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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