A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Thursday, May 20, 2010

History, Part 4: The Wrong Turn

One of the attendees at our Spielbany playtests is Zev Shlassinger of Z-Man Games, and he played the game with us several times and made lots and lots of helpful suggestions. By late 2008 Steve and I felt the game was converging but Zev suggested that it lacked a certain something; that it felt too much like a Euro and that it needed to be more thematic and more immersive. We had resisted making changes of this sort because of a concern that too many additional rules would add to the game's already considerable length and complexity, which some players already found overwhelming. We concluded that any rule we'd add would likely need to be offset by removing a rule or system somewhere else.

This seemed pretty daunting, but I nevertheless went ahead and played around with a few ideas. Namely:
- When you arrive in a city, you face a challenge. Previously, the "difficulty" of the challenge was given by the number of enemy tokens in that city. This works but felt dry. I replaced it with a deck of cards for each city type, that shows a scene appropriate to that type of location (eg a library or university in a major city, a seedy bar in a rustic backwater-type location, etc), which tells you what challenge you face.
- Instead of having automatic access to theme cards, each one is hidden: you have to follow clues to find where they are located. (This seemed like a good use for all of those "location" clue cards)
- Instead of simply providing check marks on your clue sheet, the theme cards acquired all sorts of different functionalities: upgrades, special powers, etc.

For some reason, this seemed like it would work in my mind, but the very first playtest of the system failed spectacularly; after about 2 hours, I think maybe one person had acquired one piece of information. It was just too much complexity and the information hunt had become too convoluted. Still, a couple of ideas seemed promising:
- The challenge cards do seem like an easy way to add a bit of additional theming
- "Adventure cards", the game's currency, are drawn automatically rather than as a turn action -- speeds things up a bit
- The tiles representing challenges you face in the temple previously told you what category they were in; now, the backs are all the same, so there's a bit more uncertainty and "exploration" in the temple.

I think that armed with these simple changes, and integrating them into the proven system we'd already built, we're in a good position to move the game ahead to the next stage, where it's simpler and faster to play but gives a richer and more immersive player experience. We'll use this blog to post information and developments as they occur!


  1. Are there no longer Nazi tokens on the board then, in favor of the encounter decks? I don't mind the sound of the encounter decks, but I did like 2 things about the Nazi 'cubes' on the board:

    1. Without them, the board is somewhat flat. You move around based on movement rules, and you get wherever you want to go, period. I liked how the Nazi tokens created a sort of topography to the board. Based on the concentration of tokens, certain cities became more or less attractive to visit because they were more or less dangerous.

    2. I especially liked how Nazi tokens were added to the board whenever players made progress, in part because it nicely represented Nazi activity escalating, and in part because it helped to differentiate players. If I go to this 'easy' (relatively Nazi-free) city to find a clue, that brought out some tokens making it harder for you to follow me and take the exact same path. This had the effect of giving various players different types of information which I thought nicely differentiated them and therefore their actions. If I recall, an earlier version (without escalating Nazis) often saw players all going after the same clues.

    That is a piece of the game that I would miss if it weren't somehow included in the latest/final/future version.

  2. My initial thought was to link the Nazis with the encounter cards -- ie the difficulty of the challenge on the encounter cards could be related to the number of enemy cubes in a city. We could still go that route.

    My most recent idea, though, is that the role of the enemy cubes is to tell you how much to advance the enemy progress track by. This would replace the "enemy zeal" track.

    I liked the board topography effect of the old system but didn't like how the game bogged down as enemy cubes began to pile up. In this new approach, the enemy don't slow you down, but the more of them are on the board, the faster the enemy progress track moves, so it may still communicate the sense of mounting tension. Or maybe not. I have to test it to see!

    I find that designing a game that is mostly about communicating the right "feel" is hard, there's a lot more reliance on trial and error. But, I think we have some systems that work "pretty well" now, so we at least have a home base to go back to: if something doesn't work, we can just go back and try something else.