A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Solo testing of the ideas of the previous posts has me feeling like I'm spinning my wheels and maybe struggling a bit to capture what exactly is the goal of this game.  It's odd, in that I thought that v14.4 was very close to done.  In a way it was, but the problem with v15.0 may in hindsight also have been an issue with v14.4 that merely went unnoticed.

The idea is that instead of the v7 approach of having a hand of action cards that you constantly spend and replenish, v13 and on have used a display of cards that you permanently keep; now they're on a mat, which represents your character's core attributes, and thematically it's great.  Then when you go into an encounter, you choose which of those things you want to use, and 'activate' them with cubes, but you can instead be selfish and allocate cubes to the 'rewards' area of your mat.  However, it's common that you only have one card that pertains to the current encounter, or maybe even 0.  It's not selfish to not contribute to a challenge if you're unable to, and it's not even that altruistic to contribute when you can.  This decision just isn't that suspenseful.

But that was ok when the encounter prompted players for a decision after each die roll/resolution card flip, because the real decisions were going to lie in the brinksmanship of the encounter resolution -- do I stay in or get out?  But if we're now putting the resolution on rails (mostly as a way to keep slow players from stalling out the game by peppering them for too many decisions), then the investment decisions have to carry the full freight, and so they may need to be beefed up a bit.

How to do this?  That's what I've been struggling with.  My current solution may hold some promise but it's a bit clunky.  First, you still have a mat, but you also have some cards that can correspond to different encounter attributes.  After the encounter details are revealed, everyone selects a number of cubes, and then those are revealed.  Then everyone picks a role -- you choose to be on the good guys or bad guys for the present encounter.

Then, everyone allocates the cubes they 'bid' to their mat AND to cards in hand.  Each cube you allocate costs one step on the time track, unless the associated card is already on your mat.  (Hubris factors into this as well but ignore that for now).  After the encounter, you can 'promote' a card that you used onto your mat; otherwise you must discard the card.  But keeping a card clogs up space on your mat that you might prefer to have open later for cards that interact with the temple perils.

In addition to activating cards, you can instead allocate cubes to a 'catch-all' box that can either be used to block you from harm during the encounter or to claim extra rewards after the encounter.  After all cubes are allocated, we add up the investment for each side, with each player contributing one point of investment to their side for each card they activated that pertains to the encounter (e.g. matches its challenge category or location or whatever).

Then, resolve the encounter, and winning side gets their rewards, AND gets to draw a new card each.  Losers are stuck with what they had going in, but they do get to choose the next encounter.

Now this has a fair number of steps to it in the setup, and I think that's a down side.  But I can make an argument for each one, and so it's not clear how to make it simpler. 

- The bidding cubes puts you in the driver's seat for the better roles (which carry more freebie rewards with them), but it may cost you more time. 

- Picking a side means you're judging which side seems potentially better positioned to do well based on the geography.  And picking earlier means to get a more lucrative role on the side you choose, but also that you have less info about which side seems stronger based on which side the players before you join.

- Allocating cubes is your chance to double-cross.  If your side has a couple of other players, you might allocate cubes to the shield/reward box to save your own skin as opposed to putting them on cards to strengthen your team.

If you lost any of these, your decisions would be based largely on guesswork.  For example, if I just picked roles without the cube bid, I'd be guessing about what everyone's likely to do.  If I first see, ah, you bid 6 cubes and joined the enemy this turn, he bid 3 cubes and joined the good guys, well, now I maybe have some basis for judging your relative intentions and who I want to side with.  Whereas if you just allocated your cubes to your mat in the first phase, the decisions would be much more deterministic and mathy, and there wouldn't be as much room for double-crossing.  We basically tried that live and it didn't work very well.  It should be quick -- "bid cubes, pick roles, then allocate your cubes, boom, done", but will it be?  I'm not sure.

