The Case Study: Hotfixes and Information Tracking

During the playtesting project two rules issues have come up. Below are the questions, the answers, and an updated rulebook. I’m going to steal Quirkworthy‘s Q/A/D format for these–a there’s a Question, an Answer, and some Discussion.

Q: What is terrain piece 4’s actual shape? Does it include the clear spaces between the spaces with terrain in them?

A: Piece 4 includes only the spaces marked as terrain. It does not include the clear spaces.

D: Piece 4 is fun, but it does cause some issues. As matters stand it’s inconvenient to cut out and not at all sturdy. I considered putting a border around it so that it could be handled as one giant piece, but that created two problems. First, it would require expanding the rules on overlapping terrain to deal with terrain that includes clear spaces–does the clear space or the difficult terrain “win?” Second, it would call for rules for two different kinds of borders–those that actually impact movement and those that are merely defining the edges of the terrain piece.

Neither of those rule changes would have to be elaborate, but I would prefer to avoid adding complexity just to make piece 4 easier to manage. I think the better solution here is to take another look at the print-and-play file to see if there’s a way to give piece 4 a bit more structural integrity.

Q: Is the discard pile for searcher movement cards public information? Can I look through the discard to see what cards are out of the deck?

A: Yes, the discard pile for searcher movement cards is public information. It is legal to look through it at any time.

D: This is a difficult question, and the answer could have gone either way. What follows is how I came to the conclusion I did, but I’m especially interested in hearing people’s views on this subject.

A fundamental rule of Over the Next Dune is that players should be making interesting decisions. The most fundamental decisions players make are where to move and what path to follow in getting there. It is vital that those decisions be as engaging as possible.

One way in which I am trying to make those decisions interesting is allowing players to “play the odds” with regard to searcher movement. Since the searchers are most likely to go straight ahead and less likely to turn, players can take intelligent risks. If you can’t get to a completely safe place, it’s still possible to choose a safer spot by going to a location where the searcher would have to turn to catch you. Picking the best spot under the circumstances is a (hopefully) interesting part of the challenge.

Similarly, if you are trying to trick a searcher in order to save a teammate, the relative odds of the searcher moving forward or turning affect where to drag the searcher. I’ve found it interesting to try to find the safest location for my teammates based on what the searcher is likely to do next.

Knowing what searcher movement cards have already come out affects these decisions. If four left turns are gone and no right turns are, the searchers are significantly more likely to turn right in the future, and that impacts where and how the players should move. I think it’s a positive that as the game goes on the odds change–as discussed last time, it keeps things interesting.

However, players can only revisit their decisions based on new information if they actually have the information. In this case, that means they have to know what searcher movement cards have been used. There are three ways for them to get that data: remembering, tracking it by writing it down, and being able to check the discard.

Remembering the cards is a skill; I have known players who were very good at that sort of thing, and it gave them a real advantage. However, it is not a skill that OtND needs to test. Thematically, I see no reason why soldiers sneaking behind enemy lines would be counting how many times their pursuers turned left. (Admittedly, I’ve never had to escape from behind enemy lines. Maybe I’m wrong?) From a gameplay perspective, I don’t want a player who is good at remembering to dictate to other players, or to have other players trying to cede their decision-making to the player with a strong memory.

Writing down the information just seems awkward and irksome. In competitive Magic: the Gathering it helps avoid confusion and prevent cheating, but this is a cooperative game with less potential for error and lower incentives to seek unfair advantage. It’s an unfortunate necessity there; we don’t need to go down that path here.

That leaves allowing players to look at the discard. I feel that this solution has two key benefits. First, it is effective. Players can only make interesting risk-re-evaluating decisions if they have the necessary information, and letting players check the discard accomplishes that. Second, it encourages players who can’t remember or didn’t track the discarded cards to seek out and use that information. In my experience, players who don’t recall what’s in a discard pile frequently just give up and ignore the discarded cards entirely. As a result, they don’t go through the re-evaluation. I want players to revisit the odds of the searchers moving in different ways over the course of the game, and letting them find out what has been discarded will encourage them to do so.

It is true that allowing players who do not remember or track the contents of the discard to check it could slow down play. My suspicion, however, is that this will not be a serious problem. I expect that most players will only check the discard when an exact count is vital; those who value the information most, and who might have the greatest inclination to look through the discard pile, will probably also be paying close attention to the cards as they come out and will therefore have the least need to do so.

Based on that reasoning I am currently saying that the discard is open information. Again, however, I am not wedded to that position. If you disagree, let me know!

Over the Next Dune – Rules – 3-5-14

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