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Disciples playtest session report

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sedjtroll
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Re: Session 3/20/04

jwarrend wrote:

How much do we worry about alienating a particular audience?

You probably already know my answer to this- "fuck 'em". If they don't want to play your game, they don't have to. You can't please all the people all the time, and if you try you end up making things worse for the people who really are your target audience.

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How much can be blamed on the game if the players "won't play right"?

Similarly, I don't think the game should be blamed. However, this brings up a dilemma... people who ought to enjoy the game don't, because they're going abou tit the wrong way.

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Players who won't play "right" will find the game "difficult". The question becomes, will they modify their play style, or just complain that the game is broken?

I think I'm running into the same thing with one of my friends and Scurra's All For One. Tyler (who's normally the first to figure out the 'best' way to play a game, and very often wins games- especially before everyone else has 'figured it out') thinks All For One is boring, and he has had a poor showing bon both occasions that he played it. I fear it's because he's 'playing the game wrong'.

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Which should they do?

Which SHOULD they do? I think they should try again and figure out what they're doing wrong. But that's a lot of work sometimes, and the player may not be interested in doing it.

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How much do I, as a designer, worry about it?

I think there's only so much you CAN do about it. Perhaps the only thing you can do is sort of hint at the 'correct' or 'amenable' way in the rules. Explicitly. Something to the effect of "... You might find that helping each other makes the game easier for everyone" or "Sometimes you need to do things that help other players in order to come out on top."

- Seth

Scurra
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Re: Session 3/20/04

sedjtroll wrote:

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Players who won't play "right" will find the game "difficult". The question becomes, will they modify their play style, or just complain that the game is broken?

I think I'm running into the same thing with one of my friends and Scurra's All For One. Tyler (who's normally the first to figure out the 'best' way to play a game, and very often wins games- especially before everyone else has 'figured it out') thinks All For One is boring, and he has had a poor showing bon both occasions that he played it. I fear it's because he's 'playing the game wrong'.

Indeed. One of the issues with "All for One" is exactly that "level" issue that Jeff raises: it's a fairly light game but the planning required is slightly counter-intuitive compared to a typical game of that level (say, Carcassonne for instance.) This has caused me some trouble during the testing process as some players (such as Tyler cited here) complain that it's just a random luck-fest, whereas they probably mean that they don't "get it". And the result is that it might not actually work either as a family game (since it's counter-intuitive) or as a gamers' game (since it's not terribly deep either.) OTOH those people that like the game really do seem to like it, so I must have done something right :)

When I'm designing, I don't consciously think about the audience for the game much beyond "would I want to play this?" (which is where a good group of testers is priceless as they can sometimes see where the game should be going before you do!) In the end, I suspect that's all you can really hope to do. (Don't a lot of writers say the same thing? "I wrote this because I wanted to read it.") And these days it's becoming a lot easier to find the other thousand (or ten thousand, or million) people who want to play it too.

jwarrend
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Re: Session 3/20/04

sedjtroll wrote:

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Which should they do?

Which SHOULD they do? I think they should try again and figure out what they're doing wrong. But that's a lot of work sometimes, and the player may not be interested in doing it.

I think that's right; I think there's also quite a propensity among gamers, probably including myself, to declare a game "broken" or "flawed" far too quickly. I think this often could reflect more on the players than the game, but if the game gets a bum rap as a result, it is kind of a bummer for the game...

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How much do I, as a designer, worry about it?

I think there's only so much you CAN do about it. Perhaps the only thing you can do is sort of hint at the 'correct' or 'amenable' way in the rules. Explicitly. Something to the effect of "... You might find that helping each other makes the game easier for everyone" or "Sometimes you need to do things that help other players in order to come out on top."

This is a very good suggestion. I typically don't include "strategy hints" in my rules but gentle nudges like this could be a good way to make these kinds of "suggestions" to hopefully help people along the learning curve.

Scurra wrote:

And the result is that it might not actually work either as a family game (since it's counter-intuitive) or as a gamers' game (since it's not terribly deep either.) OTOH those people that like the game really do seem to like it, so I must have done something right

But who are these "gamers" that we're worrying so much about? Don't *we* count as "gamers"? If we like the game, and our friends do, surely this is a valid point?

I guess I'm just skeptical of Joe's concern that a mid-level strategy game won't appeal to "gamers" -- I feel it might be using an overly restrictive understanding of the word. Of course, Joe himself is a bit of a paradox for me. For example, he's only rated one game at 10 on BoardGameGeek -- Settlers of Catan. Now, Settlers is surely not a "gamer's game" in the conventional sense, so perhaps trying to capture exactly who falls into the group "gamers" and who doesn't is an exercise in futility; perhaps the only thing you can do is playtest a game with as wide an audience as possible, and this might be the only way to find out who will actually like it, and how broad its appeal is.

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When I'm designing, I don't consciously think about the audience for the game much beyond "would I want to play this?"

This is my approach as well, and is certainly the genesis of Disciples and all my other games. In my opinion, that's the only way you can ever produce anything of quality; trying to force a game into a demographic is a recipe for banality. But it's still of interest to me, having completed the "game that I wanted to design", to identify who will or won't be interested in the game. To me, the difficult part of that seems to be first identifying who is even out there; what broad classifications exist among gamers, and how "deep" does a game have to be to appeal to these "gamers", and so on? Questions without answers, perhaps...

-Jeff

Joe_Huber
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Re: Session 3/20/04

jwarrend wrote:
As for the first part, though, I think it draws a bit of a false dilemma; there is, to my mind, a LOT of real estate between what you're calling "gamers" and "Christian families."

As I've said, this one is aimed at the mid-level strategy game "genre" -- something like Carcassonne, Pirate's Cove, etc; it's not what I'd consider a "gamer's game" like Tigris & Euphrates or Puerto Rico. Yet, wouldn't you consider someone who commonly played Mystery in the Abbey, or Pirate's Cove, or Settlers, a "gamer"?

Yes, absolutely.

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I wouldn't consider them a "hardcore gamer", and so if you're saying "this game won't appeal to hardcore gamers", you may be right. But what percentage of "gamers" are "hardcore gamers", do you think? Wouldn't you say that the mid-level strategy games are overwhelmingly a bigger percentage of the market than the "gamers' games"?

Don't know; I actually suspect it's a matter of definition moreso than anything else.

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At any rate, it would be interesting to hear your view on what about the game makes it fall short of being "gamer-friendly." I think it could be either that the game engine is a bit simple (it basically revolves around doing Deeds), but what I think you might be referring to is more the idea, as we've discussed off-group, that it appears to reward a slightly more "selfless" play style than gamers typically adopt.

That's it, precisely. The game engine is fine - there are plenty of games with simpler engines of significant appeal to gamers - but many of my concerns about the game really came down to the group's play style.

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Two comments about this: one is that I don't think you could say there's a problem with the game if it doesn't respond well to the kind of play style a player wants to force upon it. (But of course, that player may not want to play the game again...) And the other is that the notion that "I'll only do X if it will clearly help me more than anyone else" is antithetical to the theme, so in a sense, it's a good thing that the game engine doesn't reward this. I feel like the game, to play "easily" (action costs low, Pharisees track kept in check) requires a concerted effort on the part of all of the players. If the players refuse to do this, they will find the game "tough", but you can't really blame the game for this, can you?

Yes, I believe you _can_ blame the game. There are many games which require a particular play style to be rewarding for the players; I believe that when a play style is desired the game should be designed in such a way as to strongly encourage that style. Not wanting to reward selfish play is a _fine_ thing, but then the game should _punish_ selfish play. (Of course, you then end up with a semi-cooperative game, but I don't think that's a bad thing.)

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What audience can/should we target our games to?

That's obviously your choice as a designer - but I think a halfway approach to targeting a group is worse than not trying at all. Wanting Disciples to appeal to gamers is fine; but IMHO that requires not just more complex mechanisms but a built-in bias toward the gameplay style you want.

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How much do we worry about alienating a particular audience?

Not at all.

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How much can be blamed on the game if the players "won't play right"?

Mostly. Actually, if players won't play right and _lose_ as a result - well, so be it.

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However, in this case, I don't think I need to communicate my design intent to the players -- the game system does that just fine. Players who won't play "right" will find the game "difficult". The question becomes, will they modify their play style, or just complain that the game is broken?

