Trollvelopment Diary #4
PLAYTESTING SESSION: THREE'S A CROWD
I was able to squeeze in a 3-player playtest session for Trolltem Poles to see how all the changes I made from the first playtest session played out. There wasn't a huge difference in how the game scaled from 2 to 3, but there were definitely things that need to be changed to the game moving forward. I'll discuss the big things pointed out to me by playtesters and then comment on the other things that I noticed when I put on my designer hat.
PASSING PLAYER PRIORITY
Originally, the Trolltem Cards were mixed in with the offering cards and there was no stacking mechanic because the Trolltem Cards were idols and not totem pole-esque. Thus, you could horde a Trolltem Card and then empower around the hoarded card. Since the game played this way, there was no need to rotate who went first because there was no advantage to going first. Since I moved all the Trolltem Cards out of the offering deck, and placed them in a common pool for players to choose from, there needs to be a rotation of the first player after each round. This will keep the last player from getting last choice of their preferred Trolltem Card every round.
I NEED MORE POWER!
One critique I received was that some hero abilities were more powerful than others. As I looked at the abilities, it wasn't so much that some were more powerful, it was that some were more advanced and subtle with their uses than others. Some have a diminished broad effect on the game, while others are more concentrated narrow effect. I think it is difficult for players to see this. Therefore, I want to unify the powers a little bit. Not to the extent that every player is the same, but that there is more sameness so all players are getting some similar highs. This also means retooling the abilities to have a greater effect on the game state with the changes I have made over the course of development.
WHEN WILL IT END?
I originally had no idea how the game should end when I made Trolltem Poles, but then I settled on the first player to maximize their reputation with all other troll clans ends the game. In a 2-player game this didn't take long. However, with the changes to empowering Trolltem Cards and adding more players, you are looking at around 15 rounds without any offering card reputation adjustments. Those 15 rounds are only successful trades/displays of strength. That's not counting any rounds where player actions are unsuccessful. That's a lot of rounds, which means a lot of time. The game length didn't bother the players, but this could also be that their expectations of how long a game of this type should take is more forgiving because of the level of interaction. Nevertheless, the length bothered me and it was extended by two key factors: the high-effort endgame trigger and the take-that with the offering cards.
Big Effort Big Punishment
Each turn, a player is able to do either a display of strength or a trade, and those actions will move their reputation up or down with another troll clan of their choosing. If they are unsuccessful, their reputation does not move. Ideally, these actions are successful and pull people down the victory tracks to trigger the end game. This doesn't always work out, but that's part of the fun. Where the fun starts to stumble is sometimes it is just too difficult to move your rep the way you want it. This occurs mainly to bad trades or bad displays of strength, but it can also occur when players empower Trolltem Cards.
If a player empowers a Trolltem Card and it moves an opponent's rival ability more then their ally ability, then their reputation goes down with the empowering clan. It goes up if ally moves up more than rival. This created a problem since so many Trolltems are being empowered, it was messing with one player that they remained at 0 reputation for a long time. This can be avoided by working with another clan on rep, but if the goal is to max all reps, if one clan is being obnoxious, this complicates the end goal. To fix this, now reputation only moves if a clan maximizes the ally or rival ability instead of just moving the ability bar. That will reduce some of the record keeping and make it easier to ensure reputation is being moved accordingly.
SKY-HIGH TROLLTEM POLES
I noticed was that there was no real reason to make multiple trolltem poles. If you planned the wild alignment bands properly, you could stack an infinite amount of ancestors and wouldn't have to start a new trolltem pole. I want players to actually use the bases, so I decided to add a varying cap on the number of ancestors you can stack on the pole. This is notated on Ceskae's card. The cap is generous, but my hope is that people will investigate building better poles instead of filling the gap with wild ancestors.
MIGHT OF THE ANCESTORS
Ancestors should do more than just stack. I want the decision to choose an ancestor for your trolltem pole to go beyond matching a color. Therefore, I'm adding a system that will allow the ancestors to influence the game state a little bit more. Ancestors in upcoming game sessions will be able to do one of three categories of things:
1) Blessings- Ancestors that grant blessings will affect all players in a positive way when empowered. This means more positive reputation, more positive ability bar progress, or less rival ability bar progress.
2) Curses- Ancestors that grant curses will affect all players in a negative way when empowered. This means more negative reputation, less positive ability bar progress, or more rival ability bar progress.
3) Ancestral intervention- Ancestors that intervene in the affairs of mortal trolls will affect the game state in a chaotic neutral way. This includes players discarding their hands for new cards, making rounds of trades only, and making rounds of displays of strength only.
Maybe there will be more things that happen in future expansions or something, but the blessings drive the game forward with more abilities (which get retooled for speed), the curses can slow ability bar progress, but they still drive negative reputation forward, and the ancestral intervention will spice things up a little bit.
COST OF DOING BUSINESS
Another thing I noticed is that there is no real ramping up of what you can do in the game. There is nothing wrong with this per se, but I would like there to be some differences in what you are empowering every turn. The way around this is I need to adjust the offering costs of some of the ancestors to bump them up to a 4 cost or maybe even a 5 cost. If I make it so you have to have a minimum of 3 cards in your hand before you pass, that means to buy a 4 or a 5-cost ancestor, you need to offer some cards that were hoarded from previous rounds.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
If there is one thing I'm a little hesitant on, it's that adding any more layers to the game makes it more complicated, and there is always a cost to adding complication. Now my goal is to make the game more interesting, but I don't want to make it so interesting it makes the weight heavier than I intended. I think the constant interaction, building reputation, and empowering ancestors is enough to keep players entertained. I'm in the process of implementing all these changes now, and I'll see how they do in a playtest. I'm looking forward to sharing my progress with you.