Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here:
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Initial Complexity

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Context: Infinite Legacy

Today was the day for the first test of Infinite Legacy.
Putting the prototype together the first thing that stood out for me was the number of different things on the table. There are three different sort of counters on the board, six types of card, four trackers for each city and the "book of legends".

It's generally undesirable for a game to have such high complexity at the setup stage. Beyond the basic problems of making a game unapproachable and requiring players to understand more up front it generates some specific problems for this game. As a game that's intended to develop and add more to itself as the game goes on, it feels like there's not much room for more stuff (both physically and metaphorically). It's also a game about players understanding a system and manipulating it through nudges, if the system is too complex players can't meaningfully choose actions and if it's too robust the player actions don't feel like they do anything.

I very nearly didn't play the prototype and immediately went back to try to do a redesign and cut out some of this complexity - but as it happened Jenni is home from work today and was keen to try it out (Despite my warnings that a first prototype is almost never meaningfully playable and should be played by the designer against themselves a bunch first).

I'm glad I did though, as it turned out we had a whale of a time, enjoying it far more than I'd have anticipated from putting the pieces on the table.

The core mechanics and the book of legends *really* carry the theme, to a greater extent than I could reasonably have hoped for - especially playing with pieces so clearly designed for a different purpose. In the early game Jenni sent an agent to Elveria to try to manipulate the leader there, but in avoiding starting a war wound up having them abusing the peasants to the point that a revolution formed. The people who overthrew the old order recognised that she'd had a hand in choosing its policies and marked her as suspicious - reducing her ability to influence that city (A condition that persists between games until removed somehow). From that moment on she hated them more than they hated her, it's the sort of emotional reaction you're always hoping for as a designer when making thematic choices.

Without talking about it we wound up setting ourselves objectives and pushing for them. I was trying to play every event card in my hand, she picked two cities and decided to make them as happy as possible (we only discovered this about each other talking after the game was done). I'm quite pleased that it seems to be working as a sandbox in that people can have a good time persuing the things that are interesting to them, but I'd like to try to take that further and give more potential avenues for players to explore.

Despite having a good time there's loads that needs to be done - it's still a first draft prototype and that comes with all of the awful baggage a game that's so rough around the edges will carry.

The "city leader" and "army leader" cards can reasonably be combined into a single deck.

The "minion personality" cards were fun when they happened, but serve to expand play rather than actually being necessary. It makes sense to shunt that complexity into "legacy element that gets unlocked" rather than "thing that's there from game one".

Setup needs to change to scatter the cities initial forces a little bit, having them all on the capital makes turn one redundant (Build action = not on a space with resources, Expand action = not at the edge of territory, Military action = not within one move of any enemy) which in a five turn game is a lot of dead weight.

Almost everything with a number on it needs some sort of rebalancing. "A city has 6 influence counters on the board" almost triggers during setup, which defeats the point of providing story triggers for players to work towards. Conversely "A road is built by a city with at least three happiness" is extraordinarily difficult in practice.

While we got the hang of it really quickly it still *feels* like there's too much complexity there. I'd like to explore some options to simplify the game but I'm not sure where to aim. Is there a way to remove area control counters from the game, instead calculating it from the current position of forces? What about getting rid of resource tokens in favour of building being possible if the right spaces are exploited? Is there a better way to organise the buildings than the "buildable now" "buildable if someone takes an action" and "unbuildable unless a legacy element changes somethign" classifications, which seemed a little fiddly.

The map may also need to be designed sooner rather than later. I'm keen to experiment with a bigger board - well maybe not physically - but one that has more spaces than the smallworld board.

Overall though, the first test was very positive and I feel excited about the project.
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Subscribe sub options Fri Dec 16, 2016 3:51 pm
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