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The Herald
a solitaire game of space exploration and comeback

Designed for the 2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest.

LATEST UPDATE TO THIS POST: 2013 November 28.

The game has been published: information, rules and components are available from the game's page.


Full-art components: the Captain's Pad and the Event Pad.

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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Looks interesting. looking forward to giving it a try.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Rapscallion_69 wrote:
Looks interesting. looking forward to giving it a try.

Good, I hope you like it!
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Aleksandar Saranac
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
You definitely have something here.

Nice simple mechanics, but with so many parameters to think about it can get really challenging.

You really feel like star ship captain playing.

Good job.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
saranac wrote:
You definitely have something here.

Nice simple mechanics, but with so many parameters to think about it can get really challenging.

You really feel like star ship captain playing.

Good job.
Thanks, Aleksandar.

That's what I was aiming at: simple mechanics that do not get in your way and help you feel like you were there, but also make the game replayable.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
OK quick question,

Regarding Sabotage/Counterintelligence...

What dictates which of these is used/encountered each turn? Are both triggered off the same die (so theoretically you would ONLY want to place a 4 here so you can find the insurgents and only lose 1 Supply?) Or is this spot allowed to hold 2 assigned dice? If so then do you choose which is encountered and if so why would anyone willfully encounter Sabotage?

Color me very confused,

--Lord Malachi

Additionally: If Lt. Lexi Aldara is at 0, can I not do Counterintelligence?
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Rapscallion_69 wrote:
OK quick question,

Regarding Sabotage/Counterintelligence...

What dictates which of these is used/encountered each turn? Are both triggered off the same die (so theoretically you would ONLY want to place a 4 here so you can find the insurgents and only lose 1 Supply?) Or is this spot allowed to hold 2 assigned dice? If so then do you choose which is encountered and if so why would anyone willfully encounter Sabotage?

Color me very confused,

--Lord Malachi
I'm sorry, it isn't terribly clear from the rules (I'm afraid that's probably not the only rough spot: I hurried to revise rules and components to meet the Contest deadline, and, despite re-reading everything twice, hurrying isn't usually a good recipe for precision).

About the rule, you guessed right: each turn, the same die dictates both the activity of the Isolationist Cells (and its consequences) and the results obtained by your security forces. So: yes, ideally you want the Sabotage Reading to be a "4"; that is, supposing you have a "4", and you don't need it elsewhere...

Originally, results were "split": a Sabotage Reading of 4-6 meant Cell activity with no counterintelligence (6 meaning structural damage), a Reading of 2-3 meant that nothing happened, and a Reading of 1 meant successful counterintelligence. However, private playtesting suggested a change.
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Charles Polenzani
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
And Lt. Lexi Aldara at 0?
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Rapscallion_69 wrote:
And Lt. Lexi Aldara at 0?
Ops, I forgot that.

Thematically, it would be a nice touch; however, that would give Lt. Aldara (and possibly Ens. Tipi) a double role, making them more important than the other Officers, a kind of asymmetry I would prefer not to have.

So, for now let's say that the two Officers can handle these kind of "ordinary human threats" even when they are under severe stress; I will leave the door open to changes (to be implemented after the Contest, of course) based on what feedback will come in these six weeks of public playtesting.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Another errata corrige: Lord Malachi (aka Rapscallion_69) has kindly pointed out to me that there is an error in the Event Pad: in the central column, top row, the name of the Event should be "Vibrations", not "Whispers".
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Hello!

I have given the game a try. I have found the presentation and the flavor quite nice. However, I am a bit worried about the tight time limit. As far as I can see, there is no means to recover time lost and for each move, you need at least one time. Given that some events and later on the damaged engine can cost you time, I am worried that you might get to an unsolvable game state relatively quickly (as far as I see, there are 9 months more than the bare minimum available).

Other than that, I have found the rules to be quite clear. However, I am wondering about the bad reputation markers. Theoretically, with sufficient bad luck, you might end up needing quite a lot of them, not just the 4 (I think) you propose.

The game session told a nice story (of failure (^_^;; ) and there seems quite some replayability in it.

Yours,
Deathworks

EDIT: Will there be an explanation what all the events refer to? The single words often leave room for speculation.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
I would like to second DW's thought. After the contest is over I would like to see events transferred to separate page, with same flavor text beneath each of them.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Deathworks wrote:
Hello!

I have given the game a try. I have found the presentation and the flavor quite nice.
Hello Deathworks, and thank you for trying the game out; I'm happy to hear you liked the atmosphere.

Deathworks wrote:
However, I am a bit worried about the tight time limit. As far as I can see, there is no means to recover time lost and for each move, you need at least one time. Given that some events and later on the damaged engine can cost you time, I am worried that you might get to an unsolvable game state relatively quickly (as far as I see, there are 9 months more than the bare minimum available).
Yes, there is no means to recover time; time management is a challenge, and it's meant to be so: it's part of the story behind the game. However, I can't say I'm completely confident with the balance right now, so the time limit may have to change if public playtesting proves it is too tight.

