Dear Jamey – expanding the worlds of Stonemaier Games

Keeping Jamey and the community in the loop on my work on making expansions for Stonemaier Games.
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Burn a Bigger Dystopia - A slice of a game design discussion

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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This blog post is an experiment.

Previously when I’ve status reports here after sending them to Jamey, then Jamey hasn’t been all that involved in the work on the expansion. This means that I’ve written those reports with the assumption that Jamey didn’t know the mechanics except from a bird’s eye perspective.

This time it’s different, though because Jamey has been heavily involved the past couple of months and the revision I write about below is one he made. This means that today’s text is much more a discussion of mechanics, where I know that Jamey knows the details and thus there will be stuff in it that readers outside our development team won’t understand.

I’ve added in a few comments in blue text to give a bit of context, but there’s a limit to how long I can go with that without pasting in the entire rulebook here and apart from those additions the text below the horizontal line is word for word the same text as I sent to Jamey. That said, I have added a few pictures to spice things up.

There will be parts of this post, where you won’t understand the details and so as said this post is an experiment. It should give you a slice of insight into the process of game design as we do it in our geographically separated team. Whether it’ll be interesting to read it, I honestly don’t know, so if you do read or skim it, then please let me know in the comments whether you’d be interested in more posts like this one in the future.

Before we start it’s important for me to stress that right now the expansion has undergone some major revisions and so there’s a lot of stuff that’s not right yet and a lot of possible changes and ideas we’re throwing into the discussion.



Dear Jamey

As you say it’s been a busy month for me and to be honest, I’ve been spending some of my remaining time on the wrong things instead of working on Euphoria.

While you asked for a status update, then I think that this mail will be more of a long series of inputs for a discussion about the next revision. Perhaps we can take that discussion, when we talk Tuesday?



Playtest

I’ve only played the latest revision (7.1.1, which is the revision you made with a few non-rule changing text tweaks from me) of the game once 3-handed. I enjoyed it a lot, but unsurprisingly we still need to do adjustments.

Playing time

First of all, the game took too long. There are several reasons for this.

* The available options and strategy is shaken up quite a bit and so I had to think more about each move.
- This effect will naturally lessen once new players wrap their heads around the changes, so I don’t see any reason to make changes based on this.

* The stricter resource limit for rebel aligned players makes it harder for them to be efficient in gathering resources and thus flames.
- We could consider upping the resource limit of rebel aligned players to 4, but I quite like the feel and strategic changes caused by the limit of 3 resources.

* The removal of the treasured artifacts makes it quite a bit harder to use the artifact markets. (a mechanic where each player had a type of artifact card act as a wildcard.)
- I’ll get back to this one in a separate section.

* There are now 11 authority tokens to place instead of 10 and it has become a bit harder to place them in the current revision.
- I think that we should go back to 10 authority tokens with a 6/4 and 4/6 split of stars and flames. (Flames are a new kind of authority token that most be bought before you can buy them.)

The asymmetric player boards

I loved the strategy changes imposed by the player boards for rebel aligned and oppressor aligned players. It really shakes the game up in a nice way and I think that they can increase the longevity of the game quite a bit. (We’ve added in two sided player boards and the players choose which side to turn up during setup. The two sides are different and thus add more asymmetry to the game.)

And if we ask the core question: Is it fun? Then in my single playtest the answer was a resounding yes.
That said, I’m still hesitant about the player mats for two reasons:

* It will be hard to balance them and if it turns out that one side is a bit better than the others, then we could end up with everybody always choosing the same side and thus making the asymmetry moot mechanically and silly thematically.

* Even if we do manage to get the balance just right, then perceived unbalance trumps actual balance and groupthink could easily mean that many groups would think one side better than the other.

Because of this I’m very conflicted about the idea and have been considering ways of making sure that we won’t end up with all players choosing the same side of the board. Among other things I’ve considered whether we could go back to having the choice made during the game as in the previous revision. That won’t really work though, because it’s integral to basically everything on the player mats that the choice is made during setup.

So far I haven’t been able to come up with a fix that doesn’t add more complexity than I like or remove player choice. The latter is the reason that we don’t have the same problem in Scythe because there, players are given their faction and player mats by random instead of choosing themselves like we’re doing here.

