In our second test play, we tried to play the game faster and this time, we included combat. There are a couple of areas yet to cover, but we are still looking at getting the basics of the game-play right first. Trying to simplify the process of the game, while keeping the complexity, has proved quite difficult. Part of what makes the game a challenge is the variety of interesting choices you have to make. We are looking closely at making sure we remove all trivial choices, leaving only those that have both an upside and a downside, and therefore making the whole game a balancing act for the player. This invites the player to choose a strategy that suits them and leaves it open to various kinds of playing styles. On the other hand, we are also trying to reduce the overall complexity, as the calculations required throughout the game may be more suitable for a computer game.
Updating the map
The first thing I changed was the map, as it’s scale and dimensions needed improvement. We are still negotiating between grid and hexagon, but I would have to update quite a few numbers to switch to hexagon, so for the time being we will stick with grid. I expanded the map, making it just Europe, and the grid is now larger.
The game became more strategic in relation to city placement as there were more of one type of terrain in some areas. My brother founded Paris, and this had a great deal of grassland. His city grew rapidly as grassland produces lots of food, but he had little production in the city as it had no production resources.
The larger grid made play a little more interesting, as the map had more detail and made the nations more realistic. If you look carefully, we also marked the mountain tiles with green Ms, to signify tiles that could not be placed — a rule we added. We decided at the beginning of the game that this would improve tactical play for city placement and troop movements.
Cities, and far too many resources
After our goal of reducing the complexity we created a new chart to help manage the city data. I still feel strongly that this is to complex and I am trying to find a way to reduce the calculating. I have considered cards, counters, money, tokens and more, but apart from cards, I have yet to find a solution that will reduce the players memory load with out compromising game complexity. Which then leads me to the fact that I will have to reduce game-play complexity in order to do this.
Some of my solutions to this problem include:
- One type of resource instead of four (this reduces the need for terrain types, but loses complexity regarding where you position cities)
- No resources, and one build per city per turn (this reduces some of the shadow cost related to the strengths/weaknesses of units and other improvements)
- Reduced number of resources
- Cards for technology discovery instead of a chart (an inherent problem with this is that you end up with a lot of space being used with the cards, and it’s harder to see which technologies are coming next)
- Cards for special resources (good for initial use but hard to work out which city they belong to)
- Cards for units (this might be handy to remind a player what they can build)
- Tokens for resources (could get messy with one for each city, and would become difficult as the amounts increase)
- Separate card for each city (good for two to four cities, harder to track for more. I have an issue with this in the future as my chart can only fit four cities on it)
- Simplified resource calculating (players could simply count cities and city sizes to work out the total resources) see spin-off ideas
Display complexity but don’t get complicated
I have a confession to make on the last section. While I am all for reducing note taking and dice rolling, I am an old-school D&D player. Those games were basically all note taking and dice rolling, so I don’t actually mind doing it in a game. I wouldn’t, however, want to limit the target audience with this; you always need to consider a variety of player types who may be interested in your game. That is actually where the open source idea came from, because in this game you could have a variety of rules (each with a different level of complexity) so that a wider array of players at different levels could enjoy the game.
With the new chart I did manage to reduce it down to four numbers to recalculate each turn (although any city expansion increased the length of the turn significantly). A shift to hexagons would further reduce this time, as the number of tiles to deal with are less.
We did have our first combat and I didn’t fair too well. While I was annoyed about losing all the battles, it did provide an element of randomness which adds spice to a game. We found that the defence units had the advantage, as you need to roll one point higher in an attack. This meant I lost two horses when attacking my brother’s one horse. In hindsight, I should have just protected my city as this would have given me an extra defence dice. It is important to remember not to let random events determine the outcome of the game.
Unit production costs also need to be adjusted as Warrior units were all but void at the beginning of the game. The cities were too far away to be attacked early on. By the time either of us produced any units we had already upgraded to horseman. As it was a dominant strategy, we tried to balance the shadow costs by reducing the cost to 5p. There is a good chance we may remove them altogether.
For the next test play
I think we may have worked out a few bugs now for play at a basic level. The next game will be with more players — how exciting!
Improvements for next time:
- A few small corrections for the technology chart
- A couple of updates for the city chart
- Changes to costings for city improvements and units
- Create a hexagon map to test out