Deathworks wrote:
Other than that, I have found the rules to be quite clear. However, I am wondering about the bad reputation markers. Theoretically, with sufficient bad luck, you might end up needing quite a lot of them, not just the 4 (I think) you propose.
I've checked the rulebook, and, you are right, that is not explained, I must have omitted that paragraph when I formatted the text.

(Hopefully last) errata corrige: If at any time during the game you are forced to put a fifth Bad Reputation marker on the Holomap, you lose the game. You have made humankind so notorious that nobody is going to want us around for the next millennium or so.

Deathworks wrote:
The game session told a nice story (of failure (^_^;; ) and there seems quite some replayability in it.
This is a very welcome remark (that is, excluding the failure). The Herald is, at its heart, the first attempt in an ongoing exploration of how and how much some game elements contribute to making an adventure game good. Achieving a clear sense of narrative (as simple as it is) and a good replayability would mean that (some of) the gameplay choices I made for the game are a step in the right direction.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
@Deathworks, @saranac:

Events were born with clear situations in mind and some flavour text, as encounters in adventure games often are. But then it seemed to me that the flavour text was making the game more cliched, rather than supporting immersion; granted, the problem may well be that I'm a poor writer, but since at the moment I have no remedy for that, I tried a different approach.

In the words of Deathworks:

"The single words often leave room for speculation".

Yes, and that's one of the things I wanted to explore, and one of the motives that pushed me to enter the game in the Contest despite I was very late to the party, and knew that I couldn't hope to refine it before the deadline to bring it on par with the other games.

Do you (and anyone else that might want to join the discussion) think that flavour text would surely add to the game (supposing it was written decently)? And, more specifically, would you prefer text that makes you see an Event in only one way, or just a spark for your imagination to picture it the way you want? Of course, much (?) depends on how the text is written; but I like the idea that a player may look at the name and challenges of an Event, and imagine his own version of it. Does it make sense?

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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Hello!

The single words actually worked well most of the time and it was a lot of fun making up the stories. Given that events usually took place at different locations (= different planets), the system works very well.

There were, however, one or two words, which were a bit vague, especially when combined with the challenges and the rewards. Unfortunately, I forgot which ones it were, so I can't tell you right now, sorry.

This, together with the errata about Whispers becoming Vibrations made me curious.

All in all, I think remaining vague/abstract works well for the game, although checking the key words for clarity may be useful.

Thinking about it, especially considering that you may revisit events once or twice during a journey, too detailed descriptions of the events may alienate the player as it just seems unreasonable.

----------

Concerning the characters and background of the story, I have been wondering.

First of all, I find that I can't clearly place quite a few characters as far as their sex is concerned. The names simply don't click in place for me. Is that a deliberate ambiguity allowing us to choose the setup of our crew as we like, or am I simply ignorant about names (^_^;; ?

Secondly, I have been wondering about the people aboard the ship. As far as I recall, the description of what kind of persons are aboard and what the ship looks like is relatively vague. Is there any canon to that? Personally, I am imagining the ship more or less based on Macross meaning that there is working staff and even civilians. My argument there is mental health as providing normal living circumstances should help avoid psychological problems and aggression.

Finally, not related to the story, I am still wondering about the time issue. The thing is, once a player has lost 9 units of time (or 8 if the terrorists have not been defeated yet), the game has become unwinnable. Should the player then abandon play, regardless how close or how far they are from reaching the sender or earth? And if the player is supposed to continue, what incentive is there to continue a doomed session? I am a bit torn myself. On the one hand, the story told is always interesting, on the other hand, knowing that it will end in the 'time over' ending kind of drains the joy and motivation to carry on.

Yours,
Deathworks
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
For the most part, I agreed with Deathworks' feedback. The time constraint in particular certainly seems too harsh, especially given that there are so many factors that the player simply cannot control.

In my first game, for example, I failed mostly because I needed to get back from the signal source corner to Earth in nine turns, and I think I managed to roll one single 6 in the entire journey.

Events are almost the same story - even if you put your two best officers on an event and get +4 to both rolls, you still only have a ~44% chance of passing, that's the best you can possibly manage. Woe betide you if your best choices are exhausted! So in that same first game (in which, IIRC, I scored a whole 2) had I managed to make it back to Earth in time I still would have failed, because after four attempts at +DIP missions, with the best officers available assigned each time, I still didn't have a single Diplomatic Success result.


I've got nothing against a random element in games, and it's almost essential for solitaire games to include a degree of luck... but I also believe quite firmly that it needs to be something that the player can mitigate to a reasonable degree. You're certainly working in the right direction with the roll-many-dice-and-pick-what-they-represent mechanic - so I can examine my roll and trade off assigning that 4 to the infiltration table or leaving the 3 there and getting a more favourable event. However, there remain too many ways - for my tastes, at least - that the player can be screwed over by just a couple of turns of bad rolls, and not enough ways in which good decisions can make a significant difference to the outcome of the game.




