A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Friday, August 11, 2017

Into the temple again

A playtest this week seems to indicate that the latest version of the encounter mechanic outside the temple is working reasonably well.  You flip a card, which describes the scene you face and provides you with a track.  You collect some white dice (good) and red dice (bad), and roll; successes move your marker up the track, bad results move the enemy pawn closer to your city, and when the pawn reaches you, further bad results start to cause damage.  It's straightforward but surprisingly enjoyable and tense -- you can feel like you're safe and then suddenly the enemy closes in on you really quickly!  So it does at least seem to be a way of creating tension and suspense in the encounter phase
.


A more interesting design challenge is shaping up to be in the temple phase.  At present, three are two rows of three cards (representing, in the Grail scenario, the traversal from the start city to the temple, and the temple entrance to the grail room), followed by the grail room itself, and then the final hubris challenge.




Each of those two rows of cards has three cards in it, and I tried something simpler than what the previous post describes:  each card has a single 'peril' on it, of which there are six types.  You must roll four red (bad) dice against the challenge, less one for each symbol you have on an equipment card that matches the card's peril.  And then each 'hit' on the red dice gives a token, and at the end of each card, whoever has the most tokens flips over and resolves a whammy card, and then discards their tokens.




This system turns out to be a bit fragile with respect to two different forms of what I call the "trivial strategy".  The first form is, I forego acquiring information and simply acquire equipment cards, since there's a good chance that any equipment card I pick has a good chance of doing me at least some good.  The second form is, I do almost nothing outside the temple, accept that I'm going to roll poorly in the temple and take damage, and then just try to scoot through the hubris challenge and win by being furthest back on the time track (which increments each time you actually do stuff on a turn outside the temple).




It's hard to address both of these trivial strategies with a single solution.  For example, if we want to make the 'do nothing' strategy a loser, then we could make the whammy cards really bad, such that being totally unprepared means you're really going to get whomped by the temple.  But that doesn't make me want information -- if anything, it pushes you even more into the arms of the 'just get equipment' strategy, because you want as many cards as you can possibly get.  Whereas, any system where I want to get equipment AND info to know what to do with it takes twice as many actions, and so I might feel that just doing nothing is ultimately a better solution.


What makes this even harder to solve is that any modification probably adds steps to the resolution phase, which right now is very quick, and probably adds additional information that you have to record in the map phase as you're getting to look at temple cards.


The next thing I'm planning to try is hopefully an acceptable compromise that also addresses both trivial strategy.  Each slot in the temple will now have a 'peril' card and a 'challenge' card.  You roll 4 'temple dice' on each card, less one for each symbol on your equipment that matches the peril card.  The outcomes on this die are either 'traps' (which cause damage), or 'noise' (which give you 'noise tokens').  On each future card, you also roll red dice, one for each noise token that you hold.  These are the same dice you rolled in encounters and represent the enemy, so it maybe makes thematic sense -- make noise in the temple and it draws the enemy closer to catching you.  The results of the red dice also cause damage.


If you discard an equipment card that matches the 'challenge card' for your current temple slot, you get to cancel the damage you get from traps or from the enemy die.


But!  Prior to revealing the temple card, everyone puts a marker on any one of their equipment cards, and that card's symbols are doubled.  So, this can help you roll fewer temple dice as well as cancel the effects of BOTH traps and enemy dice with a single discard.


But!  You also have a special card with all of the peril symbols and equipment symbols on them, and you can place a marker on any one symbol on that card instead of on one of your equipment cards.  This is useful if, for example, you know the peril but didn't acquire the right equipment for that peril -- at least your info still helps you a bit.


I think that this helps counteract both trivial strategies.  Having equipment and knowledge is strictly better than equipment alone because of the doubling effects.  And both are better than having no equipment, because you're going to take a beating both from the temple dice and the enemy dice.


It might be possible to get a similar effect out a single type of die but I sort of like the feedback loop of noise begetting enemy dice.


The biggest downside seems to be that it's just a bit fiddly for each person to set up for each card.  It would go much faster if each player has their own stash of dice, but including 40 dice in the box doesn't seem very likely.  Maybe dice could be sold separately as a way of accelerating the game, though.  Or maybe there's a way to roll all of the dice together for all players but each player only looks at the number of dice that they're supposed to have rolled. 



