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Elegance of Design (Applied)

United Kingdom
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Orignial Post (This is one of the increasingly limited number of times that the original is better, I still haven't figured out bullet points on BGG)

At the end of last week I wrote about elegance of design. To summarise for the tl;dr crowd I made the argument that a solid design objective is to look for solutions that solve several problems at once, or allow you to remove more existing gameplay elements than they require you to add. I wrapped up saying that I'd had an idea along these lines for wizard academy that I'd share on Monday. Today is Monday, so I'd best get right on that.

Before I can talk about a solution I need to describe the problems it is for. Presently threats come onto the board and take effect through disaster cards. For instance "Fire starts" places a new fire into a random room, whereas "Fire spreads" places a new fire adjacent to every existing fire. The disaster deck is set up at the start of the game and each time it runs out more cards are added and it is shuffled, if the set of worse disasters is exhausted rocks fall, everyone dies.

This method of threat management has some problems.

* If the effect activating a problem comes up while that problem is not present it has no effect.
* All problems need a card to activate them and they must be included in the deck every game, as the players might create any effect using a spell.
* The threat deck cannot increase in power much, adding new cards helps, but the weak ones are still there and "activate imps" barely registers as a problem when there are demons on the board.
* It is hard to give deck setup instructions for scenarios that emphasise a particular problem. For instance a fire fighting scenario will still have "fire spreads" as the minority of cards.
* Monsters (Imps, Trolls, and Demons) can be very nonthreatening as by default they will only move once during a pass through the deck and can easily be moved back in that time.

I've also had some other relevant feedback from playtesters.

* Moving rooms around and jumping between rooms as things happen is cool, but the game doesn't provide enough incentive to do it.
* Good disaster management is not well rewarded; a lot of the time the solution to a problem is to ignore it because the odds are that something else will eliminate it before it gets worse.

My plan, which I'm yet to test due to my never ending optimism about how long printing and sleeving cards will take, is to try to solve all of these problems with a single change that doesn't impact on the complexity of the game. Have you guessed what it is yet? It should be a little easier for you than it was for me since the problems are neatly grouped rather than hiding in a playtest booklet full of illegible scrawl.

I think that changing the 'threat activates' cards to look like this will solve most of these issues. Activating a room and then moving all threats in it has a few nice properties. The cards will apply to whatever problems are there, so themed scenarios become more applicable. They also in scale in terms of difficulty, as worse cards are added early on when most rooms are empty; so everything in a particular room acting isn't too much of a problem giving the players the gentle start that they need to get going. By the time the game has got going, there are cards regularly adding high level threats to rooms and suddenly drawing these cards is less of a free pass. Knowing that a particular room will be the problem makes the room shifting aspect of the game more important too. Finally disaster management becomes much more important, letting a fire spread to several rooms makes it more likely that rooms containing fire will activate causing to spread more quickly, so the players reactions to this are much more relevant. Now when players see a fire, rather than waiting for a flood to put it out they'll need to react or it'll spread like, well, like wildfire.

I'm pretty sure that it was either my playtesters or a voice in my head that persistently said "Everything insufficiently aflame" - I'm pretty sure it was the playtesters. Hopefully this solution will please them.
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