Over the Christmas break four of my friends at Big Gaming Week agreed to give the prototype a quick go, as we only had two hours available the goal was to see who could accumulate the most glory. We managed to complete four game turns.
Turn one everyone started with nine Atomic Power. In turn 2 Alan and Dennis remained on nine Atomic Power, while Tim and Tony had 12. In turn 3 the Atomic Power spread was 10-14, after Tony attacked Tim’s territory. For turn 4 the range was tighter, 12-14 Atomic Power. Turn 4 saw an effort to unseat Dennis from the Imperial Throne, which saw his Atomic Power income for a hypothetical fifth turn drop to 11, with the rest of the players on 15-21 Atomic Power.
In terms of what Atomic Power could be spent on, I had changed the rules from one Atomic Power per unit moved, to one Atomic Power per type of unit moved. This allows a lot more movement, at the cost of each game turn taking a little longer.
The variable cost of Dreadnoughts, however, was found to have too great a chance of rendering someone powerless and unable to act. The design also greatly limited what you could do in another player’s turn (very little unless actually attacked). So being powerless could trigger a karmic death spiral. While the Atomic Power mechanic is based on Cthulhu Wars, it is being used to purchase the equivalent of six Great Old Ones over the course of the game, rather than just one stompy beast of destruction and horror.
The final glory scores were:
- Alan – 15
- Tim – 25
- Tony – 32
- Dennis – 63
Dennis’ score came mainly from passive Infinite Actions of reigning while in control of the Imperial Capital for almost the entire game. While only +1 point per action, the other players found themselves in a weak position to attack the Imperial Capital, and reluctant to commit to an action that helped all of the other players, but would place them in a position of weakness.
We hit a final Fall value of 3-4, and only had a few Dreadnoughts per player on the map. So in a time sense it still feels like it is taking too long.
The feedback on what was fun:
- choosing Dreadnoughts
- dice mechanic in combat
Based on feedback from the last playtest I capped the number of dice that could be rolled in combat (weaker side rolls two dice, stronger side rolls three dice) and gave the winner a clear bonus (choose loser retreat destination, or double Glory, or use a Power die number to increase damage).
The feedback on what was NOT fun:
- Emperor control was too important
- downtime between player turns was too long
- movement is “sticky” (if a Dreadnought was in the wrong place it took several actions to rectify)
- inability to defend territory/fight defensively when attacked
- falling behind on power.
I was asked why I didn’t allocate all Bases in the set up. The answer to that is that years ago I had an extensive set up process for Housewar, on a map that had four distinct spiral arms and playtest groups of five players. You tended to win the game in the set up, by dominating one spiral arm and forcing other groups of players to fight in their respective spiral arms. This lead to intense meta-gaming in the initial set up (one playtester used to growl at other players if they dared look at “his” spiral arm, and some playtesters would form set up alliances that lasted the rest of the game).
Tech cards were okay, but there were way too many of them. The number of bonus combinations should be reduced.
Ideas for the next playtest
In order for the Dreadnought purchase mechanic to work, I think I should design the rest of the game economy around the fact that players need to spend either big lumps of power, or little lumps of power, depending on the situation. So what I am thinking of having is:
- representing Atomic Power as a six sided die placed on the map (using something like the Dice Dock from Corsec Engineering)
- the rules would refer to the die as a “Base”
- when a player spends Atomic Power, they remove dice pips until the cost is met
- as an action a player can increase Atomic Power at one controlled Base
- My current idea for exactly how much power that increase should be is that the target Base is increased to six, and roll a die (Skull = reduce another player’s Atomic Power by one, Starburst = +1 Glory, number = increase Atomic Power at a second base by that number), so the Atomic Power gain is likely to be 6-9 points.
Rolling just one die keeps things simple. As a bonus the granularity of the 1-6 range of the Base compared to the binary 0/1 of a Base counter is that it is easier to develop Decline/Fall or Pirate stuff in the game to adjust Atomic Power by +/- 1 than it is to place/remove Base counters.
King of Tokyo
The next big idea is to borrow from the King of Tokyo game, where the Monster in Tokyo scores more points, but is vulnerable to all the other players in the game. I will do this by making it so that the Emperor cannot use the Increase Atomic Power action while Emperor. There will still be useful bonuses from being Emperor, but it should be a case of play the role until kicked out or reduced in power and forced to flee into exile.
I can also make the Imperial Capital more vulnerable by making it have Wormhole Gateways to every sector on the map. This makes it so that all players will nearly always be able to attack the Imperial Capital (a major problem in this game has always been players being locked out of geographical proximity to the Imperial Capital, which I have mitigated by increasing the number of Glory sources and the flow of points from those sources). Then there is the idea of Plot tokens (see below).
Pacing of the Game
While the Dreadnought build increasing Decline and eventually causing the Fall is a good mechanic, it is still on the long side. So my new idea is to keep that mechanic but add the following:
- when the Emperor takes a turn, they MUST increase either Decline by +1 or Fall by +1
- each time Decline is increased, draw a “minor” Decline event card (only one card, regardless of how many points Decline increases by) that has a one-off effect on the game
- each time Fall is increased, draw one to three “major” Fall event cards that have persistent rule changing effects on the game.
I expect an Emperor with a substantial lead advantage to start pushing the Fall counter up the track to try and trigger the End Game in an advantageous position.
The Decline events should do things like:
- all players place a Pirate token
- all players remove a Battleship
- all players lose one Atomic Power
- change the Monument Track value (needed as the play sequence no longer needs an end of turn phase)
- trigger Fall (could have one such event for each player in the game, as more players always extend the game playing time)
- all players gain a Plot token (see below)
Reducing Downtime between Turns
My idea here is to allow each player one simple Reaction move each time another player takes a Turn. These reaction moves are intended to be quick … if you have not done it by the time the active player finishes their move, then you don’t get the reaction move (with perhaps a five second count down for anyone still dithering). My current ideas for reaction moves are:
- move one Battleship one sector
- build one Battleship in one sector (this reinforces the idea of Battleships as “popcorn”)
- take a Plot token (these can be used to boost your effective combat strength for attacks against the Emperor only, but are discarded when the Emperor changes or when used)
- use Pirate to steal one Atomic Power.
Movement and Combat
I still lean towards a player’s turn being either Movement or Combat, not a combination of the two. If this is the case, then I am happy to expand movement so Dreadnought positions are less “sticky”, allowing players to move as many units as they are willing to spend Atomic Power on moving.
Map-wise, I am thinking about building hex tiles, and having the number of tiles based on the number of players in the game. This makes the map scale to the number of players. The other option (which requires a lot more hard thinking) is a double sided map cut in two large sections, flipping the sections to get a map for 2, 3, 4, or 5 players (the approach taken in Cthulhu Wars).
Combat – I am pretty happy with the way this is working out.
With the Base die idea, the current method of determining End Game power (Glory score at start of the End Game) will not work. So what I can do instead is:
- the player with the most Glory when the End Game is triggered is the Last Emperor
- only the Last Emperor can gain Glory (+1 each time they take a turn only), and the last Emperor still wins automatically at 100 Glory
- only the Last Emperor can build Dreadnoughts (but no new Dreadnoughts are placed in the Shipyards)
- Starbursts now reduce enemy Glory in combat rather than increasing your own Glory (and if you roll more Starbursts you can double the enemy’s loss of Glory)
- Strength lost in combat also reduces Glory
- any player reduced to zero Glory or zero Dreadnoughts is eliminated
- once any player is eliminated, the Final Countdown begins (there are 13 remaining player turns in the game) and the player with the most Glory at the end of that is the winner of the game.