On the plus side! I really like the roll-many-dice-and-assign mechanic, and in a lot of ways it works pretty well in this game. The sabotage/counter-intelligence slot is great, for example. Similarly is the trade-off between (early game) moving in the right direction and getting supplies and shore leave, and (late game) moving in the right direction and having a working engine to not lose time.

The events did feel a little dry, but I'm not sure I'd want them to be totally explained either - as it is, they feel a bit like Star Trek episode titles, which supports the theme, and since you can re-visit the same event multiple times throughout the game, having flavour text wouldn't necessarily feel that much better after a game or two.



In terms of possible improvements, I'd suggest considering a few things. And bear in mind that my idea of how this kind of game should be may well be very different from yours - to me, the longer a [solo] game takes, the more I'd prefer to ultimately win with an interesting journey versus having a difficult time of winning and the replayability coming from the difficulty. A long game where I realise six turns from the end that it's absolutely impossible to win any more is frustrating!


- Try rolling more dice than strictly necessary for the "Chaos-Entropy Boundary" settings, allowing the players to pick from a larger pool. I'd try five and try six and see how they work. There'll still undoubtedly be times when difficult decisions come up as to where exactly to assign particular numbers, but it gives the player a bit more choice and control.

(Alternatively, I'd at the very least suggest modifying the movement. Perhaps have the player nominate a direction before moving, and have to assign [1-2: rotate move left one step, 3-4: go in the direction you want, 5-6: rotate right one step] or something.)

- Try reworking the event threshold and/or officer boni to work with a 2D6 roll for each officer. A bell-curve probability gives more predictable results, while still being random. You could even fold the two officers into a single roll - say, give every bonus an extra +1 or +2 on the sheet (depending on whether you want the player to succeed or fail more often!), then for the event roll, roll 2D6 and try to score equal or under the value of your two officers added together.

- Assuming you don't collapse the events into a single roll, I'd prefer to see varying thresholds for the different events, even if it meant having fewer disciplines to fit them in. Presently I don't look at the disciplines at all unless one of my chaps is completely exhausted, it's just "OK, I have a choice between -LEA, -TIM or -REP, I prefer the -LEA out of that" rather than "OK, I have a choice between a hard -LEA, an easy -TIM or a moderate -REP; I'm short on time, but it looks like we can take this one, I'll have that"... which would be more interesting.

One possibility, if you wanted to include flavour text and didn't mind expanding the game's components, would be to have sets of +SUP, +DIP, +REP, -TIM, -LEA and -REP cards, each with a bit of flavour text, two disciplines and their thresholds. The event grid would simply consist of the "-TIM" or whatever in each space, and you'd just look at the top card of a face-up -TIM deck to see what the potential event was. It may add to the storytelling feel of the game as well - if you've been dodging a difficult pair of -REP and -LEA events for a few turns you could imagine "Captain's Log - for two months now the Reptilian aliens have been harassing us and pressing to meet. I've avoided them thus far, they seem to have a complex set of social rules and I'm not sure we can avoid offending them, but as we lose more and more time skirting their territory we may find our hand is forced. The engineering decks become increasingly agitated as the technical crew complain about insufficient time to maintain the ship, and I fear that may come to a head in the coming weeks. For now, however, our immediate concern is a set of curious readings coming from a nearby nebula..."

- One simple way of decreasing the punishing time constraint a bit without any extra work would be to shrink the map by one unit. This means that the player essentially has four extra time units (there and back again in two directions, the signal source and one other sector corner) to spare in the worst case.




I tried a game out making two of the above modifications - a smaller map and rolling five dice for the CEBR selection - and I won with 16 points, 1 turn remaining, 1 unit of supplies, 1 bad reputation and three exhausted officers. It certainly felt like I had more control over my destiny, although obviously both of those changes do also make the game easier.


A few minor suggestions, as well:

- You don't seem to explicitly say in the rules which order to resolve the various CEBR effects in. Whether you want to fix it to the order of the boxes (how I played) or allow players to resolve the boxes in any order (particularly relevant WTR supplies/sabotage), I'd write it explicitly in the rules.

- If you don't mind which order the boxes are resolved, I'd personally prefer them to be ordered: [Direction;Event;Sabotage;Environment;STEC], because that's nearly always the order I place dice into them.

- I'd relabel the Environment CEBR box to have the results:
1-3: -SUP
4-5: None
6: SHO

to fit in with the other modifier labels. 1-3 doesn't have no effect, it has the effect of losing a supply resource; similarly 4-5 doesn't have the effect of gaining you a supply resource, it has the effect of not losing one - no change.

- I'd also lay out the event results with a similar spatial diagram to the direction:

135
*
246


It's clear enough what the current layout means, but it's tricky to look up what your options are when you're looking at three dice and trying to decide which one to keep in that slot. A spatial diagram would be much clearer - to the point that I wrote one for myself on the page next to the existing label.

