By way of a sanity test, my daughter, Miss B, had a play of the new set, and this seemed to work reasonably well (and earned the coveted accolades of "not terrible" and "better than the last version"), so I felt okay about taking the game out of the house for more testing.
At the monthly weekend playtest meetup in London I had two fine people giving the game a shakedown. We cut the game off a little short in order to allow time for playing someone else's prototype (a very entertaining game about moving cows into a field and trying to get them past a bovicidal rival farmer), but was able to see the game in play and have some very useful feedback discussions.
|Version 2, and the second castle from the right is looking in serious trouble.|
Overall, the testers felt that the game did offer them interesting decisions, but the combat part of the game seemed complicated and hard to understand (the game tries to combine a rock-paper-scissors contest of tactical orders with a comparison of relative strengths), and we noted a bunch of elements that seemed either over or under powered. As I often say, in the early stages of making a game, I don't worry much about balance, but it is always worth noting where there is a perception of a problem so it can be addressed later.
Over the following couple of days I managed to get testing done with a couple of local friends and tried out a few tweaks. My first try was very close to the version I tried on at the London meetup, which confirmed a load of the issues we'd seen before, plus revealed an additional wrinkle: it didn't really matter how many castles were in play (by this time I had experimented with four, five, and six), players felt incentivised to concentrate their efforts on just a couple of them, leaving the others uncontested.
I had an idea. If we had six castles, we could number them one to six, and then use dice in some way to control which castles could be affected by cards at any time. I roughed out some rules based on this concept: each player has two dice which they roll, and the castles matching the die rolls can be played to by either player, but the player owning each die has a small combat advantage at the matching castle; dice get rerolled after battles.
|Version 2a, now with added dice. I should change this blog name to "Later, add some dice."|
So this had the effect that I had hoped for and resulted in the game spreading out more. The downsides were that players (and I include myself in this) often missed which locations were allowed for play, forgot to reroll at the appropriate times, and sometimes felt that the dice made it difficult to plan beyond the next battle. Notwithstanding these issues, I liked what the dice did for the game, so I'm planning on keeping them in for the time being and seeing if I can knock off the rough edges.
The other recurring issue was my combat system, which was based around a 3x3 table that gave an effect for each combination of the three tactical options chosen by the attacker and defender at a castle. This was still causing more confusion than interest, despite me telling myself that it was pretty straightforward, could be streamlined with decent graphic design, and could be internalised after a few battles anyway. Sometimes it takes a while to get something into (or out of) my thick head, but eventually I decided to scrap the table, write some simpler rules onto the tactic cards, and give it another go. This was another definite improvement. It lost a bit of the subtlety I was hoping for, but it's just a first pass and the tactic effects can certainly be improved later.
I am also not convinced about the supply cubes I have been using, and have some ideas about replacing them with cards, meaning that I will almost certainly need more cards in the game to compensate, but I'm feeling that about 100 cards plus four dice is probably a reasonable component list.
What now? I'm working on updating my prototype again, and have booked in for a playtesting session with this game at Dragonmeet next weekend: if you're there, I'm playtesting from 4pm, and helping out at the playtest zone for the earlier part of the afternoon. Hopefully I'll get the game into a reasonable shape in time, and maybe even get a little sanity-check testing beforehand. I have my work cut out for me for the next few days...