Excalibur's Zone Gaming

Games are what I love, games are what I do. But family comes first.

Die Civ Pre-Alpha Playtest Report

Tonight was a revelation. It was another two-player test for Die Civilization with my friend L and I playing the game. I implemented a bunch of rules changes based on feedback and ponderings and we were able to reach the very last technology card in the stack! That was AWESOME! The points weren’t simply a runaway and the game was pretty close when we stopped. Even though I was the first player and we finished a full round for the end (the store closed early this week), the final points were very close. Oh, and it was done within 2 hours! Tech Level 5 in 2 hours is a HUGE jump in the speed and flow of the game since it took that long to get to Tech Level 2 in the past.

This has caused me to realize that I now need to figure out an end-of-game trigger for the technology race. I believe it’ll be: When you attempt to draw a new technology and can’t, the game ends. I think that’s appropriate for the game through this route. The winner will be the one with the most Victory Points after you take all the score modifiers into account.

What was changed in order to make this dramatic speed increase happen? Well, a couple of things happened tonight:

  • The number of techs per level was equal to the number of players.
  • The number of techs on display was equal to the number of players.
  • Dice ramp happened more quickly.
  • Players could spend research die pips to purchase a success.
  • An icon bonus was introduced to allow for reduced success cost.
  • Failure success purchases were modified.
  • Purchase points for techs were modified.
  • Slight improvements to the turn order were implemented.
  • Changes to victory points were implemented.

Let’s address these in order. Previously, I had double the number of players for the techs in the deck and display techs equal to the number of players. I also had a number of techs equal to the number of players +1 in the deck and the number of players -1 on display. I also tried different permutations of the number of techs in the deck and on display as well. This one hit the sweet spot. Due to this, neither player felt overly challenged to get a tech, though I did fall behind slightly due to bad luck. Some of the above changes happened through the course of this playtest. There were some techs that were left behind because they didn’t generate as many VPs as the next tech level cards did. I think with Wonders fully implemented in the game, this won’t always be the case.

Due to the completion of techs, new tech levels came out faster. In other playtests, the player needed a cube on the new tech in order to roll the extra dice associated with the tech level. This time, as soon as the tech was displayed, the players got to roll more dice immediately, starting with the next player’s turn. This turned into a wonderful way to offset the VP difference between players. The player whose turn it was got to roll more dice immediately following the completion of the tech, which allowed them a greater chance to complete a tech in return. This also sped the game up since players were now able to roll more dice for purchases and production. This was an excellent change which is marked for final implementation.

It gets to be very frustrating when you’re rolling dice and you cannot use something that you’ve rolled. This was apparent in every playtest to date. So today, players were allowed to do a few things to mitigate this issue. First, they could apply face values that were not a success to purchase a success at, say, 10 points. So you could save up die faces in order to purchase a success but all of the production points had to come from dice that matched the icon color you were purchasing. After a few times doing this (very successful, btw) we decided to make it more expensive based on the Tech Level the icon was sitting at. Now, it became apparent that it would be cool if there was a way to lower the cost of this fee based on how many icons you had already researched. After all, research isn’t all done in a vacuum since you build upon prior knowledge. So, the production cost was reduced based on the number of icons you “had a cube on”. This meant that any tech you purchased previously counted as having a cube on each icon on the card. So if it had 3 wealth icons, if you were trying to purchase a wealth success on another tech with points, the cost of that success was reduced by 3. In the above example cost of 10 points, it would cost 7 points which is slightly less expensive. There will need to be a minimum, probably the tech level plus the number of icons of that type on the card. That’s a good place to start anyway. Due to this new rule, I felt that failure purchases (you claim a certain number of failures plus production stores to purchase a success) were too expensive. So I lowered the production cost. It worked pretty well at first, but then I decided to add the tech level to the cost and it hit that sweet spot. It was challenging, but not overly so and easy enough to pull off if you pay attention to what you’re doing.

After this, I tackled purchase prices for techs. Basically, it is tech level times a certain target number. So we had Tech Level 1 cost the base amount (say 10) and Tech Level 5 cost 50. We also felt that one of the dice involved during the purchase (when you actually take control of the tech) should be the same color as the tech. Each tech will match a color of one of the research dice. This was just a way to make things challenging and not meaningless. So now you need to have a particular colored die in your production pool for the last amount used to purchase. It worked out pretty well.

The turn order and how specific actions worked were slightly modified. It has always been that if you spend production stores to purchase a success by using failures, or whenever you purchased a tech, your production stores reset to zero. There is a problem when you purchase a failure success and then attempt to store production afterward. To clarify things, purchasing of a success, any success, is done after your main phase. Applying dice to production stores is now done strictly during the main phase then you move on to production purchases and finally to tech purchases. This makes decisions a bit more difficult and in many cases, you’re losing the use of many dice. This was very effective and caused both L and I to think critically about what dice to use for which purpose. Very nice!

Finally, Victory Points were changed up. The points for completing first didn’t change, but the points for finishing second did. I will need a 3-4 player game to test the VPs for those numbers, but I think we did a good job with this new formula. This caused the current winner to flip flop from one side to the next each turn. In the end, when we ended the game, the score was 41 for L and 39 for me. A nice grouping, but more testing is needed for this.

As for lessons learned, I found that it was best to limit pink dice so that their abilities were limited to production dice or research successes, rather than any free success. It curbed power creep for the die and allowed us to really make use of it. It also limits all successes, even purchased ones. So your failure purchase or production purchase of a success was also hampered if you had a bad pink roll.

This, however, brought another issue up. Throughout the game, we ended up stockpiling ONLY the pink die. There were times I stockpiled a white die, but we rarely, if ever, stockpiled any research dice. There has to be something to curb this and I think there are two routes. 1) You cannot stockpile pink dice. Due to what they represent, it is rather absurd. 2) Perhaps stockpiling will allow you to use 2 faces for success instead of just one, for instance a 5 or a 6 is a success instead of just a 6.

During the post-game conversation/questionnaire, we talked about wonders and how they could make or break the game. As it stands, the game is cool and all, but there’s a certain something missing. I think bringing wonders in would be the first step. Secondly, I think the lack of technology powers is also what’s causing some empty feeling for the game. The game needs a cheat sheet as well.

Final thought: I think I have another way to mitigate the success issue and I’m going to test this next time I do a playtest. I think it’s a good idea and it will provide a bit more of a speed boost as well as a variance to the game.

Next steps:

  • Design Wonders, how they are “built”, and what they do to modify the game.
  • Work on Technology powers/rewards.
  • Write more of the rules. It’s getting easier to explain them so let’s get that down on paper.
  • Work on a cheat sheet for what the dice represent and their abilities.
  • Work on the above additions/fixes and find solutions to some of the problems discovered.
  • Redefine what successes and ability activators are.

I think that’s a good place to go next! Also, I will have some alpha-quality docs with some formatting to them for when I playtest next. When I get to pre-beta stage (most game components designed), I will start looking for players to start blind testing.

Until next time…

Updated: November 29, 2014 — 7:40 am
Excalibur's Zone gaming © 2014 Frontier Theme