Friday, 31 May 2013

Version 4.mumble

So this was a three person play test and the first three person play test in a while.  
Overall - pretty damn good.  It's not perfect and as in a lot of 3 person war games two people fighting opens an opportunity for the 3rd person but I can live with 'works for 3 - better for 4'.  Came in at about two hours - which would be 90 minutes if you know what you are doing.  Which is good.
The feedback at the end of the game was positive (from one newbie and one person who played some time ago and thought it much improved) – and I agreed with them.  In particular the person who played before said it now felt like a good length - not dragging on a little like it had before. Much more like a finished game and a good one at that.
There was still a little bit of “not sure going first is worth it” – but a lot less - and the person who held that belief decided they might be wrong.  So the new build cards do what they are meant to - or at least in the right direction.    The actual values need to be determined a bit better.  But that might require some in depth play to decided. 
This rather neatly throws up just how interrelated everything is - there is no way of working out what the build card values should be unless the action cards are fixed.  But how good the action cards are depends heavily on everything else......  
There was also a request for some sort of combat track to help keep track of peoples strength – seems reasonable and easy to do.  We’ve been holding up hands recently to track - so it’s clearly needed these days. 
Four ideas for action cards to get the combat more invovled - thinking that these can replace the standard "one attack or one defence card" as they are a bit bland.
Remove enemy big man
Add your own big man
Draw 3(?) cards when attacked
Counter a taboo card and get some sort of bonus (cards?) for having done so. 
That is the change for this time round – test that and then hopefully fix the action card.  I've already decided that what is on the board is fixed – so then it’s just tweak the build card values to get them right.
It’s coming together I think – the regular Wednesday play tests are coming together - and as always if anybody is interested let me know.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

More Play Testing.....

So another good play test – 4 people this time. 
The positive – the people new to version 4.0 felt that it zipped along at a much better speed, and the change to RongaRonga to allow you to flip one of your heads rewarded attacking a bit more.  And the quarry having a unique power did make it more of a focus – very attractive to the person with a 4 stone heads for example.  The combat seems to be working well – people trying to work out when to fight –and when to just take it.  Often looking at what is likely to be coming down the line.  The attacker winning mutual wipe outs does lead to a tendency for mutual wipe outs – since in a draw the attacker gets to flip there stone heads and play a RongaRonga.  That might need looking at…….
One good suggestion was a counter ‘totally taboo’ card – since currently the only counter is another ‘totally taboo card’.  Possible effects include allowing the original card to go ahead with a bonus – or blocking the player of the totally taboo card from playing any more cards……  Other funky cards that might be worth adding “remove enemy big man” and the flip “add your big man to a conflict”.  Not too sure about the ‘add a big man’ card as it actually saves you having to spend a food to put somebody on the board…..…  So it’s a two point swing plus.  It could just be remove a warrior a put a big man on the board.  This makes it less flexible but would still allow you to turn a wipe out into situation where you have got your big man left.  Which I think makes it more of a value with other cards (a two point swing in the right circumstances).
One oddity was that the game went on one turn longer than expected because at the end of one turn there were only three hexes with resources – so there a bit of an unexpected turn.  And I was the only person who realised that space to build in that final turn was the most precious resource in the game. Despite that it was still nicely tight – apart from for one player who was staggeringly far behind – in fact so far behind I wonder if they were not taking the VP’s when they placed there stone heads.
The interesting thing was that they went first for most of the game – and it is certainly why they think it’s why they did so badly. 
It’s certainly something I’ve been worried about – it’s why I hesitated about switching move order to being based of resource for so very long – so I’m inclined to believe them.  That said – I’m much happier with the secret VP’s and the flow of the game so it’s a case of making it work rather then going back to what we had.
Now at least part of that player doing so badly is based on decision they made.  They had first pick of the build cards – they could have taken the card that gave them a lot of Giant Stone Heads and hence VP’s but they chose not to.  That left them physically stronger but weak in VP’s which win you the game.  However while they controlled lots of space in the mid game when it has limited value – they lost it lost control of that space in the last turn when it was at its most valuable.
Another thing that happened was that the ‘steal a VP’ card only works on people with more resources then you (so higher in the turn order) – which meant he was always a target for that and could not use the card to claw back at all.  So easy fix there – allow that card to be used anywhere and hope the players us it to pick on what they consider the ‘correct’ opponent is.
This player did however manage to explain why going first is so disadvantageous – it’s because while you get slightly more cards and men then everybody else (and get a better fit to whatever you currently have so your discarding less cards) – when you go first your operating against every other player who is at full strength having just topped out on cards and men.  Even if you do nothing and defend (a dull option at best) then the player coming after you has one less player to worry about…
So some possible fixes…….
Give the player going first some sort of bonus in cards or men.  That’s basically the route the briefly lived shaman cards worked being powerful cards that the person picking first got.  Shaman cards are clumsy and I’m not sold on them – but just a general bonus “first person gets an extra two men, second person gets an extra man” could also work.  Still a bit clumsy in my opinion.
Make the build cards more diverse – at the moment the gap between the best card and the worst card is pretty narrow – widen that and the person going first has a significantly better choice.  A big problem with this (and also the first solution) is that the risk of a positive feedback linked to winning can develop.  I have more resources – so I have more men – so I have more resources…
Another option would be to radically change the game – so players take there build card, place giant stone heads but don’t get there cards and men until there actual turn.  Bit of a radical change – might work – would involve a lot of changes.
A fourth option would be to decouple the number of giant stone heads you get from the men/cards you get.  At the moment each build card has a budget – which works out how many men, cards and giant stone heads that card will have.  Well some cards have a slightly higher budget – a card with lots of giant stone heads will be weaker elsewhere to compensate.   However that link could be removed – either by allowing good all round cards or by making the number of giant stone heads not depend on the card but just on your turn position (so in a 4 player game you get 4 heads if you are going first).
Of them all – I quite like the idea of decoupling the value of giant stone heads.  So, for example,  there will be multiple cards that give you 4 men and 5 cards just with different amounts of stone heads on.  The actual difference in the number of cards and men can stay about the same – but with the existence of those if the person going first is not getting a lot of stone heads then it really is there own fault…..     
Another way of achieving this would be to just increase the budget of the build cards–while just making sure all the budget gets spent on giant stone heads.  I’ll hammer out values at some point – but I doubt I’ll have this ready for a trip to Coventry this weekend – which is where GSH got a lot of it’s early play testing.  Bless ‘em.  