I'm finding that it's very hard to solo test, and so it's hard to predict how it will go in live testing.  On the one hand I could see it leading to some nice decisions, but on the other I can see the three prompts leading to 20 minute encounters and another trip back to the drawing board...

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The finish line recedes once more

We had the game's first 5p session on Saturday, and it went rather poorly.  It's tempting to just write it off as a consequence of the player count and/or just a bad test, but there were a few concerns that are worth contemplating.

First, the encounters and their in-or-out decisions prompt the players for a lot of decisions in rapid succession.  For slow players, these decisions, though simple, come at a faster pace than they can keep up with.  We had progressed through 6 encounters in about 90 minutes, way too slow.

But second, one player expressed the view that the in/out decision is, game-theoretically speaking, easy and therefore uninteresting.  If you had only set aside one cube for a reward, get out early; if you have multiple cubes in for rewards, stay as long as you can.  But chances are the players with low rewards had high investment, and when they leave, everyone else wants to leave too.  Now I think there's a bit more to the decision space than this, chiefly that, if the group always leaves encounters early and with few rewards, the temple is going to eat them alive.  But if it takes a full play through to see this, maybe that's not going to give a good first player experience.

So, what to do?  A suggestion was discussed, which I think has promise.  In each encounter, there would be two teams (good guys/bad guys), and each player drafts a particular role -- the protagonist, the love interest, the antagonist, maybe even an extra, etc -- which is affiliated with one team or the other.  Then, players 'invest' by allocating cubes to the cards they have that match the encounter, and your investment goes to the team you've chosen for this encounter.  Then resolve the encounter in the usual way, but it's on rails -- no one exits until one side or the other wins, and only the players on that side get rewards.

The nice thing is that, since you choose roles before you invest, there's some speculation, but there's still the ability to double-cross.  Someone joined your team thinking you were going to make a big investment, but in reality you held back so as to benefit yourself.  But importantly, the tragedy of the commons concern, of players trying to freeload, is broken.  If I hold back so as to be selfish, it doesn't hurt all of us -- it only hurts my team.  The other team gets the reward.  

In what way can I be 'selfish' and hold back?  I'm not 100% sure but I think there might be two ways. The simpler is that the other team can deal you damage during an encounter, and so cubes you don't allocate to boost the encounter can be used to block this.

The other would lead to bigger changes.  I've said before that your mat represents your character and the cards you add to it represent attributes of your character.  What if these were arranged in a pyramid such that at the top of the pyramid is your most 'iconic' attribute -- the thing that viewers most associate with that character.  But in game terms, maybe there's some way in which this slot is also more powerful, i.e. it gets a multiplier?

Ok, so far so good.  What if also, each time a card is activated, that's you saying "this is a key attribute of this character!", and so the card moves toward the top of the pyramid (switching places with the card ahead of it?)   The thing is, cards that are useful outside the temple are only useful outside the temple, and cards useful in the temple are only useful inside.  So it might be that you'd sometimes want to select the cards that you know will be useful in the temple, so that they can start to float to the top of the pyramid and become more powerful.  Of course, allocating cubes to such cards does you no good in the encounter, but it may help you long-term.  

Relatedly, what if you also have a couple of core abilities that aren't promotable in this way, but they can help with encounters or perhaps convey special powers.  So now you must decide, where those are concerned, do I activate them now for their benefit, or do I instead activate something to promote it to a higher level so it will be more useful long-term?

And then add in to this a possible role for hubris, to promote a card before the encounter resolution rather than after, and/or just to fast-forward or short-circuit the promotion process.

Not sure about this but it might be worth thinking about at least a bit.  It might replace or supplement the idea of placing cubes in the temple to boost cards.  Instead, you're rewarded for knowing early on what cards to get and boost, and to actually spend the time boosting them.

