A big revision to Astroventure: Part 1

UnPub 7 was great. You can read about my time there here and here. But a lot of feedback came to me over that weekend and a few things stood out.

  1. The planets and the rockets feel like two separate games.
  2. The round structure needs adjusting because it’s too back and forth.
  3. The player boards need some work.

So I took that feedback and sat on it for a couple of weeks. I was busy between interviews, presentations, and general life stuff that I didn’t have the time to dedicate to revisions like I wanted. But now a month out from UnPub I’ve been able to get back to work and get back to designing changes. Today I’m going to talk about the first one and the tweaks I did to improve them. And by tweaks I mean the gutting of 2/3 of my game in order to build it again from the ground up. Look for the next two feedback fixes in a post on Monday.

1. The planets and the rockets feel like two separate games.

In Astroventure, players explore planets in order to get more reputation as well as increased resources when they take a collect action on a later turn. They also launch rockets using contracts which have certain requirements and then grant a profit which rewards them for their efforts. These are the two fundamental long-term actions you’ll do, and also what gives you the majority of your reputation at the end of the game. However, the final playtest of UnPub had the feedback that these are two different games. Three players played the rocket game and lost to the one player who played the planet game. While I had that feeling slightly in the back of my mind, this playtest pulled that to the front of my mind and made me realize some changes needed to be made.

What I did was made new planet, contract, and upgrade cards from the ground up. The basic approach remained the same, but the costs and the rewards are all new. First the planets. This time around I split the planets into two types, planets and moons. The moons were quick to explore and gave a few resources, but powerful bonuses once explored. The planets typically gave the ability to pay less for your actions throughout the game. They also took time to initially explore. So once you gain a new planet, you’d place a rocket pawn on its tracker and after a certain number of rounds your rocket arrived and you could begin exploring. I thematically like the idea of this, but it’s not rewarding to play. Additionally, the first time I drew a moon, I instantly hated it. I wanted nothing to do with them. They were weak, too situational, and felt generally pointless. I would rather put my efforts into exploring the big planets instead.

So I ditched the moons, took some of the bonuses and tweaked them into powers which I’ll explain more in the next post. The planets function. I’m still not sold on them, but I like them better than the previous method. You used to explore a planet until it was better than your last planet, and then the old planets didn’t matter anymore. Now the planets reward you for having more of them, and because the rewards stagger, when you explore becomes a bit more of a decision. Also, you used to only get the full reputation for a planet if you fully explored it. Now you get increasing reputation as you explore it so your middle efforts are worth something in the end. I just now need to merge some of the moon elements into the planets and I think they’ll be on the right track to move forward.

Next were the contracts. These were largely kept similar in feel, but the values changed. I remade them in an attempt to truly stagger them so that harder ones appear in the end, and that they’re actually harder. A lot of it was graphic design work based on some feedback, but the contracts now feel better. There are still some that are objectively better than others, so balancing is still a concern to work on, but they’re getting there. One thing we tried at UnPub was to have the launch advantage be launching two rockets at a time. This was really rewarding in some ways, but then while both rockets were waiting to return you had fewer options to do each turn. Now, going back to the old advantage, you can stagger your launches so that the launching provides opportunity to improve and plan around it. I think it works better, so I just need to solve the advantage issue because the current one works but isn’t very exciting.

Additionally for launching, the upgrades you attach to your rocket are all new. Previously they gave you resources and extra thrust for your rockets. This was a carry over from the old version of the game where you had to build your rocket out of parts. If you didn’t have a computer on it, there would be no science received from your launch. But now that the rockets come fully built on their own cards, buying upgrades didn’t make as much sense unless you really needed it for whatever reason. In fact, many games I would buy just the bare minimum number of parts and focus on doing something else instead. So the new upgrades are a step in a new direction. There is still one that gives more thrust and one that gives resources, but the other four give you extra things. An extra point, reduced flight time, cheaper launches, and explored zones on planets. These all increase the value of acquiring upgrades because they give you more options than just more resources. I’m also going to try having a limiting the number of upgrades on a rocket to two which means you’ll need to plan what you bring with you. To counter this, I’ve added a third rocket for players to use. Hopefully these changes will prove to be helpful at making the rocket portion of the game more interesting and allow it to float into the other aspects of the game more.

Whether these changes help to merge the two parts into one game, I’m not quite sure yet. But I think it’s off to a good start and I’m ready to test it more to find out.