Feedback on Colossus of Atlantis

October 26, 2017

Over the last month, Seattle Megagames have run The Colossus of Atlantis on two occasions. This was a milestone for me, in that its the first time I have been paid a license fee for the use of a game I designed (I have in the past been reimbursed part of the cost of running a game at a convention). They have been kind enough to share some feedback on their games.

The first game was run with a set of game components close to the version of the game I ran at GENCON 2017. The second game made quite a few changes to fix problems identified in the first game, changing a lot of the cards and council options, and also added a major assembly phase every three game turns. Apparently a lot of the players had an improv background, so the chance for speeches and roleplaying helped make the game fun for them.

Major Themes in the Control Feedback

My top level reaction to an element of feedback is in (brackets):

  • Cogs appear to be either one resource too many in a game with a lot of different resources, or just not intrinsically useful enough (As much as I love the steampunk feel of Cogs, I am leaning towards dropping them from my next version of Colossus. I am also thinking of cutting Talents – despite all the time I spent finding a font that would accurately display the correct Attic Greek Talent symbol for the various talent values. While it was interesting trying to have a unique resource type for each player role in the game, I now think its adding complexity without adding more fun)
  • Balance between number of map regions and number of players, and the degree of combat that follows (dropping the number of regions will increase the amount of combat, ideally the number of regions should be such that the players at that map table cannot share them evenly, e.g. if there are six players, then a map with nine regions is going to divide the players into “haves” with two regions and “have-nots” with only one region)
  • Kudos – too abstract for a victory condition, it needed some use within the game system itself (I am thinking about how Kudos might be a “wild” resource that teams can use to purchase other game resources during the team meeting phase. This also adds a specific decision point to team meetings beyond meet and share information, resources, and plan future actions)
  • Feedback to the players on DOOM and Kudos totals, and other game announcements (I think an ideal set up is a combination of whiteboards, projector screens, and a PA system, plus making someone on the Control team, or a player role like Media in Watch the Skies, responsible for feedback).
  • Oaths are not getting much use (In my games they have only been used two to four times per game. I put oaths in the game for thematic colour, and to allow an option for player creativity. They are a bit fiddly in terms of creating a conditional effect that needs to be tracked by players/Control, so a simpler approach is to encourage it for roleplaying, but drop it as an explicit game mechanic).
  • Lack of interaction between maps, or a reason to really pay attention to what was happening at other maps (I agree that I need to add something here to enhance opportunities for diplomacy and team cooperation, such as the ability to move units between maps or some kind of trade )
  • More goals and directions for Houses (I have been working on an extended set of goals, where each House gets to pick five goals at the start of the game. Adding cults and secret factions with their own hidden goals can add some depth to the diplomacy in the game)
  • More time for player interactions (Time constraints are a feature of Megagames, there are always more people than you can talk to, more deals that could be made, more information that could be obtained… That said, there may be a better way to structure the turn sequence to facilitate conversation between players)
  • A game role like Press/media in WTS (I am thinking about how “Historians” or “Poets” could be added to the game. They could be a role attached to each team, with no map position to play. For the map phase of the game they become observers/couriers/spies and then in the diplomatic phase of the game they could have some strong asymmetric abilities, such as the ability to shift blame (DOOM) between factions)
  • More quests and artifact hunting (I could adapt the relic hunting mechanic used in Aquila Rift easily enough, and there are a lot of Greek myths that could be turned into quests. In my working draft of the rules I have been working on an “expedition” mini-game where you could run into a Cyclops or Amazon tribe, with a range of different outcomes)
  • Limit the number of cards/wonders that can be used in a phase (I agree that it can get just a bit to much. I am thinking that power cards purchased from Councils should be both awesome and one-use, while Wonders are more of a slight bonus that can be used more than once)
  • Adopt simultaneous action planning and resolution for Councils, like the map game has (Great idea, wish I had thought of this earlier)
  • Trade options were either underpowered or hard to implement (agree, still thinking about ways to improve this)
  • Bloated economy (this is partly intended as a feature of the game, Atlantis should feel like a runaway train wreck of an economy about to have its burst bubble moment. In my working draft I have changed resource spawn to only have one type of resource per region. So land regions have Arete cards, coastal regions have orichalcum, and rival empire regions have Vril. This should make resource management easier for Control and more intuitive for players. Reducing the impact of power cards/wonders will also help)
  • Monster strength versus players (its hard to keep consistently challenging, this is likely to be a game element where a short intention statement to guide Control adjudication works better than a rigid set of rules for determining strength. The same could apply to Rival Empire strength)
  • Information packs sent to players a week before the game (a good goal, I am somewhat frustrated by late player sign-ups, and random player additions on the day of the game, which make casting and team composition more complicated)
  • Call the small Colossi units Automatons, make it explicit that the “hero” token is a giant Colossus being piloted by the player’s character in the game (sounds good to me, the Automatons could be thought of as a range of small size steampunk machines,  such as submersibles, flyers, rapid fire siege engines, autoplaying bagpipes, etc).

