Last week's game night was very productive for me, in that I got three of my games playtested and each of them need to be refined in different ways. Here's a breakdown:
Disaster! (Working title, also called Disaster Management or DM)
A couple of months ago, one of my most reliable playtesters approached me after we had done a run-through of Flash Point: Fire Rescue. His chosen field is disaster management, and he and I (me being informed mostly by The Spiel's excellent cover of Flash Point) were discussing the realities versus the game elements. He expressed a desire to do something similar with disaster management and wanted my help with game mechanics and flow. He and I talked out some ideas, I made a Google doc that I shared with him and we brainstormed for a little while. I then made a rough prototype and then a refined prototype and we played those once a piece. After the second playtest, I refined the prototype one more time and then wrote some actual rules (the first two games were run off of our development notes). Note that while DM was originally conceived as a co-op, it became rapidly clear that all of our good ideas were for a competitive game and that what all the playtests have been.
Disaster! is a game for 3-5 players, and seems to average about 15 minutes per player right now. In the game, each player takes the role of a municipality's disaster coordinator. Each round they send out responders (workers, essentially) to train up their various emergency skills (Medical, Evacuation, Firefighting, Peacekeeping and Shelter), hire contractors (special rules-breakers for that round), and what-not. There are also seven Federal (gray) responders that anyone can use, but they are less powerful than your own responders. After everyone has deployed all of their workers, the players face actual disasters. In a gameplay trumping reality mechanic, the first couple of rounds the disaster you face is likely of a known quantity, but as the game goes on there are more random disasters. After everyone has a shot at being the first player, the game is over and the player who's survived the most (dangerous) disasters is the winner.
That's the basic overview, I'll explain a few mechanics in-depth as they come up in my analysis:
1> The game has a strong first player advantage. This latest playtest mitigates the FP advantage in two ways: 1, the last player in the first round is the first player in the last round. This means they are first when it comes to placing workers and they get to choose if they'll take the only face-up disaster and 2, the skill tile draft is in reverse turn-order with the last player going first. These two rules seemed to work well to mitigate the first player advantage. In the next playtest, only three skill tiles will be drafted instead of four, but I think this will still work out ok.
2> The training coordinator contractor is overpowered. This became obvious in this playtest, as Mark consistently took this contractor and won the game. Skill tiles are double-sided with a rating, so a particular skill tile might be a Shelter -3 on one side and a Medical - 3 on the other. The training coordinator allowed Mark to flip a tile each time it was his turn, allowing him to completely reconfigure his department for whatever he faced. It will be amended to be a once-a-round power.
3> Despite making training exercises harder, no one failed any disasters. Miah thought she had failed her final disaster and would have to turn in her Public Relations token (failed disasters are worth -10 points, but each player has a PR token that can be given up to discard one failed disaster). However she had hired a contractor that allowed her to use another player's skill tile. Once she remembered that, she was good. That's why I want to change it to three skill tiles instead of four in the game. Less competency at the beginning will mean it's harder to train and thus harder to get up to a point where you're untouchable.
4> I keep meaning to ask my players, but I'm afraid of the luck component. This version of the game mitigates that some by having face-up disasters (You can run a training exercise against a face-up disaster, but then can't pick that disaster as your actual disaster --- Murphy's Law in the rulebook). However, my co-designer says that the system is very evocative of the real world and my playtesters haven't been complaining about it.
5> Player interaction... Now players have to place one of their workers next to a disaster in order to run it as training exercise. It was pointed out that there was potential strategy to take a training exercise that you'd fail, just to prevent someone else from completing it. Also, the first player in the last round has an interesting choice... taking the only face-up disaster as a training exercise guarantees that they'll be drawing a random disaster. Again, I keep forgetting to ask my playtesters, but I haven't been getting complaints.
VERDICT: All it takes is a magic marker to the Training Coordinator on the board and a pen to the rules to change four skill tiles to three. All my playtesters have remarked on how fast this thing has come together. Hopefully, we'll get this thing to the table again this week.