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Tradewars - Homeworld: Playtesting (3x)

Today I engaged in a two (2) person playtest of the version 8 prototype of "Tradewars - Homeworld". Obviously since this game has been playtested quite a few times, each time I learn a *lesson* and take away a small but important *minor correction* that needs to apply to the game.

This time, it was all about Space Battles... There was hardly ANY Trading (except for my feeble attempts to do so)! For a game that is called "Tradewars - Homeworld", it's pretty bad that there was insufficient trading and way too much battles. But that's okay, it allow us to get good playtesting on the combat mechanics. For the most part, Space Battles are fun and you, of course, can do combo attacks with more than one starship...

Because Trading was *not present*, I have thought of the idea of "unlocking starships". At the beginning of the game you would have ZERO (0) starships. And what this means is that you cannot configure ANY starships until you reach a Trade level (specific amount of credits). When you REACH the Trade level (20, 40, 80 and 160), you unlock ONE (1) additional starship.

This sounds COOL because it would force players to use Trading as a means to build a stronger armada. Like I said today's playtest was all about Space Battles. Forcing players to *unlock* starships would give BALANCE to the game, since it would FORCE players to accumulate and Trade for credits (quickSilver).

I am very happy about this concept because the game today WAS ONLY about Space Battles. My opponent scored 10 direct hits of damage to my Homeworld because I had no starships and he had THREE (3)!!!

I'm not certain but I think Trade starships have taken a *backseat*. I think the *unlocking* mechanic will help in restoring their *importance* in the game. If you can only have TWO (2) starships, one fighter and one trade starship, you will probably use BOTH to fully utilize the resource available to you. It may not be the case that you use two Fighter starships (but who knows with players that like to battle!!!)

The other points has to do with *counter-attacks*. As I have already said, today was all about Space Battles! :P So the concept has to do with *countering* an opponent's attack. In the current rules, the initiative dice are not rolled - when a counter occurs. My playtester today said it wasn't very *fair* to just have an automatic counter without any dice rolling. He thinks the game would be more "balanced" if a counter would require rolling of the initiative dice.

So I have taken his suggestion and will playtest again. He may be right in thinking that rolling would make things a little bit more fair. The only problem is that what could happen is a sort of *dance*: the opponent gets to counter, then you get to counter, then it the opponent again, etc. Sort of a *back-and-forth* rolling of the initiative dice. I'm not against the idea, I just need to playtest it further!

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Although I have not really playtested the "Days of Glory" scenario, it is similar to the "Tradewars" scenario. The difference? 20 points to victory: "Tradewars" requires 200 credits and "Days of Glory" requires 180 credits. Not much difference... Obviously "Days of Glory" also has *bonuses* for reaching a particular achievement. So the change I believe that should occur is that the "Imperial Senate" should be BEFORE the "Trade Federation".

Why?

Well "Trade Federation" allows for a fifth (5th) starship. At 36 credits (currently), it is too EARLY in the game to have that bonus perk (5th starship). So my goal would be to switch "Imperial Senate" with "Trade Federation". "Imperial Senate" gives a bonus +1 card for the Monarch Role: so three (3) cards instead of two (2).

This change would be rather *minor* but will have a deeper effect to the game. So one player (the first one) would *unlock* up to five (5) starships while the other players would only *unlock* up to four (4) starships. Those are the rules of the "Days of Glory" scenario - like it or not!

Unlocking of starships would be done at the SAME time as achievements are obtained. So starship *unlocking* rules would be: 12, 24, 36, and 48. Obviously the distinction between "Tradewars" and "Days of Glory" is that credit (quickSilver) need to be SPENT for achievements in "Days of Glory". "Tradewars" only requires ACCUMULATION. For simplicity, unlocking rules will be displayed on achievement cards... So when you earn the achievement, you gain the *extra* starship...

The "Spacewars" scenario will have *quicker* unlocking rules such that players can *duke-it-out* quicker. The goals should be: 10, 20, 40, and 80. After 80, it's four-on-four space battle action!

So far, I'm really liking the *unlocking* starships concept. It brings back the *Trade* portion of the game...

"The Derelict" scenario

I'm excited to playtest the solitary (one player) scenario known as "The Derelict". I am also thinking about including the *unlocking* mechanic in this scenario. Again, the goal would be to *include* Trading as part of the scenario.

I feel the change might also impact on the power of The Derelict Starship. Instead of it being a HEAVY puncher as I originally thought it needs to be (in order to make winning the game a challenge), it might be a more SLOW BURN effect. By doing smaller amounts of damage more frequently, it may make the solo game more of a challenge.

I might need to reconsider the starship's Firepower (which is currently 3 - so average). Perhaps six (6) strikes to defeat the player sounds reasonable... Not sure just yet. I will need to experiment with the *unlocking* mechanic to better determine the various *unlocking* trade levels.