Feedback from Players of the Game

  • Add defensive options for cities and colonies (Balance is needed, if defence is too strong, then city attacks become impossible and players will turtle up)
  • Balancing the upgrade cards, some were always useful, others only situationally useful (Its hard to playtest Megagames and all their myriad gameplay options. I think that reducing the overall number of cards will make it easier to balance, and I can cut out boring/under powered cards.)
  • more consistency between Control at different map tables (Control experience will vary. It is always good to have all the Control team taught their roles before the game day, but sometimes you need to sub in a Control player at the last moment. This was pretty much the most common comment from the players.)
  • more time on training players at the start of the game (One thing I want to try is to put a video of a turn of gameplay online)
  • provide a gameplay overview before people buy their tickets, not all megagames are the same (A problem when running a Megagame as one part of a convention rather than a unique event, is that the con will filter a lot of the information reaching players)
  • Rewrite the rules for clarity (There is a definite art to writing rules. Too concise and important information is missed. Too long and some players will not read all of them. In the next rulebook, I want to add more pictures of gameplay, and the training video idea mentioned above. What would be good for me to know here is exactly which parts of the rules were confusing or needed clarification)
  • Mixups with rules from previous editions (Probably due to running Colossus twice in quick succession.)
  • More order, less free-for-all in upgrade card purchase (Giving everyone a turn to make card purchases takes a lot more time.)
  • Atlantis sank without being aware how close it was to sinking (There needs to be feedback on DOOM. Initially I only had a warning about DOOM when it crossed 50% of the sinking threshold, I intend to make a DOOM track more like the WTS Terror Track that has at least three warning steps before the deluge. It is also my design intent that DOOM is easy to acquire, hard to get rid of)
  • Inability to split units of the same type made it hard to defend (Working as intended, in that offence should be stronger – otherwise everyone can turtle up, which is dull gameplay – and splitting forces makes the strategy phase immensely more complicated, and I was deliberately trying to keep the number of major decisions a player makes each planning phase to eight, with the ability to split forces you end up with perhaps 20 decisions to make)
  • The spy role was tacked on, less powerful and influential (yes, it was the last role developed. The role could be dropped or reworked. If there are secret factions and hidden goals, then spies with information revealing powers will be much more useful)
  • Map turns often ran late (its possible that processes that worked well for 20-30 players may have stalled a bit with 40-45 players)
  • More enforcement of time limits (I think my ideal set up now is a dedicated Control time keeper with a microphone and a PA system)
  • Councils were less interactive than the map or the assembly (This is true. I cut back on extensive voting mechanics because they consumed too much time. My current rule draft requires the Council President to consult and listen to the Council before choosing an assembly motion. I also want each Council to have a choice that interacts with the game map, and to have a major project that requires contributions from multiple players to have a chance of success. I did intend for the Spy Council to act as a Monkeywrench in other councils, but time sequencing is hard to get right. The War and Trade Councils have actions that are in opposition to each other, and I do not think I have the balance for that right)
  • Unit building was tedious (Not sure exactly which mechanic was used here, I have had simple build systems and build systems that required cross-referencing several numbers and a chart. I am now thinking about only having one counter for each unit type, and the main form of improvement being quality improvement, not quantity improvement)
