In the mind of a game designer

What is a good game? What is the history behind a good game? What does it take to design a good game yourself? With the intention to find answers to those questions, I set out on an exciting journey in the world of game design. The more I travel, the more I learn how much that remains to discover, and I cannot claim that I have found the answers yet. Nevertheless, I would like to send small post cards along the way, sharing my experience both with you and with my future self. All comments will help me on my journey because there is one thing I have learnt: no game is better than its players.
Recommend
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

The Quest for the Holy (Civilization) Grail Part 8 - Lessons Learned from an Alpha Test

Nicholas Hjelmberg
Sweden
Saltsjö-Boo
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
In the seventh part of The Quest for the Holy (Civilization) Grail Part 7 - A Civilization Game that stands the Alpha-test of Gameplay, I looked into the preparations for alpha testing Peoples - Civilizations. In this eighth part, I look into the Learnings from the alpha test.

The alpha test turned out to be quite slow due to the many parameters to keep track of. How many tribes and resources does each people have? Which advances and developments has each people acquired? Which tribes have acted and which have not acted? Which areas are discovered and how are they located relative to each other? An Excel sheet wasn't enough but I had to resort to draft PowerPoint maps as well. Nevertheless, those challenges helped enforcing simplifications. Ater all, if an Excel sheet can't keep track of everything, how is a player supposed to do it?

The images below shows the tables and images I used to keep track of the test games. We see that a player has to keep track of tribes (and later settlements) on the map as well as the six civilization levels and the three resource types (of which each has six specific resources). Add to this all the developments acquired. Any ideas of monitoring all this with player tracks had to be abandoned in favor of individual components for each item and level. Military level 3 had to be represented by 3 physcial military tokens and 3 grain had to be represented by 3 physical grain tokens to avoid a fiddly game.

The Civilization Levels and Resources

People
Rome
Babylonia
Egypt
Olmec
Civics
0
1
0
0
Culture
0
0
1
0
Economy
0
0
0
1
Military
1
0
0
0
Religion
0
0
0
0
Science
0
0
0
0
Food
-
-
-
-
Commodities
-
-
-
-
Luxuries
-
-
-
-











The Map



This also meant that development cards couldn't be shared among players so either there had to be a limited number of development cards or one complete set of development cards per player. The first solution was used by Civilization but abandoned in Advanced Civilization. Given that some developments felt more popular than others (e.g. Mining to get access to new commodities, although Economy could be used as an alternative to trade for those commodities), I decided in favor of development cards for everybody, although this made an already expensive game even more expensive.

To manage all those items, the player board was designed with spaces for the civilization and resource tokens, which would be moved to an unavailable pool above the board when used.



The image below shows the game state after 53 turns and 8-9 revolutions per player. Although the different peoples explored different strategic paths, none of them ran away or fell behind in the early game but they did lay the foundations of very different civilizations. The map grew at a balanced rate, giving each people enough space while still leaving unknown territories to discover in the mid-game.



However, there were some other issues. One issue was that the game felt a bit too long. The players had only just started acquiring level 2 advances and developments, whereas they should have been close to level 3 given that a majority of the tribes have entered the game and that so few white spots remain. Another issue was that it got a bit fiddly to keep track of enslaved and converted tribes (marked with a square in the image), not to mention how complex the rules for handling them were.

First, we looked at the time issue. The idea that you only act with one tribe at the time, that your people can't advance and develop until all tribes have acted (in the "Revolution") and that advances and developments are slow meant that the sense of progress was limited.

One simple solution was to skip the scripted start and let the peoples start with two tribes, four region tiles and resources (or, optionally, an advance and a development specific to the people for variable powers). The one tribe action was kept to minimize downtime but the cost to advance and develop was decreased (or rather the gain from resources was increased) to allow a people to acquire several advances and developments each Revolution. This had to be balanced against the risk that a people would grow too powerful over a Revolution but in the end it managed to double the advance and development rate.

Second, we looked at the fiddliness/complexity issue. Originally, enslaved tribes were marked with tokens, converted tribes were replaced and marked with tokens and both could return to the original owner through various rules. In addition, it was simply unfun to be the victim of such mechanics. (Note how the Romans have been a menace to her neighbors.). Instead, those abilities were limited to a temporary use of each others' tribes for the current Revolution cycle only (provided that the tribe hasn't acted already).

Did this also remove thematic opportunities like the slave revolts and "conversion from within" that the historical Roman empire faced? Not necessarily, by letting only tribes that haven't yet acted be the victims of such actions, a tug of war was introduced where such tribes were sometimes oppressed and sometimes free. In addition, the use of others' tribes were associated with a cost, adding cost/benefit balance for both players. Hence, the rules were not only simplified but also improved!

Another result of the alpha test was that the open question of events could be iterated and resolved. The initial idea to let the players choose events to "change the history" didn't quite work with specialized strategies. If you specialize in Military and can choose between and a positive and a negative military event, the choice is obvious, as is the choice if you don't specialize in Military. Thus, the events would most likely punish players doing their own ways.

Instead and with the inspiration from Michael Schacht's "book" in Africana, a history book was introduced where pages could be flipped each Revolution. In this way, all the event would be cycled through but not necessarily be open long enough to impact the game. Players would no longer be able to choose the events but they would be able to prepare for those that would have an impact. In addition, the concept of a history book, presented by authentic historians, appealed to me.



As a result of those changes (and of being tired of Excel and PowerPoint), I decided to enter beta test and order a prototype from The Game Crafter. It was expensive indeed and it's likely that most components will be redone anyway but the time saving for crafting all the components myself far outweigh the cost of letting someone else doing it. Besides, it's always fun to receive the first printed prototype and play with it!
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Subscribe sub options Mon Feb 5, 2018 10:46 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}

Subscribe

Categories

Contributors

Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.