Monday, May 15, 2017

Progressing steadily

We've had several tests of the system described in the previous couple of posts, and in principle things work well.  The three main ingredients that this new (version 12) system uses are:

- Encounters.  On your turn outside the temple, to get info about the temple you roll dice to move your marker up on a track, but must also roll 'bad' dice to move another marker on a 'whammy' track.  When you choose to stop rolling, you take whatever clues you're entitled to and whatever whammies you're obligated to take. 

- Linear temple.  The temple is now a row of cards, and your clue lookups really just consist of getting to look at those cards.  Each has a couple of pieces of information, the most important of which is the card's 'aspect' -- knowing this helps you to know what equipment card you need to acquire to give you more dice.

During temple exploration, you again roll dice to pass each card, and move your marker for each roll you take.  So, having more dice on a card is better because it boosts your likelihood of needing fewer rolls on the card.

At the end of each "stage" of the temple, we rearrange turn order based on how many rolls everyone took to clear that level.  Being in front when the temple ends is good, because it puts you in first position to face the Hubris Challenge!

- Hubris.  Some equipment cards let you take a hubris in exchange from some improved ability, and then the final challenge has you roll dice, with each success allowing you to eliminate one hubris.  And, you hope to purge all of your hubris before the timer runs out.    First person to do it wins.


We've tested this a couple of times and it seems like the game still takes too long.  It plays in about 2 hours, which feels like too long for the amount of stuff that you actually get to do and the significant role that luck plays in the game.  While some of this can be attributed to new/slow player effects, the turns don't seem to get faster.

A couple of simple-ish changes might help with this.

- Better dice.  Currently the 'success' die has three 'success' faces, and the 'whammy' die has two 'whammy' faces.  Even when you're rolling two or three of each die, it's not unusual to have a couple of rolls in a row that produce little or no progress, so it often takes six or seven rolls to reach an outcome on the encounter track.  For four players over seven or eight turns outside the temple, that's a lot of rolls in total, and maybe we just need to get the absolute number of rolls down.  Simply having more 'success' faces could accelerate things.  I also think we could change the meaning of the 'whammy' result.  It could be that there is a single 'enemy pawn', and when you get a 'whammy' result, it moves one space closer to your city.  If it reaches your city, [bad thing] happens, so there's some tension in the enemy getting closer and closer.  Details are TBD but this may be promising.

- No dice in the temple.  I had been thinking that all three phases of the game (external, temple, hubris challenge) needed to have dice-based challenges so that the mechanics all felt like they hung together.  But I am starting to think that in the temple, we can get away with just a quick knowledge check style of resolution rather than a die resolution for each card.

The problem is that in v12, having knowledge means you get the right gear which means you roll more dice which means your odds of passing the cards quickly are improved.  To make this work in a strict knowledge-check system, what might work is that each temple card has three 'paths', two of which contain a whammy (one is worse than the other), and the third contains a shortcut if you have the right equipment card.  At the start of the card everyone picks a path (A, B, or C), then reveal the card to see whether you picked the 'right' path.

So if you've seen the card you can try to get the right gear, but if you can't get it you at least know to pick the less bad whammy path.  Whereas if you happen to have the right gear but don't know the path that uses it won't help you that much.  You might still get lucky but over a few cards knowledge should win out.

- Time track.  What form do those 'whammies' take in the temple?  I think it's that you take hits on a 'time track'.  This makes thematic sense -- if you don't have the rope you can't take the shortest path to the canyon floor, and must go around, which costs you time.  Expand this to all aspects of the game, including the exploration phase -- traveling a greater distance takes more time, etc.  So in the end, the player who retrieves the artifact first is the one who is furthest back on the time track. 


- Hubris expanded.  In the previous version hubris was a bolt-on to the system, and it sort of felt that way.  Since the final challenge is all about purging hubris, it seems that getting hubris must be more front-and-center.  I think that this can be enhanced simply by having certain equipment cards, and certain encounters, and maybe certain theme cards, require that you take on hubris to access them.  Removing the sacred shield from its resting place to get info about the temple is a hubristic act, for example.  I think this puts time and hubris in tension with one another, and makes the value of information more subjective.  

