The First Exposures Playtest Hall at GenCon gave me a lot of great feedback from the high-quality players who showed up to try the game out. The core of the game still seems to be pretty solid, but I found a lot of different items that still needed some tweaking.
The week after GenCon found me in Denver for a business trip and I used my evenings solo-testing tweaks and changes in response to the things that were found during the FEPH playtests. I group my changes into a couple categories: physical materials changes, order-of-events changes, and phase details changes. (more)
Physical Material Changes
This game has a lot going on, a lot of material is used, and it takes up a good deal of real estate on the table. Trying to organize it all has been its own little challenge. The most recent prototypes I’ve been using have used a “big board with everything” approach. For a while, I was using a hand-made quad-fold board, as see in the picture to the right … this is what I was using during the Con of the North this past February. then I switched to a TGC-produced quad-fold board that most of my recent photos of the game have shown.
Some changes to how the various things are happening on that board were going to require some graphics updates … and I was starting to no longer like the fact that players were locked-in to the sides of the board to show their current production cards.
So, I’m switching to more modular boards. The new “Map Board,” shown at the top of this post, contains the kingdom map and the “Judges’ Track,” which serves as the scoring timer. I’ve added some additional notes to that track that are due to some of the “phase details” given below. There will also be a “Credit Track” board, which is the VP tracker, and a “Central Stockpile” board, which will help to organize the card decks, cubes and rings. Finally, each player will have his own “Player Production” board that will be used to hold production cards and also contains a handy phase reference on it to help players remember the timing of different things in the game. All are pictured here:
There is also a new deck of cards — a “Special Powers” deck of 11 cards. And I am (finally) going to redo the graphics on the main deck, as well as touch-up the changes to the Action cards. So, we’re looking at all new cards for my next prototype to use for testing.
Finally, I’ve honed down the materials each player has to work with — 2 Flag Pawns, 10 Militia, 5 Agents, 5 Forts, 5 Network markers, and 5 Favor Rings (replacing chips).
I’ve changed-up the order of the action phases, even though I’m still having the same 7 phases. They are now: 1. Militia – Conscript/March, 2. Agents – Recruit/Assign, 3. People – Build Production/Favor, 4. Agents – Network/Disruption, 5. Militia – Fortify/Attack, 6. Gather Resources, and 7. Influence.
A bigger change is that instead of having an artificially limited number of each action you can take (such as “only allowed 3 Constript/March actions”), and taking them all at once, each player gets to take a single action at a time and action-taking is passed around the table from player-to-player until all players no longer want to take any more of the actions in that phase. There are a number of natural reasons that players will need to stop taking actions — running out of cubes, or pieces on the board, wanting to save things for a later phase, etc.
This is a big-deal sort of change, though, and will require plenty of testing to see if it’s possible to unduly exploit this. The trick is in keeping what can be done with a single action — especially Disruption and Attacks — to be worthwhile-but-limited. Things flow much more quickly this way … no one is kept waiting overly long for their next turn. Also, need-to-do-it-first and retaliation tensions can build within a phase instead of just between phases.
Phase Details Changes
(Please note: I plan to have a first draft of a full public-ready rules doc available for download within the next week … I’ll link here when they are ready.)
A couple of higher-level changes are put in place that impact the more detailed things in the phases and with scoring:
- No Networks or Forts in any home Provinces … including your own. And Militia and Agents can no longer go into any other player’s home Province. No Disruption in a home Province either.
- Home Provinces are never counted as part of any Militia or Agent scoring. Since there can no longer be any Forts, Networks, Disruption or Attacks in a home Province, there is no reward for having Militia in them either.
- Details and costs of how Disruption and Attacks are quite different now … I think this system works best of the 4 or 5 that I’ve tried so far … we’ll see.
There are a number of significant changes to some of the action phases. I’ll go phase-by-phase to show what’s different from the thing played by the playtesters at GenCon.
- Militia – Conscript/March … Only the name changed on this phase. I changed “Recruit” to be “Conscript” to avoid confusion with the first Agents phase. Otherwise, it has worked this same way for quite a while — 1 cube to add 2 Militia to your home, or 1 cube to move any number of Militia between neighboring provinces.