One issue that has come up is with victory.  What does it mean?  Before, it was, thematically, "person who made the shortest movie", but that makes less sense if each encounter we're divvying up roles.  If I was the protagonist the most times, then it would seem silly that a player who was always the extra would be the winner.  Screen time should relate to victory.  There's a bit more to it than that, though -- I think the idea is that the game is about the raw material you're giving to the film's editor, and in the end the winner is the player who emerged from the editing process as the protagonist.  So it could be that a minimal contributor could be edited to be the protagonist, if the more invested character's arc results in his death.  And so maybe that's the tension -- players who acquire more screen time acquire more rewards, but are also more of a target for damage, and so maybe it all balances out.

There's the added complication that not all screen time is equal.  Screen time that you eat up being on camera is good, screen time for exposition is less good, but the combination of the two is your film's length and if it's too long you've bored everyone.  So do we also need to track "good time" and "bad time" for each character?  But this too is a bit strange, since the roles that you draft are what give you your "good time" points.  Thus maybe it's just that total running time is a guard rail you have to avoid crashing into.  That's acceptable but it means we're back to needing a concept of victory.  Maybe back to achievements that pay out VPs a la v7?

Maybe it's just as simple as you "win" each of the cards of the temple:  start city, five 'peril' cards, grail room, five hubris cards.  Winner is the person who survives to the end and possesses the most cards of the survivors.  Or shift it around such that grail room is worth 2 VP and each hubris card is worth 1/2 VP, or whatever.   This at least gives you something tangible to shoot for, and it's the thing the game seems to be telling you to shoot for anyway -- 'prepare for the temple!'  So it may not actually change the player behavior that much, and may even motivate more logical behavior.  No one has enough experience with the game to have reached this level, but you could sort of see skilled players gaming the time system in odd ways, since time ultimately equals score.  If time is instead just a finite currency you have to spend, then the winning behavior is much more straightforward and much less gamey.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The rules, and musings on player count

As a follow up to the nutshell post, here's a link to the full rule set (v14.4):  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UObIdfNkddg6VM1gSupXs3CSpH_t4CXP--cKG6NOQFU/edit?usp=sharing

The document is too long and too formatted to copy and paste it into a blog post, but hopefully the link works and everything in the rule set makes sense.

The rules state that the game now seats from 2-5, although I think with a small qualifier or two, 1-5 should be supportable.

We've always viewed 4p as the max, partly due to latency issues and partly due to timing problems associated with the turn-based mechanics of the game.  There were a few systems that depended on which player did such-and-such first, and these kind of rules can leave the last player in turn order out of luck through no fault of his/her own.

With the new rules, simultaneity addresses the latency concern and the timing concern, to some extent -- there is still a 'choose rewards in order' effect but as it affects only those players who drop out of the encounter at the same time, and as the start player should change pretty frequently, this may not be too harmful for a later player. 

It's not a certainty that there's enough information to go around in a 5p game.  I think there are at least enough cards:  each player has 7 slots on his mat, and the group as a whole will get to look at 36 cards over the game.  Of these, for each of the six perils, there are 8 symbols in the deck, and typically there will be 4 unique perils in the temple (5 cards but statistically one peril will show up twice), so that's 32 relevant peril symbols, meaning that each player in a 5p game can get about 6, and cube allocation lets you extend the value of the symbols you've gotten.

What I worry about more is the encounter system.  Players invest in the encounter, and so naturally when there are more players there is more total investment and so the encounter is 'easier'.  But how do we quantify an encounter's ease?  I think it's mostly about how close you can get to the enemy pawn and still have a chance of getting info before the pawn reaches your city.  In a big group, you'll be able to skate closer to the enemy whereas in a smaller group you'll have to travel further away.  This will cost more time in a small group than in a big group.

However, in a big group, you have more competition for the same number of rewards, which means (a) you won't always be able to get the adventure cards that you want, and (b) you'll often be looking at temple cards after other players have viewed them, meaning you have to take a time penalty.

My hope, then, is that the combination of these effects will actually make the different player counts feel qualitatively different.  This is one of my favorite aspects of Knizia's Lord of the Rings, and it would be great to have it come through here as well.  There may be some tweaks necessary to realize it, and of particular concern is whether certain character mats are too good or too weak at a given player count.   