Again, I feel this will *restore* (in this case ADD) the Trading aspect of the game. It may also make the solo game MORE DIFFICULT to win. This is also perhaps appealing because currently I feel the scenario is rather easy to win.

So there is still plenty of *tweaking* and testing to be done. Again most things are relatively *minor*. It's not as if the game has to be printed/manufactured tomorrow! :P There is still time to make sure things work as best as they can...

More on "The Derelict"

So I'm still thinking about "The Derelict" solitaire scenario. More specifically, I am thinking about The Alien starship having a *special* kind of Super Bad Boy weapon that is sometimes real puny... The variance between those two opposite poles is balanced with more average attacks.

Basically the average attack would be 3.5 with a special *topmost* attack of six (6). This means that The Derelict would be able to defeat the most strongest of starships. This is GOOD, because it will keep players on their toes about buying upgrades and defending their Homeworld as best as they can.

It also allows for *downtime* giving the player turns to boost up their TRADE (and earn credits or quickSilver).

It may lead to a more *balanced* way of playing the scenario. Again it's not a big change, only need to alter a couple of cards (description and way of working). On the plus side, I see good balance, the power to destroy any starship (giving way to more in-game tension) and something that to me sounds accurate: AN ALIEN WEAPON!!! Whoa what is that?!?!

*Counter-attacks* revisited

During my last playtest with a friend the issue came up about *counter-attacks* being a little "unfair". The issue was if rolling the initiative dice would be a proper solution to try to balance the counter-attack phase. My early problem with rolling the initiative dice too many times meant that there would be a *back-and-forth* in terms of rolling the dice... This was something I wanted to avoid.

First point: I wasn't too keen on rolling the dice AGAIN. You do it once per attack - that seems reasonable. On a turn, if you have four (4) starships and want to attack, that could mean four (4) initiative rolls. Plenty. More would probably make for too much rolling of the dice...

So my solution to initiative is the following:

1. Both players roll the initiative dice.
2. If the attacker's roll is higher, he successfully attacks his opponent.
3. If the defender's roll is higher, the defender evades successfully the attack.
4. NOW if the rolls are "IDENTICAL", the defender is given the opportunity to *counter-attack*!

This means that the odds of a *counter-attack* are about 17% only. It happens every now and then and the result is de-favourable for the attacker. Sometimes real *bad*.

There is *logic* behind this decision (aside from the odds). Mainly that when both initiatives are identical, the opponent has figured out your *plan of attack* (so to speak). And this gives him the opportunity to counter the attack with his own. It's a risk taken when attacking an opponent. There is a *small* chance that your own starships may get destroyed.

What this also does is changes the philosophy of The Derelict scenario. It was suggested that Trade Starships could be put in space and that The Derelict would ignore them because they are not a threat. This is true with the exception of the *counter-attack*. With the odds dropping to 17% chances, this strategy of using Trade starships to counter The Derelict may no longer be a valid game strategy. In essence, I believe that the solitary scenario will become harder to win...

About the changes

So here is sort of a recap of the changes (per scenario):

1. Tradewars = Starship unlocking at 20, 40, 80 and 160 credits. Victory at 200 credits.
2. Spacewars = Starship unlocking at 5, 10, 20 and 40 credits. Victory is last man standing.
3. Days of Glory = Starship unlocking at 12, 24, 36 and 48 credits. Victory when building 5th Galactic Achievement (=180 credits in total).
4. The Derelict = Starship unlocking at 0, 10, 20 and 40. Victory when The Derelict is destroyed.

As you can see, each scenario has it's own *unlocking* rules. That is in part because each scenario is DIFFERENT and there is a desire to properly pace game play (according to the scenario's objective).

Overall I feel this *concept* of *unlocking* starships will help in bringing back the "trading" aspect of the game. It was lost for a brief while, dominated by Space Battles... Battling is *FUN* but "trading" is supposed to be one of the primary aspects of the game. Without it, all scenarios simply become identical of the "Spacewars" scenario where the last man standing is declared the winner. Again something not desirable...

Note: the currency of the game is quickSilver (qS) but it's much easier for me to say "credits" so that people understand more easily...

Game *downtime*

Another aspect that I wanted to discuss was *game downtime*. What I mean by this is having time during the game where players are not battling each other or they are not engaged in strategy to destroy their opponent. In the last playtest, this was mising. Saddly, the game felt more like one-up-manship with each one of us trying to amass an armada of starships to obliterate his opponent.

On the rare occasions (when I was winning the game), I did some trading. It was downright sad. Because I think had I been more aggressive, I may have won the game. Winning was not my priority. My priority was trying to see what improvements had to be made to the game. And as you can see from this blog entry, there was a *key* element missing in the game.

