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Playtesting Results for "ManaStorm"

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Brykovian
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I was able to get a lunchtime playtest of "ManaStorm" in today with a buddy at work. It was good in the sense that I came away with a clearer understanding of some changes that are needed.

Even though I've already worked through some planned changes (thanks again to darkehorse for the brainstorming sessions), we played the game as I wrote up in the original rules. This emphasized the need for those pre-planned changes (detailed below), along with a couple others.

The game started out with each of us taking a slightly different approach. My plan was to stay close to "base" -- expanding only a bit in order to get more moves/turn -- and to add a couple of creatures before heading toward my opponent. His plan, on the other hand, was to get as much Mana out onto the board as he could and throw it at me. We had a couple of big battles, which all were (eventually) won by the stronger party -- although I did almost hold off an 8-Mana attack with 3-plus-Creature ... he won that one with 1 Mana to spare.

He put me on my heals early, and I never seemed able to recover. Even after inflicting a heavy loss against the advancing enemy (and even fending off a couple even-sided battles), he simply did a "Grow Mana" at the start of the next turn and his 5 ManaFlow moves allowed him to send almost all of it back up to the front lines before I was able to do much of anything. In the end, I simply resigned after a series of battles that left me with a single Mana on just my Sorceror's space.

I liked the tense back-and-forth feel to the game already. The 5-by-5 board seemed just about right for a 2-player game, but may be a bit tight for 3- or 4-player games.

Following this test (and some theory conversations) here are the areas that I plan to change ...

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Order of Play
With the original rules, one player "leads" each turn, and play is passed to the left around the table until all plays have been made. The lead player changes 1 to the left before each round. The ManaFlow moves are administered by handing out power-cubes ... each player gets up to 5 of these in a round depending on how many squares he controls. The testplay showed the 5 moves to be too many, and while the alternating control in a 2-player game might work, I think I'll take the following different approach.

Instead of having the 20 generic power-cubes that are doled out to players at the start of each round, each player will start with 5 power-cubes in his own color. For the Sorcery turn, each player will put a single power-cube in an opaque bag ... these are drawn out one at a time to indicate which player gets to go next. The ManaFlow turns will go similarly, with each player putting up to 3 power cubes in the bag (1 for each space controlled, up to a max of 3). Again, these are drawn out one at a time to see which player goes next, until the bag is empty.

When adding a creature, a player will put one of his power-cubes onto the board ... this means that after the first 2 creatures, a player will be limiting his own ManaFlow moves by adding more creatures. From the playtest, it would take all very cautious players to even bump up against having 3 or more creatures on the board.

Battles
With darkehorse's help, I worked out a completely different style of battle from the original rules. Each player starts with 2 dice. The player with the most Mana in the battle gets 1 extra die for each Mana he has more than the other player, up to a maximum of 5 total dice to be rolled. For example, a 7-on-3 battle would have the 7-Mana player rolling 5 dice (2 dice to start, plus the difference of 4 in Mana, capped at 5 total dice) and the 3-Mana player rolling 2 dice. The number of dice would be reconsidered before each roll ... so, in a battle with similar numbers, the number of dice being rolled will change from roll to roll.

Without Creatures involved, each die resulting in a 5 or 6 is considered a "hit". The player who rolls the least number of hits will remove 1 Mana for each extra hit the other player rolled. So, if player A rolls 3 hits and player B rolls 1 hit. Player B loses 2 Mana.

Creatures increase your odds to hit -- adding in 4's as hits.

Banishment (attacking Sorcerors)
I had intended to make it risky and difficult to attack another player's Sorceror. I think I went a bit too far ... when actually playing the game, we both passed up every opportunity we had to attack each other's Sorceror directly -- the strength of the opposing Sorceror and the risks involved with losing just didn't make it worth it.

So, I'm thinking of changing things to ... Sorcerors simply work like a creature when defending (and Sorceror + creature would give 3,4,5,6 all as hits). Sorcerors cannot be used to attack, does *not* have the ability to draw in a Creature from elsewhere on the map, and does *not* tap into off-board Mana during the battle. If the Sorceror's square is lost, he is simply moved to a neighboring square still owned by the same player. If it was the player's last square, then Banishment takes place.

Game End Condition: Number of Turns
We played through 8 turns before I resigned, which seemed like plenty for what went on. So, I think I'll reduce the suggested turn-based game-end to 8 for 2-player, 6 for 3-player, and 4 for 4-player.

Game End Condition: Number of Squares Controlled
At the end of the game, I held 1 square, while my opponent held 9 ... that was plenty of a lop-sided game to consider it a win for him. Instead of a fixed number of squares to control, I think it would work better as a ratio between the 1st and 2nd place players. In a 2-player game a 4-to-1 ratio (8 squares versus 2, etc.) ... and in a 3- or 4-player game, a 3-to-1 ratio.