- The rules don't explicitly address what happens when you block yourself in or out with bad repuations. I presume it's an automatic failure if you manage to either lock yourself off from the signal or Earth, but it might be worth considering an alternative to simply "you can't move through bad reputation markers". Perhaps "moving into a bad repuation area gives you a -LEA/TIM penalty and -2 to the event rolls for this turn" or something? You'd be paying at least one other penalty to move away from the area on your next turn, as well, so it's not exactly an easy ride.

- Similarly to the last point - it seems weird to be able to get a -REP on Earth or on the signal space (where there's supposedly nothing). On Earth in particular is particularly odd - it's entirely possible to roll four 4s on the first turn, find yourself forced to stay on Earth and get a -REP event, and then fail it (and you've always got better odds of failing rather than passing an event). What do you do then? You can't move back the way you came because you didn't come from anywhere, and being blocked off from Earth means you can't win. At least it's a quick automatic failure!

- (What does happen when you get a -REP on a turn where you didn't move because you rolled off the edge of the grid? Do you have to try and remember where you came from the previous turn, or do you stay put, or what?)




All in, it's certainly an interesting game and it's got some good mechanics and clever trade-offs, but to me, the level of unmitigatable randomness makes it less fun. I want to like it, the theme is right up my alley, so if the game evolves in the future I'm definitely coming back for more!
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Deathworks wrote:
I am still wondering about the time issue. The thing is, once a player has lost 9 units of time (or 8 if the terrorists have not been defeated yet), the game has become unwinnable. Should the player then abandon play, regardless how close or how far they are from reaching the sender or earth? And if the player is supposed to continue, what incentive is there to continue a doomed session?

I went for continuing play, for two reasons:

- To see if I can better the score I got on previous plays
- To see just how far out from the threshold time I got, which in turn leads to feedback about how much I think the threshold is out by. ;-)

Also, regarding crew names, I can tell you one thing. I don't know what language it's written in, but "Dav Shaniev" means "Abject failure who can't roll more than a two to save his worthless skin". Seriously, literally every event I ever assign him to ends in failure!
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
[very long post]

@Deathworks, @Bichatse:

Thank you for your invaluable feedback: you raise several good points.

In order of appearance:

@Deathworks:

Deathworks wrote:
The single words actually worked well most of the time and it was a lot of fun making up the stories. Given that events usually took place at different locations (= different planets), the system works very well.
Good: that choice scores 1 point.

Deathworks wrote:
There were, however, one or two words, which were a bit vague, especially when combined with the challenges and the rewards.
Bad: I will review the names to see if I can improve this aspect.

Deathworks wrote:
Thinking about it, especially considering that you may revisit events once or twice during a journey, too detailed descriptions of the events may alienate the player as it just seems unreasonable.
Precisely!

Deathworks wrote:
First of all, I find that I can't clearly place quite a few characters as far as their sex is concerned. The names simply don't click in place for me. Is that a deliberate ambiguity allowing us to choose the setup of our crew as we like, or am I simply ignorant about names (^_^;; ?
It's a deliberate ambiguity to let players' imagination fill the details, although I admit that the Officers' names were constructed with specific genders in mind (not Captain Kollin, though).

Also, names were made up mixing phonemes of different languages to evoke a sense of global melting pot (I don't know whether I succeeded at that).

Deathworks wrote:
Secondly, I have been wondering about the people aboard the ship. As far as I recall, the description of what kind of persons are aboard and what the ship looks like is relatively vague. Is there any canon to that? Personally, I am imagining the ship more or less based on Macross meaning that there is working staff and even civilians. My argument there is mental health as providing normal living circumstances should help avoid psychological problems and aggression.
There is no canon: it's definitely possible that civilians are on board the U.N.S. Herald along with personnel of the U.N. Space Fleet. You argument for civilians is valid; equally valid would probably be an argument against, namely that military hierarchy and discipline may be necessary to handle dangerous situations, given the high stakes in the backstory. This is another detail for the player to fill in.

Deathworks wrote:
Finally, not related to the story, I am still wondering about the time issue. The thing is, once a player has lost 9 units of time (or 8 if the terrorists have not been defeated yet), the game has become unwinnable. Should the player then abandon play, regardless how close or how far they are from reaching the sender or earth? And if the player is supposed to continue, what incentive is there to continue a doomed session? I am a bit torn myself. On the one hand, the story told is always interesting, on the other hand, knowing that it will end in the 'time over' ending kind of drains the joy and motivation to carry on.
This remark is making me rethink the whole matter; Bichatse's remarks add to this. In short, I'm becoming convinced that some changes are needed: I'll work to playtest alternatives, though of course they won't be available until after the Contest's voting window.

@Bichatse:

Bichatse wrote:
For the most part, I agreed with Deathworks' feedback. The time constraint in particular certainly seems too harsh, especially given that there are so many factors that the player simply cannot control.
Ditto.