I'm not convinced the game system _does_ communicate your design intent. The theme does, but I don't believe that's sufficient with gamers - any moreso than it is with Terra.

I don't think your game system is _far_ from communicating your intent either - but I do think that some minor changes will lead to a more satisfying experience for gamers.

Joe

Joe_Huber
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Re: Session 3/20/04

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I guess I'm just skeptical of Joe's concern that a mid-level strategy game won't appeal to "gamers" -- I feel it might be using an overly restrictive understanding of the word. Of course, Joe himself is a bit of a paradox for me.

Oh, I'm a paradox for nearly everyone... :)

My concern isn't that a mid-level strategy game won't appeal to gamers - there are certainly plenty that do. My concern is that Disciples, as we played it, won't appeal to gamers - and that it will frequently be played that way.

Joe

FastLearner
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Disciples playtest session report

I'm definitely one of those players who doesn't like games that have to be played a certain way in order to be fun. Not to further beat a dead horse, but that's the very reason that Mystery of the Abbey doesn't work for me.

What are some other games that have to be played a certain way that people here do like?

-- Matthew

IngredientX
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Re: Session 3/20/04

jwarrend wrote:
sedjtroll wrote:

I think there's only so much you CAN do about it. Perhaps the only thing you can do is sort of hint at the 'correct' or 'amenable' way in the rules. Explicitly. Something to the effect of "... You might find that helping each other makes the game easier for everyone" or "Sometimes you need to do things that help other players in order to come out on top."

This is a very good suggestion. I typically don't include "strategy hints" in my rules but gentle nudges like this could be a good way to make these kinds of "suggestions" to hopefully help people along the learning curve.

This is a great point. I'd go a step further and suggest that the "key" to playing the game be alluded to in the theme. For example, if you have a game where each player is a pirate on his own pirate ship, you do not want to introduce the idea that players should trade, negotiate, or otherwise help each other; you want them to rain cannonballs on each other. Likewise, you wouldn't theme a game around gambling in Vegas or the stock market if the game is a two-player strategy game; you'll want quick odds calculation, maybe some bluffing, and a lot of "let it ride!" And a game about 17th-century dye merchants shouldn't have a huge hex map, lots of little cardboard chits, and complex line-of-sight rules; it should include negotiation and diplomacy.

I'm not sure how to apply this to the games mentioned here. Maybe I should sleep on it. :oops:

jwarrend
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Re: Session 3/20/04

Joe_Huber wrote:

That's it, precisely. The game engine is fine - there are plenty of games with simpler engines of significant appeal to gamers - but many of my concerns about the game really came down to the group's play style.

Great, this is turning into a very good discussion, and I'm glad others have chimed in. Indeed, as Matthew mentions, this seems to revisit issues the group has brought up before (in that case, in the context of Mystery in the Abbey).

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Yes, I believe you _can_ blame the game. There are many games which require a particular play style to be rewarding for the players; I believe that when a play style is desired the game should be designed in such a way as to strongly encourage that style. Not wanting to reward selfish play is a _fine_ thing, but then the game should _punish_ selfish play. (Of course, you then end up with a semi-cooperative game, but I don't think that's a bad thing.)
...
Actually, if players won't play right and _lose_ as a result - well, so be it.

But I think the game does have a "Rome burns" effect via the Traitor. If the players won't be "semi-cooperative", then they will lose to the Traitor. We certainly saw that the other day -- the game came within one turn of a Traitor victory. I would say that this is the sense in which the game "punishes" selfish play. (In fact, "Republic of Rome" may be a decent analogy for this game -- despite the chasm of differences that divide the two games)

As for incentivizing "selfless" play, I certainly think there's an ingredient of that as well -- for example, performing Deeds in occupied towns gives you extra points, but it gives points to the other players as well. Same thing Gospel tokens. Maybe "selfless" isn't so much the right word as "helping others as well as yourself".

I guess I'm just unsure whether the "play style" adopted by the group would have been the same one adopted in the 2nd play. Let's say this game had come to your group as a published game, by Alea, say (that won't happen in real life, of course, but just pretend...). And you had exactly the same experience we had the other day -- the game seemed "tough", with the action tracks being pegged and Jesus performing relatively few Deeds, and the Traitor had a huge score (whether or not he actually betrayed). Now, would your response be "clearly the game is broken!" or "maybe we are missing something?"

Yes, this is an unfinished game, so there's a strong possibility that the fault lies with the game. The point I'm trying to make is that I think the game system may reward the kind of play style I'm asking players to adopt -- namely, that some actions need to be taken that may benefit other players in addition to (possibly even more than) yourself; at the very least, the fact that players who didn't adopt that style were quick to declare the game "too difficult" can't be used as evidence to say that the game doesn't encourage that play style. If anything, our session reveals that the play style they adopted does not lead to a win, and can come dangerously close to a group loss to the Traitor.

But the crucial point is one I want to take up in response to Matthew's comments:

FastLearner wrote:
I'm definitely one of those players who doesn't like games that have to be played a certain way in order to be fun. Not to further beat a dead horse, but that's the very reason that Mystery of the Abbey doesn't work for me.

Well, I like MotA, but that notwithstanding, I don't think the analogy applies, because the problem isn't in this case that Disciples is asking players to adopt some meta-game posture to playing the game; rather, it's asking them to avail themselves of explicit mechanics that in this specific case, the players refused to do. A good analogy would be if people refused to trade in Settlers (on the grounds that they didn't want to help the other players), and then complained that the game was too slow and too hard. But that's not a complaint you can really make against Settlers, because a mechanic is provided that allows you to make the game "easier" -- players can trade what they have.

In Disciples, the game we played was found by the players to be too "hard", yet they never took advantage of the explicit mechanics that allow you to make the game "easy".

I think this may be because there may be an element of "taking one for the team" that is required in Disciples, and that may be what Joe is concerned about, however, I believe that a "good" player can "take one for the team" in a way that also benefits himself, and that, I think, is where the competitive and cooperative elements converge.

As I said, this game is unfinished, and you may be quite correct in your assesment. On the other hand, I think it's also a possibility that the game does work the way that it's supposed to but that this is different than what players may expect. As to how the mechanics could communicate this more clearly, I'm not sure; my feeling is that the Traitor racking up a lot of wins in "super-competitive" groups might be a hint. Do you think there are other mechanical elements that could be introduced that would further incentivize players to avail themselves of the opportunities the game provides to make play "easier"?

But to summarize, if I understand you right, Joe, you are saying that the idea of Disciples requiring a "slightly selfless" play style isn't bad per se, so long as the mechanics communicate to the players that this is expected. Do I have it about right?

Thanks again for your thoughts and for continuing the discussion!

Best,

Jeff

Joe_Huber
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Re: Session 3/20/04

jwarrend wrote:
I guess I'm just unsure whether the "play style" adopted by the group would have been the same one adopted in the 2nd play. Let's say this game had come to your group as a published game, by Alea, say (that won't happen in real life, of course, but just pretend...). And you had exactly the same experience we had the other day -- the game seemed "tough", with the action tracks being pegged and Jesus performing relatively few Deeds, and the Traitor had a huge score (whether or not he actually betrayed). Now, would your response be "clearly the game is broken!" or "maybe we are missing something?"

Realistically? Unless someone enjoyed it, it would probably end up on the trade pile of the person who brought it. I don't have an example with Alea, since I've had the fortune of trying all their games I haven't enjoyed enough to keep before I spent money for them, but I can come up with plenty of examples from other publishers...

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Yes, this is an unfinished game, so there's a strong possibility that the fault lies with the game. The point I'm trying to make is that I think the game system may reward the kind of play style I'm asking players to adopt

I think it does, in some ways. But not enough given other parameters. (For example - if there were frequently multiple deeds of the same type in cities, having Jesus perform a deed would frequently benefit the player choosing this action most, and other players to a lesser extent.)

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If anything, our session reveals that the play style they adopted does not lead to a win, and can come dangerously close to a group loss to the Traitor.

True - but I think an even more interesting question is why Dave won. He didn't target his goals particularly effectively. He didn't take particular advantage of any of the game systems - I don't believe he had Jesus perform a single deed. He _did_ effectively guess where people would be performing deeds - but is that really what you want to be the key to the game?

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In Disciples, the game we played was found by the players to be too "hard", yet they never took advantage of the explicit mechanics that allow you to make the game "easy".

