When I left off in Part 2, I was getting ready for Unpub 4, which was held in Delaware in January of 2014. I previously had a 2 part blog on that - Part 1 & Part 2. The long and short of it was that I got 4 playtests in that weekend, and learned some valuable lessons from my playtesters. There were some unneeded complications in the game - primarily the players didn't like the "coal cards", in which they could cast spells - or rather, they didn't like the "mean" cards - which you could use to screw up other players. They didn't really feel that was in the spirit of the theme - and there were some horribly unbalanced cards in there.
More sobering, however, was my 10 minute pitch to Game Salute. This was something that they were offering every designer there - and though I didn't really feel the game was publisher-ready, I decided to take advantage, to at least get my feet wet talking to a publisher. I spent about 3 or 4 minutes describing the game...and when I was done, I got compliments on one or two of the mechanics, but the rest of the talk focused on the theme. They thought that the theme was sort of a Catch-22 - "gamers" would overlook the game, thinking it would be too light, and families would balk at spending a typical eurogame price (~$40), and if they did...they would probably be overwhelmed thinking they were getting a game their 5 year old could play.
So...while I was a bit disappointed in that, I decided that I would stick with the Santa's Workshop theme for at least the rest of the year as I further refined the game. The first thing I did was take out all the "mean" coal cards. That left just a deck of "positive cards". That still seemed to fiddly, so eventually I get rid of the coal cards altogether. I replaced the cards with a die roll at the coal mine which gave you certain number of coal. Instead of cards that allowed you to cast spells, I had 6 specific spells that all the elves could cast - adding an extra seat, improving your material rolls, improving your assembly roll, improving your coal roll, adjusting the reindeer track, and allowing you to pick more gifts. At first I allowed each spell to be cast once per game, but that changed to being able to cast each once per round - if you had the coal to spend on it.
|The players tableau...about Version 9.0 or so....|
But how to model turning the coal in for naughty kids? With the coal cards, you had the choice of using the spell, or turning it in for points. I went through a number of iterations here. For a while, you just turned in all of you coal on the inspection rounds. Then I played with having people sort of "blind bid" with coal on the inspection rounds - whoever turned in the most got a bonus. Talk about fiddly! Then I hit upon the idea of having some of the gifts be for naughty kids...and instead of building the gift, you had to place coal on that gift. I had slots at the bottom of the tableaus, 7 Wonders style for those gifts. I thought that would be the answer for a long time...ultimately it was not.
In July, we had an "Unpub Mini" at our local game store - the Game Parlor. I got SW to the table 2 or 3 times and got some more good feedback. One fellow pointed out that the training, as I had it then, was sort of pointless - it took too long to train in materials for it to be worth much. In other words, the turns wasted going to the training room, would be better spent just collecting the material. So, I came out of that, having to adjust the training levels. I also found that people hated the "0" spot on all the material dice. They did not want to waste one of their precious actions on the chance of a 0 roll.
|Santa's Workshop at the "Unpub Mini"|
The other problem was with the gift scoring. In the basic calculations of the gifts scores, fabric was worth 2, wood 3 and metal 4. But this wasn't working balance-wise. I eventually upped metal to 6 points, and adjusted the metal die accordingly - so all the dice would average about 3.5 points worth of material per roll. And, as a side note - with 5 custom dice in the game (fabric, wood, metal, assembly, coal) - I found that people kept having a hard time finding the right die when they needed it.
So, I made a couple of drastic changes (or so I thought). To fix the "tension" problem, I tried a few things. At one point, I tried a "Power Grid" style mechanic of filling each room only so much per turn - so players would have to fight over the resources. That was short lived. I finally hit upon the idea of having coal also be used as "currency" in the materials rooms - the elves had to fire the furnace to power the tools. In each room, I had different spots that cost different amounts of coal - but the more coal you spent, the more material you would typically get. Part of this change, was making fabric, wood and coal all equivalent points-wise. This meant I had to rework all the gifts and point structure. That was a bit of work, but I think it was worth it. This also meant that I reduced 3 dice to 1 - just a "material die".
Ok...on second thought I'm going to end this blog entry here to avoid it rambling on for too long... I will attempt to follow with Part 4 tomorrow. My apologies for the lack of pictures, and not proofreading it too well...