Monday, December 11, 2017

Same nut, different shell

The latest flurry of posts have reflected a flurry of activity in the last several months, but as the snows have stopped and the shovels have been put down, I think a new 'state of the game' has emerged, and so it might be good to write out a new 'nutshell' post to summarize what that means.

Lost Adventures is (now) a game about the creation of an adventure archaeology movie.  Each player is a screenwriter, guiding the fortunes of their preferred character through the film.  The player whose character emerges from the screenwriting process (a) alive (i.e. not killed by the plot of the movie) and (b) with the film of the shortest total running time, has earned the right to have that character be the protagonist of the film.  The player is given a mat with 7 slots for 'adventure cards', four of which begin filled (but which can be overwritten) -- these represent the iconic attributes that the player's character will be remembered for in the film.

An adventure archaeology film has three key elements (not counting the in media res opening sequence):  a lost artifact is hidden somewhere, and the protagonist(s) must acquire information to locate it; (b) the protagonist(s) enter a lost temple and pass through its perils to acquire that artifact, and (c) a vigorous Enemy is pursuing him/them every step of the way.

The information-gathering happens in the "map phase", a series of nine shared encounters.  Each turn, an active player (furthest back on time track) selects a city to travel to, and flips over an encounter card, which sets the scene.  First that player, and then all other players simultaneously, allocate 3-4 cubes to their player mat, representing their investment in the encounter.  They can play cubes so as to boost the group's chances in the encounter (mostly through the use of adventure cards that match the encounter in some way), or to their 'rewards' box, or they can elect to forego the encounter entirely.  (Joining the encounter incurs a jump on the time track, plus a second if the player must change regions to reach the encounter -- so sometimes you want to sit out).

Once everyone has committed, the 'investment track' is adjusted and we begin flipping 'resolution cards', which represent the storyboarding of the scene.  Each has some check marks and some X's.  X's move the enemy closer to the active city.  Check marks increase the success track.  After each resolution card, players decide whether to stay in or get out and claim rewards.  If you get out, you receive rewards equal to the current number on the success track, but only as many as the number of cubes you allocated to rewards.  And when you exit, you take your investment with you.

Rewards are either the ability to look at temple cards, or the right to receive (draft) adventure cards.

Commentary:  Thus, in the map phase, we have two sources of interplayer tension -- you want to commit enough that the group will be successful, but you also want to entitle yourself to receive rewards, as well.  And, you want to stay in long enough to claim rewards, but get out before bad stuff happens and/or before other players take the rewards you had wanted.

After the nine encounters, players enter the temple.  The temple consists (in the grail scenario) of two rows of cards, each of which has a single peril.  Players will have acquired adventure cards that have icons corresponding to these perils.  Prior to each temple card's revelation, each player may allocate cubes to adventure cards on his player mat, which adds 2 to each peril symbol, should it match the temple card.  Then the card and the player cubes are revealed, and players place their pawns on the temple analogue of the investment track'.  Then we also reveal a resolution card, but this time, all spaces on its track are filled with negative things -- 'traps', 'noise', or 'enemy' -- and the things you incur are those located between your position and that of the player with the highest number of matching peril symbols.  So if the current temple card has 'fear' as the peril, you have 3 'fear' symbols and the player with the most has 6, then you incur the penalties on the resolution card at spaces 3, 4, 5, and 6.  The card lines up with the track nicely so this is all very intuitive.

Commentary:  Thus, in the temple phase, we have interplayer tension of a different sort, but it's specifically related to the cube allocation phase.  You know what cards everyone has, but you don't know (or maybe you don't remember) what information they have -- so do you place a cube to boost your preparation for this next peril, possibly putting you on top?  Or, if you think it's likely another player will also boost their prep for this card, perhaps you're better saving that cube when it can have a bigger relative impact.  Plenty of doublethink happens in this phase, amplified by cubes being a limited resource.