Making the game easy for others isn't particularly interesting for gamers though, and I don't believe the game as we played it sufficiently rewards those actions to bring gamers to do them anyway.

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As I said, this game is unfinished, and you may be quite correct in your assesment. On the other hand, I think it's also a possibility that the game does work the way that it's supposed to but that this is different than what players may expect. As to how the mechanics could communicate this more clearly, I'm not sure; my feeling is that the Traitor racking up a lot of wins in "super-competitive" groups might be a hint.

I suspect, as a practical matter, it will be taken more as a hint not to play.

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But to summarize, if I understand you right, Joe, you are saying that the idea of Disciples requiring a "slightly selfless" play style isn't bad per se, so long as the mechanics communicate to the players that this is expected. Do I have it about right?

I don't think it's bad at all, when the mechanics encourage it. This is one reason I believe playtesting with a variety of groups is so important - each group will often find their own way to play. The rules can then be effectively tuned to encourage all groups to play as is found to be most enjoyable.

Joe

jwarrend
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Re: Session 3/20/04

Joe_Huber wrote:

Realistically? Unless someone enjoyed it, it would probably end up on the trade pile of the person who brought it.

Quite independently of the context of this game specifically, I consider this to be an unfortunate but all too common occurence -- a game must reveal its depth in one playing, two playings max or else it's history. In a sense, I can understand this -- there are so many games out there, and why waste time forming a more experienced opinion on the game, particularly when there's an even-odds chance your initial impression may have been correct?

The point is, for me, I don't really take that kind of stuff into account when designing games. If my games have a "learning curve", well, that's just the way it is. I'm sure it's worth trying to reduce this, but my games are a reflection of my tastes, and "learning-curve" games don't bother me; if anything, they make me more interested in playing again.

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I don't have an example with Alea, since I've had the fortune of trying all their games I haven't enjoyed enough to keep before I spent money for them, but I can come up with plenty of examples from other publishers...

Have you ever jettisoned a game and then, after playing again subsequently realized your initial impression was inaccurate?

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Yes, this is an unfinished game, so there's a strong possibility that the fault lies with the game. The point I'm trying to make is that I think the game system may reward the kind of play style I'm asking players to adopt

I think it does, in some ways. But not enough given other parameters. (For example - if there were frequently multiple deeds of the same type in cities, having Jesus perform a deed would frequently benefit the player choosing this action most, and other players to a lesser extent.)

Well, now I can't win; if Jesus' performing a Deed benefits the other players too much, no one will do it; now if it benefits the active player too much, it's unfair!

A simple idea I had was to have it be that if you have Jesus perform a Deed, you get 1 Gospel token, +1 if others are in the town (and they get one as well). This might incentivize this action a bit more (and perhaps a change to Gospel scoring from a fixed reward to a scalable one would help.)

Of course, there's still the problem of people who perform Gospels having the opportunity to quickly cash in on cheap Deeds. To mitigate this, I am trying to formulate "Jeff's latest crazy idea." It goes something like this: the Jews track is removed. Each town starts with one "anger cube". When the consequences of a Deed call for movement of the "Jews", the town that Jesus is in either receives or loses "anger cubes" (as indicated on the card). When the number of anger cubes hits a threshold, Jesus must leave the town, towards a town with fewer cubes. When the last cube is removed from a town, the player gets to do something -- reduce an Action Track, probably.

Additionally, the cost of performing a Deed is now the position on the Action Track plus the number of Anger Cubes in the town.

So now, this has all sorts of interesting effects, many of which are probably beyond my ability to calculate currently. Obviously, the cost of actions becomes higher, but I think it also will certainly encourage people to target Deeds a little more specifically, and to have less chances to simply score an "El Cheapo" Deed after someone else had Jesus perform a Deed.

Any thoughts? (from anyone, not just Joe...)

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If anything, our session reveals that the play style they adopted does not lead to a win, and can come dangerously close to a group loss to the Traitor.

True - but I think an even more interesting question is why Dave won. He didn't target his goals particularly effectively. He didn't take particular advantage of any of the game systems - I don't believe he had Jesus perform a single deed. He _did_ effectively guess where people would be performing deeds - but is that really what you want to be the key to the game?

I agree with what you say; I think that you played what I considered the most "intelligent" game, and came in a close second, yet Dave's 20 points from Deeds won the day. Certainly the other players threw him quite a few points from Deeds they performed. There is, in that sense, perhaps an "unintended kingmaker" effect in the new rules about getting VPs for Deeds; not sure if that's bad or not.

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I don't think it's bad at all, when the mechanics encourage it. This is one reason I believe playtesting with a variety of groups is so important - each group will often find their own way to play. The rules can then be effectively tuned to encourage all groups to play as is found to be most enjoyable.

I agree, and again, I appreciate the chance to test with your group, which is probably the most "serious" the game will get tested with. It's been a very useful excercise so far...

-Jeff

Joe_Huber
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Re: Session 3/20/04

jwarrend wrote:
Joe_Huber wrote:

Realistically? Unless someone enjoyed it, it would probably end up on the trade pile of the person who brought it.

Quite independently of the context of this game specifically, I consider this to be an unfortunate but all too common occurence -- a game must reveal its depth in one playing, two playings max or else it's history. In a sense, I can understand this -- there are so many games out there, and why waste time forming a more experienced opinion on the game, particularly when there's an even-odds chance your initial impression may have been correct?

If it were even-odds, I'd be more tempted to go back. Games that are close enough to have a chance I usually do play 2-3 times to check.

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The point is, for me, I don't really take that kind of stuff into account when designing games. If my games have a "learning curve", well, that's just the way it is. I'm sure it's worth trying to reduce this, but my games are a reflection of my tastes, and "learning-curve" games don't bother me; if anything, they make me more interested in playing again.

I have nothing against a learning curve - but the first play still has to get me to want to get through the learning curve...

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Have you ever jettisoned a game and then, after playing again subsequently realized your initial impression was inaccurate?

Not that I can come up with. Actually, I was having a conversation on this same subject elsewhere recently - might have been in Nigglybits. I find that my initial ratings are usually within 1 of my final ratings, and 99% of the time within 2. (This doesn't apply nearly so well to prototypes, of course, since the game itself may be undergoing significant changes.)

Part of this - and, to be honest, I rely on it because I don't have the time or shelf-space to hold onto all the "maybe"s - is that I believe I can usually tell when there is the potential for the game to be better than the first play suggested. This happens more frequently, with a couple of specific examples being Nautilus & Ur 1830 BC.

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Well, now I can't win; if Jesus' performing a Deed benefits the other players too much, no one will do it; now if it benefits the active player too much, it's unfair!

Why is that a lose-lose scenario? That sounds to me like a balance that the game must strike.

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Of course, there's still the problem of people who perform Gospels having the opportunity to quickly cash in on cheap Deeds. To mitigate this, I am trying to formulate "Jeff's latest crazy idea." It goes something like this: the Jews track is removed. Each town starts with one "anger cube". When the consequences of a Deed call for movement of the "Jews", the town that Jesus is in either receives or loses "anger cubes" (as indicated on the card). When the number of anger cubes hits a threshold, Jesus must leave the town, towards a town with fewer cubes. When the last cube is removed from a town, the player gets to do something -- reduce an Action Track, probably.

Additionally, the cost of performing a Deed is now the position on the Action Track plus the number of Anger Cubes in the town.

So now, this has all sorts of interesting effects, many of which are probably beyond my ability to calculate currently. Obviously, the cost of actions becomes higher, but I think it also will certainly encourage people to target Deeds a little more specifically, and to have less chances to simply score an "El Cheapo" Deed after someone else had Jesus perform a Deed.

Sounds very interesting, and definitely worth trying.

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I agree with what you say; I think that you played what I considered the most "intelligent" game, and came in a close second, yet Dave's 20 points from Deeds won the day. Certainly the other players threw him quite a few points from Deeds they performed.

Actually, I believe it was more than a few - I'd guess he got at least 2 more points than anyone else, and 5+ more than the fewest.

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There is, in that sense, perhaps an "unintended kingmaker" effect in the new rules about getting VPs for Deeds; not sure if that's bad or not.

I wouldn't call it a kingmaker problem, and don't think it's an inherent problem - just an interesting thing for the game to emphasize.