There's a balance to be struck here.  On the one hand, the bad guys are always undone by their own hubris in the end, so clearly hubris needs to be key to being able to win.  On the other hand, the IJ movies are action/adventure stories, not Greek tragedy, so we want to be careful not to make the whole game about hubris.  I think the existence of the time track may help provide the right thematic balance.  Ultimately, you're trying to be first to get the artifact.  Using less hubris than another player may result in that player beating you to the finish line, but at the same time, if you use too much hubris in pursuit of the artifact, there's a reckoning in the end. 





Monday, November 14, 2016

Hubris

As I've probably observed in the past, there's one aspect of the films that we haven't yet figured out how to capture in a game mechanical way.  Namely, Indy doesn't actually defeat the enemy.  He finds the artifact, but then the enemy swoops in and take it from him almost immediately.  But then, the enemy operatives are undone by their own hubris.

Steve has suggested, and I agree, that the game might be more interesting if the Nazis aren't NPCs, but instead are represented by at least one player.  And a playtester suggested going all the way in this direction, to where all of the players are Nazis, and are all following Indy (an NPC), jockeying to position themselves to pounce right at the right moment.  I think either of these would work but I do suspect that some players would be uncomfortable being forced to play the role of the Nazis or even "the Enemy".  It would reduce the audience for the game somewhat.

So, the compromise solution, in my mind, is that each player gets 4 starting Equipment cards.  All players have the four canonical "Indy" items -- whip, pistol, fedora, satchel -- on one side of the cards.  On the back side of the cards are equipment items that correspond to a character who is perhaps a bit more "grey", shall we say, with respect to ethics and motivation.

I realized that this might give an opportunity to introduce the idea of hubris after all.  It could function something like corruption in Cleopatra and the Society of Architects.  It's a currency that you receive in exchange for taking more powerful actions, but it has a bad effect at the end of the game.  And if these effects are tied to equipment, it should be basically seamless; i.e., it doesn't need a separate set of rules to police it.

As for the bad thing that happens to you: I think we need something more interesting than the obvious "whoever has the most hubris at game's end automatically loses".  This game is about risk management, and so it would be most appropriate for hubris to expose you to risk.  My first thought is that maybe it's as simple as: if you are first to exit the temple with the artifact, you must face a "hubris" challenge.  I guess you would have to roll dice in the same way that challenges are typically resolved, with white dice giving you check marks and red dice giving x's.  You must roll as many check marks as the number of hubris tokens you've acquired (i.e. each success lets you "discard" a hubris) before you roll some number of X's, which is maybe scenario-specific.  So, the more hubris you've taken on to improve your position or hurt your opponents' position, it will make that final challenge harder to pass.  And if you fail, the next person takes their chance, and so on.  Of course, if you fail to recover the artifact successfully in the first place (e.g. you choose poorly for the grail), you don't even get to this point.

I suspect this will be tricky to balance but in principle it seems doable.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Simultaneity in the temple

We had a reasonably successful test of the ideas discussed in the previous post at Spielbany this weekend.  One player pulled a Forrestal and was killed by traps just outside the temple entrance while the other players jockeyed for position all through the temple.  In the end, both had a single "life point" left, but the one player crossed the finish line one space ahead of the other, and three spaces ahead of the Nazis.  The basic structure of the game worked pretty well.  The temple phase had too many cards and thus took way too long, and the external phase had some issues with challenges ratcheting up in difficulty too quickly, but the basic engine seems to be successful.  It's a bit weird to play without clues and check marks and solution lookups, but I think the game still seems to preserve the core idea even without those systems, surprisingly.

One funny thing is how this version recycled some of the version 7 ideas but gave them a little twist.  For example, as you can see in the image, there are cubes placed in cities as you do stuff there (ignore the colors, they don't mean anything), but instead of setting the challenge difficulty, the number of cubes set the number of bad (red) dice you roll when facing a challenge.  And, I didn't have time to get encounter cards made up so we used a die-roll and lookup table to tell what challenge you would face (lower right), and actually, it worked perfectly well.  

