Switching to faster games has been a massive pace shift for me. Being able to run a dozen tests in a day and make immediate tweaks and improvements has made things happen so much more quickly. Some games are in their third iteration in less time than it took to write the first version of Wizard Academy. At the end of this week I'm going to make a choice about which game to take forward, but I thought I'd post both of the ones under consideration and see if the majesty of internet comments had anything to add.
Arena (which is very much a work in progress title, as there are already several games of that name) concerns clones fighting to the death for the amusement of audiences in a dystopian future. Criminals and political dissidents are no longer sentenced to death, but sentenced to many deaths in spectacular shows for the crowd.
Each player picks a character and enters the arena, when they are killed another clone pops straight out ready to fight. The winner is the first player to score a set number of kills, depending on the length of the game. The core mechanic is that players simultaneously select actions from a pool of ten order tokens, when a token is spent it is gone until a player takes the rest action to recover their tokens. Damage is modelled by tokens being made unplayable and a character is killed when they play the "die" token, having had their other options eliminated.
Each character has nine options, three attacks, three moves and three special actions. Actions are selected simultaneously, but executed in order of their priority. The locations that an attack can hit vary depending on the attack, so anticipating which attacks your opponents will use and playing higher priority move orders becomes very important. The game gains re-playability by having characters with asymmetrical specialities.
The gunslinger character has a lot of high priority moves that allow her to manoeuvre easily to keep her opponents at a distance while piling on ranged damage. She also has moves other than rest that allow her to restore tokens and keep going longer, but is limited by the light damage inflicted by some of her moves and the difficulty she has attacking opponents who get too close.
The marine has more powerful ranged attacks, including ones which can take out several opponents, but can have trouble landing hits due to low priority. The character requires a tactical play in which you force your opponent to lose their movement orders so you can hit them with a big attack while they're resting.
The vampire has attacks with very small hitboxes and no damaging attacks that work at any range. She makes up for these weaknesses by being able to advance extremely quickly, deal heavy damage and heal herself. The fast advances must be used with caution, as a canny opponent can use the restrictions on her movement to lure her into traps.
The other characters each have their strengths and weaknesses, but a common theme is that success depends upon correctly anticipating your opponent's choices and exploiting them. In testing so far the best moments in this game have been the ones where several players were clustered together and trying to work out who would attack who and how, often leading to dramatic resolutions. There have also been a few excellent one on one battles resulting in two fighters dancing around each other looking for an advantage before one of them strikes and the battle is quickly resolved. Turn times are quick, the game takes half an hour, it's easy to learn and people seem to grasp how to play very quickly.
On the downside while the characterisation through mechanics is strong, the game's overall theme is somewhat cliché and doesn't seem to grab anyone. There are also definitely possibilities for players who are behind to gang up on the leader, which frustrates some types of player. If I go ahead with this one, balancing is also clearly going to be very hard work. While I've been explicitly asking for broad comments on how to go forward with the game most feedback still concerns the balance between characters and the pros and cons of different moves.
So what do you guys think?