Morten Monrad PedersenDenmark
As you might know we’ve been working on an expansion for Euphoria for quite a while and to be honest we’ve faced a lot of challenges and we kept reworking our mechanics, since we’d much rather spend more time to make it work, than release something that isn’t up to the Stonemaier standard.
Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from playtesters, David Studley and I started doing a reboot of our work and since then we have worked intensively on that.
We’ve felt for a long time that we had made something good, but we had a recurring issue of playtesters not really using the new expansion mechanics and we needed to figure out why that was. In this post I’ll chronicle our attempt to do that and what we have done to fix the issue. It’ll be a rather high level description, though, since it would otherwise be way too long and impossible to understand for non-Euphoria players.
Economy and math
At first we only had a few external playtests, but it seemed pretty clear that the playtesters didn’t find the new actions worthwhile.
The first explanation I came up with was that it was an issue of game economy, i.e. that the playtesters simply didn’t think that the new actions we had added provided enough value. I could mathematically prove that this was not the case, but we can’t assume that players do the math in the detail that we do, so the first thing we tried was to increase the value of the new actions.
A very early version of the expansion with hand drawn expansion boards.
Cooperation, sticks and carrots
After that we had a few more playtests by other groups and the feedback was again that the actions wasn’t used much.
This time the issue seemed to be that one of the two main systems in the expansion was cooperative in nature. Thematically that system was about players gathering enough knowledge to do a broadcast on the underground rebel radio. Mechanically it was cheap to contribute to the broadcast and you gained a good benefit, but this option was only available to players who were belonged to minority factions in the game.
The intention was to give a small boost to those players, since they by random chance during setup had been handicapped a bit by being in the minority.
One of the pieces of feedback we got was that the players didn’t want to use the radio system, because that also helped those of their opponents they had to cooperate with.
That quite surprised me, since cooperation is already a core mechanic in the game via the constructed markets where all players who contribute to build them get a benefit and everyone who do not contribute get a penalty.
We thought that the difference might be that the underground radio was pure carrot so to speak, while the cooperation of the constructed was both carrot and stick (avoiding a penalty by cooperating). This led us to have two options:
1) Add a “stick” to the underground radio.
2) Remove the cooperative element.
Option 2 seemed like the safest bet and since we could do that without removing what we saw as the core ideas of the radio and even if the lack of a “stick” was the reason for the lack of cooperation, then removing the cooperation would also fix that. Thus, we chose option 2.
Overwhelmed players and anonymous expansion boards
This still didn’t fix the issue for playtesters and again we tried to figure out why. One possible explanation that we came up with was that the playtesters were simply overwhelmed.
The base game of Euphoria has 25 different action spaces available on a board that looks very busy. We added something like 8 actions to that. This made it seem likely that the playtesters were simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of actions available.
Add to this that the expansion actions were placed on a couple of anonymous looking sheets of paper off to the side next to the big, colorful, and busy game board from the base game. The graphics design I had made was also atrocious, which didn’t help.
I apologize to graphic designers all around the world. The above expansion board was not meant as an insult to you .
The new actions were more complex than the base game actions – you could say that some of them were and order of magnitude more complex and actions that influenced each other.
Given all that maybe it wasn’t all that inexplicable that the playtesters weren’t using the new stuff much . I should of course have realized this much sooner, but I think that I made the rookie mistake of thinking that the mechanics we had made were simple to grasp, because I had been a part of making them and had played with them again and again and again (and again).
Complexity and rulebook clarity
A said, a couple of the new actions were an order of magnitude more complex than anything in the base game with several interlocking mechanics, such as three mechanics that modified the difficulty of doing broadcasts on the underground rebel radio.
After a few more playtests we found out, that the playtesters simply hadn’t understood several of the new mechanics leading them not to be worthwhile. It’s very important for me to stress that this is not a criticism of the playtesters , instead it was a failure on my part – the blame was without a doubt fully on my shoulders. The new mechanics were simply to complex, badly explained in a rulebook that was rushed because of time pressure, and had bad graphics design.
We learned a lot from the process:
1) Graphics design matters, even in alpha playtests.
2) A good rulebook matters, even in alpha playtests.
