The Case Study: Evaluating Terrain Piece 4

Terrain piece 4, you’re going on trial.

Facts: Terrain piece 4 is a zig-zag of difficult ground:

Terrain Piece 4
Terrain Piece 4

Over the course of many playtest games, this has been the terrain piece with the least impact. Since players can move diagonally and still make progress just as quickly as they would if they moved straight ahead, it’s easy to dodge through the clear spaces left by the zig-zag. No player has ever been hindered by this terrain piece.

By moving diagonally, a player can avoid being slowed by the terrain
By moving diagonally, a player can avoid being slowed by the terrain

In addition, terrain piece 4 can be confusing to new players. Every other terrain piece occupies only the squares it affects. Terrain piece 4, on the other hand, needs reinforcing “crossbars” that extend into neighboring squares. Those crossbars mean that terrain piece 4 half-occupies some squares, leading to questions about whether those squares are clear, difficult terrain, or some hybrid of the two.

With all of that said, terrain piece 4 is visually interesting. Over the Next Dune’s board divides into clear spaces and blocks of rough ground. Terrain piece 4 provides an intermediate texture that mixes clear and rough, making the board feel more realistic.

Issue: Should terrain piece 4 retain its current form, or be changed?

Rules:

1. Decisions players make must be interesting.

2. As a corollary, things that reduce the number of decisions or the interest of those decisions, or that delay getting to the decisions, are disfavored.

Thinking it through: The fundamental problem with terrain piece 4 is that it’s only interesting once: the “a-ha!” moment when a player figures out how to get through it. That opportunity for system mastery is good. After that bit of mastery is achieved, however, terrain piece 4 becomes entirely irrelevant. It never provides an interesting decision again.

None of the other terrain pieces have that problem. Their impact varies–the large piece 6 is more of a challenge to work around than the small piece 1–but they have all continued to create interesting decisions over many plays.

Bringing little interest to the game is a damning critique in and of itself, but the rules problem puts the final nail in the coffin. Explaining how piece 4 works might be worthwhile if it were making the game better; a line or two in the rulebook would be sufficient. Since it’s not, those extra lines are just unnecessary barriers to getting through the rules and on to the game’s interesting decisions.

Piece 4’s aesthetic qualities are nice, but they don’t make up for poor gameplay. OtND’s visuals can easily be improved later when the board and other components get proper artwork. Interest and challenge, on the other hand, are much harder to add. Each game element needs to pull its weight in those areas, and piece 4 is falling short.

Terrain piece 4, then, needs to change–but to what? We’ll take that up next time.

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