A month ago, I went up to Grand Rapids, MI for the very first UnPub Midwest. I had a table for the full event, a total of 14 hours of play testing. Turnout was nice, could have used a few more people off the street, but when it got slow, we just played each others games. I told myself after UnPub 7 that I wanted to have some quick card games the next time I do an event, since Astroventure takes about an hour to play. It’s easier to just get one going and be done quickly if you only have a few minutes but not an hour to play. This was the benefit to Compact Carnival.

Compact Carnival was a hit, and it did really well. I iterated a lot and have some good solid ideas for where to go next with it. Since it’s been months since I wrote anything about it, here’s a quick update of where it was when I last left off, and how it got to where it is now.

So after Origins, I adapted the game to be square cards. I also got it lined up for playing in 20 minutes which was a goal. One issue with the game was still scoring took forever. I was getting better at it so I could score a game in a couple minutes, but new players were not as skilled at the counting as I was. In fact, I took it to Grand Con in September and a four player game hit the perfect 20 minute play mark, but then spent 13 minutes scoring. I heard from a publisher, that it really needed to come down in scoring time.

The big suggestion for that was to score in the middle of the game. So after you place the attraction, you would score it right away. I was hesitant to do this, because the point is being able to work the score of each card up over the course of the game, getting everything to line up how you want to get the most points. If you only score it once it’s placed, you might end up only getting a couple points instead of 4-7 points like normal.

But I went ahead and tweaked the rules. Only a couple of cards scored at the end, mostly those with bonus points dedicated to placement. Everything else would score once you placed it. The idea worked, and scoring was over super quick. I didn’t have a lot of time to test it before the event, so I just went for it.

At UnPub Midwest, I got about 8-10 play tests in. I wasn’t always at the table so I can’t remember exactly how many. About half of those were with other designers. Some had very little feedback, others sat for a while really flowing with ideas. The scoring worked great, but the few cards that scored at the end were confusing to people. Some of the requirements didn’t make sense, and the end game scoring was largely not a big hit. By the end of the show, it was reduced to two cards had non instant effects. The Food Stall still earns you 4 points once you surround it with other cards, but that happens once the final card is placed, and now the Coaster scores 2 points for every card of yours in a straight line containing the Coaster. These changes seem to be good, and most players enjoyed that option to still have something to build up to.

But I still didn’t like the way you only score once you place the card. One play tester asked if their cards scored again, and we decided to try out re-scoring cards. So if I place my Food Stall down, then later come along and place my Mini Golf next to it, the Food Stall scores a couple extra points for now being next to a Mini Golf. However, this only happens when it’s my Mini Golf, not yours. That felt like a decent middle ground to be able to let points rack up while not having to constantly pay attention to every move everyone did in order to keep your score up to date.

The other complaint was that the particular alignment of the Go Karts is confusing. It’s nice to have the bonus scoring, but as someone put it, if I need to pay attention to the card, I should care about it. They did it for the points, but didn’t care about the card, so that’s something to consider. I like the ability to get extra points out of the placement if you’re in the right position, but it’s confusing and it breaks the flow of explaining the game.

Some new issues that I need to face based on this event, point inflation. I had been buffing attractions when they wouldn’t score well compared to other cards. When I did my quick test of the game before I left, I noticed a couple cards were only scoring 1 or 2 points, so I buffed them to 3 or 4 in order to give them a bit more teeth. Now that you re-score those cards, they can be big scoring games. But that means everything is scoring 6-10 points on a usual round. Does that mean it would have the same bite if you scored 3-5 points instead? It’s the same ratio, but just results in lower scores and maybe also lower satisfaction. I’ll need to think that over.

The other problem is that it’s a bit predictable. Everyone has the same set of cards, which is nice for teaching the game. But to have a bit of long term value, I’d like to include some extra attractions that have different scoring values. To prevent the game from just expanding out of control space wise, the option I see is to vary the cards. Either one player only gets this certain attraction, or maybe you get a random set of cards each game. I haven’t decided which way I want to go with this yet. Another predictable situation is the squaring of the board. For a while, there were some really interesting end states where one card would be out at the end of this big string of cards, but now players tend to square the board up because you always want to play against at least two cards if you can. Thus no one wants to place a card outside the square and only score off one card. Re-scoring helps this a little, but it’s still leading to a consistent end state where I liked the random shapes the board would end up in.

The last issue is that since introducing the re-scoring, players tend to segregate their cards again. This was an issue up front, and one I had curbed for a while. But now that I only re-score cards when they’re my cards, I obviously want to just keep all my cards next to my cards to get the most points. I need some way to encourage the movement of attractions around so that not everything clumps into one big blob. Some of those new attraction types might be the solution to my problems.

Where to go next?

I’ve created three new attractions based on some ideas that were floated around. I’ll need to get those tested for the potential of varied play or maybe creating a second set of cards. The testing then goes into how those interact with the previous attractions, and how they alter the issues I’m seeing in the game. I’d like to maybe then weed out 3 of the attractions that don’t do as well to get the strongest set of cards. January will be the submission to the Cardboard Edision contest, so I need to get this tuned up and in good shape for that. There may even be some print and play opportunities for play testing in the future depending on how much I get completed. Now that I’m putting Astroventure’s development on hold, I’ll be focusing more on this full time.