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Gheos: playtest session

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Joined: 12/31/1969
Gheos: playtest session

jwarrend wrote:
I think the point I was trying to make was that you complained about a rare-event bug in BC that you hadn't ever seen happen, but that theoretically could happen, but were dismissing Seth's perceived flaw in your game on the grounds that you hadn't seen it happen yet (but neglecting that, in theory, it could occur).

Yes, I agree, it's not the same category; the BC flaw is more "catastrophic". But as a designer, you don't want any flaws at all, if you can help it.

Jeff, I never dismissed Seth's perceived flaw in the game. I said it was a valid concern, and I take it very seriously. I agree that any bug in the game should be hammered out, if possible.

Moreover, the reason I rejected your BC analysis (that the flaw destroys the game) is because you never demonstrated that the lockup happens at any particular frequency. If it only happens once per 100 games, surely that is "less bad" than a flaw that comes out once per 10 games, or every game?

Depends on the seriousness of the flaw.

My point is this. It's overwhelmingly likely that there will be more instances of your game being played by perfect counters than instances of BC locking up. So even if BC's flaw is in the design and yours is in the players, I contend that yours is the one more in need of being dealt with, if there even is a flaw; I haven't played, and don't know.

As a designer there are things I can control and things I can't control. I can control how the mechanics work, but I can't control how players play the game. If they take a lot of time to analyze every possible move or want to count each player's score every turn, there's only so much I can do about it. That's not a cop out, I think there's a lot a designer can and should do to minimize the possibility of analysis paralysis, but in the end, it's up to the players.

My point is that Balloon Cup's flaw is a mechanical one. It can be proven theoretically. In my opinion such flaws can and should be caught very early in the design stage. One of the first things I always do when I come up with a new mechanic is checking whether it is robust; does it work even when the cards come up all in the "wrong" order, for example. If it's possible for the mechanic to lock up in any way, it's a no-no for me, and I'll either ditch the idea or revise it. I'm just amazed that a game with such an mechanical flaw could get published, because it goes against some principles in game design that I find very elementary.

The difference with Gheos' perceived counting problem is that you cannot theoretically prove it, because it is a player problem. The only thing you can do is play the game a lot with different players and see if and how often the problem crops up. This doesn't mean that a player problem isn't a problem, or that it is less serious, but you can only catch it fairly late in the design stage.

Again, I want to stress that I'm not dismissing the problem. Seth has found in his playtests that some players count the scores every turn, and that it detracts from gameplay, so that makes it a real problem. On the other hand, I also had many succesful playtests in which it wasn't a problem. If there's a good solution to the problem, that doesn't raise any other issues and is in the spirit of the game, then I'm all for it.

Joined: 12/31/1969
Gheos: playtest session

I thought it might be interesting to post a playtest report of Gheos (aka Dawn of Time) I just sent to the publisher.


Here's a report of a playtest session of Dawn of Time we had last night.

Players: Jan, Bruno and me. I had played a lot of two player games of Dawn of Time with Jan. Bruno had played the old version of Dawn of Time, but not the current version. Since a lot of things had changed, I simply explained all the rules again. When you get pyramid chips caused a bit confusion initially. I think it wise to give this some extra emphasis in the rules, perhaps add a paragraph specifically detailing when a player receives a pyramid chip.

Playing time: 60 minutes, excluding explanation. Jan and Bruno tend to be slow players. Before Dawn of Time we finished a game of Goa in two and a half hours, which is also pretty long. Also, the last Epoch tile came up fairly late in the game. Still, 60 minutes is a very decent length, I think, and we didn't feel that he game dragged beyond the point of fun. There's a good tension curve that keeps the game exciting until the end. I think the pyramid chip scoring works very well in that regard.

The session itself was very good, in my opinion. The game started off calmly. The differences in scoring tend to be very small in the beginning, which leads to players being cagey with their scoring tiles. I tried to build up the red civilization, but a temple put a stop to my ambitions. The nearby white civilization, in which Bruno had invested heavily, also received a temple, causing that side of the world to be, more or less, locked up. Bruno later made good use of that though, as he placed a second temple on the white civilization's continent, and grabbing the fourth white follower, basically ensuring him of 8 points for each future scoring round. We all found this to be very clever play.

I had a small lead during the beginning of the game, but felt the difference was too small to use my green scoring tiles. However, after that I fell behind and never was able to use my green scoring tiles effectively anymore. In fact the game ended with my two green scoring tiles unused. Despite that I did manage a decent score through a 16 point score with my blue tile. I still ended up third, though, with 46 points. Jan had 49 points and Bruno had 56 points.

We all managed to keep up with the Epoch scoring tiles up until the fourth one. Bruno and I failed to score the fifth epoch tile and none of us scored the sixth and last Epoch (although Jan could have). The Epoch tiles came up fairly late in the game. I'm really, really satisfied with how the Epoch / pyramid scoring works. It adds a great deal of tension to the game and makes for some very tough decisions. You want to keep up with the Epochs, but you also don't want to fall behind in the continuous rat race for followers and cups, and it's not often that you can do both with just a single tile placement, which forces you to make difficult choices.

Other small things: I didn't notice a starting player problem this game. I don't think it's really much of a problem in a 3 player or 4 player game. Any advantage the starting player has is easily nullified through player interaction.

I'm thinking about removing the rule that you may pay two pyramid chips for migration or war. I've never seen anyone use that option. Perhaps it's nice to have that option, perhaps it's a unnecessary rule, at least it is something to keep in mind.

The simultaneous migration and war came up in this game once. It's a rule that is a bit hard to explain, but it does allow for some cool effects. We discussed some other ways of coping with this rule, including simply forbidding laying a tile in a such a way that it happens, but in the end we decided that the current rule is probably the way to go.

There has been a bit of discussion on the BGDF about the possibility of downtime in the game because of players wanting to count all the scores every turn. In this session there were a few instances where players wanted to know all the scores, but certainly not every turn. Usually, it's easy to keep track of the changes in scoring, and you only want to reassess the scoring possibilities after a war or a migration. It's natural that players want to count the scores every now and then, after all they have to make the decision whether to score or not, but the computations itself are not very complex and it's not a huge drag on the time. However, I think this is something we'll have to monitor closely during playtesting and just see how often it is a real problem with other player types.

On a related note, I'm thinking about testing the game with 2 blue tiles (personal scoring) and 1 green tile (overall scoring) for each player (except in the 2 player game, of course). This would reduce the need to count each player's score every turn, especially once you've already used your one green tile. It would also make the scores a bit closer, and make it a bit easier, perhaps, to "catch the leader". And there's something nice and relaxing about scoring just for yourself.

Bruno mentioned that he liked this version of the game much more than the old one. He said that the old version was kind of goofy fun, but the new version is much more a full grown game. The tile mix now seems perfect to me, I don't feel the urge to tinker with it anymore. The two tile hand is good. There are some real decisions to make in the game. There are various tactics you can deploy, and there's room for strategic planning as well. There's a good balance between luck, skill and player interaction. Six civilizations works great as well, as it just gives that extra bit of space on the board. Overall I'm very satisfied with how the game plays now. The only real thing I still want to tinker with is the scoring tiles, but I'm sure I can work that out. All in all, I think it now comes down to a few last minor changes to get it perfect, and then writing a coherent ruleset and simply testing it a lot.

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