The Case Study: Increasing the Difficulty

Over the Next Dune is working mechanically; so far as I know there are no lacunae in the rules and there is no dominant strategy. However, that doesn’t mean the game is done–not by a long shot! Among other things, there are player powers to be considered (are they needed? If so, what should they be? What else has to change to accommodate them?). Alternative terrain pieces deserve a shot (what new interesting things can they do?). Perhaps most importantly, the game needs to be harder.

Right now, an experienced player will win a game of OtND most of the time:

Game    Middle    End Run With Tracking
1            W/8/1    L/5/7
2            W/7/2    W/8/0
3            L/3/2      L/7/5
4            W/8/3    W/10/5
5            L/6/3      W/7/2
6            W/6/1    L/”11″/9 – players lose by timeout
7            W/6/0    W/7/0
8            W/9/3    W/7/3
9            W/9/4    L/6/5
10          W/8/3    L/6/4

Even using a strategy that the game was changed to make more difficult, the player wins half the time. Pursuing a less unusual strategy increases the win percentage to 80%! OtND shouldn’t be impossible to win–that would hardly be interesting–but the player should have to work for it.

One change I’ve been considering is reducing the number of turns in which to win. If the player had, for example, only eight turns the middle strategy’s win rate goes to 70% and the end run loses two of its wins; six turns, and the middle strategy only wins 20% of the time and the end run never succeeds. That’s harsher than I want to be, and of course using these numbers is dangerous because the games may have played out differently under greater time pressure. Still, it suggests that reducing the number of turns could increase the challenge.

Another benefit of reducing the number of turns is that it’s tunable by the players. New players or those who don’t want the game to be too difficult can play to ten turns. Those who want more challenge can try to win in eight. If they want a serious test, they can try to win in six.

Implementing this change is pretty easy. You can discard the turn track; it’s not necessary, because the cards work just as well. For an eight-turn game, use the following cards:

6 right turns
6 left turns
36 straights

Six turns uses this deck:

4 left turns
4 right turns
28 straights

These decks are close to the distribution of turns and straights in the 60-card deck. The game ends with a player loss the turn after the deck runs out (in other words, once the deck runs out the players have one last sneak phase in which to win).

All of that is the good news. The bad news is that figuring out the right number of turns for each difficulty level is a matter of testing, testing, testing. Back to the trenches, and let me know if you have results to share!