Bichatse wrote:
In my first game, for example, I failed mostly because I needed to get back from the signal source corner to Earth in nine turns, and I think I managed to roll one single 6 in the entire journey.
One option here could be to make visiting The Source optional, with a bonus in terms of score; that would also take care of the Time issue. But, as you noticed, in the values of the Boundary Readings there are built-in trade-offs that rhyme with the go-there-and-come-back narrative; I'll look for better ideas.

Bichatse wrote:
Events are almost the same story - even if you put your two best officers on an event and get +4 to both rolls, you still only have a ~44% chance of passing, that's the best you can possibly manage. Woe betide you if your best choices are exhausted! So in that same first game (in which, IIRC, I scored a whole 2) had I managed to make it back to Earth in time I still would have failed, because after four attempts at +DIP missions, with the best officers available assigned each time, I still didn't have a single Diplomatic Success result.
Compound probability: that's the problem. Originally, Events would result in automatic success or failure based on the expertise of the Officers you chose to face the Event, but that felt too mechanical; the way they are played now, it's probably too random. See below.

Bichatse wrote:
I've got nothing against a random element in games, and it's almost essential for solitaire games to include a degree of luck... but I also believe quite firmly that it needs to be something that the player can mitigate to a reasonable degree.
We are in perfect agreement on this.

Bichatse wrote:
You're certainly working in the right direction with the roll-many-dice-and-pick-what-they-represent mechanic - so I can examine my roll and trade off assigning that 4 to the infiltration table or leaving the 3 there and getting a more favourable event. However, there remain too many ways - for my tastes, at least - that the player can be screwed over by just a couple of turns of bad rolls, and not enough ways in which good decisions can make a significant difference to the outcome of the game.
I'll see if I can improve things building on what already works.

Bichatse wrote:
On the plus side! I really like the roll-many-dice-and-assign mechanic, and in a lot of ways it works pretty well in this game. The sabotage/counter-intelligence slot is great, for example. Similarly is the trade-off between (early game) moving in the right direction and getting supplies and shore leave, and (late game) moving in the right direction and having a working engine to not lose time.
That is the essence of the strategic part of the game: knowing that it works is excellent news.

Bichatse wrote:
The events did feel a little dry, but I'm not sure I'd want them to be totally explained either - as it is, they feel a bit like Star Trek episode titles, which supports the theme, and since you can re-visit the same event multiple times throughout the game, having flavour text wouldn't necessarily feel that much better after a game or two.
OK, let's say that this is a draw: 1 point against names-only, 1 point for.

Bichatse wrote:
In terms of possible improvements, I'd suggest considering a few things. And bear in mind that my idea of how this kind of game should be may well be very different from yours - to me, the longer a [solo] game takes, the more I'd prefer to ultimately win with an interesting journey versus having a difficult time of winning and the replayability coming from the difficulty. A long game where I realise six turns from the end that it's absolutely impossible to win any more is frustrating!
I don't think we are that far apart.

Excellent point about long solitaire games and winning: it is my work to find the right balance.

Bichatse wrote:
- Try rolling more dice than strictly necessary for the "Chaos-Entropy Boundary" settings, allowing the players to pick from a larger pool. I'd try five and try six and see how they work. There'll still undoubtedly be times when difficult decisions come up as to where exactly to assign particular numbers, but it gives the player a bit more choice and control.

(Alternatively, I'd at the very least suggest modifying the movement. Perhaps have the player nominate a direction before moving, and have to assign [1-2: rotate move left one step, 3-4: go in the direction you want, 5-6: rotate right one step] or something.)

- Try reworking the event threshold and/or officer boni to work with a 2D6 roll for each officer. A bell-curve probability gives more predictable results, while still being random. You could even fold the two officers into a single roll - say, give every bonus an extra +1 or +2 on the sheet (depending on whether you want the player to succeed or fail more often!), then for the event roll, roll 2D6 and try to score equal or under the value of your two officers added together.
All excellent suggestions. I'm currently playtesting an alternative system: you roll five dice, assign four to the Boundary Readings, and use the fifth for the Event, adding together the contributions of both Officers. Officers give +3/+2/+1, and you succeed on an 8+, so your two best Officers together suceed with everything but a 1. The first game went well; we'll see.

As a side-note: a bell-curve probability gives more predictable results only in the perspective of the law of large numbers: it makes no differences for a single, specific roll. I don't want to be pedantic: I raise the point only because it has much to do with the management of random elements in an event-based game (and you are certainly well aware of it).

Bichatse wrote:
- Assuming you don't collapse the events into a single roll, I'd prefer to see varying thresholds for the different events, even if it meant having fewer disciplines to fit them in. Presently I don't look at the disciplines at all unless one of my chaps is completely exhausted, it's just "OK, I have a choice between -LEA, -TIM or -REP, I prefer the -LEA out of that" rather than "OK, I have a choice between a hard -LEA, an easy -TIM or a moderate -REP; I'm short on time, but it looks like we can take this one, I'll have that"... which would be more interesting.
A viable alternative for sure; I'll playtest this one as well.

