A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It works! Now for the balancing...

Solo playtesting of the changes suggested in the previous post shows promise for the new system.  Without the cubes, the game is easier to set up and there are practically no fiddly things that you need to remember to do, which will make the game easier to teach, learn, and play.  But to really evaluate its effectiveness, it needs to be well-balanced.  To illustrate what a potentially daunting task this is, here are all of the different variables that can be independently adjusted:

- Number of cards drawn at start of turn
- Reduction in cards drawn if operatives present?
- # of spaces to advance progress track for the two operatives that have this power
- If an operative is required to execute his power but can't, advance progress track?
 - How much to advance progress if you read a clue in a city with an operative?
- If you pass an encounter, do you get the reward tile AND the theme card visit, or just one or the other?
- Can you draw a card as an action?
- How many fists must you pay to deactivate an operative?
- Must you discard an item card to receive bonus check marks?

But in practice, it's not so bleak, because the range of possible values for each of these is somewhat limited.

There are essentially two things we want to control for.  The first is that players can accumulate check marks at an acceptable rate; my goal is something like 7-8 turns per player outside the temple.   And the second is simply that the enemy track doesn't reach its end before the players have enough time to execute those 7-8 turns.

So, things like "# of cards drawn" and "how many rewards per encounter" affect how efficiently the players can acquire check marks (assuming a certain range of difficulties for the challenges).  And the answer seems to be that getting 3 cards per turn, less one for each operative in the city, and getting both a reward and a theme card visit from passing a challenge, get players to a high level of information, but not completely perfect information, within 7 turns each.

Then it's just a matter of tweaking the functionality of the operatives, and the length of the track overall, to ensure that those 7 turns occupy the full span of the progress track.  What's nice is that the operatives and their various powers, though simple, DO have the effect that v7 had, where the board is becoming a more difficult place late in the game, and you're eager to enter the temple, because your flexibility outside the temple is diminishing.  But it isn't that challenges become more difficult, but rather that rewards become less generous (because many cities have lost either their reward token or theme card), and enemy operatives are more plentiful (so getting clues will be more likely to lead to movement on the progress track).  I want to test this a few more times to confirm balance, but I'm close to being ready to call it successful from a desing standpoint, and then it's just a matter of tweaking.  And of course the temple phase still needs to be calibrated with a similar process, but I'm optimistic there because it worked so well at Spielbany.  The player who found the grail and font did so in about 4-5 turns, which is just about right.
Unrelated to this, I had a thought that probably doesn't really work, but I was mostly interested to see that it could work.  We played the other day that when the group enters the temple we wipe the board clean, remove it, and lay out the temple in its place.  But if instead the temple is built on the board, then there's room for a 5x5 grid of playing cards.  AND, it could work out that the entrance to the temple could be placed on the city that contains the temple, meaning that the entrance to the temple is in a different location relative to the rest of the temple every time.  For example, if it's in Cairo that's room (4,1), whereas in Constantinople it's (3,3).  I tried it out, and sure enough, every possible point on the grid has exactly one (or zero) cities, with the exception of Odessa/Bucharest.  In practice it's probably too swingy to let the entrance be in such different parts of the temple.  I mostly liked the idea because it would't force you to clear the whole table to make room for the temple (if you have an average sized table), and woud feel give the location at least some influence over the temple phase.

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