This session would be the first 4 player game in the maze, so I'd enlisted the help of my core gaming group. Having settled on a Friday evening, myself and 3 close friends (Mark, Ben and Brett) headed over to Ben's house and set up a table in his kitchen. We hadn't played a boardgame (as a group) since completing an Imperial Assault campaign earlier in the year - so you can imagine we were all ready to go!
Based on feedback received (and some research) I'd made quite a few updates since the previous playtest. Some were to reduce output randomness used on things like Health Potions and Traps, while others were to revamp mechanics completely, such as Bosses and the endgame.
Key changes I'd made from my previous session were:
Converted all dead ends in the maze to Portals (6 in total)
Streamlined the Event cards and added some new ones
Changed traps from a random dice roll to a static value (e.g. -2 HP)
Changed Health Potions from a random dice roll to a static +5 HP
Removed dice rolls for Monster defence and increased their base values (to simplify combat)
Changed movement from 'move up to X spaces' to 'move exactly X spaces'
Updated Item weight values
Replaced Hero tokens with Ability cards.
Added '3D' raised walls to make rotating the maze easier
Added an Escape deck for the endgame
Reworked the Boss system
Reworked the ending by creating the Golden Idol
I began the session by explaining the object of the game and ran over some of the core rules, concepts and components. Having Mark there was really helpful, as he'd played once before and was able to pick things up very quickly. Characters were chosen and we were ready to play!
For quite a while we were having fun encountering monsters and picking up items before the first talking point arose (surrounding the Boss NPC). One major change I'd made from the last session was to make the Boss an NPC that patrolled the maze. This Boss had to be killed before access was granted to the centre of the maze. The problem was that the Boss ended up moving to the outer circle of the maze and became quite time consuming to track down and kill. Restricting its movement to one or two maze circles might be a good workaround.
On a positive note the new trap system was working as I'd hoped. Players would proclaim "it's a trap!" when one was drawn from the deck and mocking laughter ensued as the unfortunate card drawer lost some of their HP. This was a really fun and organic moment that I hope other players of my game will also experience. Another positive was that each player's turn flowed quite quickly and it didn't feel like there was much downtime between being able to take a turn.
Players liked rotating the maze, but they also liked the Event cards that had other effects too, such as the 'Lucky Day' and 'Raise the Dead' cards. I made a note to add one or two more to the deck, as these were fun cards to draw. Players also really liked the new Ability cards (which replaced the Hero tokens) as they could either do the action written on the card, or discard it to reroll one of their dice. This gave them more choices (and difficult decisions) to make during their turn.
The next big point for revision was how PVP worked; I almost confused myself when trying to explain it! The mechanic worked, it just wasn't that intuitive and needed to be revised. The confusing part was that players could roll a dice for defence in PVP combat, but there were no defence rolls while in combat with Bosses or monsters. This felt quite inconsistent and is a major candidate for revision, as PVP combat is a core mechanic of the endgame.
And speaking of the endgame... this actually worked quite well considering it was the first time I'd used the new Golden Idol system. Essentially once the Boss had been defeated; players could enter the centre of the maze and pick up the Golden Idol - all they had to do was escape the maze with it to win the game. Simple right? Yes and no.
In the first group playtest Jess uttered a phrase that stayed with me; this was"the sense of impending doom". Impending doom... I love it! So with that in mind I'd created a new deck of cards called the Escape deck. This was essentially a Venom injected version of the Adventure deck; tougher monsters, better items and deadlier traps. I kept this little gem a secret from my players until the time was right.
Escaping with the Idol became a frantic race of PVP madness. Mark was in pole position to pick it up, but with a movement roll of 1 (two turns in a row!) and all of his Ability cards spent, it meant that he couldn't reach the centre of the maze before Brett was able to swoop in and take the Idol for himself! Once Brett had taken the Idol, the Adventure deck was swapped out for the Event deck and all active traps and monsters remained on the board. Play continued with myself, Mark and Ben hunting down Brett so one of us could take the Idol for ourselves. I managed to catch up to Brett, defeated him in PVP combat and stole the Golden Idol. Now to escape...
The last turn of the game was wonderfully dramatic, as the Escape deck was down to its final two cards and I knew that both had to be traps; one would deal -5 to HP and the other -6 HP. It was my turn and I only had 4 HP remaining, so with the exit in sight I knew a roll of 4 (or lower) would essentially require me to draw a card (which I knew was a trap) and kill me. Luckily I had a 'Dash' Ability card that allowed me to roll an additional dice for movement. I used the Ability, rolled an extra dice and was able to escape the maze with the Golden Idol and win the game... but only by the skin of my teeth!
I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun we all had during this playtest, as much of the gameplay flowed and felt quite natural. Even though the game lasted just shy of 3 hours (which was 30-45 mins longer than I'd hoped), my players genuinely enjoyed themselves and were asking when we could all play it again!
Some key things for me to consider going forward are:
Revert player movement back to 'move up to X spaces', giving players more choice - I'm in two minds about this one however
Boss movement and how they are controlled (e.g. a Boss Controller token)
More Event cards that don't just rotate the maze
Review the ratio of XP Reward tokens
Clarify moving past and landing on the same space as another player
Create a Golden Idol item card that details its stats (e.g. -1 movement)
Clarify encounter priority when multiple things are on the same space (e.g. monsters and other players)
Add a door token mechanic (I want to use a Mimic) to the maze exits during the endgame
A big thanks to Mark, Ben and Brett for their time and thoughts during this session. The feedback received (as per usual) was important and super helpful.
I'd like to sneak one more group playtest in before Protospeil Nottingham (23rd Nov), but schedules are pretty tight this time of the year, so it may prove difficult. Either way, I should have some of the key considerations implemented by then and I'm really looking forward to sharing my game with more people in a few weeks time!
Below is a photo I'd taken mid-game (stubbies not official game components);