A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Monday, May 15, 2017

Progressing steadily

We've had several tests of the system described in the previous couple of posts, and in principle things work well.  The three main ingredients that this new (version 12) system uses are:

- Encounters.  On your turn outside the temple, to get info about the temple you roll dice to move your marker up on a track, but must also roll 'bad' dice to move another marker on a 'whammy' track.  When you choose to stop rolling, you take whatever clues you're entitled to and whatever whammies you're obligated to take. 

- Linear temple.  The temple is now a row of cards, and your clue lookups really just consist of getting to look at those cards.  Each has a couple of pieces of information, the most important of which is the card's 'aspect' -- knowing this helps you to know what equipment card you need to acquire to give you more dice.

During temple exploration, you again roll dice to pass each card, and move your marker for each roll you take.  So, having more dice on a card is better because it boosts your likelihood of needing fewer rolls on the card.

At the end of each "stage" of the temple, we rearrange turn order based on how many rolls everyone took to clear that level.  Being in front when the temple ends is good, because it puts you in first position to face the Hubris Challenge!

- Hubris.  Some equipment cards let you take a hubris in exchange from some improved ability, and then the final challenge has you roll dice, with each success allowing you to eliminate one hubris.  And, you hope to purge all of your hubris before the timer runs out.    First person to do it wins.

We've tested this a couple of times and it seems like the game still takes too long.  It plays in about 2 hours, which feels like too long for the amount of stuff that you actually get to do and the significant role that luck plays in the game.  While some of this can be attributed to new/slow player effects, the turns don't seem to get faster.

A couple of simple-ish changes might help with this.

- Better dice.  Currently the 'success' die has three 'success' faces, and the 'whammy' die has two 'whammy' faces.  Even when you're rolling two or three of each die, it's not unusual to have a couple of rolls in a row that produce little or no progress, so it often takes six or seven rolls to reach an outcome on the encounter track.  For four players over seven or eight turns outside the temple, that's a lot of rolls in total, and maybe we just need to get the absolute number of rolls down.  Simply having more 'success' faces could accelerate things.  I also think we could change the meaning of the 'whammy' result.  It could be that there is a single 'enemy pawn', and when you get a 'whammy' result, it moves one space closer to your city.  If it reaches your city, [bad thing] happens, so there's some tension in the enemy getting closer and closer.  Details are TBD but this may be promising.

- No dice in the temple.  I had been thinking that all three phases of the game (external, temple, hubris challenge) needed to have dice-based challenges so that the mechanics all felt like they hung together.  But I am starting to think that in the temple, we can get away with just a quick knowledge check style of resolution rather than a die resolution for each card.

The problem is that in v12, having knowledge means you get the right gear which means you roll more dice which means your odds of passing the cards quickly are improved.  To make this work in a strict knowledge-check system, what might work is that each temple card has three 'paths', two of which contain a whammy (one is worse than the other), and the third contains a shortcut if you have the right equipment card.  At the start of the card everyone picks a path (A, B, or C), then reveal the card to see whether you picked the 'right' path.

So if you've seen the card you can try to get the right gear, but if you can't get it you at least know to pick the less bad whammy path.  Whereas if you happen to have the right gear but don't know the path that uses it won't help you that much.  You might still get lucky but over a few cards knowledge should win out.

- Time track.  What form do those 'whammies' take in the temple?  I think it's that you take hits on a 'time track'.  This makes thematic sense -- if you don't have the rope you can't take the shortest path to the canyon floor, and must go around, which costs you time.  Expand this to all aspects of the game, including the exploration phase -- traveling a greater distance takes more time, etc.  So in the end, the player who retrieves the artifact first is the one who is furthest back on the time track. 

- Hubris expanded.  In the previous version hubris was a bolt-on to the system, and it sort of felt that way.  Since the final challenge is all about purging hubris, it seems that getting hubris must be more front-and-center.  I think that this can be enhanced simply by having certain equipment cards, and certain encounters, and maybe certain theme cards, require that you take on hubris to access them.  Removing the sacred shield from its resting place to get info about the temple is a hubristic act, for example.  I think this puts time and hubris in tension with one another, and makes the value of information more subjective.  

There's a balance to be struck here.  On the one hand, the bad guys are always undone by their own hubris in the end, so clearly hubris needs to be key to being able to win.  On the other hand, the IJ movies are action/adventure stories, not Greek tragedy, so we want to be careful not to make the whole game about hubris.  I think the existence of the time track may help provide the right thematic balance.  Ultimately, you're trying to be first to get the artifact.  Using less hubris than another player may result in that player beating you to the finish line, but at the same time, if you use too much hubris in pursuit of the artifact, there's a reckoning in the end. 


  1. Wow, I have been sort of out of the loop on this game for a long time, and boy does it show! This sounds like a wholly different game than the one I played :)

    I could see how a more luck driven "dice chucker" could fit an IJ theme better than the euro-style deduction/route-building game that I remember, but I personally still prefer the latter. R.I.P. v7 :(

  2. Interestingly, I wonder if this hasn't diverged enough from v7 that they're really actually separate games at this point, and potentially publishable as distinct games. I doubt they could both be published with the IJ license (but of course it's possible that neither of them will be anyway).

    Steve and I talked a few months back and he observed that actually, the v4 system, which had a clue table, was also a separate and distinct game that could possibly reskinned as a mystery game, something between 221b Baker Street and Consulting Detective, I guess.

    So in chasing this 'cinematic'/'experiential' direction maybe all of the twists and turns haven't all been wrong turns. If what's now becoming v13 of the game ends up being rejected by the publisher who's looking at it...I'm actually not sure which version is the 'true' version of the game anymore!

    1. I should also note that your new Joan of Arc project sounds really neat. Looking forward to hearing more about that and hopefully getting to try it sometime!