The Case Study: Playtesting Results

A while ago I set out to test whether end-runs in Over the Next Dune are better than just running up the middle. It proved necessary to be more specific about my definitions and to make sure I was testing both strategies in the same environments. Having done that and played the games, here are the results:

Game    Middle    End-Run
1            W/8/1    W/7/0
2            W/7/2    W/7/0
3            L/3/2      L/5/5    On replay, middle strategy: L/6/6
4            W/8/3    L/3/2    On replay, end-run: W/6/0
5            L/6/3      W/7/0
6            W/6/1    L/7/3    (But winnable for the end-run with different play?)
7            W/6/0    W/5/0
8            W/9/3    W/9/0
9            W/9/4    W/5/0
10          W/8/3    L/4/1

You can find my original notes here: OtND Mar.-Apr. 2014 Playtesting Project.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, I think it’s worth being frank about the weaknesses of this experiment. The sample size is not large. Dave Sirlin makes a compelling case, however, for the argument that a relatively small number of plays can be sufficient for testing purposes if the players involved know what they’re doing. I believe that I have as much experience with Over the Next Dune as anyone does, so I’m going to conclude that the sample size is enough to be useful.

In addition, this wasn’t a proper double-blind experiment. I had at least some knowledge of how the searchers would move going into the end-run games, since I was setting up the searcher movement decks. While I tried not to take advantage of that information, I’m sure I was subconsciously influenced at times. There’s no easy way to sort out when that was, so it may just be that this problem has to be accepted.

Keeping those weaknesses in mind–and proceeding from the assumption that they don’t completely undermine the results–what does the data say?

1. The end-run was often better. In six of the ten games, the end-run strategy won faster, with fewer players captured, or both. That number goes up to seven if one adds game four, where I played the end-run poorly the first time out (and knew it). There were only two games where the end-run lost and the middle strategy won. Furthermore, the end-run won game five handily after the middle strategy lost.

2. The middle strategy is workable. Although it had to work harder, the middle strategy won 80% of its games. (Whether that’s too high is a separate question, albeit one that does need to be addressed.) The challenge being presented is not that going up the middle is doomed and terrible; it’s that players can pretty consistently get a better result by shifting sideways.

3. The end-run still isn’t as interesting. Admittedly, this is a more subjective conclusion. However, I feel that it’s an accurate one. I had hoped that starting the players in the center of the board would add a lot of decision-making to the end run. It did add some, but in practice it’s not as much as I would’ve liked. Going up the middle is hard and involves a lot of tricking searchers; the end run is mostly just not standing in the wrong place.

4. The end-run doesn’t like confronting multiple searchers. I noticed this one in the games the end-run strategy lost. Put simply, players at the edge of the board have little space to work with. When several searchers close in at once, it’s hard for them to trick those searchers into safe positions. By contrast, players in the middle of the board can often find a way to stay alive, even if it means putting a player in harm’s way to buy time for the group.

5. The end-run doesn’t like splitting up. This is intuitively obvious, but it’s good to have test results for confirmation. When the players split up to use both edges of the board they’re much more vulnerable. Rescues become difficult or even impossible to arrange.

The end-run has been too strong for a while. On Monday I’ll walk through a full analysis of the next attempt at a fix. Of course, that means I have to figure out what the next attempt will be–but every attorney knows that filing deadlines are great motivators. 😉

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