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Subject: Solar System Game - Design Notes (Boring) rss

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Carl Frodge
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Hello all! I've been working on this project for a while now (on and off for probably a year). Playtesting and revising, streamlining a lot, and I just wanted to share the process with you, and the roadblocks and challenges I've been facing.

The game is for 2-4 players, and should play in about 30-45 minutes.

Original Conception:
Somewhere in early 2016, I came up with the idea to make a card game where players raced to be the first to complete our solar system in order (from Mercury to Neptune). I was inspired by a variety of other games, and I don't know exactly how the final concept came to be, but it landed on these core ideas:
•There is a deck of planet cards, contain some number of each planet.
•Players have a hand of cards.
•Players start with some number of planets already in their solar system (but not necessarily in the correct order). Every player starts with a "Sun" card, which they build from (to the right of the sun).
•There is a Ticket to Ride-like "supply" of cards taken from the top of the deck and flipped face-up for all players to see.
•Players take an action(s) on their turn.

Solar System Version 1.0
In the first version of the game, players were dealt 3 cards face-up to form their starting Solar System, and were allowed to arrange them in any way they like. If duplicates were dealt into a player's solar system, they were discarded and replaced (a player cannot have more than 1 of each planet in their solar system).

Then players were dealt 4 cards to start their hand.

And finally, 4 cards were flipped from the top of the deck to form the "Galaxy" (the supply).

On a players turn, they can take 2 actions from the following list of actions, and repeating the same action is allowed:
•Take 1 Planet card from the Galaxy into your hand. (If planets were taken, they were replaced at the end of a players turn, not right away).
•Play a planet to the outermost (farthest from the sun) position in your solar system.
•Discard a planet to activate it's special ability (listed below)

The planet actions were as follows:
•Mercury: Swap Any 2 Planets in your solar system. (Swap meaning exchange their positions).
•Venus: Return a planet from your solar system to your hand.
•Earth: Swap a planet in your solar system with one in the galaxy.
•Mars: Take 2 Planets from the galaxy into your hand.
•Jupiter: Move one planet in your solar system to the front or back of your solar system.
•Saturn: Discard all cards in the galaxy, then replace them with new cards from the deck.
•Uranus: Add 1 Planet from the Vortex (discard pile) to your hand, except Uranus.
•Neptune: Play a planet from your hand, then take another action.

(Original Planet Reference Sheet)

After playtesting a few times, I realized a few problems:
1.Saturn's ability was weak compared to the other planet abilities. And I thought Cycling the planets ought to be a standard action that players could take.
2.Uranus' ability wasted too much time.
3.Neptune's ability was too powerful (as you could play a planet either for its ability OR into your solar system).

which lead to version 2.0.

Solar System Version 2.0
Set-up is the same.

Actions are the same, and players still take 2 on their turn, with the addition of the following action:
•Cycle the planets in the galaxy.

Planet abilities mostly stayed the same, with changes to Saturn and Uranus:
•Saturn: Cycle the planets in the galaxy, then add 1 planet from the galaxy to your hand.
•Uranus: Look at the top 3 cards of the deck. Add 2 to your hand and discard the other.

After playtesting, and receiving feedback, the following concerns/thoughts were brought to light:
•Cycling the planets, especially in a 2-player game adds a lot of time to the game, and players spend a lot of time during the game taking this action.
•Uranus' ability still took up too much time, and adding a decision-making element meant Analysis Paralysis set in in some cases.
•The two main strategies came to revolve around using Jupiter and Mercury to win the game. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.
•Players would, in some cases, run away with the win, and the thought of adding an additional, random element, was considered.

And version 3.0 came about:

Solar System Version 3.0:
6 Event cards were added to the game, with the intention to add an extra random element to the game. The intention of the event cards was for them to be neutral in most cases, sometimes allowing the players to do something helpful, and other times setting them back.

Set-up remained the same, except now 5 cards were added to the Galaxy supply) instead of 4 (hopefully more options reduces the need for players to cycle the planets as often).
(Example set-up)

[/b]and the addition of events:[/b]
-After set-up, all 6 event cards were added to the deck.
The event cards were as follows:
•Each Player Must Discard a card from their solar system.
•Each player adds 1 card from the Galaxy to their hand, replace them after every player has taken 1.
•Each player must pass a card form their hand to the player on their left.
•Each player must return a card in their solar system to their hand.
•All players may play a planet anywhere in their solar system, unless it would cause them to win.
•Each player must discard a card from their hand.

Actions remained the same.

Planet abilities mostly stayed the same with one minor change to Uranus:
•Uranus: Draw 2 cards from the top of the deck into your hand (if you draw an event, draw another card, then resolve the event).

After playtesting, the following concerns/thoughts came to light:
•6 events is way too many, events were popping up all the time, disrupting the flow of play. And being that they were re-shuffled into the deck, when the deck ran out, they just kept coming.
•Event cards caused a lot of timing issues when resolving planet abilities.
•Cycling the planets as an action or with Saturn was still a problem, and being that multiple events could pop up when cycling the planets, it caused even more timing issues.

Solar System Version 3.5
Events were scaled based on the number of players (2 events in a 4 player game, 3 in a 3 player game, and 4 in a 2 player game)

Everything else stayed the same.

Finally, in testing, events were still causing a lot of timing issues, and cycling the planets was still causing issues. Which lead to major changes for version 4.0

An issue that came to light throughout all of testing was that it always felt like players hands were small, and that it was hard to get more planets (I know, it doesn't seem like this would be a concern but it was).

All along the way, the goal of streamlining the game was there, and was a big priority throughout.

(Playtesting session)

Solar System Version 4.0
Actions changed as follows:
On a player's turn, they take 1 of the following actions (no longer 2):
•Add 2 Planets from the Galaxy into your hand (1 at a time, replacing them)
•Play 1 Planet from your hand to the outermost space in your solar system.
•Discard a planet to activate its special ability.

The planet abilities changed as follows:
•Mercury: Swap Any 2 Planets in your solar system. (Swap meaning exchange their positions).
•Venus: Return a planet from your solar system to your hand.
•Earth: Swap a planet in your solar system with one in the galaxy.
•Mars: Take 2 aditional actions (you can't discard Mars as an additional action).
•Jupiter: Move one planet in your solar system to either end of your solar system.
•Saturn: Play a planet from your hand anywhere in your solar system.
•Uranus: Add 2 cards from the deck to the galaxy, then add 2 cards from the galaxy to your hand (don't replace them).
•Neptune: ???

(Updated Reference Sheet)

I'm still trying to figure out what Neptune's new ability ought to be. Suggestions/ideas are welcome. One thought was to make it WILD, allowing you to take any other planet action, but that might be too powerful. Mars' new ability and Saturn's new ability might also be too powerful.

I have a lot of ideas for more things to add to the game, but I want to make sure the core rules/gameplay is as tight and streamlined as it can be before I add more to it (including adding the events back in).

If you have any thoughts or questions, please ask them, and let me know what you think. If you want to test the game for yourself, I can send you the PnP files, but do keep in mind, it's still in its early stages.

I'm still working on writing up a comprehensive rulebook/sheet, but the rules are pretty straightforward.
 
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