  • Lots of positive comments about assemblies (and other bits of the game, but I am focusing on the feedback that indicates where the game can be made better)
  • A longer lunch break please
  • Unexpected Control intervention and scope of adjudication was frustrating – extent of Control power should have been made clear at the start of the game (Yes, a feature of this Golden Age of megagaming is there are a lot of new players who do not share the assumptions that veteran players have)
  • Map game varied a lot between tables based on players (experience, rule understanding, team instructions) and Control (Yes, different tables will have different outcomes. Its possible what is needed is one briefing where its Control to all players, followed by one Control briefing each team, then a third stage of initial briefing which is one Control and each table group of players)
  • Not enough time with team to plan or learn how other roles worked, learnt more about the game AFTER it had finished (I think role specialisation is part of the team element of Megagames, but when running my games I do put all the role briefings online in a way that all players can read them. Time pressure is also an important element of Megagames. The post-game discussion can be part of the best moments of a Megagame, as you find out what really happened)
  • I would have liked a two minute regional council before the map phase started (Could be possible to add this. Essentially its adding an opportunity for collusion about who is going for which bits of territory, but it might also be useful for coordinating monster hunting and rival empire attacks. But those two minutes are two minutes less for everything else)
  • Make alliances an option earlier on (I think my versions of the game were different on this point)
  • More guidance on goals
  • I do wish there was a bit more of a focus on creativity. It seemed like things were focused on getting resources and spending resources. (I am trying to add a creative project option to each Council. A major part of the game is the map/resource game, so having some non-map roles may be a better fit for some players)
  • It was hard to counteract the damage done by traitors (this sounds like a secret faction addition to the game by the Seattle Megagames crew)
  • Too much variability in fight outcomes (either all die or none die) (Working as intended in an attempt to simulate the decisive battles of the bronze age)
  • the final round – it encourages complete chaos and not in a fun way. (Last turn madness is a feature of Megagames as play behaviour changes now that there is no tomorrow)
  • Role balance at tables – hard to compete with the military upgrades of three Strategos players (Balance is possible – but should the game also be open to players moving between tables?)
  • The narrative needs to be stronger (Certainly room for adding more elements from Greek myth/history to the game, but narrative is also in part a player construct)
  • Make dishonour mean something, I avoided it but in the end it didn’t matter (I think the idea of dishonour is important for the Greek theme, but its not connecting to the game adequately yet.)
  • Interactions with foreign empires could have been more interesting, perhaps they could offer sanctuary if Atlantis sinks (Sanctuary is a nice idea. Resource bribes would be more meaningful if resources were harder to get. I might have to experiment with having players in charge of the rival empires, as the current model puts a lot of stress on the Control player in charge of them)
  • Once I had a max size army and all the upgrade cards I ran out of things to do (I hope adding more team goals into the game will help here. At the same time at least one other player struggled to build up, and felt pretty insignificant for most of the game.)
  • Attacking foreign empires and Atlantean cities should be harder and provide more meaningful rewards.