Joe

jwarrend
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Re: Session 3/20/04

Joe_Huber wrote:

Not that I can come up with. Actually, I was having a conversation on this same subject elsewhere recently - might have been in Nigglybits. I find that my initial ratings are usually within 1 of my final ratings, and 99% of the time within 2.

That's quite impressive. I certainly found your article on "sightreading" to be interesting, and it sounds like it's a skill you have. Clearly, having played a lot of games must give you a big advantage at being able to formulate a pretty accurate first impression. I have no problem with someone who is "accurate" at sight-reading writing off a game. What I'm worried about is that some people may overestimate their ability to sight-read a game, or maybe in some cases, may dismiss it entirely simply because it contains a mechanic that they "usually don't like" (like "area majority" or "blind bidding.")

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(This doesn't apply nearly so well to prototypes, of course, since the game itself may be undergoing significant changes.)

That makes sense, and I've found that I've had to develop a "filter" as a designer to try to identify whether a player is reacting to the game system holistically or just in response to a particular small-scale balance problem the current system might have. For example, if a player said of this game "I don't like it; the Traitor is way too powerful" I can tell that this player isn't really taking into account the fact that this is a simple problem to fix via revaluing the tracks.

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Well, now I can't win; if Jesus' performing a Deed benefits the other players too much, no one will do it; now if it benefits the active player too much, it's unfair!

Why is that a lose-lose scenario? That sounds to me like a balance that the game must strike.

My point was that it seemed to me that on the one hand you were criticizing the "call on Jesus" mechanic because no one wanted to do it (not powerful enough) but were also criticizing it on the grounds that it was too powerful. I may have misunderstood...

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Sounds very interesting, and definitely worth trying.

Great, I probably will. Do you feel that it ramps up the complexity too much? How much more complexity do you think this one can tolerate?

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I wouldn't call it a kingmaker problem, and don't think it's an inherent problem - just an interesting thing for the game to emphasize.

I don't know; while Dave did have 20 points from Deeds, certainly less than, say, 6 or 7 came from "Deeds performed by other players." Granted, that's still a larger percentage of his total score (20%) than one might expect, but it may have also just been a peculiarity of this particular session. We'll have to see how much this mechanic pays out over time. If you get more points from being in the right place at the right time than from targetting your goals, then indeed, that is a bit weird...

Thanks again!

-Jeff

jwarrend
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Disciples playtest session report

I was out in Boston this week, and had a chance to playtest the game with my old group, who have been all too eager to help with this one. I hope this game gets picked up at some point, if only so they can see some fruit to their labors!

It's too bad June's posts got lost, as last week's playtest session was an interesting study in contrast to this one. Where last week, we had "Deed overload", having 14 Deeds available at the game end (and an easy Traitor win), this week blipped in sort of the opposite direction, and by the end, only a couple of Deeds were available. This was happening primarily because a couple of players were very frequently calling on Jesus to perform Deeds, meaning (a) many Deeds were being consumed this way and (b) the Deeds that were left were cheap. Interestingly, about midway through, one player, who was trailing in Deed points, decided to simply focus on having Jesus perform Deeds and collect Gospel tokens. The trick of this mechanic is that you need to get someone to come along with you, and he succeeded in doing so. The Gospel tokens breakdown was 11/9/6/1, paying out 10(!)/7/3/0 points, respectively.

The final scores were 36/35/34/32. Curiously, the player in last had performed 22 or so points worth of Deeds (the most by ~3 or 4 points), but hadn't targeted Gospels at all. He did well on his Goals, but those Gospels really tipped the balance in this one.

The traitor was something of a non-factor. With few Deeds available on the board, and the Pharisees track having crept up rather slowly, it was never lucrative enough to betray, and the Judas player chose (wisely) non-betrayal, and still finished with a very respectable 34 points. I'm afraid the Judas "non-betrayal" option may be too easy (1 pt per Deed that does NOT move the Jews or Pharisees), but it payed out 6 this time and that was what many of the Goals were paying out...

This definitely reassured me after last week's "Deed explosion". This was the first "official" 4 player game, and it still works quite well; possibly even a little better. You have a bit more control, and Deeds don't fly away quite as quickly. I do worry that perhaps the Traitor track may not be balanced across all 3 player counts, and that could be a real nightmare to deal with, particularly since, as we're seeing, statistical fluctuations make every game so different.

I continue to be pleased with the game. There are a lot of random factors that have a big influence on the game, but in every game I've played, I've always felt like it was a good challenge to pursue the goals I had, and that I had to pass up certain opportunities to pursue them. And, that many times I wanted to do more than I could in a turn. So, I think it's very close to done.

Two more "crazy ideas" that I may try at some point:

(a) Remove the "increment Action track after performing a Deed". Basically, this would slow down the advancement of the Deed tracks, and would (somewhat) incentivize calling on Jesus to perform a Deed (since you could be reasonably sure that the track wouldn't just creep up again before your next turn).

(b) Instead of dealing out the "Judas" goal, shuffle it into the Action card draw pile. A cute idea, not sure how it will work..

Another idea that came out last night was to remove the "town-specificity" of the Deeds and just randomly determine each turn where a Deed was going to appear. This is certainly an ok idea, but I fear that it may be a parallel move (and it would require recasting several of the goals). So it's a back burner idea for now.

Hope you enjoyed the latest session report! I'll probably break this out at our "Albany area get-together" in early July, so some of you may get a chance to try it then!

-Jeff

jwarrend
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7/10 Albany "Playfest"

As discussed extensively, we had our Albany regional playtest get-together, and Disciples was played by Tom and Mike, "veterans", myself, "pro" (as if!) and Gil and Steve, "rookies".

This game went pretty well. I drew the Traitor, and had some legitimately tough choices as to whether I wanted to try to set myself up for betrayal or perform Deeds that wouldn't help Judas' betrayal goal as much. The Deeds didn't come out in the torrent that we experienced last month, and so Mike and Tom finally got to see some of the Events that I had been promising were "really cool". We did have a couple of periods where few Deeds were present around the board. This prompted Steve to suggest adding a turn option "Reveal a new Deed card". I think this could work well; it's at least worth a try. I could also see changing the current turn-beginning rule from "roll the die and reveal a Deed or Event, as indicated" to "just reveal a Deed, no matter whether an Event is called for by the die or not". Currently, there should be an average of about 1 Deed revealed per turn, but they get used up a bit faster than that; it's not uncommon for a player to fufill, by themselves or with Jesus' help, 2 Deeds on a turn, so we do need a way to get more Deeds out there. A combo of these suggestions might help.

In the end, Gil filled a Deed that moved the Pharisees up to 22 points, which, with the 5 face-up Deeds showing, was too hard to resist, and I took the bait and ended the game, scoring 27 points. Michael and Steve actually came much closer to me than I thought, having 24 and 23 points, respectively (I think); prior to the game end, they had 10 and 12 points (or so) but both did very well at completing Deeds and acquiring Gospel tokens.

I think the session went well, and the game continues to feel pretty close to done. I think that as evidence of this, it seems common for people to say "I like this game" but increasingly rare for them to say "[this change] might make it better." It's possible that people are just being nice, but I think we're at the point where while the game could be made different, it's no longer clear that any big changes are needed to make it better. So, while it would be fun to iterate endlessly, I should probably just call it "done" and move on to fine-tuning. That's, I'm sure, what David (Scurra) would say, anyway!

The only recurrent "complaint" is that there is a fair bit of bookkeeping required after performing a Deed. (score points, increase the Action track, adjust the political tracks, take the Deed card, discard your Action cards). I think it becomes intuitive quickly, but I'm sure people won't necessarily love this aspect of the game. Not sure how to do it differently, though; certainly, a computerized interface that can handle all of this stuff would help a lot!

Anyway, thanks again to all who played, and hope the rest of you enjoyed this report. I welcome comments from anyone!

-Jeff

Scurra
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Re: 7/10 Albany "Playfest"

jwarrend wrote:

I think the session went well, and the game continues to feel pretty close to done. I think that as evidence of this, it seems common for people to say "I like this game" but increasingly rare for them to say "[this change] might make it better." It's possible that people are just being nice, but I think we're at the point where while the game could be made different, it's no longer clear that any big changes are needed to make it better. So, while it would be fun to iterate endlessly, I should probably just call it "done" and move on to fine-tuning. That's, I'm sure, what David (Scurra) would say, anyway!

