Lessons in Incentives: Planet Bonuses

Designing Astroventure has been incredibly rewarding and frustrating at the same time. There’s nothing like envisioning what someone will do in a game, and then putting it in front of players to watch them not do what you wanted them to do. There’s two things that could happen at this point. You either stubbornly tell them they’re playing it wrong, or you adapt the game to meet their interests and desires. With Astroventure, I needed to do one last bit of tweaking to meet their interests and desires, but it’s done in a way that meets my vision for how the game should be played.

One of the long standing parts of the game is exploring planets. It’s the original method to get resources in the game (those being science and capital) and it’s been a valuable way to earn reputation (points) as well. In all the games I play, I keep exploring planets because they’re worth reputation at the end of the game. But the more new players I show, the less exploration they do. A lot of them explore to the point they’re happy with the resources they’re getting and then stop exploring.

Every time I’m thinking, “But points!” and it seems my thoughts go unnoticed. I get why they’re doing it. Once you’re set for resources, you don’t need to spend them just to earn less or the same than what you’re already earning. But I want players to keep exploring. I see it as important, and the reputation you get from it can be quite good. So I have two options. Either tell them they’re playing wrong, or adapt the game to meet them. But as I said at the beginning, I’m doing a bit of both. I’m going to insist that exploring planets is good, but adapt the game in a way that also shows them that exploring is good.

As it stands, players can earn between 4 and 8 reputation for fully exploring a planet, depending on which planet it is. Doing so grants them access to more resources on that planet each time they choose to take the collect action. The resources from each planet are different, with some offering more science than capital and vice versa. Because you can only collect from one planet, this alone can incentivize some players to go after multiple planets, so when they collect they have options for the resources they collect. But I want them to explore more than 1 or 2 planets. I’ve done up to 5 in my games, and while that may be a bit excessive, 3-4 feels like a good number to explore.

My solution (completely untested at this time) is to add an incentive to the bottom space of a planet. Now, not only is a player earning 4 to 8 reputation for fully exploring a planet, but they’re also now gaining access to a one time ability that can give them a decent boost. I’ve come up with ideas for all the planets. The low point planets are more basic abilities, and the higher in point value the plant is the better reward from the bonus you can get. I also hope that by providing this, it not only gives players more choice between which planet they choose when selecting which to explore, but it gives more incentive to keep exploring beyond just the standard reputation they get for doing so.

Maybe I’ll test these out and it’ll be a big flop. Maybe I just explore too much and the players are right. But as it stands, I think my vision for how exploration works in this game is right, and I’m going to fight to make players see it that way. Even if that means giving them special rewards and bonuses for doing so. Besides, if the bonuses are a flop, it’s easy enough to just remove the bonus from the cards and admit that the players are right.