- Agents – Recruit/Assign … A number of subtle changes here. Recruit is still 1 cube to add 1 Agent to your home, but movement for “Assign” is no longer “move the Agent anywhere”. Instead, they can only move to a neighboring Province, but they are allowed to pass-through any Province that already has a friendly Network in it. So, as the game goes on, Agents will become more mobile as Networks are built on the map. Still costs 1 cube to move 1 Agent though.
- People – Build Production/Favor … Players get a free add-a-card-to-production at the start of this phase, just like they get a free Conscript and Recruit during the first 2 phases. But the bigger change is in how Favor is paid for. This has also been a thing that has changed a number of times. Since no one is allowed to perform Disruption in your home Province now, you cannot lose Favor once you’ve paid for it (except via one of the new “Special Powers” cards). So, I wanted the cost to increase as the game goes on … and I wanted some inter-play between the players, so that paying for Favor earlier will make it more expensive for everyone else to add it later. Here’s how it goes with this iteration of rules: Cost = 1 Purple Cube + 1 cube for every 2 Favor Rings already on the board (sum of all players) + possible additional cost depending on location of the Purple Judge Pawn. If you look in the lower-right of the Map Board, you’ll notice the last 3 spaces on the Judges’ Track having a “Favor Cost +” comment on them. As the Purple Judge Pawn gets closer to the “SCORE” space, it becomes more expensive to add Favor. Not sure if that last bit will stay in the game — I want to see how it plays.
- Agents – Network/Disruption … It’s still 1 cube + remove 1 Agent to put a network chip in a Province, but Disruption has changed (again). Agents are no longer removed during Disruption — so they can continue to cause problems until they are dealt with. Cost is 1 cube per Agent used in a Province. Agents are each able to remove 1 opponent piece from the Province, and if the player taking the action has a Network in the Province, then 1 additional piece may be removed. The removal of pieces must be in this order: Agents > Networks > Militia > Fort. In other words, you may not remove any Networks, Militia or a Fort from a Province while there are still other players’ Agents there.
- Militia – Fortify/Attack … It’s still 1 cube + remove 1 Militia to put a Fort in a Province, but Attacks have also changed to fit in with this new way of taking actions. You may either attack one of your own Provinces (to remove opposing Agents/Networks) or a neighboring Province that contains an opponent’s Militia and/or Fort. To attack your own Province, pay 1 cube and remove 1 Militia from that Province … then remove up to 2 opposing Agents/Networks. Networks may not be removed unless there are no opposing Agents in the Province. To attack a neighboring Province without a Fort, pay 1 cube and remove 1 Militia and then remove 2 units from that target Province, or remove 2 of your Militia to remove 4 units from the target Province. A Fort may not be removed unless there are no more Militia in that Province. If the Province has a Fort, then Attacks are much more costly: 2 cubes + remove 1 Militia to remove 1 unit from the target. Or remove 2 of your Militia to remove 3 units from the target. This method works *very* well with the new go-around-the-table-taking-actions-until-all-are-done. It allows for some back-and-forth slugfests.
- Gather Resources … Production results (gaining cubes) and maintenance payments (the cost of building Forts, Networks and Favor) are done here now as the first part of gathering resources. Then there is a public card draft instead of private card draws … everyone gets 3 new cards and cannot buy more. The way it works is that 3 cards per player plus 1 extra card (so, 7 for 2p, 10 for 3p, 13 for 4p) are set face-up and players go one-at-a-time around the table selecting a card and adding it to their hands until all-but-one of the cards have been selected. The single left-over card is put in the discard pile. I am hopoing this will add some ability of players to directly shape their ability to influence the Judges and/or improve their Production.