After the temple perils, we reach (grail scenario) the grail room, which contains 10 grails to choose from.  Each has 3 characteristics and cards representing the three characteristics of the true grail were viewable as rewards during the map phase.  Each player picks a grail; those who choose wisely get a small reward, but those who choose poorly take on a curse, which affects them in the final phase.

Throughout the game, you can get better actions, or more of them, by taking on hubris.  Of course, in an adventure archaeology movie, the enemy is undone by its hubris in the end, causing the bad guy's face to melt off.  In this game, this happens via the 'hubris challenge'.  This also uses 'resolution cards', and there's a corresponding investment track.  Your position on that track is given by (a) green cubes you managed to acquire during the map phase, for things like staying in an encounter to the bitter end or revealing the whereabouts of a relic, and (b) cubes in your own color that you didn't allocate to boost your peril symbols in the previous phase.  Resolution cards here are similar to the encounters -- flip a card and all checks below your 'investment level' purge one hubris token each.  If after five cards you're out of hubris, you've passed the challenge.  But it's not so simple, because each card causes some pain, particularly if you took on a curse at some point.

This all sounds like a lot, and maybe it is, but because every player is involved in every action of the game, the latency is quite low, and the total game length shouldn't be too bad.  I think that each encounter should be able to play out in about 5-6 minutes, and the temple, maybe 3 minutes per temple card and 1 per hubris card, so with 5 perils, the grail room, and then 5 hubris cards, that's another 20-25 minutes.  So 75-90 minutes seems realistic.  There are definitely some resolution luck elements, and I don't think it is, or intends to be, a deep 90 minute strategy game like Puerto Rico or Goa.  But, there are a lot of interplayer effects and meaningful decisions, nearly 100% uptime, and abundant thematic immersion, so I hope on balance it's an experience players will enjoy.

And taking a step back (maybe this will be the subject of a future post), I think it's actually a nice mixture of previous versions' ideas, albeit after running them through the blender on 'high' for a while.  It has the linear temple and temple perils of v1, the add-cubes-to-the-board-as-you-travel of v4-7, the enemy-chases-you of v10, the suspenseful encounters and persistent adventure card effects of v11, the jockeying for position of v12, and of course lots of stuff from v13.  I might not go so far as to say this is what the game has been trying to become all along, because I still think v7 really embodied all of our original design goals.  But I would say this version is the culmination of everything that came before v7 and everything that we've tried since; and I think it's still true to the original vision, even as it has shifted in player experience from a tense efficiency puzzle to a tense interplayer scramble.  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

No dice

In its present form (v14!), the game requires 12 dice — three white, used in encounters and in the hubris challenge, three red used just in encounters, and three green used in the temple.  They work fairly well apart from needing to hand the green dice around in the temple and the white dice around in the hubris challenge.

Nevertheless I had a different idea for using cards resolving encounters that might be worth considering.  During the prep phase of the encounter, players ‘contribute’, which advances the market on the ‘investment’ track.  Ordinarily you get white dice equal to the value on that track divided by two.  But instead there could be, on each ‘resolution card’, a row of boxes that line up with the spaces on that track, and some of those boxes are filled with check marks.  For each check mark that’s in a box that is below the position of the marker on the investment track, you increment the success track, just as you would have done had you gotten ‘hits’ on the dice.  So for example, say a card has check marks at box 1, 3, 7 and 8.  If we as a group invested enough that we’re at 7 on the investment track, then we’d get 3 successes, whereas if we were at 8 or above then we’d get 4.  And the red dice could be handled similarly, and on the same card actually.

