Last week I talked about the feedback I got from UnPub 7 for Astroventure and the three main areas that needed to be addressed. In that post I covered in more detail what I did with the first part, how the planets and rockets felt like two different games. Today I’m going to go over the second two bits of feedback, the round structure, and the player boards.
2. The round structure needs adjusting because it’s too back and forth.
During designer day, I had a few friends play Astroventure, and Matt Wolfe suggested changing the way the round structure worked for better flow. As it went previously, you would choose an action and then once everyone had you’ll all execute your selected action. If you’re the only one to choose that action, you get an advantage, so you’ll look around and see what everyone else chose as well. Once that is over, if anyone has a rocket pawn on one of their contracts they would move it and maybe gain profit if the contract completed. Then everyone could either accept a new contract or research an improvement. It was nice, but as Matt pointed out, it was an everyone action (by checking who did what action), a personal action (moving my own rockets), then an everyone action (contracts and improvements). It led to a lot of back and forth and waiting for someone to do something so you could then do something.
The solution for this was to attempt to collapse the three-phase round structure into one (and a half). For this, selecting a contract is now tied to two of the actions. When you play either acquire or collect, you then have the option of selecting one of the available contracts in the display. This now means I don’t have to wait for others to decide if they’re taking a contract just because they’re higher in priority order. I only need to pay attention to those players that also chose those actions. They’re also tied to some of the quickest actions, so the time to perform the action and select a contract isn’t that unreasonable.
The second phase where you adjust your rocket pawns is now just something you do at the end of your turn. It still has a little bit of waiting sometimes while a player collects their profit, but I’m now only waiting for the next round instead of waiting on someone in order to finish my turn. It allows me to use this time to plan instead of just not using my time for anything but waiting. This has moved round time town and gets the game really moving along which is one of the long-term goals of development on this game.
3. The player boards need some work.
On the player boards, you have improvements to your company. These are split into two approaches, three benefit you during the game, and three benefit your end game scoring. This was shrunk down from 14 options in the original version of the player boards right before UnPub and I like the change in general. However, players still end up not doing anything unique with them. They skip out on a few they don’t find worth doing, or just get the reputation improvements because why wouldn’t you get something that gives you more reputation. It felt stale and stagnant even in its new form.
So I axed them. They’re gone from the game. I love the player boards, and they were a suggestion by a publisher who expressed interest in the game. They added a bit of customization, and since there were five of them up to this point, you could theoretically adapt the game structure to your player board and try new strategies each time you play. I could also add more leading to more options and customization over the life of the game.
The problem with this I’m realizing is the game isn’t complex enough for that kind of asymmetry. There aren’t enough ways to score points and not enough actions on your turn to really give players something unique in the long-term. It all becomes just slight variations on the same thing. So they’re gone. Instead, I’m going to try using what I’m calling powers for now which are a group of cards that give you and only you a different ability in the game. Sometimes these are extra resources, the ability to pay less, the ability to draw more things, or extra reputation at the end of the game. I made these by largely just taking the elements off the player boards (and a few of the moons mentioned in the last post) and putting them individually on their own cards. Currently the plan is to get two at the start and choose one you want to keep. Not sure that’s the best approach, but I’m going to try that for now and see how it goes. We tried one game with them so far, and they worked well in that test. I have 16 currently designed and we only used two, so it’s hard to tell if they’re really a success yet, or if any are wildly overpowered. But I like the approach. It adds just enough of a unique touch to the game to allow each player to do something different and focus on their own game instead of playing a generic game each time.
One of the things I learned from UnPub is that the game was almost too complex. I think it has the potential to be a really complex game, but then I also think it would be the game Leaving Earth which already exists. I need this to be its own game and I think simplifying the approach and the components lets this game shine more as it should be. Instead of creating a 2-3 hour marathon game with all of these extra things you can do, I think I want this to be more of a 45-60 minute light Euro which I think is right where it belongs. Thanks to UnPub, it’s getting closer than ever and I think this is maybe the final step to the point where major portions of design work will be done and all that will be left is fine tuning.