Exploration of Multi-Function Cards -- Oh, and Some Settling

The game known as Explore and Settle (or Gamey McGameface, as I facetiously touted it online) has had its third visit to a London playtest meetup, and in a very different form to previous times.

After a load of thrashing ideas around and some solo playtesting (sometimes it's worth just playing against myself to see how things pan out), the game got a lot of components removed and a very different play dynamic added, and I was looking forward to seeing how it worked with real people.

So now I have got rid of gold, resource tokens and the like, and rolled loads of functions into a deck of cards.  Essentially, the terrain cards still have a terrain tile as their main part, and they still have a built-in indicator of resource production, but now they also each have a pair of actions that the card can be used for, including builds and settlement movements.  Oh, and the cards can also be discarded (or passed to other players) as payment, so the cards act as currency as well.  Each turn you draw some cards, and cities allow you to draw additional cards.

The big questions were, at this point, are the choices afforded by these new, multi-function cards interesting, does the game flow OK in this form, and do the options just make everything grind to a halt?
Our game at its end, with the blue player having constructed his third monument.
Note the hole in the middle, where there was a void where cards could not be played.
We had a three-player game, with me giving the caveat that I was wanting to look at overall game play and flow, and noting that the balance of costs, victory points, and so on, was likely to be horribly wrong at this stage.  That latter prediction did, indeed, turn out to be correct, but what else did we learn?...

It turns out, not surprisingly, that there is a fairly heavy cognitive load when figuring out what you can do on each turn.  Figuring out if you have enough cards to, say, build a monument can take some working through, and this can make for some periods of staring at cards and doing mental gymnastics to solve the puzzle.  None of it is actually too difficult, but it does take some concentration, and this is all something that could attract some players but put others off completely.  I will need to decide if this is something I am happy with in the design, or if I can simplify and smooth the play out.

My testers also had some difficulty just getting their heads around how the game works, with the combination of terrain, production, actions, and cards-as-currency, and there was a comment that some aspects (particularly the way cards are used to pay for certain things) are somewhat unituitive.  This is a potential problem, but given the way that the latter half of the play through went (pretty smoothly overall), I think it might just be that I need to improve the presentation of the game with better iconography, player aids, and rules explanations.

While cities and monuments were build all over the place, only one production location was built, which surprised me a little, but it was felt that there wasn't really any incentive to undertake these builds, partly as it was too easy for other players to move settlements in and poach access to these facilities.

On balance, though, this was a very positive test.  I think the overall shape of the game is now one I like, and with some more (or a lot more) attention to costs and benefits of things, I think I can make progress here.

This is definitely the heaviest game I have got to this stage of development, although it is probably still just a middleweight in the grand scheme of things.  I did get one interesting suggestion, though, which was to strip the game back down to a very basic level (need to decide what that is first!) and see if the gameplay is still okay.  While I am still wanting to work on a meatier game than others I have developed over the last year or so, this is probably a very worthwhile exercise to learn more about what I am doing here, and it may well help me find the elements that need focussing on.

Apart from testing this game, I of course played games designed by other people.  This time we had a short and chaotic game of queue manipulation, a game of storytelling with a stack of words you have to use (in order) in your story, and a game about building a telegraph network in mid-nineteenth century America.  As always some very interesting (and varied) stuff with great potential.

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