There’s one small issue with the rebel side of the player mats: The rebel aligned players get a commodity and a resource of their choice, and I could easily see players wanting to see what choices the others make, before they make a choice of their own.

Changes to morale and streamlining of retrieval

The removal of the two different options for retrieval is in my opinion a good change and one we should stick to. It makes the game more streamlined and as you’ve remarked it’s one of the things that players tend to mess up the most. (Retrieval is now simply taking dice back an rolling them. There’s no cost, benefit, or penalty.)

I also think that the mechanic where you must pay morale to place more workers when you roll doubles (or more) is also a very good mechanic that lowers the luck factor and replaces it by an interesting choice.
Overall, morale has been changed into a resource that’s more integral to the game and approaches to using it should become more varied.

The rebel radio

On the topic of morale, then I like that you made the cost of the rebel radio be morale. It a big part of the above-mentioned point about morale becoming more interesting in the game. It also works out well thematically, since it means that rebel aligned players will use it more than oppressor aligned players, because the former will gain more morale via the flame factory.

While it’s a bit clunky, then I think that we need to go back to having the amount of knowledge the other players gain based on the player count (The rebel radio makes other players gain knowledge.). Especially now that it affects all other players, not just the oppressor aligned ones. My reason for saying this is that I predict that at 6 players everybody will be a knowledge 6 most of the game, since if all players use it once per game, then at 6 players each will gain 10 knowledge via the radio and with 2 players they’ll only gain 2.

I don’t mind that player count makes a difference in the game, but in this case, I think that the difference is too big, since it could in effect remove knowledge as an interesting mechanic in the game. We also already have three mechanics where a number changes based on player count: During setup we position miner meeples and territory size based on player count, and while playing the number of construction spaces required to build a market also depends on the player count. So, making this mechanic dependent on player count wouldn’t be without precedence in the game.

I’m also not a fan of the change where the oppressor aligned players using the radio trigger the allegiance balancing mechanic. First, because they’ll tend to use the radio less, because they get less morale from the flame factory, and second because the mechanic is not a specifically a benefit for oppressor aligned players, it’s equally likely to benefit any player in the game.

I still like the mechanic, but I don’t think it should be dependent on the player being oppressor aligned.
If we want to give the oppressor aligned players another benefit, then we could consider reserving a space on each territory on which only oppressor aligned players could place an authority token. I think that would also make thematic sense.

Going back to the allegiance balancing mechanic, then you suggested changing it because it’s a bit complicated and I tend to agree with you. Maybe we could change it to just advancing the hindmost allegiance token?

The recruiting booth of instant gratification

I like the mechanic in the booth that makes up for bliss and food no longer having their previous use because of the retrieval change and you’ve streamlined it a bit compared to the previous revision (The booth allows you to use bliss or food to get a recruit.)
Initially I was skeptical of the change, because it will likely lead players to have a more recruits, which means more special rules to keep track of, but given that we’ve reduced the number of constructed markets from 6 to 3, then I think that it’s OK to have more recruits.

The change also helps players who by chance end up with recruits of a minority faction. It’s not enough to completely make up for the difference, though, which is why I’d like to keep the mechanic that boosts the hindmost allegiance token.


The rulebook for revision 7.1.1 of Euphoria: Burn a Bigger Dystopia. The length should give you a rough idea of the amount of rules changes.

The treasured artifacts and artifact markets

I can definitely see, the streamlining benefit of removing the treasured artifacts mechanic (treasured artifacts gives each player an artifact type based on the faction of their first active recruit that works as a wildcard), but I think that the complexity cost of keeping it around might be worth it:

1. Without the treasured artifacts it becomes much harder to use artifacts, since all artifact use requires pairs.

2. It’s a mechanic that hinders players with majority faction recruits, because there’ll be more of them competing for the same treasured artifact type.

3. As far as I remember it was one of the mechanics that the playtesters have liked the most.

So I tend towards adding the mechanic back in, but it’s not something I’m adamant about and will play some more games without the mechanic to have a better basis of comparison.

