January 26, 2011

Trial by fire: Vesuvio (part 1)

Remember Vesuvio? It was a little game I designed for the Game Design Challenge blog, but ultimately, one I never tested. Now, it's one year later, and I'm due to go to Cannes' International Game Festival as a fledgling author. I have two other games under my belt (both unedited prototypes), but I wanted an even 3, and Vesuvio had been deemed interesting at the time.

Well, guess what? It wasn't... At least, the first time we played.

Let's just gloss over the fact that you can't find flint or fossiles near basaltic/volcanic rocks. That's not the core of the game system.

Before building the prototype, I did some minor changes (original rules here). 
There are 40 squares currently divided thusly: 
-> 20 mining spots (10 "1 PA-> 1 card", 5 "2 PA -> Draw 2, keep 1 card" and 5 "4 PA -> Draw 2") 
-> 5 rifts
-> 15 with nothing but dirt. 
The cards are divided by color:
-> 15 Green (6 Flint with a value of 0, 6 Fool's gold with a value of 1, 3 Sapphire with a value of 3)
-> 15 Orange (1 Flint, 5 Fool's gold, 6 Golds with a value of 2, 3 Fossils with a value of 3)
-> 15 Red (2 Golds, 6 Fossils, 6 Strange Rocks with a value of 4, 1 Dead sea Parchments with a value of 10)
The "Hinder" action and the special items were removed, too. (Honestly, I don't know why I added the special items in the first place... They seem totally unbalanced, too)

The random squares distribution works, at least.  

The first try involved 4 players. The problem encountered was that the mining squares were screwed up: I intended the 1 and 2 Action Points for a card to be meager lodes and the 4 AP for 2 cards to be bountiful. It turned out to be exactly not that. People would stay on a 1 AP one and spend their 4 points for 4 cards. And the explosion starting when people reached collectively 15 points, why go up? And 15 points was reached veeeeery fast. We toyed with the idea of "the volcano erupts when people reach 15 cards" but still, there was no interest going up. I had to get my players moving, make them want to reach the summit and I had to make them fear the wrath of the molten rocks.

Getting the players moving
"Each player can use a mining spot only once per turn" That way, you can't stay on a spot forever, and spots I intended meager stayed meager. You can stay on a spot forever, but that means losing APs, APs that others will use.
The squares "4 APs = 2 cards" are reduced to "3 APs = 2 cards". That way it's more itneresting to reach them because there's a chance you can use them right away, and players are enticed to keep moving afte that in order to lose as few APs as possible.
"A rift is 2 squares in one" The +1PA introduced many headache-inducing special cases... With this, it's just 2 squares following the rules of the zone they're in, and the rift separates neatly the 2 squares.
Finally, the summit of the volcano. As it was, reaching it was just a suicidal move, no more, no less. My players had the idea that reaching the summit enabled you to take a picture of the volcano mouth, a picture not worth a thousand words, but at least 8 points.
And the green zone had too many points in its deck, so 2 of the 3 sapphires in the green deck were changed in 1 Fool's gold and 1 gold

Fear the wrath of the Fire God !
I wanted the player to fear the eruption, which meant being in the red zone when it started. Linking the eruption with how many points or cards had been drawn meant too many possibilities for this plan to go awry. Even if I said "30 cards and then boom", people would go to the red zone, make it barren, then go down before the volcano had a chance to get them.
"The eruption starts when the card "eruption" is drawn from its random spot in the second half of the Red deck" The Dead sea parchments were replaced with this card. That way, you don't know when everything will go boom. You may have an idea, but you can't plan. There's an element of luck, which many people like.
Second problem, how does it move? If people started the eruption, and then stopped getting cards, the lava would not flow. I needed i to flow a minimum each turn. And I decided that having to  keep track of the score to know the lava's speed was uninteresting.
"Lava moves at the end of each player's turn, 1 square at a time, +1 for each card that was drawn by the player" I got roasted that way. I would have survived, but the player before me drew a card. Slick bastard...

The game was still dull.

The two last propositions were adding a dice, or action cards, to have something to do, introduce a chaos element, SOMETHING to spice it up. And reducing the Green zone while expanding the Red zone. It is currently suicidal to go Red, which is NOT what I intended.

The problem, mainly, was that there were currently no interactions between players. You played, they played. You got burned. Yeepeekai. There are meaningful choices, but not enough, or interesting enough, to keep playing. And the "Cheer" maneuver is just useless. No incentives to use it.

Next time: the 2 players trial !