Trollvelopment Diary #6
CRUNCH TIME WITH EXTRA CRUNCH
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of development, design, and playtesting for Trolltem Poles in preparation for Protospiel. Everything else has taken a back seat, and I'm trying to get as much done as I can before I need to send things to print. I figure the last thing I will do right up to the convention is web development for trolls since it doesn't need any turn around time, so with that being said, let's look at what I am doing for Trolltem Poles.
Thank the Ancestors for playtesting
After a couple of playtest sessions, I found some things that really needed my attention. The game ran a little long, and there was a little too much take-that, which pushed the length further than I wanted it to go. Though the players didn't have a problem with this, I know just from what I gather from the hobby, is that play time is too long for this type of game. I went back to the drawing board and made some tweaks that cut the game length in half, and I know with a couple more tweaks I can shave a little more time off.
3 isn't as much of a crowd as you'd think
There is this scaling issue when you dip the game down to 3 players with the reputations. For every player you add, the game length for reputation moves on a exponential curve. This doesn't affect stacking in the 4 player plus category, but for 3 players, the reputation gets maximized before you really get to stack any ancestors. To fix this, Jacob suggested to add a free stack at the end of the round, which is totally doable, I just wonder if this negates the free action from the ancestors. Reduces the benefit of the +1 actions a little bit if you know you're going to get that free stack at the end of the round. I suppose if you have to choose between the stacking or hoarding that might give the player a decision to make if they don't have anything to stack, but I feel like there is no real decision there. Anyway, this will need to be looked at a little bit because the reputation track in 3 players is really fast, dropped the game length to 25 minutes or so.
Hero abilities streamlined
One of the goals originally when I was making the game was to make each hero play in a unique way. The problem with this I found is that some hero's abilities were too meta for this type of game. For this weight of a game, players need something easier to grasp and immediate. I went back, and I made all the hero abilities easier to grasp and more useful. I also changed the abilities to be more similar to each other. Though there is still some variety, the heroes all have board altering abilities that behave the same so players feel like their abilities are comparable to their opponent's.
I put a curse on you ... and a blessing
Originally, the game didn't have blessings and curses, but I felt there needed to be a little something extra. The abilities gave the Ancestors a little flair when they were empowered. The blessings and curses worked extremely well. They worked so well that I knew I could use them to speed up the game. Nearly every Ancestor now has an ability that will help with rep, ability progression, and gaining an extra stacking or Ancestor purchase. This is what cut the game time in half. If the goal is to finish the Trolltem Poles, then making it so it happens quicker quickens the game. After the last playtest session, I see a couple more opportunities to give Ancestors additional abilities to pick up some minor downtime I saw.
Ancestor power boost
The benefit from some of the Ancestor blessings/curses like the ability bar boost are so small, that is makes more sense to grab ancestors with any other blessings/curses. I'm boosting the ability point blessings/curses and adjusting the notoriety points accordingly. This will make these Ancestors more appealing to pick up from the Ancestral Grounds.
Ceskae, the self-stacker
Another minor speed-up-the-game tweak I found was changing the rules so Ceskae (the base Ancestor) automatically starts a stack, meaning she doesn't need to use a stack action to begin stacking on her. However, she still won't get additional notoriety points if no other Ancestor is stacked on her. This just cut the game time down at least 3 rounds per player by eliminating this step. Yay for speed. Since she is self-stacking and players a limited to where they can put her, this allows me to cut her cards in half. That will ultimately save me on some costs down the road. No need for extra cards that aren't necessary.
You can't hoard your Ancestors you troll!
There was a strategy I saw where players were only purchasing Ancestors and not stacking them. They were stockpiling them until the end of the game because it seemed as though it was better to ignore the bonus from stacking since it was minimal. The problem with this is you need to stack to end the game. If there is no incentive to stack, the game doesn't end! When the game did end, the hoarders still lost because the math works towards stacking. Maybe this didn't seem clear because of the incremental point values, but now players can only have 3 unstacked Ancestors at any given time. This brings the focus back to stacking.
To correct this perception that the stacking bonus isn't that great, I increased the bonus by an additional point to make it more obvious that players need to stack. It seemed to work well, players were stacking as intended, and maybe this is due in part to all the changes like the bonus actions and lack of hoarding, but stacking was working. People actually completed some Trolltem Poles.
Originally, if a clan wasn't present, if players wanted to work on reputation with them, an opponent would play them as a ghost player. This worked fine and wasn't too distracting, but this made it a slog to maximize reputation with every clan, which is another end-game trigger. Therefore, if a clan isn't present, there is no way to work on rep with them. The only available reputation is with the actual human players. That speeds up the rep requirement for the game and definitely speeds up game with lower player counts. Since the ghosts didn't ADD anything to the game, it's time to say goodbye.
The notoriety cards were one of the first things I made for Trolltem Poles, and since they were window dressing, I never went back and fixed them until now. The cards still called Ancestors idols, and the cards were not worded well for the other changes I made. I went through the notoriety cards, updated them, and gave them icons to denote what players should look for in their strategies to get the cards. This worked well, especially the icons. If a particular clan is not playing, then the notoriety cards featuring their icon is removed from the deck.
Toppers topping out the final polishes before Protospiel
My last big push before Protospiel is finishing the hero and hated toppers for the game. This will complete all the troll heads I need to have done before I implement any possible stretch goals for the game. As of writing this I actually finished most of them. I have 8 down with 4 to go. I should be done with them all this week for sure then the game is off to print. There is still a good chunk of work to be done (heroes, offerings, and Kickstarter page), but I know I'll be done before the end of the year for sure, and the game will be released in 2020 at some point.
Final thoughts on Trolltem Poles before Protospiel
Despite being biased, I think Trolltem Poles is fun. What was supposed to be a light party-esque game is now a little more middle weight, but all in all I'm happy where it landed with difficulty. When I originally started making Trolltem Poles, I wanted to make a game that would be easy to play and didn't require a ton of art from me. The game is easy to play, but by the Ancestors, this game has more art than it should. By the time I'm done with it, I'll have over 50-something pieces of art not counting the sundry of assets I made. Originally, the offerings were just going to be the symbols, which would have cut 21 pieces of art, but just because a lot of big publishers can get away with something like that, I didn't feel I was able to since this was my first game - I wanted to put my best foot forward.
Now that I've finished a good chunk of the game, and even printed some sample copies with boxes, I feel when all is said and done, Trolltem Poles will be something I can be proud of. It's bright, pops on the table, and personally thing it has a clever name and theme. Needless to say this convention has me a little rattled. I'm obsessive about making these games perfect for people, and it's nerve-wracking to put my game out there to be butchered. My hope is that others will see the time, effort, and love that has gone into the game so far, enjoy it, and hopefully find the game is sound and doesn't need to be ripped to shreds.