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!