I think it’s possible this could speed up resolution a bit although it’s probably less intuitive and so might create some confusion or at least a learning curve.   But I think it has a few upsides.  The biggest is that these resolution cards could help sell the movie-making theme.  The idea of rolling dice to resolve encounters is a bit vague in terms of what it represents thematically.  These cards could be ‘storyboard’ cards, with storyboard art, and the idea could be that each flip of a card could be the screenplay saying what happens next.  (In a world where money was no object you’d have a separate resolution deck for each challenge type or city shape but I doubt we live in that world).  But viewing it this way, each player can also have a hand of a few of these cards, and they can be thought of as ‘script rewrites’ — you can play them to get a better outcome than what you just flipped, or to give the other players a worse outcome if you’re not currently in the encounter.

Another advantage is that it allows the investment to be more fine grained.  Currently every step of investment is worth half a die.  I don’t mind effects like this, but with these cards you could have 5 be better than 4 as opposed to being equal.  In fact you could still have effects like 5 is a little better than 4 but 6 is significantly better, and similar for 7, 6, and 8.  But that might be counter intuitive.

It turns out that the temple can be resolved with the same system and it’s actually much faster.  For each temple card, we find the number of peril symbols we have that match the temple card’s peril, then put ourselves on a track.  Then we each roll dice equal to the delta between our individual position on that track and that of the player who had the most matching symbols.  This requires handing dice around and is a bit slow.  But the resolution card approach could be quick.  Same as the encounter approach, there are a row of boxes with symbols and you line that card up with the track.  Just apply the symbols that appear between your marker and that of the highest player.

And the hubris challenge can be done similarly as well — look at the number of green cubes you hold, and apply all successes lower than that, each one eliminating a hubris.  In some ways this is a big improvement.  The hubris challenge can be really swingy.  I’ve seen times when on a given roll one player, rolling two dice, eliminated 4 hubris and another rolling three dice eliminated none.  This should even out but there may not be enough rolls for that to happen.  I can’t think of a way to do a shared dice pool if we’re all rolling different numbers of dice (roll one a t a time I guess but that’s slow) so this could really help making things fair.  There’s still luck but at least it’s not different luck for everyone.  Although perhaps in a way this is bad, as there’s no come from behind win; if you have 5 cubes and I have 4, you’re sure to get rid of as many hubris as I do.  Although we may not have the same number going in of course.

I see two downsides.  The first is that the number of cards needed to get a truly statistically ‘correct’ distribution may be impractical and we may simply have to settle for ‘the statistics are basically correct but we won’t see all possibilities that could theoretically have happened were we to have used dice’.  Maybe that’s ok.  And whether a particular card is good or bad depends on the circumstances.

The other is simply that rolling dice is fun and gives the ‘a-ha!’ moment of excitement.  I don’t know if these cards will still deliver that.

So this system offers a framework that can maybe enhance the theming, can give us more control over the statistics of outcomes, and can speed up some of the resolutions.  Possible downsides are inability to sample all of probability space and the loss of the tactile aspect of die rolling.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How to win

For as many years as this game has been under development, I think there's a question we've asked surprising few times:  what does winning represent?

I don't mean in the thematic sense, because we've certainly worried about that, and come to the conclusion that it should simply be 'the person who first retrieved the artifact'.  More recently we've appended "...and whose face didn't melt in the final hubris challenge" to that.

No, what I mean is, does the game's scoring system actually award the win to the player who played the best game?  We've worried much more about the experience the game communicates, but relatively less about whether it's 'fair', strictly speaking.

I don't know the answer to that question, surprisingly, but what I want to say is that I'm more optimistic for v14 being able to answer that in the affirmative.  Up to now, the game has just been a race.  Races are by their very nature efficiency puzzles, but v7, v10, and even v12 had some risk management sprinkled in to that.  Do you dig on partial information (perhaps a 50-50 guess) or do you wait until you have full knowledge.  Do you accept that you'll only be able to make a 50-50 guess when you get to the grail room, or do you spend more time outside the temple chasing down complete knowledge on this? 