My Thoughts on the Next Version of Colossus

I have been working on a few broad changes to the game:

  1. Reducing the flow of resources into the game (its always easier to increase resource flow midgame, then to try and reverse a resource glut)
  2. Only having one type of reward for each type of region, Land = Arete cards, Coast = Orichalcum, Rival Empire = Vril. This makes admin easier for Control, and should be easier for players at the start of the game. Kudos cards come from battle victory, DOOM tokens from battle defeat.
  3. Experimenting with planning/reveal/resolve system so that Council meetings work a bit more like the map game (see first image below)
  4. Adding an Assembly Phase
  5. Changing from improving unit quantity to improving unit quality (see second image below)
  6. Trying to make combat easier to run.
  7. With only one unit counter per unit type, most units roll 2d4 in appropriate terrain (e.g. Triremes in Coastal regions) or 1d4 if not. The Colossus unit rolls 1d13 and 1d4.
  8. Make upgrade power cards great, but one use. Make wonders good (but not great) and multi-use/permanent.

Experimental Council Template

20171025_Council-Template

Plan by playing Arete cards and DOOM tokens face down in options (one minute timer). Start on top left and work clockwise (i.e President first, DOOM last) to resolve. All players reveal Arete cards for an option. Highest value of card + DOOM tokens wins the option.

Experimental City Template

20171025_City-Template

In the planning phase, spend resources to improve quality (pictures indicate resources you cannot spend to upgrade quality). In combat, if you have a higher quality type of unit (e.g. your Hoplites are the best, even though their Triremes are better) then upgrade a Chaos die (d4) to a DOOM die (d13) (so if the Hoplites were in Land, they would now roll 1d13 and 1d4, elsewhere 1d13 rather than 1d4, while a high quality Colossus will roll 2d13). City defence quality is added to other units present and defending the city.

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Star Wars the Old Republic MMORPG Review

June 19, 2012

TLDR: initially promising, ultimately disappointing.

(Original feedback to Bioware in plain text, tonight’s reflections in italic)

Biggest problem: on minimum graphics the game causes my two year old Gateway P-79 laptop to shut down from overheating.  This has damaged the graphics card.  At best I can get 20 minutes of play now, which is insufficient to do group activities.  So I’m choosing to play less demanding games instead.  Ultimately I went out and got a new gaming laptop, but it would have been nice to have held off from that purchase for another 6-12 months.

Launch: pre-launch guild creation was good, however the chat bug which disabled Guild, Party, and Officer chat on my account was vexing to say the least.  I didn’t feel well served by customer support in resolving this.  This bug prevented me from leading my guild, or engaging in group content.  Lesson learned: do not try and set up a guild when you still have an ongoing guild commitment elsewhere.  Its hard to find time to do both justice.

World design: the lower level worlds are the best. By the time I reached level 40+ worlds, the design was feeling stale and repetitive.  When I reached Corellia, I was forcing myself to finish quest lines just to see the next bit of my class story.  Playing the game had become a chore, rather than fun.  On Corellia, being surrounded by buildings I couldn’t enter, made the game feel fake.  Also, it feels weird that I am not sharing the same game universe with the both Empire & Republic players on all the worlds.  Levelling my second toon into the 40s, the process feels a little easier, but I’m still dreading Corellia.

Travel: is tedious.  First, running through starports is really dull. I often reach a starport, think about the long run ahead of me, and then log out of the game.  Second, speeders look weird, travel slowly, and don’t let me bypass mobs that I dealt with on earlier quests. Being constantly pulled off my speeder by mobs I defeated in earlier quests ruined any sense of progress and accomplishment in the game.  This has been slightly improved in terms of travel through Starports now being possible while mounted on a speeder.

Grouping: I don’t have time to waste hanging around the fleet hoping to find a group for instances.  Watching trade chat is not compelling gameplay.  If I’m waiting longer than a few minutes, what I want to do is log out of the game and switch to a game where I can do stuff.  They still don’t have a good Looking for Group tool, consequently you will mostly miss out on heroic (2 or 4 man world content) or instanced content while levelling.

Starship mini-game: the low level scenarios were interesting.  I was able to identify mistakes in my gameplay, and correct them.  When I realised that completing mid-level scenarios required grinding commendations for ship upgrades I stopped playing them.  Three months later – its still tedious and I’m still avoiding it.

PvP: I have avoided this entirely.  I don’t find WoW-style pvp gameplay compelling.  I play World of Tanks for an hour or two each night instead.  None of the scenarios available at launch appealed to me, and the concept of not being able to avoid Hutt Ball was a big turnoff.  World pvp looks broken to me, and I was quite surprised that you made it so broken, given that the problems Blizzard has had with designing open world pvp zones are so well known.  My flatmate put it best “I’m grinding through gameplay I don’t enjoy playing to get better gear that will enable me to be more effective at gameplay I don’t enjoy.  Why don’t I just stop grinding…”

Endgame: I started the questlines on Illum and the prison planet and died of boredom.  When I looked at the amount of grind required to acquire upgrade modules, I rebelled, and just said “No” to daily missions.  I also found that I just didn’t enjoy playing my class, so once the class storyline was done I was finished with it.  I still have not gone back to the Assassin.

