Thursday, 2 June 2016

Titanomachia Playtesting Notes: June 1st

Having an 8-year old around to serve as an audience surrogate is pretty handy, because they represent well the floor that one might desire one's users (or players) to have. Rules need to be well-written if an 8-year old is going to understand them, and likewise game-play needs to be pretty idiot-proof if they're going to enjoy themselves. They're certainly handy for spotting any loop-holes left in by the silly notion that no user would be stupid enough to try something like that... And, indeed, sometimes they're surprisingly smart cookies. So I tried a play-test game of Titanomachia last night, sans rules and record sheet, and using only the lego prototype I managed to work up on Monday night for Tuesday's Halifax Game Design Co-op meetup I managed to attend on Tuesday night.

A quick word about that, it was really neat to go chat with fellow game designers, and to have the opportunity to try out my elevator pitch on both individuals, and to the group. That was great. It was also good to meet people, and especially people with a diverse set of skills that I might someday have the opportunity to hire. It was also interesting to see how the sausage was made on the video-game side of things, since apparently I was the only board-game designer there. There's something interesting to see video games that are partially complete, not merely for the entertaining bugs that can occur, and the implications of design that one can glean from the partial build, but also to hear designers talk about what they were doing. The notion, as it was explained to me, was that each meet-up had a theme, and as a monthly event designers had two months to produce something along that theme. Tuesday night's theme was 'squinting,' at which perhaps I unknowingly excelled thanks to the minute details of my prototype. People certainly squinted at it.

Having the prototype available, and being somewhat exhausted by the previous nights out of my cave I decided to spend the evening after supper attempting to teach it to my oldest in order to see what he made of it, for the reasons given above. Immediately some issues were identified with the prototype, in that charge tokens were difficult to remove from systems, since they were red translucent 1x1 studded plates. Partway through the game I swapped them out for non-studded plates, which have a bevel at their base so they can be removed more easily. Another issue identified with the prototype was the vertical stacking of the systems in the system diagram. Given that it's essentially two-dimensional, I noticed that the systems were better off flattened to the same level, and priority given to the outer-most. Titans with more than two systems in a square of the system diagram will prove a challenge, but so far even a 'Regent' Titan with three Shield Generators, four Weapons, two Propulsion systems, two Sensors, and a Crew fit comfortably in the diagram like that. Likewise putting the charging and damage tokens on the sides of the systems proved impractical there one mostly saw the diagram from a top-down perspective, and we put them on top because the systems no longer needed to be stacked one atop the other. See, this is why we should prototype in lego in alpha before resorting to 3D printing for a beta-test version. The Titans models themselves proved to work reasonably well. I would like to produce larger buildings to better demonstrate how the buildings obscure Titans and interfere with their movement. I think that size 1 buildings should inflict a movement penalty of 1, so that a propulsion system with Effect 2 would need to use both Effect points to enter a square with a size 1 building. Size 2 buildings would then prevent such a propulsion system from crossing the system, allowing such buildings to effectively prevent transition into that square. 

I need to elaborate on how Terrain markers are placed in empty squares that a Titan is attempting to enter, essentially breaking up movement into declaring an intention to enter a square, either entering or being prevented from entering, and then completing movement. That's what we went with in the play-test and it made for some interesting use of sensors for my son to prevent me from flanking him by walking into a blind alley and having two back out again. 

Notably in the play-test, all systems had a Charge of 1. This meant that, for example, we were never going to be able to shoot through each other's shields so long as shield generators could be activated every other turn for two shields each. I've concluded that a shield generator system should have a Charge that is greater than its Effect so that you can wear a Titan's shields down. 

Of course there was actually a web of related effects there that I need to carefully untangle because there's something there that works that I want to retain, but it's not working precisely the way I wanted it to work. 

The first issue is charging during an opponent's activation. I'm not sure whether it was the fact that, where the players were essentially exchanging activation, that meant that charging and activation were essentially meaningless booking where they were all Charge 1, and therefore charged to activate again every time a player was called upon to activate. My son certainly got into a rhythm whereby he was comfortable assigning me the activation so that he could charge up whatever systems he wanted to use next. In fact, looking up the rules after the fact I'm kind of convinced that I did this wrong, because players only charge systems when they get a turn. 

The second issue is that sensors activating for +D3 Initiative, and the player with the Initiative losing 1 Initiative point per turn simply for having the Initiative, meant every other turn a sensor system was activated to increase initiative even when the other was busy developing the board. I think that +D3 was excessive, especially since it not only counteracted the loss of initiative, but improved it, meaning that my son essentially seized control of the initiative early on and kept it because he had seized on the notion of regenerating it as often as possible. Likewise I think we got this rule because upon reference the rules indicated that we should have been adding the Effect of the Sensor systems (2) rather than +D3. 

The third issue was, of course, that all systems were given a nominal charge of 1 for the purposes of simplicity when the whole point of having the charging mechanic in place was to give different systems different 'gears' and to make lining up their activation challenging in itself. With a charge of 1, the systems were pretty much always available, meaning the shields over-powered weapons, sensors were constantly being used to top up Initiative, and Titans were moving pretty freely despite the limitations on the Effect of their propulsion systems. 

Further issues in general included:
  • Motivation for gunboats to leave the starting corner of the board.
  • Whether diagonal movement should be allowed. Right now I'm inclined to allow it since a Titan's facing can go in that direction, and a limit is available: no free turn after such diagonal movement. 
  • Should Range 1 weapons like a Cestus have an Ignore Shields special rule? Might be motivation for Titans to close, and to take such close combat weapons instead of just another big gun.
The big problem I see, and that my son pointed out we were merely missing out because he wanted to explore the game, is that a gunboat deploying in a corner essentially has two sides protected, and can redistribute its systems to cover the other two sides. I think the solution is that instead of deploying in the corners, Titans should deploy in the centre square of a 9x9 grid. This way even a gun-boat has its flanks exposed, and is still a distance from being able to cover all approaches. 

In addition, my son suggested the addition of a Stealth system. He has a thing for stealth, but it seems like a useful idea. At this point any idea is worth considering, if only to see if they're good, bad, or simply need more work. 

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