The board got more difficult as the game progressed, and the enemy stronger, so you were encouraged to go into the temple with partial information, i.e., to try to ride the risk curve.  But viewed that way, the game was really rewarding the player who was the beneficiary of the most 50-50 guesses breaking his way.  Even if you played a 'full knowledge' strategy, you were relying on the players who played more 'guess'-based strategies to guess poorly so that you could catch up with them.  It's an interesting study in playing the odds but because our decisions didn't affect each other too much, we were really exploring this space mostly in isolation and so the results were probably really as binary as the guesses tended to be.  Devising a strategy to crack the 'puzzle', which was different each time, was a fun experience, and you could identify the turning points that decided the winner, so I think it met the standard for a game, but the highly solitaire nature of the game certainly didn't leave you with the feeling you had outperformed the other players.

In some ways I wonder if all 'multiplayer solitaire' games aren't susceptible to this criticism.  That may be a bigger subject, but at least for this game, it's a legitimate question that can be raised.

But the nature of the question gives me more enthusiasm for the v14 changes, which result in a game that is much more interactive.  In the map phase, we're collaborating in encounters, by each contributing some cards that will boost the number of dice we roll -- but when you back out, you take your contribution with you.  So, this provides brinksmanship.  In the temple phase, for a given temple card, we compare the peril symbols we've acquired via adventure cards that match that card's peril, but we can also spend valuable cubes to double the symbols on a given adventure card.  This provides some doublethink.
 To be sure, many dice are rolled in this game and therefore, much of the game's skill is risk management.  But even setting that aside, the interaction between many of the player decisions directly affects the eventual outcome of the game, but not always in calculable ways.  For example, say we're in an encounter together.  You exit while the success track is on '1'; I hang in until it's on '2'.  Say that you claim a reward I wanted, a lookup of a red temple card.  I can still look at that card, but must pay 1 time penalty.  If I do that, and then use my second reward to look at a second card, I'm up one piece of info on you, but am one space behind on the time (i.e. score) track.  Which of us is better off?  It's hard to say objectively, but certainly there's at least a difference between us.

Or say we're in the temple, and both know that the next card has the peril 'fear'.  You have 2 'fear' symbols and I have 3.  But then you choose to spend a cube to double your 2 fear symbols, forcing me to roll a die, which gives me (say) +1 on the time track.  Had you not done that, maybe you would have rolled the +1 on the time track result.  So there's a one cube swing and a 2VP swing on this decision (in the sense that time track = VP, basically).  But is that a good move?  It may be, if you don't need that cube for doubling a symbol several cards hence, where you can potentially force other players to roll two dice each, or if you don't need it to increase the number of dice you roll in the hubris challenge.  Like the map phase example, there may not be an objective answer but there's definitely a difference in our positions that results from the decision.

And in some cases that decision may itself be retroactively influenced by the decision way back in the map phase.  Maybe by staying in, I got to look at that second card, which let me know that the next card is 'obstruction', for which we each have two symbols.  Because you don't know that it's obstruction, I can use my cube to double my card, going up 4-2 on you and forcing you to roll 2 dice, for a delta of 4 VP (again assuming you roll time).  So maybe I'll spend a cube on that one as well.

Although the right decision in each circumstance may be situational, what's clear is that each player's decision affects, and is affected by, the other players.  Like most games, you don't win on the strength of a single decision, but the cumulative effect of these slight asymmetries that each decision opens up will certainly have a big impact on who ends up winning.  It should be the player who got the best outcome in more of those individual decisions in the aggregate.  And I think that's more likely to be the case when our decisions directly impact one another than when we're independently navigating risk space.  My decision to stay in in that encounter was informed by my assessment of the likelihood that you would get out.  Having to take your possible decisions into account is, to me, strictly better and more interesting than just individually determining whether to push my luck in this particular encounter or not.  And therefore, I claim that the eventual outcome of the game 'means' something more when those considerations are more prevalent.  So it's not just that interaction is more fun or more interesting -- it's that it's more interesting specifically because you can connect the outcome, the eventual winner, more directly to those interactive decisions.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Accepting incremental progress

A couple of tests of the ideas described in the last couple of posts show some promise, and after a long period of dramatic changes after every test, the core structure is stable enough to leave it intact and go into tweaking mode for a while.  (This is especially good news for me, since the last 10 iterations or so have each required pretty major component overhauls.  It would be nice to have a change that is mostly just rules instead of components!)