Companions: I don’t regard the robot that comes with the ship as a companion.  Companions have been a big disappointment.  Levelling an assassin tank I really wanted a healer companion, but had to wait until Hoth.  Levelling a Bounty Hunter healer, I really want a tank companion, but I don’t have one yet.  I was really disappointed at the companion story for the Inquisitor’s medic companion, maxing full affection resulted in …. some obsequious dialogue.  I remember sitting in front of the screen thinking “That’s it?!”  Once the Bounty Hunter got its tank companion, it was far superior to the Assassin tank player character + companion.  Maxing out companion favour does now result in a small in game boost (+20 presence with other companions).

Talent trees: design feels old and dull, the approach Blizzard is taking in Mists of Pandaria just blows the SWTOR talents out of the water.  Choosing talents that boost my effectiveness in a single ability by 1% really doesn’t feel like an interesting choice.  With the Bounty Hunter, perhaps 3-4 of your talent choices result in gameplay changes, the other 35 odd choices just make you 0.5% better at what you do.

Abilities: at low levels I got abilities too quickly to figure out what I should be doing with them.  For the Inquisitor, signature abilities that make the class cool either looked dull in tank spec (force lightning) or were worse than useless as tanking tools (overload). Visually it ends up being a really dull class to watch in combat. Stab. Buzz. Stabby. Bzzt. Yawn.  Ability overload is a little easier to deal with now you can adjust how the UI displays action bars.  I still think having 30-40 abilities you use frequently is on the order of 10-20 abilities too many.

Music, Sound effects and Voice Acting: all good/excellent.

UI: I know you are overhauling this. My main feedback here is that I find it really hard to identify the abilities my opponents are using. I see strange coloured symbols and I’m not sure I should interrupt or not, and then its too late to interrupt anyway.  The setup for healing also feels awkward.  After years of using Healbot, Grid/Clique or Vuhdo in WoW, going back to pushing function keys to target party members feels painfully slow and prone to error.   I still find it impossible to determine which ability I should be interrupting.

Sith Inquisitor/Assassin feedback: This is the class I really wanted to play, as the storyline pitch of a slave rising to power really appealed to me.  In tank spec I was unable to complete the class questline solo, requiring help from other players on Voss (the dream boss) and Dromund Kaas (the fight with Zash).  I was unable to identify what I was doing wrong in these encounters, and after the second set of armour repairs I gave up all hope of figuring out what to do as I simply couldn’t afford the credits to keep experimenting. This made me feel incompetent.  The assassin does not feel heroic or awesome, when I fight mobs they die very slowly, and in an unspectacular fashion.  In play, I found myself forced to watch a small display of buffs right above the action bars, rather than being able to focus on the onscreen action. I’m still sad about this, and I screwed up the characters name when doing the server transfer when Dalborra was launched.

Specific turnoff points in the Inquisitor story line:

– I liked Khem Val, until I realised a tank companion was useless to a tank spec class

– I liked Zash, and I felt the betrayal came too early

– Not being able to defeat Zash solo (I never felt competent to do anything challenging again after this)

– Not being able to choose a more useful companion to face Zash with

– I did not like Zash/Khem Val in one body

– I didn’t feel like I earned the big ship superweapon, I just had some NPCs walk up and say “push the button for us, please”

– last act confrontation just felt like grind, grind, grind, I was always reacting to the bad guy, never setting the initiative.

The Bounty Hunter storyline has been better, at least insomuch as that I never been forced to beg other players for help in finishing my class quests.  It’s the Bounty Hunter that I will be doing a few more instances with, and trying to see some of the endgame content.  In the end I’m just too comfortable being a healer than trying to be a tank in a system that makes it really hard to know what the hell your tanking abilities do, and forces you to look away from what the mobs are doing on-screen so the buffs that keep you alive do not expire.

Many things are executed well in the game, although the Auction House is painful to use.  It looks good, and sounds great … but I struggle to want to play it more than 1-2 times a week.  So it’s not going to replace WoW for me.  It is nice that they launched servers based in Australia … but the maintenance schedule is such that they are offline most of Tuesday night, so its only a game ANZACs can play six nights a week.