My conclusions are with the new *unlocking* rules, there will be more *downtime* to recycle cards, be a Monarch and draw extra cards - a sort of balance between the various roles. And of course use of the Trader role to earn sufficient credits to unlock the next starship for Space Battles! Haha :P

Early results

So by having the "trading" element added by requiring starships to be *unlocked*, I have playtested the solitary one-player scenario ("The Derelict"). Although trading was forced, it seemed more or less natural. Sure The Derelict didn't get many opportunities to destroy all my starships but it did do the occasional attack which destroyed one starship (at a time). The levels for *unlocking* also seemed natural and not forced even though I actually needed to use the Trader role to trade cards for quickSilver (qS).

The victory seemed rather satisfying and I also employed the Alien Weapon which required another roll of the dice. That mechanic also worked good rolling HIGH on average making the alien starship rather powerful.

All in all the solo playtest was okay. Not too much drama and I did start the game by losing two (2) health points (out of 18). Other than that The Derelict did not get the chance to do additional damage to my Homeworld. So I think a lot of dice rolling was in my favour... which made for a low tension, rather rapid game.

However I'm satisfied with the overall solo game play. I'm sure with worst rolls, the game might be more frustrating... But that was not the case this time around! :)

Difficulty of solitary play

So in another thread about coop game win percentages, I am clearly on the side that the game needs to be difficult in order to be challenging enough to keep players engaged.

Having said this, I am thinking about my game "Tradewars - Homeworld". My thoughts are about the one player solitary scenario called "The Derelict". The last time I played it, I won rather easily. Most rolls were in my favour and I beat the game.

I'm not certain the game is quite the way I want it to be. If it takes 30 minutes to play and the player normally wins the game, this is NOT a *good* single player game. If *victory* is the goal of the game, it should be a challenge to win. So in my mind the odds of winning should be low. This actually would make the game such that each time you play, it's a *possibility* to win - but that most of the time, the alien starship manages to overwhelm the player...

I think in the *meta* game, losing one round early to the alien starship should be MANDATORY. This adds some *dislike* (and adds some anger towards the alien starship). This sort of creates a relationship between the player and The Derelict... I think early on, you want the game to be: "Okay - so that's how you're going to play, eh?" Building a little bit of resentment towards the alien starship is a GOOD thing. Early on in the *meta* game is what is setting up the end of the game. So if a couple of hits occur early, that determines how many Health Points (or the amount of damage you can take) you have later in the game... Those early strikes in the beginning determine how difficult the game will be... And obviously alter the odds of victor.

So my idea on this is to change the *unlocking* of starships for The Derelict scenario:

-Starship unlocking at 5, 10, 20 and 40. Victory when The Derelict is destroyed.

This means you are FORCED to try to get a starship early and may be attacked a couple of turns... So your Homeworld will get damaged... It's not the end of the world, you can still WIN - BUT it does setup the game such that there will probably be more challenge in winning the game!

Note: I am actually thinking of making the *prologue* of the solo scenario to be HARDER. Namely *unlocking* of starships should be:

-Starship unlocking at 10, 20, 40 and 80. Victory when The Derelict is destroyed.

TOUGHER. You can beat the game with three (3) starships and a little bit of patience. Four (4) starships may be unlikely (80 qS is high for the single player scenario...) Still it is never the less possible, it requires a player to opt to use the Trader role and earn the quickSilver required to unlock the last starship. 10 qS to start is something like 2 turns. The maximum damage you may suffer is 12 points (out of 18). So that leaves you 1/3 of your health (not good if The Derelict rolls HIGH). Again this is all part of the *meta* game, setting up the remainder of the game and trying to survive the alien starship's attacks...

As expected...

Well I figured raising the *unlocking* of starships would increase the level of tension in the solitary scenario.

And so I just playtested the scenario again, with the new values this time. The Derelict caused 8 damage points (6 + 2) and reduced my Homeworld Health Points to 10 points. This is almost HALF just in the beginning of the game. But as I traded and got more starships in space, The Derelict could only destroy one starship at a time, making the scenario a little bit more *difficult* but still beatable.

I traded enough to get the ability to have three (3) starships and then configured them to be WEAPON heavy (high Firepower) and then used the Fleet Admiral role once I had enough firepower to destroy The Derelict. I had 11 Firepower (5 + 3 + 3), 2 more than the required nine (9) resistance of The Derelict starship.

So I beat the scenario again. But I liked have the first few rounds *exposed* to The Derelict. Like I said in my other post, it sets the stage for the remainder of the game. It's a key part in the *meta* game - knowing that the prologue of your game will determine the odds of victory.

Making the game too *impossible* might be hard... Although I'm not sure I am 100% certain this is the best solution for this particular scenario, it is a step up from the EASY version...

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blog | by Dr. Radut