Not all of the ideas panned out.  The idea about only being allowed to collect cards from certain categories, reflecting your character's strengths and limitations, hasn't yet made it to playtesting.  I decided to try the less restrictive approach first and see if it worked well enough, and it did.  But it nevertheless works to think of your hand limit as 'iconic characteristics and items that are associated with your character', which can include not merely equipment but also quotes and character traits and such.

Unfortunately, the temple really did not work, in the sense that there just wasn't much dice-rolling.  This was as I had feared -- if the number of dice you roll is based on your holdings relative to the other players, then not many dice are rolled when we're all clustered in our holdings, and that was what consistently happened. 

The idea holds some promise, but it needs a tweak so that more dice are rolled.  The one I'm most interested in to have a marker (maybe representing the enemy) that starts at 1 and moves up by one each temple card (of which there are 5).  Each turn, you see how many symbols you possess that match the current temple card's peril, and place your marker at that position on the track.  Then the number of dice you roll is either the difference between your marker and that of the player with the most symbols, OR the difference between your marker and the enemy's, whichever is greater.  This adds an arc to the temple, since the enemy gets stronger and so later cards in the temple are strictly more important in the temple from a preparation standpoint.  Except!  While everyone else is viewing and preparing for those, you can view and prepare for the earlier cards, forcing the other players to take more rolls on those early cards, which gives them more noise, which has a cumulative effect.  Unless they do the same thing, in which case no one takes much damage early on but no one is very well prepared later on.  And so on.  So this arc might add some interesting decisions, perhaps.

Although shared encounters outside the temple were supposed to reduce length and tedium, they don't succeed with respect to the former.  The game still takes about 2 hours to play; ironically, a live 3p session took longer than my solo 3p session!  Latency isn't a big issue, and no one felt bored, but it still just seems like an awfully long game for what it is.  Player decisions whether to join an encounter or not, and how much to commit, and then whether to stay in or get out, and then which rewards to claim, all just take time.

I'm considering whether we might at least make all decisions simultaneous outside the temple.  Basically, choose simultaneously whether you're in for the encounter and what if any you'll contribute to it, and then choose simultaneously after each roll who is in or out.  This last is a bit closer to Diamant than I had wanted to come, but the decisions aren't informed by the same considerations as those in Diamant so maybe it's ok.  The investment decision, at least, seems ok to convert to a simultaneous decision.  My original thought in making it serial was simply that, since players will have the opportunity to back out and claim rewards in turn order, it's better for players to also invest in order so earlier players have to sweeten the pot a bit if they want later players to also join in and contribute.  We could have a compromise of this, perhaps -- the first player must be in, so perhaps he must reveal his level of commitment to the encounter, and then other players decide simultaneously based on that what they're going to do.  Not perfect but maybe quicker.  Another benefit of simultaneous decisions is simply that it's more congruent with the temple phase, in which players simultaneously decide whether to invest any cubes in the current temple card.  So if "simultaneously allocate cubes" happens in both phases, maybe that also helps make the game easier to learn. 

Needless to say this is all quite different from the v7 rules, and I'm not sure what to make of that.  The encounters do seem more immersive and suspenseful than the v7 rules, but they've required a lot of changes to the other aspects of the game to make them work in a reasonable time frame, because they eat up a lot of time.  The simplicity of the theme cards is back, though.  The one thing I guess I miss most was the ease of setup -- shuffle some piles, grab a card from each, boom, go.  But I think for features like this that we've lost, there's a lot more direct player interaction, and I think that's a net gain.  Now, as for whether it works equally well across all player counts...