Invaded in Birmingham

I said I would go into the results of my playtesting at UK Games Expo, so here we go.  I had two 90 minute slots for playtesting, and as Invaded tends to run for approximately an hour at the moment, one slot is just about perfect for playing once, when you figure in rules explanations, discussions and feedback.
Blurry, blurry, blurry, but I used the good pic in the last post.
You aren't here for the quality photography are you?
My first game was on Friday afternoon when the Playtest Zone was having a slightly slow recruitment period.  I had two people volunteering to play, Amy and Kevin, and I decided to join in to make it a three.  This isn't really ideal, as my taking part means that I can't observe other players as well and may influence play more than I would like, but at this stage I am still building up a feel for the game, and I wanted to get more plays at three or four players if I could.

Overall the game went pretty smoothly, but the start of the game felt a little slow and aimless, partly because of the lack of initial demands, and partly because of the colonial power being slow in its initial advance.  Still!  The end of the game felt a little abrupt and there was a feeling that the colonial power could be more aggressive.  This latter point keeps coming up, and I keep tweaking, but I never seem to get it right.  I think I have probably been to gentle with the tweaks.  I remember some experienced designer (I have a feeling it was either Matt Leacock or Rob Daviau) talking about how when you are adjusting values in games you should go large on the changes, either halving or doubling rather than just tweaking the numbers.  At least to start with.  I clearly haven't internalised this.

I didn't want to change too much before the next test, but after a little thinking I figured that I could make a couple of small changes to the colonial attitude chart to hopefully accelerate the start.  The game at this point involved one colonial move after each player move until the colonial power got very aggressive later in the game, so I thought that possibly I could just up this to two cards at a time at the beginning, so the first few moves would involve the regiments expanding quickly, and then settle down to a more steady pace.  Alongside this I brought the first drawing of an attack card to an earlier stage, meaning that, particularly given the increased pace of movement, there was a chance of an attack at the end of the first round of play.
Can you spot the changes I made?

The Sunday test was astonishing.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a group of four players, Connor, Helen, Heather, and Derek, queueing to play before I was even set up, and they sat attentively through my inexpert rules explanation.  As an aside, at this stage of a game's development I find explanations difficult as the game is in a state of flux and I haven't yet got a handle on the best way to explain it.  Later on, when the game is relatively stable and I am teaching the game multiple times between revisions, the explanation can get a lot smoother.  Hopefully we'll get there with Invaded sometime soonish.

Anyway, the game started and over the first few turns I found myself needing to intervene or answer questions less and less.  One of the players wasn't quite clicking on some of the rules, but the others were able to put her straight without my help.  The game seemed to be flowing nicely, there was a little table talk, and the players all seemed well engaged.

Then something cool happened.

One of the players figured that they liked the idea of the victory points available from attacking he colonial power.  I had to clarify the attack system a bit, but the attack worked fine, knocking out a couple of colonial units and earning a couple of points of enmity.  Then the counterattacks started, and at the end of the round the attacking player, who didn't have many of the favour cards which are used as defences, got knocked back to just possessing a single village, and the following turn got wiped off the board.  He was logically eliminated one round (about 10 minutes of play) before being actually eliminated, triggering the end game condition I wasn't expecting to see for some time.

This whole turn of events was treated as a good bit of fun by the players, but revealed a part of the game that hasn't really shown up before.  We have now seen that the enmity system can result in devastating attacks from the colonial power, meaning that a player must think hard before attacking them and be ready for the potential counterattack.  I need to think about this and whether I need to protect players is some way from making a boneheaded move like attacking when they are not ready, but at the moment I am inclined to leave things more or less as they are and hopefully just make it clear in rules explanations just how dangerous attacks are.  On the other hand, it would be cool to make it so that the potential gain is enough to make players willing to risk it, so perhaps the victory point payoff for enmity tokens could go up.

More generally, I think the colonial behaviour is moving in the right direction, but is not there yet.  I am planning to make use of the different location terrains (the map cards are currently different colours, but this is purely decorative so far) as an input for deciding what moves the regiments make, which will make things rather less predictable than they are now.

Whoa!  An idea has just come to mind.  If I make a load more movement cards than are necessary and use a subset of them for any given play, it means that there will be a heap of uncertainty about what the colonial power will do at the start, but players should be able to learn the colonials' preferences and be able to predict its movements to some degree.  That has to be worth trying...

Anyway, thanks to all the testers from last weekend: you were all great and have given me a load to think about.  Now can I improve things some more...?

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