Break on Through

August 23, 2016

RL Now that I've had sufficient time to recover from Gen Con and shoot some videos of me killing skeletons, I have finally returned my gaze to the latest project, lovingly titled "Nameless Factory Game, except not actually about building factories." Last time on our intrepid adventure, I had just gotten back from a failed play test session in which my carefully thought-out plans to stop players from being complete dicks to each other had totally failed. The main fix had been to move from a square grid to a hex grid so that each space had more connections to other spaces (six as opposed to four), but that turned out to not be enough, so I ended up going back to a square grid, but counting diagonals as adjacent, which give us eight total connections instead of six. In addition, I took a page from Blokus and added a rule that none of a player's buildings could be adjacent to each other. At first, this might seem like overkill since the added diagonal connects do an incredible amount to open up the board, but what the Blokus rule does is force players to build roads between their buildings instead of just next to their buildings. This turns walls into paths, which is vital. With the board opened up, something still needed to be done about the lack of communal building in the game. Not only did the first play test fall flat because people were blocking each other off intentionally, it also didn't work because the board got congested with redundant buildings, leaving no room for the end-game buildings. Of course, one solution is just to make the board bigger, which I did, but there is still a fundamental problem when someone builds a library, and then another player, instead of using that library, just builds another library of his own right next to it. That's certainly not communal building. So first I limited the building placements. There are three sections of the map, and only one of each type of building can be placed in each section. This increases the necessity of being the first to build a specific building type, but I also implemented a point system that sort of gives a consolation prize to those who lose the race, which also serves as incentive to use a building even if you aren't the one who built it. Remember that the central concept of communal building is that each player only has access to limited resources. Maybe I have "metal," and you have "knowledge," and if we want to build "machinery," we've got to work together; either I use your knowledge or you use my metal. The trick is that there's sort of a "trickle down" point system at work, so that whoever ends up building the machinery, they'll get three points any time it is used, but they will also have to pay one point to the other player for the use of their basic resource. So really they're only getting two points, and the other player is getting one. There's still an advantage for being the one who builds the machinery, but it's not a complete loss for the other player. So with those changes in hand, I ran some more play tests and the whole thing turned out surprisingly well. Of course, there are still lots of problems, but they are manageable. After that first play test, I was concerned that the new direction I had headed in wasn't going to lead anywhere and I was going to have to go back to the old model without any other ideas on how to fix it. But I persevered and I can see the path through now. Once again, I have confidence that the game could be pretty great with enough work put into it. It's a little disheartening to hear my friend say he enjoyed the old version of the game better, but I can understand his sentiment. In a way, I did too. It was a really interesting single-player puzzle, but it had no player interaction. Injecting the player interaction took out some of the puzzle-y nature of it, unfortunately, because it was too easy for other players to come in and make the puzzle unsolvable. I'm sad to see that version go, but I'm excited to see where the game goes next. Next I'm going to work on simplifying some elements of the game play, work on getting players to focus on the right things, and do some tuning to the pacing of the game, so that it still doesn't take too long to play, but feels like a complete game when it's over. Then I might think about some variable player powers. Who knows?

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