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...