Bichatse wrote:
One possibility, if you wanted to include flavour text and didn't mind expanding the game's components, would be to have sets of +SUP, +DIP, +REP, -TIM, -LEA and -REP cards, each with a bit of flavour text, two disciplines and their thresholds. The event grid would simply consist of the "-TIM" or whatever in each space, and you'd just look at the top card of a face-up -TIM deck to see what the potential event was. It may add to the storytelling feel of the game as well - if you've been dodging a difficult pair of -REP and -LEA events for a few turns you could imagine "Captain's Log - for two months now the Reptilian aliens have been harassing us and pressing to meet. I've avoided them thus far, they seem to have a complex set of social rules and I'm not sure we can avoid offending them, but as we lose more and more time skirting their territory we may find our hand is forced. The engineering decks become increasingly agitated as the technical crew complain about insufficient time to maintain the ship, and I fear that may come to a head in the coming weeks. For now, however, our immediate concern is a set of curious readings coming from a nearby nebula..."
Excellent suggestion. I'd prefer to keep The Herald small in terms of components, but I'm certainly going to explore this idea in the future.

Bichatse wrote:
- One simple way of decreasing the punishing time constraint a bit without any extra work would be to shrink the map by one unit. This means that the player essentially has four extra time units (there and back again in two directions, the signal source and one other sector corner) to spare in the worst case.
Another viable alternative; I'll keep that in reserve for now, but it may well be a solution.

Bichatse wrote:
- You don't seem to explicitly say in the rules which order to resolve the various CEBR effects in. Whether you want to fix it to the order of the boxes (how I played) or allow players to resolve the boxes in any order (particularly relevant WTR supplies/sabotage), I'd write it explicitly in the rules.
Good point. The implied order is that of the rules: Direction, Environment, Sabotage/STEC Engine, Event, precisely because of Supplies management. I'll make it explicit.

Bichatse wrote:
- I'd relabel the Environment CEBR box to have the results:
1-3: -SUP
4-5: None
6: SHO

to fit in with the other modifier labels. 1-3 doesn't have no effect, it has the effect of losing a supply resource; similarly 4-5 doesn't have the effect of gaining you a supply resource, it has the effect of not losing one - no change.

- I'd also lay out the event results with a similar spatial diagram to the direction:

135
*
246


It's clear enough what the current layout means, but it's tricky to look up what your options are when you're looking at three dice and trying to decide which one to keep in that slot. A spatial diagram would be much clearer - to the point that I wrote one for myself on the page next to the existing label.
Again, good suggestions. The game needs some polishing.

Bichatse wrote:
- The rules don't explicitly address what happens when you block yourself in or out with bad repuations. I presume it's an automatic failure if you manage to either lock yourself off from the signal or Earth, but it might be worth considering an alternative to simply "you can't move through bad reputation markers". Perhaps "moving into a bad repuation area gives you a -LEA/TIM penalty and -2 to the event rolls for this turn" or something? You'd be paying at least one other penalty to move away from the area on your next turn, as well, so it's not exactly an easy ride.

- Similarly to the last point - it seems weird to be able to get a -REP on Earth or on the signal space (where there's supposedly nothing). On Earth in particular is particularly odd - it's entirely possible to roll four 4s on the first turn, find yourself forced to stay on Earth and get a -REP event, and then fail it (and you've always got better odds of failing rather than passing an event). What do you do then? You can't move back the way you came because you didn't come from anywhere, and being blocked off from Earth means you can't win. At least it's a quick automatic failure!

- (What does happen when you get a -REP on a turn where you didn't move because you rolled off the edge of the grid? Do you have to try and remember where you came from the previous turn, or do you stay put, or what?)
Excellent points: shame on me for not seeing those problems.

To block yourself out of The Source or Earth, you need either a remotely possible combination of several Bad Reputation results, or a single Bad Reputation result in one of those two locations. In the first case, I'd say you have failed your mission; but the second case in unacceptable.

As I write, I'm having an idea on how to fix that: I'll playtest a special "Event" that only takes place at The Source. Earth is easier, it takes just a little adjustment in the rules.