Friday, 10 May 2013


So last night I play tested the new version of Giant Stone Head – number 4.0 due to the large amount of changes.  And it was good.  No really - it ended and I was quite pleased.
The two main changes certainly fixed what they were meant to fix.  Using just resources for build and turn order made the book keeping much quicker and easier (the whole game was about 2 hours for 5 players which makes the holy grail of 90 minutes look much more achievable) – while hidden victory points made the end game less anaemic as you did not have the sense of ‘the end result is obvious’. 
A lesson in ‘don’t change to much at once’ however the addition of shaman cards has complicated the game and I’m not sure it’s actually needed.  Perhaps just slightly wider diversity in the build would have been enough to make first spot a good enough option to be worth taking…..  That one really needs a game breaker to test it out....
I described it as “the first time in a long time I’d not had any nagging doubts”.  The core game mechanics now seem more solid even if I’m not sure about the Shaman cards.   And the book I’m reading at the moment repeats the following quote a lot “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” (apparently that is from  Antoine de Saint-Exuper ) and the Shaman cards certainly look like something bolted on to be smoothed away.  So lets keep that in mind.
Once people had gone home – I started thinking about how the game was at it’s best when your spotting and exploiting opportunities and how the current cards (specifically the RongaRonga and Pimp Your Moai cards) don’t support that very well.  RongaRonga simply don’t drive your planning  because they are not a big enough while playing a pimp my Moai is actually an excuse to defend and do nothing. Equally the quarry – which is meant to be a place of exciting violence and high drama- has been grabbed by one player who has held onto it all game and not done very well out of it…..
Things I like – and are working – stone heads give you two VP’s when you build them –and one vp when you kick over other peoples.  I like that – it drives conflict – makes building stone heads the key sourve of VP’s (which it has to be in a game about building stone heads) and makes you a target by the very act of gaining VP’s.  It’s neat.
I’m less sure about how players gain additional VP’s from their own giant Stone heads (The pimp my Moai card or possession of the quarry which replicate each other effects).  So what I want to do – change the value of the quarry and the card – so the quarry is better in some way then the card not the same.  So possession of the quarry carries a greater premium and is not simply invalidated by randomly drawing a card (or likewise just drawing that card is not the stroke of great fortune). 
I also want to ensure people are active and doing rather than sitting defensively.  It would also be good to have a stronger reason to attack hexes that don’t hold a giant stone head.
So let’s keep the quarry as it is – at the end of the turn you can turn all of your giant stone heads to unwhorshiped for one VP each.
Lets change the ‘pimp my moai’ card so that if you win a victory against anybody you can flip one of your giant stone heads for 1 VP.  It’s still only 1 VP – but it also removes a reason to attack you which is good….
The later in the turn a player goes – the better the quarry is (less chance to lose it and more knowledge of the number of stone heads you'll have at the end) where as the earlier in the turn the better the pimp my moai card is (because it removes more peoples incentive to attack you).  Which is balanced – and you might well need more than one of these a turn so having a number in the deck is less of a problem. 
This rather fills the slot currently taken by RongaRonga cards (win fight – get 1VP) even if by a different mechanism – so I think this will replace the attack a person in a particular seat around the table.  So what happen to the “steal a VP” card? Well I think nothing.  We keep it as is – a Ronga Ronga card that’s used for hitting people further up the resource track then you – although I want to call it ‘Rob from the Rich!’. 
That feels a solid set of changes – and I’m unsure enough about how that will affect play that I’m going to withdraw the Shaman cards for the next play test.  They exist to make a tactic I don’t even know would work from looking appealing – avoiding resources and hanging around at the back – and last night people mainly used being at the back in order to grab being at the front next turn.  With even less stone heads on the board as people flip them mid turn being at the back to hovering up VP’s looks less likely.
All rather hopeful - i really should see if I can get a version ready to drag to bristol.