I was finally able to test the new design for the game I’m working on last night, and…it did not go very well. Before I talk about that, though, I should probably take some time to better explain what this game is all about. Sometimes when I write these posts, I feel as if I am coming across as unnecessarily vague. Of course, it’s hard to describe a game when so many things are still in flux, but I figure I should be able to describe the basic framework in more detail.
Okay, here goes: the core idea of the game is spatially arranging a resource chain, similar to what you might find in video games like Big Pharma or Factory Idle. You have a tile on the board which produces a basic resource, then you spatially connect that to other tiles (via roads or paths) which can use that basic resource to create more advanced resources. Then eventually there is some method for turning in advanced resources for points.
The challenge of the game comes from using these differently sized tiles effectively in the given board space to create an efficient supply chain. Of course, there is also the challenge of interacting with the other players on a communal map.
And that second part, in a nutshell, is my whole problem with the current design. I don’t want players building their supply networks off in their own little corner. I want them to build their networks among one another, getting in each other’s way, but also helping each other out when it benefits themselves to do so.
Now, I talked about this in my last post a bit, but a problem emerges when players build among one another when it becomes too easy to completely block another player off from doing what they are trying to do. “Oh, you want build a government office right there? Well, I’m going to build a trading stall first, and now your office no longer fits. Ha.”
Nobody wants their carefully thought-out plans ruined. That’s just not fun.
In the first iteration of the game, I was working with a square grid, and there were major restrictions on how resources flowed from one place to another. The producing build had to be connected to the accepting building with 1-4 roads. Even if the producer was directly touching the acceptor, a road still needed to be built. I feel like this really worked for a single-player puzzle, but it was very easy for other people to come in and block up your whole network.
I knew this needed to change, so I switched over to a hex grid and loosened the restrictions on roads. Buildings could be connected through any number of roads, from zero to all the way across the map. And with the hex grid, each space now had 6 connections instead of 4, giving the player more options on how they could branch out.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. On my first play test, people immediately started being dicks to each other again, and one player was able to effectively stop another from doing pretty much anything the entire game. It was a mess.
I want players to build next to each other, but I don’t want them to suffocate each other. It is a very fine line to walk. Again, I point to Terra Mystica and Blokus as examples of games that pull off this interaction well. And in both cases, there are clear, simple rules that restrict where a player can place pieces. In Terra Mystica, you can only build on a certain terrain type that is different from all other players. If you want to build on their terrain type, you have to pay a lot of resources. In Blokus, you are strictly forbidden from having any of your pieces touch orthogonally. Clearly, my game needs to incorporate some more restrictive placement rules as well that will prevent players from building impassible walls.
I was really optimistic going into the play test, but it was a complete disaster. Oh well! Back to the drawing board!