The Case Study: Playtesting Project – Results

The playtesting project is finished! I’ve attached my notes from the games at the end of this post. For each game terrain pieces are listed from the top-left colored area to the bottom-right colored area (e.g., in the first game piece 1 was centered at column 4, row 2 in the grey area, then piece 5 was centered at column 6, row 4 in the dark blue area, etc.). The searchers are listed as (column),(row) to (initial direction). In game one, for example, the first searcher was at column 2, row 4 facing in direction 3 (“left” relative to the player).

Based on these games I’m changing the rules in four ways. The first three are just fixes to clarify what happens in unusual situations. However, the fourth is a bigger change that will require additional testing. For the first three, which are akin to FAQ entries, I’ll use the Q/A/D format–a question, its answer, and some discussion. The third will get a longer treatment.

Q. When a player token moves off the board, does that move a searcher adjacent to the token?

A. A player token moving off the board does not move any adjacent searchers. Searchers only follow player tokens that are moving to a space on the board.

D. In the absence of this rule it was possible to conclude that when a player leaves the board at a diagonal, a searcher would try to follow the player as best as possible by moving sideways. That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it really adds any interest; the number of cases in which that would be helpful is very small. Furthermore, what would the rules be like? “Players leaving the board must determine the constituent vectors of their movement . . . .” It seemed better to say that searchers give up on player tokens that have reached friendly lines.

Q. If there are not enough player tokens left on the board to rescue captured teammates, is it necessary to play the game out?

A. When one or more players have been captured and there are not enough uncaptured player tokens left on the board to free them, the game immediately ends in a loss for the players.

D. It’s senseless to make players continue when the game has already been decided.

Q. Can a player “trick” (drag) a searcher into another player’s square? If so, what happens? Is the other player captured?

A. Players may not trick searchers such that the searcher will move into another player’s square.

D. There might be times when it would be tactically advantageous to do this, but I think it’s overwhelmingly more likely to occur as a result of sheer error. The result is apt to be irritated players. Better just to say it can’t happen, so that if it does there’s cause in the rules to rewind the game.

Rule change: Three player tokens must be adjacent to a searcher to rescue a captured player, rather than two.

This one deserves a bit more discussion:

Facts: During the playtest two troubling dynamics emerged. First, under the current rules Over the Next Dune is pretty easy. In fact, it’s so easy that one can play very casually and do fine. It’s not generally necessary to think too hard about one’s decisions, because one can always turn things around with a couple of friends nearby. When the game is too easy, interest in the decisions drops.

Second, I noticed after a while that it was often viable to split up. Since only a small group was necessary for a rescue, it was OK to form into two small groups and make “end runs” up the sides of the map. When players do that, it tends to turn the game into a fairly simple race. To the greatest extent feasible I want to push players into the middle, where there will usually be more terrain, more searchers, and more decisions to make.

Issue 1: What should be done to increase OtND’s challenge?
Issue 2: What should be done to encourage players to stay together in the middle of the map, rather than going for “end runs” up the two sides?

Rule: The decisions players make should be interesting through the end of the game.

Thinking it through: I’m collapsing the two issues because I’m pretty sure that they share a root cause: rescues only require two players. Making them so easy has reduced the consequences for mistakes too far, and it has allowed players to split up while retaining the possibility of rescuing a teammate. Ratcheting up the number of players involved in a rescue should make the game harder and turn splitting up into a serious decision rather than an all-upside strategy.

It’s possible that this change will undo the rescue rule’s ability to resolve the worst-case scenario. I’ll be testing that soon.

It’s also possible that we’re losing the madcap games where captures and rescues chain together to make a wild experience. That’s not the normal mode of play, nor is it strictly intended, but it is fun. I’ll try to keep watch to see if that kind of game can’t occur under the new rule.

While the playtesting project is over, testing continues–just without a fancy name. 🙂 As always, let me know how your games are going!

OtND Playtesting Project Fed.-Mar. 2014

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