Oh I don't know about that :) (What am I saying? Of course I would...!)

Your assessment seems pretty spot-on to me: if you play a session and at the end the talk is more about what you did wrong (or right!) than how to change the game then you are probably close to done.
As you say, this doesn't mean the game is perfect but it makes a big difference to your perception of progress.

Anonymous
Disciples playtest session report

Wow! I noticed that both this thread and the original GDW Workshop thread for Risciples are both up to 6 pages! Congratulations on creating a game that seems to generate a lot of thought and discussion about not only itself, but games gaming and gamers in general!

There has been quite a bit of discussion about gamer preference and types of games that entice a gamer to play in a certain way. Disciples is a game whose mechanics reinforce the theme in that players must strike a fine balance between accomplishing their goals (which may or may not help other players) and NOT giving the Traitor too much reward for betraying Jesus. Cooperative play? It may be, but I never saw it as such. To me it was more of a system whereby I had to help others too help myself, so I had to be careful how much I helped my opponents. I tried to be sure that I wasn't helping any one person too much. In the game, I was the disciple who was rewarded for Gospel tokens (I think it was John?) Since the game gives each player a bonus Gospel token if other players are in the same town, I saw a clear strategy. Ensure that I ask Jesus to performs deeds only in towns with other players, but try to ensure that the players in the town with me are different whenever possible. This adds a heightened level of strategy in that you only have so many actions in a turn. I had to plan how to get the action cost track up to the level where Jesus would perform a deed at the same time that Jesus was in a town with other disciples, the which I have not benefited already. It was quite nerve-wracking watching other players' turns unfold and watching how their actions would help me or hurt me. Cooperation? Yes, as part of the game system, but I was only helping when it would help me.

Scurra wrote:
if you play a session and at the end the talk is more about what you did wrong (or right!) than how to change the game then you are probably close to done.

After the game, I looked over the scores and began thinking how I could have played differently to better my score (lower the Traitor score) in a subsequent game. Scurra is right on the money, I think you're close to being done!

Disciples has a strong appeal on MANY levels. It may not be a "gamers" game, but don't gamers take a break from playing the heavy games? Would they not like something with well thought out mechanics that require good and efficient decision making to win? To me, that is the real appeal. It's all about the decisions.

jwarrend
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Disciples playtest session report

SiskNY wrote:
Wow! I noticed that both this thread and the original GDW Workshop thread for Disciples are both up to 6 pages!

Well, don't pat me on the back too much; I'm probably responsible for at least half the posts, if not more!

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Congratulations on creating a game that seems to generate a lot of thought and discussion about not only itself, but games gaming and gamers in general!

Yes, this wasn't really what I set out to do, but I think that Disciples does have elements that have different points of emphasis than other games, and I think that, should it be exposed to a broader audience, it may lead to an interesting discussion about "play styles" and such, as it has in a small way here.

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There has been quite a bit of discussion about gamer preference and types of games that entice a gamer to play in a certain way. Disciples is a game whose mechanics reinforce the theme in that players must strike a fine balance between accomplishing their goals (which may or may not help other players) and NOT giving the Traitor too much reward for betraying Jesus. Cooperative play? It may be, but I never saw it as such. To me it was more of a system whereby I had to help others too help myself, so I had to be careful how much I helped my opponents. I tried to be sure that I wasn't helping any one person too much.

I would never tell someone what the "right" way to look at a game is, but I would say that your reaction does line up pretty well with what I'm going for. Disciples is a competitive game, but it does have elements that reward you for helping other players along as well. The key is to harness these elements in a way that helps you win, and as you point out, a good way to do this is to be careful to "spread around" the help that you provide. There were earlier some comparisons to "Terra", but I think that Disciples, in its current form, doesn't have as strong an element of "taking one for the team" as Terra might. I think that every action you take *can* help you, but a lot will help others as well. It's different than a lot of games, but then, the theme is very different than other games, and is central to the design.

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In the game, I was the disciple who was rewarded for Gospel tokens (I think it was John?) Since the game gives each player a bonus Gospel token if other players are in the same town, I saw a clear strategy. Ensure that I ask Jesus to performs deeds only in towns with other players, but try to ensure that the players in the town with me are different whenever possible. This adds a heightened level of strategy in that you only have so many actions in a turn. I had to plan how to get the action cost track up to the level where Jesus would perform a deed at the same time that Jesus was in a town with other disciples, the which I have not benefited already. It was quite nerve-wracking watching other players' turns unfold and watching how their actions would help me or hurt me. Cooperation? Yes, as part of the game system, but I was only helping when it would help me.

I'm glad you found pursuing your goal to be enjoyable. I've found this to be a very satisfying aspect of the game as well. The lingering concerns are that while it may be fun to work toward your goal, there may be some goals that are "better" and thus the players who draw them will tend to win more. I've not seen conclusive evidence of this yet (although, as Tom saw, every now and again a Goal pays out nothing, and that calls an opposite question to the table...). And, that focusing on your goals is more expensive than just getting points for Deeds. I haven't seen anyone try to just ignore their goals and work solely for Deed points, but I will say that in a game the other day, one player gained many Deed points but didn't win the game because he hadn't earned as many points from Gospels or Goals. So I think there's some balancing required. Regardless, it *feels* difficult, and it's just a matter of more testing to see whether it really is.

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Disciples has a strong appeal on MANY levels. It may not be a "gamers" game, but don't gamers take a break from playing the heavy games? Would they not like something with well thought out mechanics that require good and efficient decision making to win? To me, that is the real appeal. It's all about the decisions.

I think of myself as a "gamer" at some level, in the sense that I enjoy Puerto Rico, El Grande, and the other "heavy" games, but as you say, what I care most about is being presented with a set of interesting decisions. I am obviously trying to achieve that with Disciples, and I think it would appeal to gamers, provided those gamers take the game for what it is. It certainly doesn't have the depth of Puerto Rico, or the total lack of luck of Chess, but at each turn you'll have to make decisions that will affect your standing in the game, so I think it will hopefully be satisfying. There are of course some non-intuitive elements that gamers will have to learn how to harness to do well, but being a gamer, as someone said, means following a strategy that's likely to win the game, not approaching every game with the same rigid approach and blaming the game if it doesn't reward that approach.

Thanks again for your comments and observations; you are seeing what I have *hoped* was present in the game, and I'm glad that there's some external indication that it's in there.

Thanks,
Jeff

nosissies
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Disciples playtest session report

Jeff, have you posted the set of goals for each disciple? I'm trying to put my notes together and I'd really like to see the complete set. As you alluded to in the previous post, my main issue with the game is the balancing of the goals. I'm trying to figure out if I was just being dumb both times I played, or if there really is some imbalance problem in the goals. In short I'm not sure what to blame on myself and what to blame on the game.

Well, since I've started, I'll just go ahead and get it out. Hopefully I don't sound too whiney here :-)

Also of note, the two games I've played have been at the extremes, in one there was an overload of deeds to do, and in the other there was a deed famine. I hope that the game doesn't end up at these extremes very often, but it makes it difficult to be critical about the finer points of the game when it is operating in such odd modes. Perhaps there are some tweaks you can make to reduce this variance.

All in all, I was much more pleased with my own performance for this second game. At the same time, I'm not sure my score reflected that. I had a fair number of deeds, not really any less than anyone else, and I was tied for the most gospel tokens. Even still, I was well behind the leaders. Admittedly, I don't think I played quite optimally in the beginning. One of my main issues was that I ended up isolated at the beginning of the game while deeds were happening at the other side which seemingly benefitted everyone else, as they happened to be there.

I found that for much of the game I was very much at the mercy of what deeds ended up being available on my turn. This is probably due to a nasty confluence between one of my goals in particular and the general lack of deeds.

As stated earlier, my only concern is the balancing of the goals. I'm starting to wonder if some of the goals are more suited to smaller numbers of players. Both of the times I've played, we've had 5 players. Also, both of the times I felt that much of my vp potential was tied up in what deeds other players did. In particular, one goal which I think I had both times, I was to be awarded points for each category in which every other player had done a deed. This portion of the goal awarded me no points. I would wager that this could be a factor of the number of players. Perhaps the goals which are dependant on other players ought to have some factors to balance for the numbers of players.