Flames

Right now the only thing that separates flames from authority tokens is that the former must be bought, but after that they’re 100% the same. We both agree that this should be changed. Personally I liked the area majority mechanic, since it added strategy and more meaning to the territories. On the other hand, I can also see your point that it adds complexity and an extra rule to remember that’s not clear from the symbology on the board. The mechanic was liked, but not universally so by the playtesters.

I like the idea of using flames to change costs and benefits of the action spaces. It’s something that David, the playtesters and I have discussed previously, but so far we haven’t come up with a way of doing it that doesn’t wreck the balance of the game. It’s definitely an idea that’s worth revisiting, both because we need to differentiate the flames and because it makes sooo much thematic sense .

The statue of tribute

I like the tweak you made to this one, but I have a question for you: On the board the benefit is to place authority tokens on the two statue spaces, gain an artifact and if you’re oppressor aligned then you lose two knowledge, but in the rulebook you still have the extra artifact for being oppressor aligned from the previous revision. I’m guessing that you just forgot to remove it from the rulebook and I playtested without the extra artifact, but I wanted to check with you?

Sliding cost tracks

(Sliding cost tracks are a mechanic that change the cost of an action, when that action is used.)

I’m very happy about the back and forth mechanic you added to the sliding cost tracks, so let’s go with that.

I have a few suggestions for tweaks:

* First of all, I’ve replaced the glass beads on the sliding cost tracks with arrows. This makes no difference whatsoever to the gameplay, but I think it makes the user interface better.

* In my playtest I turned over the arrow as soon as it reached the end space, so that the players would only pay the cost of that space once, but I’d suggest we do it so that the arrow is turned over without moving it, the first time it can’t move it any further, so that the end spaces are used twice.

* I suggest changing the flame factory track to costs of 1, 2, and 3 resources. With the above change to the use of the arrow this is almost equivalent to the current track, but with half the number of spaces, which decrease the busyness of the board.

* Similarly, I’d change the radio track to 2, 3, 4. That would make it more attractive initially and all the tracks go the same way numberswise, which seems a bit more consistent - that’s something that usually appeals to you .

* Finally, I’d consider changing the statue of tribute track to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 commodities, thus removing the cost 6 spot.



The Wastelanders vs. the Icarites

We’ve discussed whether the Wastelanders still need a boost or whether they’ve now become evenly matched with the Icarites. As I see it we still have the same issue that for all players that do not have Wastelander recruits, it’s still almost always better to go for bliss instead of food, because that gives access to the two useful Icarite markets, while food doesn’t offer them any benefits that they couldn’t get from bliss. Thus I suggest keeping the [food] cost space in the bazaar artifact queue.

The rulebook

I’ve added a revision number to your version of the rulebook and made a few textual tweaks and added the arrow tokens instead of glass beads for the sliding cost tracks. I haven’t made any rule changes. The resulting revision 7.1.1 is attached together with this text.

The road ahead

Let’s discuss as much of this as we have time for, when we talk Tuesday. After we’ve talked I’ll update David.

There’s another topic that I’d also like to talk about: I’m unsure, how we proceed from here? Do David and I continue on our own for a while and then report back to you, once we’ve ironed out the kinks or do you stay a part of the process? After our disagreement on what direction to take the expansion, which didn’t really get us anywhere, then this round of collaboration has in my opinion been a boon for the expansion and for me personally, because I learn a lot from you.

Finally, if I can find the time I’d like to post this to my “Dear Jamey” blog. Is there anything you’d like me to leave out? I’ll probably need to edit it, because some of the things I write about requires knowledge of the new rules to make sense.

Even more finally , I’ve gotten my copy of Scythe to the table for a play against the Automa. I had way more fun that I expected after playing it so much last year and it really had that just one more turn effect on me – though it did distract a bit that my son wanted to play with the mechs during the game. Next weekend I’ll be playing Scythe with four friends, hopefully without any 6-year olds using the mechs as toys – it’ll just be us five fortyish year old boys doing that .




If you made it down here, then as said in the introduction I’d love to hear, whether you think that this kind of post is interesting or not? I will use that to gauge whether I should write more of them.
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