3) You, as the designer, will often think that your mechanics are simple and easy to understand, but that can simply be because you’re the one who made them and because you played them ad nauseam.
4) If a game already has a very wide decision space, then don’t add to it, but replace some of the existing stuff.
Now, I have to shamefully admit, that all of these are rookie mistakes. Any designer worth his salt knows these things and I should have known better, but it’s no help to cry about the months of wasted work. The only thing to do is learn from our mistakes, fix them, and move on. So, that’s what we did.
Another board from an earlier version of the expansion.
So, David and I went back to the drawing board to reboot the expansion. We both felt that our core ideas were sound mechanically and added to the theme of Euphoria, but we had made them too complex and presented them very badly, which was mainly my fault, not David’s.
The first issue we tackled was the decision space being too wide. We addressed this by moving the new actions onto tiles that are placed on top of actions on the mainboard, so that some of those are no longer accessible. By doing this we ended up with one less action in the game, than before, but the greater flexibility of the new actions means that players aren’t being limited in comparison to the base game.
This not only tackled the decision space problem, it also tackled the issue of the expansion boards lying off to one side and being outshined by the eye-catching game board. Instead they were right there as a part of the board itself.
As an aside we’re considering remaking the game board in a less busy manner with the new actions being included instead of being overlay tiles. But nothing is decided regarding that yet.
To support the embedding of the new actions in the game board and making them seem like an obvious part of the game instead of being ugly and anonymous, I spent a lot of time to remake the graphics design of the new actions. They’re no beauties, since I’m not good at graphics design, but they mesh much better with the base game and reuse the icon language of that.
Until the reboot we had mainly ignored whether the actions could be expressed with icons, but in the reboot we made this a core criteria. So while doing the redesigning the expansion tiles we worked on making the new actions easier to understand by using better and more complete iconology. We’ve also added a legend that explains the less obvious icons, so that players don’t have to consult the rulebook to figure out what the actions do.
It’s not beautiful, but at least the new actions use the same icon language as the base game and has much clearer graphics design. This action is still a bit more complex than the base game ones, but I’m convinced that when you’ve gotten the action explained once, the icons will remind you what it does, if you forget.
This action has a cost of two artifact cards, it’s a temporary action space, and you can choose to support the oppressor (symbolized by her tribute statue) to gain an authority token and increase a faction’s allegiance, or you can go against her, which gives you a recruit.
Hopefully this explanation makes sense to those who know the rules and icon language of Euphoria.
Streamlining the actions
Next up was the complexity of the actions. As said it was clear that the previous versions were too complex, so we put in a lot of effort to streamline them, while retaining most of the thematic and mechanical core ideas. To achieve this, we removed some of the more complex mechanics, simplified others, and removed some of the interlocking dependencies.
The mechanic that caused us the most trouble was one where the oppressor who rules the dystopia hinders players who become too powerful (mechanically this works as a slight catchup mechanic that makes the end game tenser). We burned through so many different mechanics for this that I lost count of them. All of them either had weird edge cases or were too complex. In the end, though, I think we got the issue fixed, but playtesting will tell.
Improving the rulebook
As mentioned the rulebook had been a sticking point in the last round of playtests. I had rushed it through because of a tight deadline, which led it to be unclear.
In the reboot we’ve spent more time on the rulebook and added multiple examples and illustrations. Of course it’ll still be nowhere near a final rulebook, since it’s only David and me who has read it so far, but I hope that we’ll have much fewer issues with misunderstood rules this time.
Playtesting the reboot
The rebooted expansion, with the working title Euphoria: Burn a Bigger Dystopia, is now ready for playtesting, and yesterday I reached out to those who have previously expressed interest in playtesting, so hopefully we’ll soon get feedback.
If any of you reading this are interested in playtesting (2-6 players, since the solo mode isn’t ready), then please let me know.
We need feedback quickly, though, since we have a deadline the 15th of June, where we hand the expansion over to Jamey to evaluate whether we should continue down or current path or switch to an alternative expansion idea, we’ve also been working on.
Keeping Jamey and the community in the loop on my work on making expansions for Stonemaier Games.
- [+] Dice rolls