- Influence … Finally, influence is changed a little bit. There will always be 7 cards played to influence the movement of the Judge Pawns along the Judges’ Track. The players get the first option to play cards for influence, playing 1 card at-a-time around the table until either 7 total cards have been played or all players have passed. If all players pass and there are fewer than 7 cards played, then cards are flipped from the top of the main deck to make up the difference. When played by a player, each type of card can influence the movement of the Judges differently: 4’s move the Judge forward 1 space, 3’s move the Judge forward 2 spaces, and 2’s give the player the option to move the Judge either backward or forward 1 space. Players get cubes equal to the number on the card during the first time around the table, and each lap around the table reduces the number of cubes received by one. This gives players a strategic choice in the 2nd/3rd lap around the table: Is it important enough to influence a Judge that it will be worth playing the card even though you won’t get any/many cubes for it?
Scoring remains pretty set as it has been for a while: Each area scores 3 points each for the major factor (Favor for People, Forts for Militia, Networks for Agents) and 1 point each for the minor factor (Production cards for People, Provinces occupied for Militia, Agent pawns on the board for Agents) … and “bolster” points are added-in. One minor tweak there: the bolster value on the face-up production cards are also added-in to your score in that area.
I wanted to see more VPs (now called “Credits”) gained in different ways, so I added-in the following: +1 Credit when you move a Judge Pawn onto the “SCORE” space, and +1 Credit for every 5 points scored in an area being scored. And now it is +2 Credits for every player you have a better score than (no matter the number of players in the game). Leadership rings are worth 10 Credits each at the end-of-game scoring, and total Credits is used to determine the winner. I’m still monkeying with game end conditions: currently it is 1 player has 3 Leadership Rings (5 Rings for 2p) or more than 30 Credits … might need to change the Credits needed to end based on number of players … may not use number of rings as a game end condition and just rely on the number of Credits.
Phwew … (‘oly word count, batman!!) … 😉
I would caution about one change you propose:
‘A bigger change is that instead of having an artificially limited number of each action you can take (such as “only allowed 3 Constript/March actions”), and taking them all at once, each player gets to take a single action at a time and action-taking is passed around the table from player-to-player until all players no longer want to take any more of the actions in that phase.’
In “East India Company” (my current work-in-progress), I used to have the turn execute the way you propose. There are eight possible actions, and each player would choose one action to do, around and around the table, until everybody passed. The problem was the pace of the game. I found myself asking each player, “Okay, what do you want to do?” and the next, “What do you want to do?” and so on. And each time, each player would essentially re-evaluate the situation against the eight options and decide what to do next. Each turn took forever.
But once I reconstructed the turn order into a set of phases in which each player took the same kind of action all at once, the game pace improved dramatically. Playtest game length went from 4.5 hours to about 2.0 hours (2.25 with five players). It seemed to help that the new turn sequence provided structure to the decision space that the players faced on each turn. (http://paulowengames.blogspot.com/2012/08/east-india-company-turn-sequence-re.html)
Of course, this could be an apples-and-oranges comparison. “Magistrate” might not suffer from the same game pace issues that “EIC” did before I restructured the turn sequence. But I just thoguht you might benefit from the lesson I learned in my own playtesting.
Thanks for that comment, Paul … I am interested in seeing how it works. I appreciate you sharing your experience. (And EIC sounds really cool.)
I think one difference is that there isn’t much choice of actions in each phase in Magistrate. There is an Action Deck of rotating cards that is used to control what phase is going on and, therefore, which actions can be taken in that phase. At most, the players have 2 options. For example, “add pieces” or “move pieces” with each action.
What the playtests showed at GenCon was that players rarely maxed-out on the number of actions available to them in a phase. And I personally dislike setting arbitrary limits on things in my games, but will do so in order to stop someone from being too powerful in a single turn. I’d rather have something “natural” (like running out of the ability to pay for things) stop someone from doing too much stuff.
So, I’ll be keeping an eye on if this way will actually work or not. Definitely not sealed-in-stone yet. 😉
I completely agree with you, Matt, about avoiding arbitrary limits on actions. In my game, money is generally the limiting factor, as most actions cost money, and that seems to work well. The other limiting factor is ship speed, naturally; they can only go so far in one turn.
If you have basically two actions available in any given round, then your players might not run into the same “what do I do now” factor that slowed my early versions down. I’ll be interested to learn how the adjustment works out.