The rolling dice for information, and pressing your luck to try to get more clues, seemed to be really quite successful.   Things may need to be tweaked a bit but there are enough rolls that there's some scope for lucky and unlucky things to happen, yet there's some suspense with almost every roll.  It was a bit too frequent that continuing to roll would have no obvious down-side, so we need to worry about that a bit, but the basic idea seems fun. 




There were a few issues, of course, and the biggest seems to be controlling the traversal of the temple.  As mentioned, it's essentially a single row of cards, and you pass through one card at a time.  Except, you can be "aggressive", at some risk, and try to pass two cards at a time.  This resulted in players being spread out, which has a few problems.

- Trailing players get to know 'for free' what cards await them.  This loses the suspense of the reveal, and also decreases the importance of the information system (although being prepared with the right equipment is still important).

- The rules governing the order in which players attempt to move "simultaneously" were extremely fiddly; I was annoyed by them and I wasn't even playing!

- It wasn't clear what happened to you if you failed to pass a card, or if you passed the card but triggered a trap and then failed to pass that, and so on.  

I think that to preserve the row-of-cards temple, the rule must be that all players explore simultaneously -- we all progress to the next room together, every step of the way.  How, then, to choose a winner?  I think that there would need to be a track that monitors our relative position.  

The resolution of the cards would also change.  Currently, each card tells how many successes you need to roll in a single roll of the dice; you roll your dice, and succeed and advance, or fail and stay put.  This would change to "keep rolling until you succeed."  Then, whoever succeeded with the fewest rolls would move to the front of the line.  This rewards knowledge and preparation, since having the right equipment will make you more likely to succeed.

It doesn't exactly allow you to open up a big lead.  However, cubes are a resource, so players who are poorly prepared will have to burn cubes to get die rolls (whereas you, with the right equipment, will get dice to roll for free), and/or will need more rolls to succeed, exposing them to more risk of taking damage.  So hopefully it will balance out.

There would also be an effect whereby you can try to step over the player(s) that are ahead of you by taking a more risky action, reflected simply by rolling a die that may trigger a trap or noise that alerts the Nazis.  So you can actively jockey for position, or you can hope that you have better knowledge and equipment than the other players and that they'll stumble, letting you shoot past them.  This should become more tense later in the temple.

One nice thing is that this can also integrate the Nazis straightforwardly as an NPC.  Each card has a number of successes that are needed; that number can be "par", and the Nazis always make par.  So on the rope bridge, maybe the number is 2, so the Nazis will take two 'rolls' to cross.  If you can cross on one roll, you move ahead of them.  If you take two, you maintain your position relative to them.  If you take three, and you were ahead of them, you fall behind.  And so on.

I think this keeps everyone in the game until the end, but with the limited black cube supply there will still be elimination, but the game ends quickly enough after players are eliminated that this shouldn't be too much of a problem.

The key to making it work seems to be getting things very tightly balanced:  you have to have just the right number of cubes that losing even one is painful, and information has to be valuable enough that having the right equipment is crucial to suppressing your risk of losing those precious time cubes.



Saturday, July 9, 2016

New new directions?

The latest new direction described in the previous post was to expand the role of the turn-end cube-pulling concepts more broadly into more aspects of the game.  The intent was to create a way to modulate the player's exposure to risk, by changing, based on various factors, the composition of black and white cubes in the cup.

Limitations of the old new system

Solo playtesting of the idea has gone ok, but live playtests of a couple of permutations of these concepts haven't been very successful.  The tests are showing that these cube-pulling concepts don't introduce as much tension or suspense as was hoped.  Part of the reason seems to be that players will generally suppress risk whenever possible, and will do so at the expense of efficiency; so, for example, they will "overpay" to put white cubes into the cup to reduce their risk of drawing black cubes.  This reduces the number of failures of challenges and things like that.

Second, the latest solution for exploring the temple as a 2D grid, similar in some ways to the version before that, just isn't succeeding.  Or rather, it's no more successful than the previous version, whether you draw cubes to resolve effects like noise and traps at the turn end (the way the previous approach worked) or during each action (the way the new version worked).  I think the turn end approach is superior, but still, the overall flow of the temple isn't communicating the experience that I think the game's interested publisher wants.