Creature Movement
The original rules give a sort of movement puzzle to the game in how Creatures are moved around. They *must* move as part of a ManaFlow, unless the target square already has a Creature. And there's no other way to move them.

I will be changing this to something simpler and more natural feeling ... a ManaFlow can be the movement of any Mana and/or Creature from 1 square to a neighbor. There can never be more than 1 Creature per square, and a Creature must either move along with some Mana, or be moved onto a square that already contains Mana. I think that would be better.

Off-Board Mana
The ability to lose a large battle (returning the lost Mana to your off-board stock) and immediately bring half of that back onto the board at the start of the next turn didn't quite feel right to me. I'm thinking that a 1-turn waiting period should be in place from when a player loses Mana before he can use it again. I'm not entirely sure how to do it though.

Perhaps off-board Mana kept directly next to the player's edge of the game board could be considered "Available Mana", which the player can bring onto the board using his "Grow Mana" sorcery. When Mana is lost in a battle, it could be taken off the board and put behind the available Mana (closer to the player) -- this could be called "Returned Mana". After the Sorcery round is carried out, any Returned Mana is added to the stack of Available Mana.

I'm not quite sure if I'm ready to put this into the rules yet -- perhaps another couple plays before I make up my mind on it.

==========

Okay -- that's it for now ... now I just need to update the rules and get to playing some more!! ;-)

-Bryk

Brykovian
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Playtesting Results for "ManaStorm"

Had the first lunchtime play session today since the major revisions were made to the game ... the rules we started with were these: http://www.bgdf.com/files/My_Uploads/Brykovian/ManaStorm2.pdf

It's really coming along -- don't know if I've ever been this excited about a design before. I played against my friend, Ryan, who has play-tested just about every design I've ever prototyped ... handy having a co-worker who doesn't mind spending a lunch hour playing games nobody's ever heard of. :)

After taking about 15 minutes to explain what is essentially a new game after the major changes, we were able to get 2 games played, with a ten-or-so minute break in the middle to discuss the game and a couple of tweaks and ideas. Now, here's something new for me playing one of my designs -- I won both games! (I'm sure it was a fluke that will correct itself with time.)

Game #1
This game ended rather quickly, with me controlling 4 Taps at the end of the third round. Ryan had just managed to put together a nasty-looking stack of Mana right next to a couple of the Taps that I controlled, but had no attack cards in his hand in order to do anything with it. The round ended, and he said "I think you have 4 Taps" ... and so I did. It took about 20 minutes ... and that was with going rather slowly the first couple of turns.

From this game, we figured out that even if there are 10 ManaSurge (attack) cards in the deck, they can get played out early and it will take some card movement in order to get the draw deck reshuffled ... this could easily bog the game down. So, we decided to play the next game with changes to ManaFlow and ManaSurge -- each would allow either movement or attack, with ManaFlow allowing 1 move or 1 attack and ManaSurge allowing for 2 moves or 2 attacks or 1 of each.

Another thing we learned was that my concerns about the game bogging down due to not enough opportunity to put Mana on the board were unfounded ... there was plenty on the board the whole game long. Even when Ryan won a goodly sized battle, I was able to add Chips after that round, and threw down a ManaPull on my first turn to get back into good shape. However, what *did* happen was that we kept running low on cards. Neither of us cared to take the "draw 2 cards" option very often on our turns ... the lack of cards reduced the strategic options, and increased the tactics and luck-of-the-draw. So, the adjustment was that at the end of a round, instead of always adding Mana to the board, the player could choose to do that, or to draw cards from the deck until he was back at the hand size limit of 7 cards.

Game #2
This game went the full 8 rounds, with me being able to sneak in a final ManaFlow to add 1 extra non-Tap square to my control and giving me a squeaking 31-to-30 win. The game took about 45 minutes ... which seemed like a good length.

There were two nicely tense points during the game that stood out to me -- they had that energy that confirms "Hey -- I think there's a game in here!"

First, about 4 rounds in, Ryan had control of 3 Taps and the last turn in the round with a stack of Mana sitting right next to another empty Tap ... but he didn't have any ManaFlow or ManaSurge cards in his hand (although he did have 5 cards at the time) -- so he couldn't move any Mana onto that 4th Tap ... after a goodly amount of anguish, he chose to do a ManaGather and reorganize things. I let out the sign of relief as the round came to an end, and I was able to knock him off one of his Taps during the next round in order to even things up again.