Bichatse wrote:
All in, it's certainly an interesting game and it's got some good mechanics and clever trade-offs, but to me, the level of unmitigatable randomness makes it less fun. I want to like it, the theme is right up my alley, so if the game evolves in the future I'm definitely coming back for more!
I take it as a promise, and I'll give you reasons to come back!
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
(Another quick thought that I had earlier, since posting before: another potential option for time-management and to make it still possible to win right up until the closing whistle, as it were: add another result to the STEC table:


1-3: Engine malfunctions, -TIM
4-5: Normal operations
6: Burst of speed, +TIM


So in effect, if you can roll a 6 and assign it to STEC, you get your turn for free. It's not completely out of order theme-wise, as a turn represents a whole month and a lot can happen in a month. Of course, it probably over-compensates for the tight time deadline, so either the deadline may need to be brought forward as a result or the rest of the game made more difficult so that losing time isn't the only thing you're concerned about happening.)
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Paolo G
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Bichatse wrote:
(Another quick thought that I had earlier, since posting before: another potential option for time-management and to make it still possible to win right up until the closing whistle, as it were: add another result to the STEC table:


1-3: Engine malfunctions, -TIM
4-5: Normal operations
6: Burst of speed, +TIM


So in effect, if you can roll a 6 and assign it to STEC, you get your turn for free. It's not completely out of order theme-wise, as a turn represents a whole month and a lot can happen in a month. Of course, it probably over-compensates for the tight time deadline, so either the deadline may need to be brought forward as a result or the rest of the game made more difficult so that losing time isn't the only thing you're concerned about happening.)
Still another viable option, and it ties in well with the special Event at The Source: I will incorporate it in the current playtesting round.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
read through the rules last night. all the starting indicator triangles are a nice touch in the layout. i was wishing some of your 3 letter codes were displayed under their respective tracks

i also like the idea of assigning the 4 dice each turn. gives one the feeling of being the captain and having to delegate and sometimes make a decision that hampers one section for the good of another
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
dumarest123 wrote:
read through the rules last night. all the starting indicator triangles are a nice touch in the layout. i was wishing some of your 3 letter codes were displayed under their respective tracks
Thanks for your interest in the game, Todd.

With many tracks to setup, I thought that some visual cue about where to initially place markers could be welcome. And yes, abbreviation codes should be reported next to their tracks as well.

dumarest123 wrote:
i also like the idea of assigning the 4 dice each turn. gives one the feeling of being the captain and having to delegate and sometimes make a decision that hampers one section for the good of another
Yes, that was the aim: the power to direct things, within the constraints of the unpredictability of chance and the need to delegate.

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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Alright got a couple play-throughs under my belt and I definitely feel that an extra half year (or a single column of time tracker) would be ideal for it to still be challenging but with a possibility for success aas long as you don't have too many set backs ;p

I would echo it would be nice if there were some skill checks that are less than 7 (and maybe a couple that are 8 on their own). Also was thinking it would be nice to activate a second officer on a given skill check, but to counter this advantage maybe have the second be at -1 to whatever skill is being checked ;p One final idea, On the counter intellilgence and the STEC engines, have a roll of 6 be "Declare you movement die next turn instead of rolling" LOL I had major troubles getting back across the map after I finally made it to the source the first time I didn't have a chance in hell of getting back but it was still frustrating, the second time I had 7 turns to get back to earth I made it two spaces to the right before time ran out hahaha.

EDIT: Just had another idea... maybe have some events in the matrix not be skill checks. For instance a black hole where you roll the movement die 4 times and apply (moving the same way you do in the event matrix where it wraps around) or a Time Vortex that grants 1d3-1d6 time and things of that nature.
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
Hello!

Work has been eating most of my time (and will do so till the weekend), so I have not had time to do another play of the game. However, I want to share my thoughts/ideas about the time limit issue.

Personally, I find the static time limit itself to be a problem as it does not limit your opportunity to score points (as in many Euro games, it seems), but rather leads to a game over. Being fixed, its predictability leads to the problems I described. In addition, I personally find it to be not a good match for the theme/story: there are 2 years for the mission planned, during which period the critics will keep quiet. That makes sense. But knowing that on day 1 after the 2 years, there will be an immediate uprise seems rather odd. Politics and public movements are rather unpredictable, sometimes fast, sometimes slow.

Therefore, I suggest adding a deterioration line with maybe 4 spaces. Once the 2 years have passed, the time counter is moved onto the initial of the 4 spaces. From now on, whenever time passes, 1d6 is rolled. If it matches the range designated on the current space, the counter moves one space forward on the deterioration line. If not, nothing happens. The uprising happens when the counter moves off the deterioration line (the counter currently being on space 4 and the die roll matches the range for space 4).

The first space is the range 1-2, the second 1-3, the third 1-4, and the 4th 1-5.

This way, there is a guaranteed 4 extra months, which are likely to become more. The increasing ranges also show how social/political movements often have an accumulating/accelerating aspect: once things start to change, they begin to change more rapidly. While the fate of the session now rests on a random factor, it is not a single die roll in the beginning, but a chain of die rolls - of course, if you are on the 4th space, one die decides your fate, but till then, you do have a lot of excitement.

Which is another aspect I like about this approach: I think that the ever-increasing chance of things deteriorating makes the end game an exciting race against a worsening situation. You don't know when things will fail, but you can see how things get more and more dire, and your chances of success smaller and smaller.

Another aspect I want to stress is that, thematically, but also for reasons of balance, there should be no way for the player to influence those die rolls. The player is controlling the captain of the ship, and as such, they can't influence politics back on earth. The only thing the player can do is try to keep within the mission limit or at least return to earth as soon as possible.