One other thought on the goals which are dependant on other players. I feel this actually adds a false layer of cooperation. This of course assumes that the intention of these types of goals is to foster cooperation. I don't think you can really do much to influence what deeds other players do. Perhaps I'm missing some finer strategy points, but I really don't think its as possible as the goal would make you think.

OK, another thought... the two goals I had seemed somewhat opposed. One gave me bonuses for the number of deeds I did in a location, which encouraged me to spend time in each city and do some number of deeds in each location. The other encouraged me just to chase after deeds of a certain category. At the same time, should it have been obvious which had more priority as one was an all or nothing and the other gave more incremental payout?

On the cost of deeds, I do like the mechanic of incrementing the cost of doing deeds and how at the maximal cost you can have Jesus do the deed. However, this played against my goals which really forced me to do as many deeds as possible, which was difficult when the costs were high. I don't think this indicates any changes, but I thought I'd put it out there for you to consider. Whether you like it or not, you're getting a good view of the inside of my head.

One thing I'm finding I like in games in general is the ability to recover from a bad decision or two. I think this is a concept which can also make games generally more accessible. So, while I can point to a couple of mistakes I made, I'm not sure I really deserved to be so far behind.

I think Jeff, you've got something really special here, and it would probably work just fine as is, but I think it could benefit greatly from "just a few more tweaks." I'm still very impressed with how well you've captured the theme.

ok, I'm really not trying to compete with Jeff for longest posts ;-) so I'll end it here.

peace,
Tom

sorry, just struck by some inspiration ... we talked about possibly using one of your action points to reveal a deed, what if you could do this, but rather than just grabbing the top deed you could grab the top "n" cards and choose one to reveal? I most assuredly would have done this a couple of times as for quite a while I felt that I was waiting for a preaching deed to come out and be available for me on my turn.

nosissies
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Disciples playtest session report

one more thought which might give you some interesting and perhaps useful data from the playtests. Keep a stack of pennies handy, and when a player does a deed, use the pennies to keep track of the actual cost of each of the deeds. This should give you an idea, at the end of the game, how much each person's score "cost" that is, how much resources they needed to use to achieve their score. You might even then be able to tie costs to goals.

On the other hand, you could probably tweak this thing forever :-) *sarcasm* ... But I imagine that you(we) have plenty of playtests ahead of us and this would be interesting to see.

peace,
Tom

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
Disciples playtest session report

Tom,

Thanks for your excellent comments. My replies:

nosissies wrote:
Jeff, have you posted the set of goals for each disciple?

Yes, earlier in this thread, but they're outdate. Here's a link to the latest list: Disciples goals.

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I'm trying to put my notes together and I'd really like to see the complete set. As you alluded to in the previous post, my main issue with the game is the balancing of the goals. I'm trying to figure out if I was just being dumb both times I played, or if there really is some imbalance problem in the goals. In short I'm not sure what to blame on myself and what to blame on the game.

This issue has been discussed previously in this thread, and my feeling is that the goals are, I think, balanced in the sense that they pay out a value that is fair in accordance with their difficulty. BUT, what they do not guarantee is the same level of gradation across all goals.

For example, the Goal you had the other day, Bartholomew, pays out 4 VP if you've performed a Deed in each category (plus a 2ndary bonus which I will take up later), which is fair given the relative difficulty of that goal (it's tough, but not impossible) BUT it's a bit "all or nothing".

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Also of note, the two games I've played have been at the extremes, in one there was an overload of deeds to do, and in the other there was a deed famine.

I would say our game on Sat. had only a temporary Deed famine. Most of the game, there were 5 or more Deeds showing, which is typical (but, perhaps that's not enough; it's typical, though.)

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I hope that the game doesn't end up at these extremes very often, but it makes it difficult to be critical about the finer points of the game when it is operating in such odd modes. Perhaps there are some tweaks you can make to reduce this variance.

The one "Deed overload" was a complete fluke. I've never seen it before. It will happen sometimes, I guess. There are a lot of random factors in the game, to be sure.

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All in all, I was much more pleased with my own performance for this second game. At the same time, I'm not sure my score reflected that. I had a fair number of deeds, not really any less than anyone else, and I was tied for the most gospel tokens. Even still, I was well behind the leaders. Admittedly, I don't think I played quite optimally in the beginning. One of my main issues was that I ended up isolated at the beginning of the game while deeds were happening at the other side which seemingly benefitted everyone else, as they happened to be there.

The game does occasionally seem to have a "one guy gets hosed for no apparent reason" effect. I've seen this same effect in Puerto Rico and La Citta, which I don't think anyone would say are anything other than terrific games. I think in a 5 player game, there's a chance for the player interaction to just result in one guy not doing as well. The 4 player game should be more "equal opportunity". It may or may not be a problem; when you find it happening, can you dig yourself out of it? Not sure...

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I found that for much of the game I was very much at the mercy of what deeds ended up being available on my turn. This is probably due to a nasty confluence between one of my goals in particular and the general lack of deeds.

I agree, more Deeds showing would help give you a viable target each turn. But, there's always something that you can do to get points, even if it isn't goal-specific. But I agree, getting more Deeds may be important.

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As stated earlier, my only concern is the balancing of the goals. I'm starting to wonder if some of the goals are more suited to smaller numbers of players. Both of the times I've played, we've had 5 players. Also, both of the times I felt that much of my vp potential was tied up in what deeds other players did. In particular, one goal which I think I had both times, I was to be awarded points for each category in which every other player had done a deed. This portion of the goal awarded me no points. I would wager that this could be a factor of the number of players. Perhaps the goals which are dependant on other players ought to have some factors to balance for the numbers of players.

I suspect that some goals will just get yanked from the deck depending on the player number (I envision each card having a triangle, square, or pentagon icon indicating that it's removed during a 3, 4, or 5 player game).

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One other thought on the goals which are dependant on other players. I feel this actually adds a false layer of cooperation. This of course assumes that the intention of these types of goals is to foster cooperation. I don't think you can really do much to influence what deeds other players do. Perhaps I'm missing some finer strategy points, but I really don't think its as possible as the goal would make you think.

I think you can influence what other players do, by planting yourself in towns which have the desired type of Deed (thus making those Deeds more lucrative), or by having Jesus perform Deeds in that category to keep costs low. It used to be even easier when moving Jesus was optional rather than mandatory. We may go back to that at some point.

I would say that goals like, say "Matthew"'s, which is "Receive 1 VP for each Compassion Deed you performed, receive 1 for every 3 Compassion Deeds performed by the group" is meant to foster cooperation but also it has the effect of preventing you from getting "targetted". Trying to scoop up Compassion Deeds to prevent the "Matthew" player from scoring for them may be effective, but it still gives him some points.

I have, however, heard complaints about these kind of goals in the past. I think that philosophically they're ok but the game system may not allow you to make concrete progress towards them. One playtester called those little secondary aspects a "random 0-3 point buffer", which I guess they are in some sense.

Again, what the original purpose of such goals are is that you're not just trying to win big for yourself, but to help others along with you. I'll also observe that coming up with 12 unique goals in a game with relatively few mechanics is tough! But, I'm open to changes...

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OK, another thought... the two goals I had seemed somewhat opposed. One gave me bonuses for the number of deeds I did in a location, which encouraged me to spend time in each city and do some number of deeds in each location. The other encouraged me just to chase after deeds of a certain category. At the same time, should it have been obvious which had more priority as one was an all or nothing and the other gave more incremental payout?

I think the "all or nothing" goals tend to favor a longer game; this game was relatively "quick". Is there a way you could have made progress towards both? Not sure. I will say that some goals work very well together, some don't work well at all. That's a "luck of the draw" effect that is inherent to the game, and which I rather like, actually; it's fun to get a challenging pair of goals and try to see how to get some points out of them. However, it may not be totally "fair". A couple of solutions include a variant that lets you "draft" goals, or perhaps a bonus or penalty that adjusts your final score based on how well-matched your goals are (sounds like a hard thing to create, but not actually all that bad...)

But again, my goal isn't so much to make the goals equal in opportunity so much as equal in difficulty. Some goals may have a higher potential payout than others, but as long as getting 5 points from goal X is just as hard as getting 5 points from goal Y, I'm happy. If that still doesn't seem satisfying, let's talk about it some more!

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On the cost of deeds, I do like the mechanic of incrementing the cost of doing deeds and how at the maximal cost you can have Jesus do the deed.