The second moment was during the last round. We were very even, but I was putting together a plan to gather Mana into a large stack and (finally) make use of a ManaStorm to knock him off 3 Taps in one lick ... but I kept having to do "one more thing" before I'd be able to trigger the plan. That feeling of being able to do X things, but *needing* to do X+1 things gave the game a lot of life during that last round.

It didn't really matter in the end, since I was able to eek out the 1 point win ... but it would have *felt* a lot better to get the 30 point win! (When I figured out that we had both slipped away from critiquing the mechanics and rules and had switched over to discussing in-game strategies ... that gave me a happy little rush.)

Overall
A couple of things worked well already ...

The turn order by randomly drawing Creature Markers worked well. We didn't have the listed "oqaque draw bag" handy, so we used a coffee cup. It worked better than any bag ever could -- so I decided to remove the bag from the components list and have the players supply their own cup to use.

The multi-level card-based spells worked pretty well. There was a decision made and an intended use figured out when each of the various spells, in their various levels, were played. The only spell that was never used (discussed below in more detail) was, funny enough, ManaStorm ... although it came in handy to supply 5 support points to other spells quite often. Even EarthMover (my expected "don't know if this will ever get used" spell) was used 3 times in 2 games.

The modular board with the control-the-Taps objective worked well, especially when incorporated into one of the game-ending conditions. (It *was* fun to play EarthMover!)

A couple of other things didn't work quite as expected (in addition to the ones mentioned above) ...

Creatures weren't put on the board much. I knew that their role had been reduced to "somewhat defensive nuisance", but didn't know how this would minimize their use. I'm okay with where it's at right now, because they do have their place in the game, although I doubt we'll see a board teaming with creatures under these rules. And I really can't see how to change that right now ... so, I think I'll just roll with it for now and see what future playtests show.

The "ManaStorm" spell was useless. A situation in which it could be used rarely showed itself in the games -- and then things were just as effectively accomplished using ManaSurge or ManaFlow. So, this one needed to be re-defined. After throwing around a couple options with Ryan, I finally decided on having ManaStorm become essentially a "Super ManaSurge" -- allowing 3 moves/attacks at Level 1, then adding an extra move or attack with each level up from there. So, a Level 3 ManaStorm will allow a player to make 5 moves and/or attacks in a single turn ... we'll see how that plays out. (I may have tipped the scales too far in the other direction -- we'll let further testing be the judge.)

And one little funny "aha!" happened during the second game. When Ryan banished one of my creatures, he meant to toss the marker back at me, but accidentally bounced it off the coffee cup instead. It struck me -- what if banished creatures would be immediately added to the draw cup, giving that player an extra turn in the round? Well ... I liked the extra strategic decision that added -- players having to balance removing an opponent's creature with giving that opponent an extra turn. Plus, it gave a reason to possibly banish one of your own creatures (trading the creature and the current turn to possibly gain a turn later in the round). So, now I've changed the CreatureBanish description to have that happen. Again, I'm curious to see what testing will show for this.

So, after all of these tweaks, here are the newly updated rules: http://www.bgdf.com/files/My_Uploads/Brykovian/ManaStorm2_rev2.pdf

Blind Testing
I'm about to take a 2-week vacation with my family. While I am gone, I'm going to ship my ManaStorm prototype to Dralius so that he and Clark Rodeffer's Friday night gaming group might be able to give the thing a couple of turns. This will be the first true blind testing for any of my designs, so we'll see how this goes.

-Bryk

Brykovian
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Playtesting Results for "ManaStorm"

And one thing I forgot to mention (funny, with such a long post :P) ...

Allowing attacks with *both* ManaFlow and ManaSurge cards was an over-correction ... in the second game, it was actually too easy to attack, which lead to a bit more chaos than I'm looking for.

So -- a compromise position has been put into the rules now ... A single ManaFlow card is back to simply being for non-attacking moves. However, a player can choose to play a pair of ManaFlow cards to do a single attack move. ManaSurge was returned to being two non-attack moves or a single attack.

-Bryk

Brykovian
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Playtesting Results for "ManaStorm"

After getting good quality feedback from the gents in Michigan (Dralius, Clark R., and a friend of theirs) back in February, I tweaked the rules a bit to make Creatures stronger.

Then I sent the prototype up to a guy I know in Canada (a -- gasp -- computer game designer/programmer of all things!) ... he was able to get a 4-player session in, and reported as follows:

Quote:
Hey Bryk! I managed to get 4 people together for a game of ManaStorm last night, and it was a blast! What follows is the feedback from the other three players and a recounting of the game. My comments will come last.