That is my suggestion.

Ah, and while I may have missed it while reading the rules, I want to ask about the story reason for the victory condition of exploring one of the four corners. It does not seem related to the mission of finding the source of the signal, and given the tight time constraints of the mission (2 years are really short compared to how long space missions in the real world take), it feels as if there need to be a good reason why the ship needs to make such a detour.

Yours,
Deathworks
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Re: WIP - The Herald [2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest] - Stage: Contest-ready
@Rapscallion_69, @Deathworks:

Thanks for the feedback.

I'm happy to see that the game is interesting and that so many ideas keep flowing in.

The general sense of feedback so far is that the time management portion of the game needs improvement; also, Events would benefit from a better balance of chance and strategy. I'm currently working on the latter aspect, but with some changes that may also improve the former.

A few specific points:

Rapscallion_69 wrote:
Just had another idea... maybe have some events in the matrix not be skill checks. For instance a black hole where you roll the movement die 4 times and apply (moving the same way you do in the event matrix where it wraps around) or a Time Vortex that grants 1d3-1d6 time and things of that nature.
A space-time anomaly that allows the ship to gain some time would be an interesting take on the time management problem, since one could "maneuver" through the Event matrix to reach that Event and delay the end of the mission, which makes it a strategic choice. Another good idea to evaluate.

Deathworks wrote:
Personally, I find the static time limit itself to be a problem as it does not limit your opportunity to score points (as in many Euro games, it seems), but rather leads to a game over. Being fixed, its predictability leads to the problems I described. In addition, I personally find it to be not a good match for the theme/story: there are 2 years for the mission planned, during which period the critics will keep quiet. That makes sense. But knowing that on day 1 after the 2 years, there will be an immediate uprise seems rather odd. Politics and public movements are rather unpredictable, sometimes fast, sometimes slow.
You raise a good point about time limiting score rather than leading to a sudden death.

Thematically, however, consider that, when the journey begins, the Isolationists are already enraged by years of what they see as mindless sacrifices; they do not have enough political power to enact changes, but they are gaining it step by step. It's only a matter of time before they gain it, and, as you say later in the post, you are in space and can't do anything about it.

Still, gameplay is king, so I'm looking for ways to ease time management while staying within the theme.

Deathworks wrote:
Therefore, I suggest adding a deterioration line with maybe 4 spaces. Once the 2 years have passed, the time counter is moved onto the initial of the 4 spaces. From now on, whenever time passes, 1d6 is rolled. If it matches the range designated on the current space, the counter moves one space forward on the deterioration line. If not, nothing happens. The uprising happens when the counter moves off the deterioration line (the counter currently being on space 4 and the die roll matches the range for space 4).

The first space is the range 1-2, the second 1-3, the third 1-4, and the 4th 1-5.

This way, there is a guaranteed 4 extra months, which are likely to become more. The increasing ranges also show how social/political movements often have an accumulating/accelerating aspect: once things start to change, they begin to change more rapidly. While the fate of the session now rests on a random factor, it is not a single die roll in the beginning, but a chain of die rolls - of course, if you are on the 4th space, one die decides your fate, but till then, you do have a lot of excitement.

Which is another aspect I like about this approach: I think that the ever-increasing chance of things deteriorating makes the end game an exciting race against a worsening situation. You don't know when things will fail, but you can see how things get more and more dire, and your chances of success smaller and smaller.

Another aspect I want to stress is that, thematically, but also for reasons of balance, there should be no way for the player to influence those die rolls. The player is controlling the captain of the ship, and as such, they can't influence politics back on earth. The only thing the player can do is try to keep within the mission limit or at least return to earth as soon as possible.
This idea and the accompanying analysis is a very good example of how to match mechanics to a theme... and still another variant for me to playtest. I'm not entirely convinced of removing the fixed time limit, but I like the idea of an exciting end to the journey; and if I understood it correctly, you still have a choice between taking the risk or trying to stay within the time limit of two years, which ties in well with the strategic feel of the game.

Deathworks wrote:
Ah, and while I may have missed it while reading the rules, I want to ask about the story reason for the victory condition of exploring one of the four corners. It does not seem related to the mission of finding the source of the signal, and given the tight time constraints of the mission (2 years are really short compared to how long space missions in the real world take), it feels as if there need to be a good reason why the ship needs to make such a detour.
The reason is that you have to achieve diversified results to sway the public opinion: return with only some types of result, and you leave the door open to critics about other aspects. One important result that came to my mind during brainstorming was exploration and holomap-making: if you reach locations in space that allow to "look" out of the sector with an accuracy far superior compared to what you can do from Earth, you open a world of concrete possibilities, which is a strong incentive to further voyages.

Certainly, making visiting Corners optional (with bonus points) would help take care of time management, but I fear it would also water down the trade-off management in the Boundary Readings.

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