Third, the idea of enemy operatives chasing you around sort of works -- they do indeed chase you around increasingly aggressively as the game proceeds.  But it's not yet clear what they should do when they reach you.  My idea has been that they make the challenges harder, but if you don't attempt challenges and just draw cards, they are just kind of sitting there watching you; it's a bit weird.

A new new way forward?

So, what to do next?  As a result of discussions after the playtests, I'm considering trying some changes that seem a bit extreme but actually hearken back to some of the earliest ideas in the game.

The first is to abandon the 2D approach to the temple, and to replace it with a row of cards (or tiles or whatever) the represent your progress through the temple, possibly broken up into a couple of phases.  These abstractly represent the different layers to the temple.  So in the Raiders scenario, it would be "Locate Tanis", "Find the Well of Souls", "Retrieve the Ark", for example; and a row of cards would correspond to each of these layers.

I think the idea might be that each card has a couple of different parallel paths, going from left to right, and each card you choose which you want to be on and then reveal the next one.

The second is to replace the idea of adventure cards with a static hand of cards, from which you "equip" yourself with perhaps 3 prior to each temple phase.  So, your knowledge of the temple phases dictates which cards you'll bring along.  The "base" cards you start with will give some help, or there will be better cards that you can acquire that may be even more helpful, but more specialized/situational.

The third is to change the way challenges (outside) and temple moves (inside) are resolved, with (gulp) die-rolling.  The idea might be that you have a "good" die, and can add more through various means, and have a number of "bad" dice dependent on the enemy presence, and hope to roll the number of "good" results you need before you roll enough "bad" results to fail.

The fourth is to perhaps go back to the old cubes-in-cities way of representing enemy presence, but with a twist.  Give each player 15 cubes (or whatever), which represent "how many things you get to do before the enemy finds the artifact", so it's essentially four clocks running in parallel (assuming 4 players).  But when you take an action in a city, you place one of the cubes in that city.  And the number of "bad" dice you roll when you attempt to do something in a city is equal to that number of cubes.  So it's actually in some ways very much like the v7 system.

The fifth is the most extreme.  During setup, the temple phases are arranged by randomly drawing and constructing the indicated card rows from the corresponding decks (with some rules governing how to do this of course), and the cards are all placed face-down.  Visiting a theme card then entitles you to look at one or more face-down cards in a particular phase.  The temple cards will have on their backs one or more icons that authorize you to look at that card, and so if you visit a theme card having that icon, it could authorize you to look at that card.  (Keeping the idea from the old new version, it may be that each card look during a visit requires a certain number of "good" results on the dice, so there could still be a press-your-luck thing -- you can keep looking at temple cards as long as your luck holds).

Thoughts

This still retains some of the thematic ideas we've wanted to include, e.g. "digging on partial info".  Maybe you've seen two of the four cards leading from the start city to the temple entrance, and you know that (a) on card two, you'll pass through jungle terrain, so better bring a machete, and (b) on card four, the south path leads to a trap so don't end up on that one if you can avoid it!  You don't have knowledge about cards one and three, so you'll have to do your best with those once they're revealed.

Exploration of the temple would be, I suppose, simultaneous -- everyone pick a path and move onto the next card, then reveal the card and each player resolves in turn order -- and the enemy's location in the temple would be abstract and represented by which card the enemy is on, or something like that.

I'm not sure these ideas collectively work.  I think they're a dramatic simplification but I wonder if that isn't what the game wants at this point; maybe it wants to be a 75 minute beer and pretzels "dice chucker".  I still like the Euro version of the game, but my latest attempts to make it more "thematic" with cube pulling ideas seem to not have given the desired results, so maybe going all the way to dice-based challenge resolution and theme cards letting you look physically at solution info will help give the right feel.  My hope is that the cube timer rules will impose the interesting decisions on you -- you're time-constrained overall so you have to strike the right balance between getting info and getting equipment.  Since you can only "activate" a few pieces of equipment at a time, there's no benefit to having a huge inventory of equipment, so efficiency is the name of the game.

Spielbany is a few weeks away; perhaps I'll have a proto with these ideas ready by then...