At the start they seemed a little bit intimidated by the rules, but they really liked the look of the game and were keen to learn. They had feedback (before we started to play) about the physical game elements:

- They think the creatures should look like something... the sorceror has some features to it, but the creatures are featureless
- They think that the game should come with some kind of "base" that the gameboard tiles can sit in so that they don't slide around

Once the game was underway, things went fairly smoothly. The "levels" of the spell cards were confusing to them, but after passing the rules sheets around a few times, and discussing, it was all clear. (Unfortunately I was only able to print 1 copy... our printer is junk.)

Each of us managed to get a creature out in the first turn or two, and a few of the creatures did come into play. (I moved my creature onto someone's mana pile, but other than that the creatures were mainly used as a deterrent/defense.) I did an early ManaGather while most other people concentrated on ManaFlowing around to get taps.

In the third or fourth turn someone played a level 3 CreatureBanish and banished all of the creatures (including her own). (They really liked the fact that banished creatures go back into the cup!) As a result, we didn't have more than 2 creatures on the board for the rest of the game -- everyone was too focused on the mana battles at that point, and on moving their sorceror pawn around.

Also, the EarthMover spells were used quite often, to great effect. Most of the time they were level 3. Everyone really enjoyed that spell, and wanted me to tell you that they felt it added a lot to the game. After the big "creaturebanish" in the middle of the game, most of the remainder of the game was spent doing mana gathers, earth movers, mana surges and the odd mana storm.

In the last turn things got dicey. Everyone knew that whoever ended up with the final move would be at a big advantage. However, nobody tried banishing their own creatures, though the idea did come up. I ended up with the last move, and had saved a manastorm and enough supporting cards to cast it at level 3. I grabbed a 4th tap to give me the win. (Everyone else had 3 taps.)

Oh, almost forgot, in about the 5th turn one player had control of 6 taps briefly. The two people with creatures remaining in the cup (me and another) ganged up to defeat him. She played an earth mover to make it possible for me to capture one of his least guarded taps. It was pretty cool!

The game took over 3 hours (not the 30-60 minutes your rules estimate!) although I'm sure that if we played again we'd finish in 1.5 to 2 hours.

Ok, my feedback: I think the game was good fun, and it did feel pretty balanced. The two girls in the group enjoyed the game, although I think the other guy and I enjoyed it best, and were talking strategy the most. One girl wasn't to "into it" at the start (she's not much of a gamer, really) but she started to get into it mid way through as her competitiveness kicked in. So, even non-gamers can enjoy it

A few possible bugs:

1. Can you move creatures with a ManaFlow? The text on the card says you can, but the rules document doesn't mention anything about moving creatures.

2. For the ManaStorm, you can do 3 to 5 (depending on level) flows/surges... can you do this consecutively? That's how we played it. In the very last play of the game I "flowed" one large stack of my mana 4 spaces and then "surged" with the same stack (a level 5 mana storm); is this the intended behaviour?

I think that's all the feedback I have for now... sorry for the rambling/disjointed nature of this message; my notes are all over the place I plan to try the game 1vs1 with my g/f this weekend. I'll let you know how that goes.

If you've got any questions, fire away! If you'd prefer to email: {e-mail address removed}

EDIT: Almost forgot. Another piece of feedback they had was regarding the water. They felt that it didn't really impact the play at all, and that there should be more water. Using earth movers with more water on the board could be interesting.

It sounds, at this point at least, like I didn't over-power the creatures with the tweaked rules, but I still plan to keep an eye on that area of the game. My next task looks to be playing around with the water squares on the board tiles to see how that can be tweaked into having the right amount of impact on the game.

-Bryk

CDRodeffer
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Playtesting Results for "ManaStorm"

Matt, if we can find players, David and I might like to try Mana Storm again with the new tweaks.

Brykovian
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Playtesting Results for "ManaStorm"

CDRodeffer wrote:
Matt, if we can find players, David and I might like to try Mana Storm again with the new tweaks.

Cool, Clark, thanks! I'm in the process of assembling a couple more prototypes ... when I get one put together, I'll be sure to send it your way!

-Bryk

zaiga
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Playtesting Results for "ManaStorm"

Interesting stuff, Bryk. Keep us informed!

Btw, aren't you concerned about the large difference between estimated playing time (30-60 mins) and the real playing time (3 hours)? Any idea how this could happen?

Brykovian
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Playtesting Results for "ManaStorm"

zaiga wrote:
Btw, aren't you concerned about the large difference between estimated playing time (30-60 mins) and the real playing time (3 hours)? Any idea how this could happen?

Not really concerned ... more like "interested". ;-)

I've only done 2-player tests myself, which usually play out in 20 to 40 minutes. The "30-60 mins" thing was put into the description when I wrote up the first ruleset, and I hadn't had enough feedback on time yet to make a proper change to that.

Right now I'm guessing it'll change to be "30 to 120 minutes" ... or I may break it down by number of players.

-Bryk

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