Originally (pre-playtesting), the costs of Deeds were on the cards. I liked this Cost system as it made the "call on Jesus" mechanic interesting. It may not be the best system ever, but it seems to work in this game.

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However, this played against my goals which really forced me to do as many deeds as possible, which was difficult when the costs were high.

But high costs play against everyone, hence the need to call on Jesus to reduce costs, or to try to make the Jews very happy so as to get a reduction.

That said, the tracks may increase too fast. But since they can always be reset by Jesus, it's not something I've really actively thought about changing yet.

I don't think this indicates any changes, but I thought I'd put it out there for you to consider. Whether you like it or not, you're getting a good view of the inside of my head.

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One thing I'm finding I like in games in general is the ability to recover from a bad decision or two. I think this is a concept which can also make games generally more accessible. So, while I can point to a couple of mistakes I made, I'm not sure I really deserved to be so far behind.

I agree that your overall score wasn't reflective of your play. This seems to be an effect of the different goals scaling at different rates. The players who did really well didn't get huge payouts from their goals, but they did get *something*. Your goals (particularly Bart) are more "all or nothing". Theoretically, you had probably made as much progress as they had towards your goal, it's just that it didn't happen to pay out at that level. Maybe Bart should be changed to "1 VP for every category in which you've performed a Deed." Has the same overall effect, and easier to achieve.

Another thing I didn't include, but could, I guess, is goals that pay out according to a non-linear "schedule". (like the Factory in Puerto Rico, for example). But this seemed too "gamey".

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I think Jeff, you've got something really special here, and it would probably work just fine as is, but I think it could benefit greatly from "just a few more tweaks." I'm still very impressed with how well you've captured the theme.

Thanks, I'm glad you like the game and I'm all for trying to tweak the goals. The trick seems to be that there's no one goal that always wins; which goals pay out most seem situational, and it's unclear whether it's the game state that "favors" a goal or whether players are actively controlling this aspect. At any rate, since goals used to be about 60% of the game, but now are about 30-40%, I think the emphasis is nicely divided between scoring for Deeds, Gospels, and Goals. You have to balance all three, or really excel in two, to score well overall.

Quote:

ok, I'm really not trying to compete with Jeff for longest posts ;-) so I'll end it here.

It can't be done! I'm the long post king!

Seriously, thanks for the thoughts, and let me know what you think after seeing the goals. I have a .gif of the 12 goal cards that I'll send you if seeing that would help.

Thanks again!

-Jeff

Whoops, forgot this:

Quote:

sorry, just struck by some inspiration ... we talked about possibly using one of your action points to reveal a deed, what if you could do this, but rather than just grabbing the top deed you could grab the top "n" cards and choose one to reveal? I most assuredly would have done this a couple of times as for quite a while I felt that I was waiting for a preaching deed to come out and be available for me on my turn.

Maybe, but perhaps too gamey. I'll think about it. I don't really want to add that mechanic period, but it may be necessary.

jwarrend
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Disciples playtest session report

I had a chance to playtest with some of my old Boston group tonight, players were Chris and Matt, who've played before, and Rob and Steve, who haven't (and me, who has played a LOT).

The only change we made prior to this session was that now, on every turn, a Deed is revealed (previously it was, statistically, 5 of 6 turns). This helped a lot to make sure there was an ample supply of Deeds around the board, with 6-10 being available for the majority of the game. We had "Jerusalem Deed overload", which meant that Jesus spent much of the game on the southern end of the board. Chris and Rob spent the early turns in the northern half of the board, and parlayed that to mutual benefit in VPs for Deeds, while Steve, Matt and I stayed in the south and "shared the wealth" with Gospel tokens. By the "mid-game", the Pharisees track was at 15 and Chris took the payoff, betraying and scoring 23 points total. Rob and I had earned 10 points each from Deeds by that point; with Gospels and goals, Rob got up to 18 points and I bagged 24 total, eking out a 1 point win over Chris. Steve and Matt were further back; neither scored much from their goals, and neither had scored many points during the game. They blamed their low scores on the goals they drew being too difficult, which I don't *think* I agree with, though I'm obviously happy for the feedback.

A few changes were proposed, some of which I may ratify quickly:

(1) Change Gospel scoring from "average the number of tokens that you and the player with the next lowest total hold" to "you score 1 point per token held by the next player". This is certainly easier, math-wise, but has two consequences. The first is that the player with the fewest tokens now gets no points for Gospels, which isn't so bad to me if he/she only has 1 or 2 tokens, (which is typical) but if a player has 4 tokens but this is the smallest, it seems he should get something. The second is that for the player in first, Gospel tokens have no intrinsic value; having 6 or 20 makes no difference if the next player has 5. In a sense, neither of these is necessarily bad. Also, players may lose a point or two compared to my current system, but this may be a minor enough difference to have little noticeable effect.

(2) Change some Events. Some of the Events have effects like "All players in the same town as Jesus get [Gospel tokens, cards, etc]." Matt observed that this is something of a double-blessing, since players in the same town as Jesus probably are already receiving a benefit from that. And in fact, since it does happen that Jesus can get "locked down" (due to the movement AI), the events may be more appropriately aimed at moving Him more rather than rewarding players in the same town. Something to think about.

(3) Get rid of the die. Currently, at the start of your turn, you reveal a Deed and roll the die; the die either tells you to reveal an event or increment one of the Action categories. The latter function may not be necessary, since the tracks seem to creep up just fine on their own. Thus, the die is really just a means to give an Event every 6th turn or so. There may be a better way. Steve suggested that some Deeds could have an "E" icon on them, and when those are revealed at the start of the turn (or maybe when they are fulfilled) an Event is triggered. There might be other ways to do this. One idea I had was that if the revealed Deed matches the town in which Jesus is located, an Event occurs.

(4) Get rid of the Jews track (my suggestion, not theirs). I love the 3 track model, but I'm concerned that even with some beefed-up functionality, the Jews track may be unnecessary; I may get rid of it. Or at least, try it out that way.

(5) Look at the goals. It's funny, in every game someone has complained about an unfair goal. I suspect that even if they were as perfectly balanced as could be, people would still reflexively complain about this. I obviously need to think about the goals plenty, but I have yet to see any goal that's always a "sure thing", or one that's always a "sure loser". I don't claim that they're all equivalent, but I think they're more fair than beginners might realize, but the only way to know is to keep playing.

We'll be having a session next week in Troy, so I hope to put some of these suggestions into play by then. It continues to be fun and feel close to done, always a good thing. The only lingering concern is that the Pharisees track still seems to creep up fast enough that the Traitor, by mid game, is typically ready to betray. I still can't figure out if this is "poor play" by the players or a fundamental flaw with the game. I think that the values on the Pharisees track are fine, but the rate of advancement may be too quick; it may need one more space, or maybe one or two fewer "Pharisees +1" Deeds in the deck.

Hope you enjoyed my latest report!

-Jeff

sedjtroll
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Disciples playtest session report

jwarrend wrote:
the Pharisees track still seems to creep up fast enough that the Traitor, by mid game, is typically ready to betray.

Is that bad? As evidenced by your last playtest, that's not always the right play anyway (betrayal made your friend lose to you).

- Seth

jwarrend
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Disciples playtest session report

sedjtroll wrote:
jwarrend wrote:
the Pharisees track still seems to creep up fast enough that the Traitor, by mid game, is typically ready to betray.

Is that bad? As evidenced by your last playtest, that's not always the right play anyway (betrayal made your friend lose to you).

I think it's "bad" in the sense that players haven't had enough time to fully pursue their goals to maximize points. The possibility of the traitor ending the game should motivate players to be more cagey about moving up the Pharisees track, but it's still up in the air whether you can "blame" the games that end "too soon" on the players or the game. As you say, the early betrayal didn't benefit the Traitor this time, and that's affirming; I want the Traitor at all times to be keeping pace with the players so that it's always uncertain whether betrayal will win the game or not. I just don't want the Traitor to consistently be able to be assured of a win mid-game; that could indicate a balance problem.

-J

sedjtroll
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Disciples playtest session report

jwarrend wrote:
I just don't want the Traitor to consistently be able to be assured of a win mid-game; that could indicate a balance problem.

Understood. And from what I can tell you're OK on that front. I think every time in your reports that someone ended the game 'too early', they didn't win. Well, certainly they didn't win every time...