Monday, June 6, 2016

New ideas: post playtest thoughts and changes

We playtested the new ideas mentioned in the last post, and while the general reaction to having challenges outside the temple resolve with a cube-pulling system was favorable, some tweaking is needed.


The two biggest concerns were (a) it takes a little bit of time and effort to set up the encounters (putting all the right cubes in the cup), and (b) if the rules for the "outside" and "inside" phases are different, the game may be too complex.


Other comments were: (i) encounters should just be about getting check marks -- having rewards like adventure cards as part of the challenge system was a distraction;  (ii) instead of an enemy progress track there could be an enemy progress "pool" of black cubes, and this could be integrated with the cube-pulling tangibly; (iii) in some way enemy interest in you could build as the game goes on, making the game more difficult for you and maybe forcing you to take a turn to go to ground and lose some of the heat.


So, I have been tinkering with a system that pulls these together and integrates with the temple concepts.  At your turn start, you take a black cube from the pool and add it to an (empty) cup.  You're given 4 white cubes, which you can add to the cup at any time.  Then, you take actions, all of which involve pulling cubes for the cup.


If you choose move or "reward", you draw a cube.  Whether white or black, you complete the action, but if black, you add that cube to your personal enemy track, and, if there's an enemy operative that is as close to you as the number of cubes on your track, you move that enemy to your city. 


This mirrors the way movement in the temple works -- pull a cube and resolve -- and this idea of a "pull radius" mirrors the way that noise will work in the temple.  If you generate enough noise, the enemy comes looking for you; outside, if you generate enough "noise", that enemy informants can take notice of, they come after you.  I think this is a nicely thematic solution for how to get the enemy to seem like they're chasing after you.


When you face an encounter, add an extra black cube to the cup (from the pool) for each enemy operative in your city.  You can pay cards to add white cubes to the cup, then you start pulling cubes.  With each black cube that you draw, something bad happens, and the severity of the bad thing depends, I think, on your enemy track.   After 3 black cubes, you fail the encounter outright.  But if you get enough white cubes to pass the encounter, you get to visit the city's theme card.


After the encounter (I think), you empty the cup of white cubes, but not black.  So if you keep going in your turn, the enemy is still putting you at risk.  And with each move or each reward, there's the possibility that they'll follow you.  More actions in the same city just increases this risk.  Of course, you can use cards to try to mitigate your risk.  And the hope is that the tension will simply be between holding cards to help you in the temple, vs. needing to use them to get info about the temple.


Another suggested big chance was to not use a physical 2D temple, but instead represent the temple abstractly, with the temple rewarding you more for better info/guesses.  The way I suppose this could work is that each aspect of the temple (grail room location, true grail, etc), would have a solution card, and you'd enter your "guess" using the solution sleeve, then flip the card over.  It would then tell you how many cubes you need to pull from the cup and resolve.  The better your guess, the smaller this number will be. 


Maybe the temple is physically represented as a row of 4-6 cards with "gates" between them, and each gate is patrolled by one of the solution cards (each card could have more than one gate).  These gates are, of course, abstractions; one might represent "where is the temple?", one might represent a key puzzle, one might represent the search for the grail room, one might represent picking the true grail, etc.  The point is, it's a way of capturing what goes on in the temple without needing to balance a set of 2D movement rules. 


I think the 2D movement system will align more with the publisher's preferences, but it may be that this more abstract system combined with the cube-pulling might give the right effect where information is beneficial but there's still unpredictability as to the outcomes.  And since this is roughly how the very first temple worked (without the cube pulling), this is something of a full circle moment!


Another thought: if the temple itself is an abstraction, perhaps the need for a separate temple phase can also be abstracted away.  In other words, you have a "board pawn" and a "temple pawn"; certain actions you take, as you acquire more information, authorize you to advance your "temple pawn".  Not sure this is a good idea though.


