rules updates based on the Congress of Gamers playtest that I hope will address two concerns I have - (1) game length and (2) the apparent inadequate return on investment of ships.  Although I'd thought I'd fixed the game duration problem, the CoG playtest ran over four hours, which suggests that I still haven't fully licked this problem.  But the thing that really surprised me was that the winner of the game (Darrell Louder) never bought a ship.  He just kept running goods that other players weren't buying (which in itself is a good strategy) using the same medium ship with which he started the game.  I want the players to face a legitimate cost-opportunity trade for investing in ships; but I'm concerned that, as it stands, there may be a default one-ship strategy that would make the game boring.

So, the rules updates for the next playtest will be:

  • Players start with a small ship and ten coins (the original starting condition); players will not have the option to start with a medium ship and six coins (as the last playtest allowed).
  • Players may turn in a ship for a two-Indie credit toward the construction of a ship the next size up.
  • Ships will move one space faster per turn than before (i.e. small ships will now move two, medium ships three, and large ships four spaces).
  • A new game-end trigger will occur when four colonies have three tiles each (in addition to the existing game-end trigger of seven colonies having two tiles each).
Now, the second rule change allows a player to take his starting small ship and, on his first turn, upgrade it to a medium ship for four Indies.  So, instead of allowing a player to start the game with a medium ship and less money, I'm requiring him to take one turn of ship construction to accomplish the same effect.  It's a minor difference, but in combination with speeding the ships up (so that a small ship can reach more locations on the first turn), I think the first-turn upgrade strategy will not be automatic.

The additional game end trigger will prevent the situation we ran into at CoG where the game ran the maximum possible number of turns, when six colonies accumulated three tiles each before the seventh colony got its second.  

So we'll see if these changes are effective.

One last note:  I realize that to people who haven't played "EIC," the rule details in my designer's notes may be fairly meaningless.  I'm hopeful, though, that by sharing my thoughts as I develop this game that people will be inspired, both in their interest to play this game and in approaching the design of their own games.  I've certainly felt that way in reading other game design blogs, like (for example) those of Seth Jaffee and Chris Norwood.  I've never seen or played "Alter Ego" or "Acute Care" (respectively), but reading Seth's and Chris's notes on their respective design processes and concerns has helped to illuminate my own.  

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