Sometimes your game surprises you. When I started testing leaving the lawyer’s tiles on the board in Lines of Questioning, I thought I was fixing some problems while incidentally making the game harder. It increasingly appears, however, that this change is making the game easier instead. To be honest, I’m kind of pleased by that result; it emphasizes just how tricky and interesting game design really is.
Relatively early on in Lines of Questioning’s design, I started treating the lawyer’s tiles differently from the witness’. The witness’ tiles stayed on the board when the witness’ line ended. By contrast, when the lawyer’s line ended the lawyer’s tiles were removed. I liked this for thematic reasons, and also because it created sudden changes in the board state that a savvy player could use to advantage.
Yet, there were two issues with that rule. One I saw coming: the game was more difficult to learn. Players tended to want to the two kinds of tiles, which are similar in many respects, to work the same way in this area as well. Removing one kind of tile but not the other was confusing.
Playtesters confirmed that that was a problem, but they brought a second issue to my attention as well. Seeing tiles disappear just plain felt bad. They felt like their effort had gone to waste.
Since my suspicions about increased difficulty had been confirmed and an additional problem with the rule had been raised, I decided to try testing Lines of Questioning without special treatment for lawyer tiles. They would stay on the board after the lawyer’s lines ended, building up just like the witness’. No more would effort be wasted, and there would be one consistent rule to learn.
Having played Lines of Questioning many times, I thought I knew exactly what this would do to the game’s difficulty. Strategies that revolved around keeping the lawyer’s and witness’ lines separate would get weaker, since the buildup of lawyer tiles would push the lawyer’s line closer to the witness’. Other strategies would be unaffected.
After some testing, however, it appears that I may have been completely wrong. Keeping the lawyer’s and witness’ lines separate is still pretty easy; the board, even at four spaces by four spaces, provides enough real estate to keep the lawyer and witness apart. Using the lines together, on the other hand, has become even easier. The lawyer’s line can be directed into corners with impunity, putting lawyer tiles in place for later with the confidence that they’ll remain even if the lawyer’s line comes to a halt.
The fact that this change isn’t having the effects I expected doesn’t mean it’s bad. It solves the issues it was meant to solve, and might therefore remain in place. I’m just struck by the reminder that game design always has surprises in store.