(Relatedly, encounters could work this way too, as we previously discussed; the encounter card could give you a row of options for how to attempt to resolve it, you pick which one you want to try, and then the encounter card tells you how many cubes you need to pull.  I like this idea but think it adds too much complexity to the encounter resolution)


Finally, the idea of using small cubes instead of check marks to represent info worked fine.  But I wondered if even better might be that the clue cubes could become clue chits, that are labeled with the clue that they give you, and you need maybe 2 of the same clue chit to get that clue -- two halves of the map, as it were.  I like this idea in principle -- encourages you to want to move around with bigger jumps, maybe motivates some trades -- but I worry that it might be too fiddly in practice.  But it helps answer the question, "why would I want to shoot across the globe to interview Sallah to get his yellow cubes, when there are yellow cubes right here in my city on the Grail Diary?"  If it's that I have a Yellow A clue chit and Sallah has one of those, whereas the Grail Diary has Yellow B, maybe that's an answer.  (Of course, I might want to get B before shooting over to try to get that second A!)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Three new ideas

The game is currently being evaluated by a publisher.  The publisher has called attention to a few areas that they feel could be improved, so I've been brainstorming possible solutions.






First, the publisher feels the challenges are insufficiently tense.  We could switch from the current "pay cards to resolve" system to a "press your luck" system.  When you face an encounter, you need a certain number of 'successes' to get a reward (some rewards have a few tiers or "stop points"), where a success means "you drew a white cube out of a cup containing white and black cubes" -- correspondingly, "failure" means "you drew a black cube". 






Before you start drawing, you have to add cubes to the cup, of course.  You add one black cube automatically, plus one for each Enemy Operative in the city.  Then you can pay adventure points to add white cubes.  However, the catch is that you don't get "extra" white cubes back even if you pass the challenge -- whatever you committed to the cup is lost.






This is part of an overall simplification of the outside-the-temple system, which used to have Enemy Operatives, Ally Cards, Item Cards, Reward Tiles, Theme Cards, and probably a few other things.  It wasn't unmanageable, but game length is a concern of the publisher's so streamlining will give the players less to do, which should make things quicker.






Second, the publisher wasn't happy with the temple; they felt that it wasn't tense enough.  Specifically, they would like something more interesting with the temple challenges.  The new idea changes the way the temple is navigated and the info about the temple that the game "knows".






To move through the temple, you'd now pull a cube from the cup for each move.  White means "safe move", black means "you hit a wall", which physically gets added to the board.  Brown means "you triggered a trap!": draw a trap tile, place it on the room and resolve.  Some of the traps could have special effects, like the boulder that continues to roll through all rooms in a row until it hits a wall, or poison gas that affects all adjacent rooms.  Resolving a trap, though, will be quick -- just pay a card in that challenge category, or else...not sure what, get sent back to the entrance, I guess.






So the topography of the temple -- its obstacles and routes -- will be assembled on the fly.  The location of important features in the temple, however, would now be contained on solution cards.  The cards will no longer know "the grail is revealed by pulling the Lever" and it's that you have to find the Lever; rather, it knows that the grail is in room D3, and you have to use the clues to navigate the temple to find that the grail room is D3.






Finally, though not directly in response to the publisher, I also had the thought that instead of giving clues in order, it could simply be that each card has 3 or 4 available clues and you can access any one you like.  I'm not sure if they're all equally good or perhaps some are slightly better (maybe it's known which is which and the better ones cost more?)  I like this idea because I think it will create more asymmetry between the players.  If there are 12 total clues in each game and a player typically accesses, maybe, 7 or 8 of those, then you know a lot but not everything, and what you know is different from the 7 or 8 things that other players know (although there's some overlap).  If Joe goes east in the temple when you went west, is it because he knows something you don't know, or are you equally clueless? 




There are two other ideas that I don't think are as game-changing but that I still think are worth trying.




The first is quite simple:  players can use Adventure cards twice.  The first time, you play from the hand to the table; second time you discard.  I think may make intermediate-range planning a little easier on you.  And, it might give you tougher decisions about possibly using a card "inefficiently"; you know you'll get to use the card again so maybe you're tempted to use it just for an AP instead of holding out for a challenge in its category.




The second is to allow player trades through a simple card-based mechanism.  Open negotiation is a time sink, but structured trades could work.  There would be three "trade cards", each of which shows two rewards, one on either end of the card.  To initiate a trade, you simply place the card between you and another player, with the reward that you want to get facing you.  The other player can accept, or counter by replacing the card with one of the others.  The trades would be to swap check marks (which represent information) or for adventure cards, mostly.