The Case Study: Evenly Distributed Searchers Proves Unsatisfactory

Evenly distributed starting points for searchers turned out to be, well, pretty terrible.

Facts: In normal play, the searchers in Over the Next Dune are distributed randomly across approximately the top half of the board. In the evenly distributed starting points variant, they are instead assigned one to a colored area, much like terrain pieces.

This variant eliminates certain extreme setups. For example, the worst-case scenario cannot occur.

Playtesting showed that this variant does not increase the difficulty of the game. If anything, it tends to make the game easier, as it makes it less likely that the searchers will “clump” and force players to deal with multiple searchers at the same time.

Issue: Should the evenly distributed searchers variant become the official rule?

Rule: Decisions players make should be interesting.

Thinking it through: My hope with this variant was that it would make the game more interesting by forcing players to confront searchers more often. The concern was that it would make it more likely that “holes” would open up between the searchers that the players would be easily able to slip through, making the game less interesting. As it happened, the former didn’t happen and the latter did. Oops!

What’s worse, when decisions beyond “hey look, there are no searchers there” did arise, they were often easier than those to be made in the normal game. It was unusual for multiple searchers to approach the same point, and it wasn’t hard to predict where those points would be. As a result, it was possible to only ever have to confront one searcher at a time. Once you know the game, dealing with a single searcher isn’t too difficult.

In addition, the extreme situations even distribution of searchers prevents can be interesting in and of themselves. The worst-case scenario is brutal enough that one wouldn’t want to play it often, but having a bunch of searchers coming on fast is fun once every so often. Similarly, having the searchers making a wall along the top, near the goal line, can be an interesting challenge so long as it’s not every time. All the searchers being on one side might make the game easier, but that’s OK on occasion too; recognizing an opportunity and seizing it successfully is part of the fun.

Evenly distributing the searchers, then, was a bust. That’s OK; it was worth trying to see what would happen. Next time I plan to talk a bit about a recent post on Quirkworthy, and then I’ll be looking at making OtND more difficult.

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