Sun and Starship Washup

June 5, 2012

It was one of the best two or three Grand strategy games I have designed and run over the last 20 years, but there is still room for improvement!  My take on the intiial feedback is below, more comments are always welcomed.

Overall Summary

Most of Saturday was spent in preparation, while the maps were easily set up cutting out and stuffing the trade cards into sleeves was a very time consuming process ~4 hours.  One extra player was easily incorporated, giving a final total of 30 players, 6 GMs, one volunteer helping the GMs and a photographer.  The game started on time, finished around 11pm, and managed to get through 10 complete turns (against a maximum target of 12 turns).

A lot of people said they had fun, so I walked away feeling really happy about it.

Distributing game info a week earlier was useful.  Many players had plans, and most of the teams came in team colours (red/blue sashes).  We had name tags too this year.

Combat cards worked pretty well mechanically.  Trade cards did not, there were too few to met the demand, so being able to harvest them became a matter of luck.  Emperor succession worked fairly well.  The politics game worked better than in Colossus of Atlantis, so that was a win for making the political process unbreakable for players.  The outcomes were still unbalanced, two of the five princes ended up not gaining a steady share of the dividends of state, and quickly fell behind.

What broke the game, was the Pirate players deciding to ignore their victory conditions and all cooperate to take the Imperial Capital, combined with the House players choosing to (mostly) ignore the Pirates.  This also revealed that the Prince players were too embedded in the politics game to effectively defend their territories.  So, the emergent play was cool on one level, but also demonstrated that I did not have the balance of incentives right for directing player action.

Player Feedback

I got feedback forms from 25 of the participants.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill them out.

What was the best moment of the game for you?

  • scaring people away from my fleet
  • when a pirate became Emperor
  • taking the Imperial Capital
  • causing a civil war via a tied vote just when Mark thought he’d become Emperor once again
  • the whole game was great. I really liked passing bills that supported my [House?]
  • successful negotiations with pirates for significant gain. I had fun
  • recapturing my sector after having lost to pirates
  • marrying a pirate, establishing a trade outpost and having others think this was a good idea
  • trading and diplomacy
  • Winning against 17 dreadnoughts, 2 Maulers, 1 Logistic Ship and 68 Cruisers with 2 Raiders and the Prince having nowhere to retreat
  • trading, fast and furious
  • Josh the invincible most sublime Padishah ruler of the universe
  • Hyperspacing between systems and wiping out whole fleets
  • combat cards better than dice. overall I had fun. Mutual negotiations with pirates for benefit both parties. Bluffing totally superior forces away from a Capital with false promises
  • Capturing a capital with a single raider that I had gained through a pirate attack
  • being voted Emperor again and again
  • stealing the territory later in the game with 20 cruisers and 6 dreadnoughts
  • plotting as a group
  • manipulating the Senate

Which mechanic did you least enjoy, and why?

  • not enough time to do everything
  • Senate seemed ineffectual
  • Raider units only being built by Pirates, too powerful once they joined forces
  • Senate Bills – loud and dominated by shouting, disorganised (common complaint)
  • Unable to get votes if not on the Apparatus Committee, Apparatus Committee created a power oligarchy among the princes
  • combat was too random
  • Pirates able to collaborate. It caused pirates to be too powerful and make game boring
  • the excessive pirate factions. The unit sanctioning mechanic limiting House
  • Board play – not many options available for Houses
  • the queue mechanic was very intimidating. It prevents teamwork, discussing tactics, trading, diplomacy. I found it isolating.
  • battle and harvest, not designed very fairly
  • raiders were too strong (a common complaint)
  • Queue mechanic
  • no point in the Princes taking back the [Imperial] Capital
  • harvesting – quickly became almost useless
  • only one capital attack a turn – makes retaking the capital difficult, allowing one person to establish a secure position
  • the special units and giving pirates to Dreadnoughts
  • card trading – not really relevant to my faction

Which mechanic did you most enjoy, and why?

