Friday, May 02, 2008

Games concerning the absence of food (Corn - The Civgame, In the Year of the Dragon)

This week the group indulged me by agreeing to play my prototype, "Corn - The Civgame". I constantly dabble in creating games, but rarely get anywhere with them. My last attempt, Corn-22, was not particularly good. I had high hopes that this one would be better...

Well, first of all, this one isn't supposed to be goofy. It's a fairly rules-heavy civilization builder. I wanted to make a game that combined exploration, technological advancement, war and politics that didn't need a huge board, 8 hour playing time or millions of little bits. Also, setup time bothers me, so I made quick setup a goal.

I'll get this out of the way up front: It wasn't very well received. Despite this, I was happy with the experiment. Beyond the problems which came up due to unresolved rules, unpredicted combinations, etc, a few things were working against a pleasant first run-through:

- It's got lots of rules, and I didn't explain them particularly well.
- The playing pieces were very poor. To small, too light, not particularly user-friendly.
- Critical play-aids were missing. This is probably the biggest mistake I made. The missing list of buildings was the worst offender.

Anyway, I'm pretty happy with the turn order/ action selection mechanism (it's not perfect, though: earlier versions restricted the the number of cards players were dealt, and I added to that substantially for the playtest. In retrospect, it was too many). I felt that the exploration was working and the development was working reasonably well. We didn't play long enough for the different player's civilizations to butt heads, or for the political aspect of the game to really take off, but at the very least I was able to get a sense of certain things that need to be worked out. Though no one will know this but me, the balance of resource production vs. building costs has improved substantially over previous solo playtests.

I hope that the group will be willing to try it again, and I'm really hoping that we can have a conversation here about thoughts on what worked and what didn't.

A few changes I need to make before it gets played again:
- It used to be a requirement that a port be built in order to embark onto water (at a lake or river). When I eliminated it, I didn't realize it made bridges obsolete (since it is quicker and cheaper to gain the water transportation technology and cross wherever you want). I will be reintroducing ports. Also, I was counting on certain landscape features (lakes, rivers and mountains) to provide natural boundaries that would define the regions in the game. However, under those rules Wonders found in water exist in BETWEEN regions, and therefore couldn't belong to anyone. I think the only solution in this case is to remove the ability to discover Wonders in water hexes. Also, I will have to require that Wonders not be discovered on river hexes, just to overcome a placement issue (placing the wonders obscures the rivers, and there's no simple way to eliminate that). It's not an unreasonable limitation, so I'll just choose the simple route. Lastly, I will be requiring the presence of cubes on resources to have them produce. This will eliminate ownership questions and, conversely, allow others to come and use them if they are crafty.

When Kozure arrived, we put away the prototype and played In the Year of the Dragon. I tried to see if the war parades could be put to good use (get ahead in the people track by putting on parades and then choose the powerful older workers without being forced to fall back in the turn order). It seemed to be working pretty well, and then THE BAD MOVE happened.

In the month the droughts was upon us, I had the first move. In a fit of idiocy, I forgot I had no rice and instead chose to BUILD A THIRD PALACE. The drought happened, I lost 3 people and the palace I had just built. Ugggh.

I figure I bounced back pretty well. I had a good lead until then, and ended tied for second with Kozure. Bharmer cruised past us to victory on the strength of 5 palaces and many people working in them.

I'm still quite happy with this one. It feels rather malleable in the sense that there always seems to be several ways you COULD go. While planning for the upcoming disaster is the main driver for the game, building a good monthly points engine, staying ahead in the person track and going for straight points are all viable and important at different parts of the game. Good stuff.

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