A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

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).


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...