  • Combat cards, small forces could win
  • Combat was interesting
  • Combat cards were good, if not so random, very simple, elegant and quick
  • the randomness in battle
  • That because they couldn’t retreat the victor got everything
  • Trading cards, trading, it encourages working with others – allowed alternate ways to get resources
  • trading and diplomacy
  • Harvesting
  • Voting system, secret ballot/blind vote for Emperor, vote forms
  • Senate
  • more refined queueing system
  • no action tokens for map queues, like previous grand strategy games
  • I liked making sets of cards
  • Pirates
  • simple resource generation

What one change could we do to make the game more fun for you?

  • more trade tokens/cards, adjust set requirements (a common point)
  • better recycling of trade tokens
  • more economics
  • allow for more fun when unforseen consequences occur
  • fewer turns, it got tedious at the end
  • make the Senate more ordered, allow each Senator to draft and submit one Bill per turn
  • Combat system that doesn’t allow your entire Fleet to be destroyed by an unknown Fleet while not present in the room
  • enforce time limits at tables – make having multiple, foolishly large, Fleets a disadvantage
  • put all Princes on the Apparatus Committee
  • a little more integration so you understand if your team is doing well
  • being able to interact with team more
  • no more queues
  • Being able to give actions [proxy control] to team mates
  • everyone starting off on a more even footing and less rush
  • a little more power for the Senate, but less for the Emperor
  • penalty for House and Princes if capital is taken
  • limit combat results so 2 cannot destroy 50
  • prevent people jamming at the front door, enforce the 30 second rule
  • minimise the voting system, allow a mechanic for executive control of the politics
  • the GMs didn’t seem very aware of some of the rules/what the policies were

Analysis of Feedback

It’s really striking how the same mechanics appear on both the least liked and most liked lists.  I do agree with the complaints that:

  • there were not enough trade cards
  • that the Senate was disorganised
  • that Pirates were too powerful
  • that combat was a little too destructive/random.

Okay, now for some detailed comment from me on how the mechanics all worked out.

Player Response to Victory Point Objectives

Towards the end of the design process, I decided not to give each player role a long list of unique victory conditions, focusing on common scoring systems (territory, votes, power) and one unique flavour buff for each role.  I failed to anticipate one group of players (the Pirates) ignoring their objectives to concentrate on a goal (the Imperial Capital) which really was not all that valuable to them.  This also made clear that I had got one element of the “Byzantium in Space” strategic environment wrong. Istanbul had the strongest fortifications in the world in its heyday, but the Imperial Capital in Sun and Starship was weakly defended. I note here Emperor Gerald’s decision to divert the bulk of the Imperial Capital defence forces to protecting his personal estates on another map table.

So, a new design maxim for me: “Always expect a player to try to break the game”.

Control

It is important to always be able to determine the game state.  It must always be clear who controls what.  I think I made a mistake by having the big control markers, and at having player control markers be mostly white space and coloured lines.  I should have made the colours bolder and cover more of the counters.  I might have been better to give everyone one-two more flagship markers and no control markers.

I now feel that gifting of ships was too easy, although that was not something mentioned in player feedback.

Easy control was also diminished by the large number of ship tokens on each flagship counter.

Imperial Warlord Status

This did not work as intended, in large part because very little information flowed from the game map to the Senate, or vice versa. So we had Warlords in the Senate room asking for, and getting, imperial resources, and then going back to the map and doing whatever they liked with them (which was intended) without the Princes finding out (which was not intended).

Atomic Power

Despite being worth VP, Atomic Power was not present much in the game, being largely converted into Dreadnoughts.  Part of this may be tied to the fact that many players did not harvest, unless trade cards were available, so less atomic power was generated than intended.  Once the Pirates had the Imperial Capital, that also reduced a flow of 30+ atomic power into the game per turn down to zero.

Build Actions

I now think it was a mistake to allow Pirates to build Raiders while in Imperial space.  I should have made Raider builds possible only while in Deep Space.  While they would still be powerful in combat, attrition would reduce any Raiders in Pirate forces operating in Imperial space over time.

Building special units did not work well.  The Princes did not know what the map looked like, or what the sector names were.  I also noticed that players always built all their special units in one place rather than splitting them between different players.  This had suboptimal consequences as it allowed the Pirates to frequently capture large numbers of special units.  A better solution would have been a bill that enabled a player to build one on the map when and where they chose to do so.

