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Early playtesting results

October 1, 2009

Rounded in a couple of playtests by interested folk. Two issues have shown up.

One, Arenas are not as fun as they should be. Provided the players actually understand the rules at all (which is a 50/50 shot with the rules as written!), the Arenas take very long to build up and change around, and when they’re finally of solid length, they’re so specific so as to become unusable. To a large extent, these things were a conscious design choice – the stronger an Arena is, the more subtle issues of its application become. However, there’s one ugly tactic – sabotaging an Arena with a single Segment that makes little to no sense.

I’ll wait for a couple more playtests before I make a final decision, but chances are I’m going to scrap the Arena rules for something more straightforward and more integrated into the upcoming World rules. Maybe you’ll have the ability to create new Threats, Resources or Limitations through conscious application of your traits, or even random chance? Maybe you, an orcish emperor, attack an enemy with your vast armies – there’s a chance those armies declare themselves independent and become a self-sufficient Threat, which you can use, abuse, and face the music later, or counter early on. Or maybe you’re a clan of dwarves that digs to the center of the earth and harnesses the awesome power of magma, thereby opening up a new Resource? Or maybe you are some sort of chutllian summoning cult that fills the seas with horrible monsters, making sailing nigh impossible, thereby creating a new Limitation?

Obviously, Threats, Resources and Limitations are not going to cut it alone – I want something extra to simulate such international political thingies as the 19th century European Concert – but I feel like I’ve uncovered a rich vein of thought. So it needs to be dug out and cleared of impurities – that’s what a game designer’s for, right?

Two, the game gets more dull as time goes on. This is because your traits column gradually fills up as you’re playing, and changing the value of a pre-existing trait is much less exciting than creating a new one. There are also long recharging periods when everyone at the table is strapped for good traits. The negative feedback loop that allows you to gain more usable traits the greater losses you face either does not work as well as planned, or is too counter-intuitive, with people attempting to scale down their efforts and go for small victories instead of great defeats.

I was worried this would happen, but wanted to see how it plays out just in case it doesn’t. There are a number of things I could do here: make changing trait quality levels more interesting somehow, lower the overall difficulty of Challenges to allow more positive returns per traits invested, and make the use of the “lose more-get more” principle more apparent in the text. I’ll toy around with all of these and see how they fit, but there’s something much more awesome that I think I can do here.

When creating Change, there was always one little thought at the back of my head: how to create the game in such a way that would allow a different game, where you play people and not groups, to take what’s been built and slot it in so to speak – exploring the cultures and relationships between different traits in more detail, making them feel more “lived in”. As of yet, I don’t know of any existing game that would do that, so I’m going to build it in right into the current one! This won’t be full-fledged roleplaying with persistent characters, but rather a tool to create short stories of the “A day in the life of…” type, or ones that would explore crises that a group faces.

I don’t know the full details of how it would work out, but I’m currently thinking that there would be some sort of pool of tokens that players would have and which would allow them Challenge rerolls or bonuses to rolls or bonuses to traits, or something. You’d get more tokens if, when an individual mini-story is initiated, you succesfully bring into play a trait of that group, a trait of an opposing group, a resource or a threat the group recently faced, and other such stuff, and later on, you’d get to use those tokens to boost your groups.  So the game cycle would be something like this: inter group challenges -> lull in group activity -> small stories -> groups refreshed -> inter group challenges. There are issues of putting in either too much (detracts from the culture-building aspect of the game) or too little (affects so little that it is insignificant) into this mechanic, but the idea definitelly has enough promise for me to try and tackle these issues.

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