Development Diary #17

Avril Lavigne 's Guide to Mechanisms

October has been a slow month for development for sure, but I did manage to get some last minute playtesting in before the month has come to a close. The primary goal for this session was to determine if the new "Synergy System" for buildings would work out. It didn't, and I could hear Avril Lavigne in the back of my head asking why do you have to go and make things so complicated?

What was the Synergy System?

The buildings in the game have always been a sticking point for me, and I have always been fiddling with them to make sure this unique aspect of the game works well. One idea I had was a Synergy System that would allow the buildings to grow in strength if they were placed in a synergistic way on the battlefield. Basically, you match icons of your buildings in your placement on the board and they become more powerful. Sounds easy enough, but it didn't work as planned.

A No-match Tinder Experience

The icons I made for matching did not have enough pairs to match with, and the system wasn't able to be fully utilized. If a player isn't able to create synergy, what is the point of a synergy system? Ultimately, this brought up the point that if the game continues as normal without synergy, then the mechanism isn't adding anything new or exciting to the game.

Relationship Status: It's Complicated

Aside from the lackluster synergy, some other changes were added to the buildings:

1) Upgrade cost was reduced.

2) Domain Threshold was removed.

3) Buildings now have a tech tree, which makes a building required, replaced, or combined to be put into play.

The changes in number 3 paired with the synergy changes, made buildings too complicated to use in an already heavily strategic game.

Upgrade Complete!

Reducing the upgrade cost of the buildings was the right thing to do. It made it so buildings are an easy choice for upgrading and exploring what those cards have to offer. Since they are a key part of the game, I want to make it easy for players to play with those cards. It also makes it obvious for players that if they have extra resources lying around or they don't need to upgrade a building, they should probably start looking into cashing those resources in for Prosperity Tokens.

How Many What Now?

Domain Threshold has stayed around for a long time, and it served its purpose as a mechanic that refined the game play curve. Domain Threshold made it so high-end buildings weren't played early in the game and threw off the flow of the game.

It worked for the most part, with the only downfall being players weren't really keeping track of their domain count when choosing a building to play. Choosing a building required enough thinking in and of itself, and forcing a player to cross-check the number of domains in play is silly. When there is a lot going on in the game, if there is any way to make things easier you should.

There was also another minor complication that domain count dropped when you lost one or merged principalities into realms. Therefore, realms needed to count as 2 domains towards threshold. This rule is not explicit, so it needs to go. Sometimes non-explicit rules are okay, but I'd rather it not be in the game at all. Those are the kinds of rules that people miss when reading the rule book.

Cutting Down the Tech Tree

The tech trees replaced the domain threshold by putting an upgrade gate for those higher-tier buildings. For this set, replacing or requiring a building is fine, but having a player combine a building to have multiple effects is confusing. The cards work; however, this is something that can be pushed to a future set. Also, the building that does this is getting replaced with a new game mechanic (ugh yes a new one).

The Not-so-Midas-touch

Poor Gold. I was so excited to get gold to work. It was fiddly, but with some tweaking, it made Gold manageable. Unfortunately, it's just another thing to keep track of, and the act of constantly cashing it in for big moves feels clumsy. I'd rather polish the current resource system than add an additional resource to try and fix it. So I have decided to remove it for the next playtest session and try a modified domain system.

Domains will more or less work the same, but instead of the 180° turn of the domains being Gold conversion, a player can convert tribute/magic to refined (temporary name) versions of tribute/magic. Refined versions of tribute/magic will now be worth 2 normal tribute/magic.

This change is subtle to say the least. Tokens can be flipped to a refined side, so another token isn't needed, and the resource isn't converted from an unusable form of currency to a usable one. Gold cannot be used for anything other than conversion into tribute/magic/resource. Tribute/magic can be used in its normal form and its refined form. I'm hoping this will keep players from sitting on a pile of tribute/magic because they can actually use it in a pinch when they feel pressure from opponents.

Gold made the game feel swingy in a not awful, but noticeable way. I stock up on gold, convert, and make a big move. Then my opponent does the same. I don't know if that's fun. Maybe? It is fun doing big things, but if players felt the need to do those big things to move the game forward, that's a larger problem that concerned me.

Moving Forward

I'm most interested in seeing how these domain changes play out. I have reformatted these things way more than I like to admit, but I am really at the refinement phase at the moment. Resource systems are tricky with 1 resource let alone 3. I'll get this down, and report back. Time to channel Avril and make things less complicated.

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