Scurra
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Disciples playtest session report

Thanks for keeping us posted on the development process Jeff. I'm becoming keener than ever to play the game now!

jwarrend wrote:

A few changes were proposed, some of which I may ratify quickly:

And I won't bother "quoting" them to make it easier to follow my comments.

(1) Change Gospel scoring from "average the number of tokens that you and the player with the next lowest total hold" to "you score 1 point per token held by the next player".

Was this not proposed originally? (It's been so long now, I can't recall.) I do wonder if losing the benefit of having a decent number yourself (assuming you are in the lead) may have a bigger impact on the game that you think. As you say, it is irrelevant how many more the leader has than second place.
Wait - wasn't the previous proposal more like "leader scores for all the tokens, then each other player scores the number of tokens collected by the player ahead of them"? (So if A has 10, B has 5 and C has 3, then A scores 18, B scores 10 and C scores 5.) This means that the leading token holder has an impact on not only their score but also the second-placed player, rather than the other way around (at the moment, the second-placed player has an impact on the leading player's score.) It also means that the last placed player isn't scoring 0, but whatever the next-to-last player scores.

(2) Change some Events.

This is a tricky one, since obviously you want the Events to involve Jesus, but as you say you don't want them to benefit the people with Jesus too much. I can't really help you with this :-)

(3) Get rid of the die.

Was this not introduced because the Events weren't occuring often enough? I never thought the die was a good idea anyway - there must be more interesting ways to generate the same effect.

(4) Get rid of the Jews track (my suggestion, not theirs).

I think this would be a bad idea. It always struck me as being one of the interesting thematic elements of the game, even if it didn't have a major impact on the outcome. It's also useful to have something "spare" that can be affected by Events, which makes balancing them easier.

(5) Look at the goals. It's funny, in every game someone has complained about an unfair goal.

This is inevitable, and not something to worry about. (Seth and I will both tell you that someone wioll generally complain about exactly the same thing in "All for One" :-) The only real way to explore this is to play some "fixed" games (where certain things are predetermined such as which Goals are in play, where Jesus moves, what Deeds appear etc.) and see if there is a clear problem.

Keep up the good work.

jwarrend
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Disciples playtest session report

Scurra wrote:
Thanks for keeping us posted on the development process Jeff. I'm becoming keener than ever to play the game now!

Great, hope you'll get the chance to at some point!

Quote:

(1) Change Gospel scoring from "average the number of tokens that you and the player with the next lowest total hold" to "you score 1 point per token held by the next player".

Was this not proposed originally? (It's been so long now, I can't recall.)

I don't think so, but maybe. Originally, the rule was just a fixed payout based on your relative rank. The suggestion was that a more intrinsic value to the tokens would make them more interesting. I think it has, but the averaging involves a small math operation which works fine but feels clumsy.

Quote:
I do wonder if losing the benefit of having a decent number yourself (assuming you are in the lead) may have a bigger impact on the game that you think.

Oh, it will have an impact, to be sure; I'm just not positive it will necessarily be bad; I haven't thought it through yet. Picture this, you have 10 tokens, the next guy has 6; so, to boost your score, instead of going and getting yourself more tokens, you have to find ways to get that guy some more tokens, which I think presents a nice struggle. However, I just realized that it loses something: since that guy's Gospel scoring depends on the next guy below him, you're not actually helping his score along by getting him more tokens (although I guess maybe you're helping him get in a higher position, perhaps). Hmmm....maybe the averaging is a necessary "evil"; it certainly captures what I'm trying to do thematically more accurately.

Quote:

Wait - wasn't the previous proposal more like "leader scores for all the tokens, then each other player scores the number of tokens collected by the player ahead of them"?

That may have been proposed, but it wasn't ever ratified. That's the Web of Power payout schedule, isn't it? At any rate, I think it rewards the wrong thing -- it is more a "riding on coattails" payout than a "pulling others up with you" payout...

Quote:

(3) Get rid of the die.

Was this not introduced because the Events weren't occuring often enough? I never thought the die was a good idea anyway - there must be more interesting ways to generate the same effect.

Actually, it was created for 2 reasons; originally, there was a rule that said "at the start of your turn, increment one track". This meant that if it was possible, an action track was always incremented, and this kept them pegged for most of the game. The die changed that so now it was possible that if a maxed-out track was rolled, no track would increase that turn. Additionally, the die was meant to decrease the number of Events; there are 16 Events and 43 Deeds currently, and when they were all shuffled into one Deck, too many turns had an Event. I wanted to keep the variety of having many different kinds of Events, but reduce the number that were seen in a game.

I think the solution I'll try is "When you reveal a new Deed, if Jesus is in the indicated town, reveal an Event."

Quote:

(4) Get rid of the Jews track (my suggestion, not theirs).

I think this would be a bad idea. It always struck me as being one of the interesting thematic elements of the game, even if it didn't have a major impact on the outcome. It's also useful to have something "spare" that can be affected by Events, which makes balancing them easier.

Good rebuttal; it's maybe something I'll try in a solo playtest and see if it loses anything. You'll still have the other two tracks, of course.

Quote:

(5) Look at the goals. It's funny, in every game someone has complained about an unfair goal.

This is inevitable, and not something to worry about. (Seth and I will both tell you that someone wioll generally complain about exactly the same thing in "All for One" :-) The only real way to explore this is to play some "fixed" games (where certain things are predetermined such as which Goals are in play, where Jesus moves, what Deeds appear etc.) and see if there is a clear problem.

That's a good idea. I think it's also important to filter the opinions based on experience of the players. A first time player who doesn't score well will commonly blame his goal, but I'll take his opinion more seriously if he says the same thing after playing a few times. I think it's just a common thing among gamers to assume that a game is broken; the chatter around Puerto Rico and San Juan was in each case that certain buildings are "too weak" or "too strong" or whatever, yet I think that as people have explored those games more, they've found the games to be more balanced than they thought. I haven't actually changed any of the goals in quite a while; I think it will just take some patience in playing with them as is and seeing over time which are the "big winners" or "big losers".

The thing is that each goal presents you with a challenge to work towards, and I find that quite satisfying, even when I have a goal that is "tough". But if drawing a certain goal means you will lose, even though you'll have fun losing, that's probably A Bad Thing.

Quote:
Keep up the good work.

Will do! Thanks again for the comments!

-Jeff

zaiga
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Disciples playtest session report

Scurra wrote:
Thanks for keeping us posted on the development process Jeff. I'm becoming keener than ever to play the game now!

Perhaps it's a possibility to playtest a copy of "Disciples" at "ChinWag" later this year? That would certainly be interesting.

- René Wiersma

Anonymous
Disciples playtest session report

Quote:

Perhaps it's a possibility to playtest a copy of "Disciples" at "ChinWag" later this year? That would certainly be interesting.
- René Wiersma

Yes, we could definitely bash together a prototype to try.

Best wishes,

Richard.

fanaka66
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Disciples playtest session report

Jeff,

I know I fall into the category of someone who has not played enough, but I still think Judas needs to be scaled back in some way. As it is, he already has the advantage of winning 2 different ways.

If the Pharisees track is moving quickly, this helps Judas and hurts everyone else. If it is moving slowly, he can use his alternate goal and still be fine. He is still on even ground with everyone else.

On the other hand, you may want the game to end with a betrayal most of the time, since this is more Biblically accurate.

As for the die, have you thought of using a small deck of cards with the 6 possible outcomes? It may have been mentioned before, but I have to confess that I have not gone back through 12 pages of forums :)

Say you had a 12 card deck with each outcome listed twice. You could get 2 events in a row, but then you would know that it wouldn't come up again for 10 turns. Just something else to throw out there.

Looking forward to next week,
mikep[/i]

jwarrend
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Disciples playtest session report

zaiga wrote:
Scurra wrote:
Thanks for keeping us posted on the development process Jeff. I'm becoming keener than ever to play the game now!

Perhaps it's a possibility to playtest a copy of "Disciples" at "ChinWag" later this year? That would certainly be interesting.

I'd obviously be delighted if you guys wanted to give the game a go. I'd have to look into it, but I fear that sending a prototype "across the pond" may be too expensive, so perhaps you'd be willing to assemble a copy from graphics files?

Drop me a note if you want to try it out, and we can talk logistics.

Thanks,

-J

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