The lack of any limit on build actions allowed a few players to build a lot of units very quickly.  That was probably a mistake.  Grand Strategy games work better with a smaller number of significant units to make choices with, rather than trying to shuffle around 100 counters in two minutes.

Movement

I did not see a lot of map movement, so I don’t know if the four moves a Scout had was actually useful, or if hyper-space movement helped or hindered the game.  A few players complained about other players going over time – another sign that there were too many counters on the table.  Another way of doing the Scouts might be to have them increase their stacks movement by +1.

I think the maps themselves worked pretty well, although I could have had more colour on them to indicate home territory for each of the great Houses.  The Imperial Capital map was too small, making it too hard to retreat.

Movement between tables was better than last year, but still too fuzzy for my liking.  I think I need to prohibit movement between maps except between game turns.

Combat

This was largely working as intended.  A few mistakes were made by GMs (one handed out combat cards as trade cards, another interpreted the one ship captured rule as all ships captured) but it was faster than previous combat systems and easier to do when tired.

I think the retreat rules were more unbalanced than the fact that small forces could beat large forces, as having large fleets captured was more catastrophic than having them destroyed.  That is something that can be fixed.  While the Raiders did well overall, if the flow of special units to Imperial fleets improved, then that would be self-correcting.

Counting ships is always slow … so I was thinking that on a map table the flagships could be used to represent nominal fleet locations, with all the ships being held in a reference box by the side of the table (one box per faction).  It does remove an element of tactical control, as the relative strategic balance between a faction would become more important (although I could add static on-map defence only units).  It would make it clearer who is stronger/weaker.

Senate

Worked better than the Athenian democracy in Colossus of Atlantis, but needs further refinement.  Mechanics dominated by loud voices make some players uncomfortable.  I probably need to go with a strict one player, one vote systems, otherwise as soon as one triumvirate can award themselves an unassailable vote lead, they usually do so.

Perhaps what I could have is roughly ten senate positions, and Bills that distribute five favours at a time.  So to pass a Bill, at least one voter is doing it for a future favour promise.  I like the one Bill per turn per player suggestion as well.

Information flows between the Senate were week, and Princes were largely unable to do Map movement or trade cards.  One idea I have here, is to make the Emperor and elected military leader, so they become responsible for leading the Imperial Fleet that turn, only returning to the Senate for a casting vote on tied votes.

Imperial elections were fun, but there was some ambiguity about where votes were directed when sitting around a long rectangular table.  It might possibly be better just to use a secret paper ballot.

Bills need some tweaking for clarity and bullet proofing against player writing illegibility.  More tick boxes!  Someone also needs responsibility for taking Bills to where they can be executed/resolved.  Perhaps bills could create Sinecures, where a player is given a card with the rules for their new power (e.g. the ability to make a special unit) and they keep the card and its associated power until the Senate assigns it to a different player.

Trade

While players enjoyed trade, feeling hampered by the flow of trade cards, I think this mechanic needs a major overhaul.  Watching people sitting on the ground sorting stacks of cards does not look like fun (although it may well be fun for those doing it).  As a GM, making the cards was time consuming and required a lot of printing.  Ideally, I will come up with a trade mechanic that allows deal making and negotiations, but without requiring a large number of game tokens.

Terminology

I kept tripping up on the distinction between Capital area and [Imperial] Capital Sector.  Maps also needed province/quadrant names.

Queue Mechanic

I am tending towards regarding this as a valiant failure.  It makes players focus too much on the map, and the map state of your own forces, and not on the other players and their forces.  In a way its reducing the amount of strategy in the game over the furious execution of tactical moves.  As such, I am leaning back towards the Holistic Action Token system (i.e. drawing faction names out of a H.A.T. to see who moves next).

Another possibility is to have an “exhaustion” combat result for attackers, indicating that a Flagship cannot move again in that game turn (unless perhaps a logistics ship is removed to resupply the force).  This could create interesting possibilities for counter-attacks by fresh forces.