Happy 2020! I've been busy during the Holidays
The festive break is behind us and we're at the dawn of a brand new decade - "exciting times!" I hear you cry, and I'm inclined to agree with you. The new decade fits 'hand-in-glove' with my fledgeling career as a board game designer. I began this journey only 2-3 months ago (after attending the excellent NCG design course), and my aim/hope/dream by the end of the 2020s is to look back and see that I was able to turn a hobby into a career... let's return to this post in Dec 2029 and see what really happened.
Enough of that though; I think it's about time for an update on the Rotating Maze Game! The eagle-eyed among you will notice that I dropped Untitled from the title, not because the game now has a title, I just felt that Rotating Maze Game was an accurate enough working title, but it's still not the title... still with me? *crosses fingers*
My previous update focussed on replacing the 'rotate the maze' Event cards with a new Event dice system - which would rotate the maze, move Monsters and draw Event cards. I really liked this idea at the time, and thankfully it worked out quite nicely when put to the test. I managed to sneak in a couple of playtests over the Holidays; one with 'the boys' and the other with my wonderful wife - both were great playtest sessions as I gathered some fantastic information and (of course) I had fun along the way!
The main things I wanted to test from these sessions were;
The new Event dice system.
Split the Adventure cards into two decks.
Give each Character a unique Skill.
Other small tweaks I'd made to reduce game time.
Event Dice System:
As I said earlier, this new system seemed to work well and 'non-gaming' players picked up the concept very quickly, even though they'd never even seen a D4! This new system worked by rolling three dice - a custom Rotation D8, a custom Monster D8 and a regular D4. The Rotation D8 and the D4 would tell players which maze rings to rotate, how far to rotate them, and in which direction. After the maze was rotated; the Monster D8 and the D4 (its result was reused) would tell players to either draw an Event card or move a specific Monster group.
At first, I wasn't convinced that using the same D4 result to rotate the maze AND move Monsters was the best thing to do, but it actually made this phase of the game easy, intuitive and quick (hurrah!). It didn't seem to matter that Monsters couldn't move more than 4 spaces, the fact that they could move at all was tension enough. For example; during one game I was sandwiched between a 5* Minotaur and a 3* Corrosive Cube, praying that the 'Savage' or 'Minion' symbols wouldn't appear!
An issue I did find though, was that the Event cards just didn't get drawn enough. This was due to the ratio of symbols on the Monster D8 (Event cards had a 25% chance of being drawn). I'd like to try a Monster D6, with three of the faces as the Event symbol (thus increasing its chance to 50%) - something for the next few sessions I think.
Splitting the Adventure Deck:
This is a bit of a 'head-scratcher' in all honesty, and I don't think I'm at the bottom of things just yet. I've mentioned the phrase "impending doom" quite a few times in previous blog posts (and I truly love the phrase), but I'm not sure that I have a particularly clever way of creating said 'doom' in my game, or at least via the Adventure cards. I'll try to explain...
I'd created two distinct Adventure decks, an 'A' deck and a 'B' deck. The idea was that when players were in the outer-two maze rings; they would draw cards from the 'A' deck, which had lower level Monsters and fewer traps. When they were in the inner-two maze rings, they would draw cards from the 'B' deck (you guessed it), which had deadlier Monsters and more traps.
In theory, this sounded fine - but in practice, it was a little confusing and not particularly streamlined. You see, on the way into the maze the system works, but what about when players are dashing for the exits? Things getting easier on the way out didn't seem right. I experimented with swapping the decks over when someone had the Golden Idol, but that became confusing. I also tried having the player with the Golden Idol always draw from the 'B' deck (which did seem better), but it still didn't feel quite right.
I'm not really sure what the right answer is at the moment. I'm leaning towards reverting back to a single Adventure deck (it was a simpler system), but I have a feeling that this is going to be something that I will go back-and-forth over.
Unique Character Skills:
I really liked the concept of having unique Character Skills that players could use by 'spending' some of their XP, but I'd made the mistake of making them too expensive to actually use! Most skills had a cost of 2XP, take into account that the Reward tokens only cost 4XP (which gave you a permanent stat boost) and the Skills were never really a viable option, because of the cost.
A phrase that comes to mind is "Do the fun things more", so the takeaway here is to;
Reduce the Skill XP cost.
Have a real stab at Character design, now that many of the core game mechanics seem to be shaping up.
I'll let you in on a secret... I've already done a ton of Character work, so keep a Watcher's eye out for more in my next update *wink*.
Up until now, full playthroughs have lasted between 2-3 hours, which is much longer than I'd have liked. I think the 'sweet spot' for this kind of game is at around 90 mins and thankfully I'm heading in the right direction. With that said; I'm a fan of alternate game modes and do plan on having an 'Accessible' mode (shorter/easier - for young or non-gamers) along with an 'Epic' mode (longer/more difficult - for seasoned gamers). These are both a little down the line though, as I need to sure up the core game first and foremost.
The main positive is that both festive sessions were completed in just over an hour, which is a huge swing from the game I'd previously taken to Protospiel. I believe the main reasons for the large differences in playtime were down to the following;
Less time explaining rules - although this could be attributed to some players being familiar with the game from a previous session (it's still a win).
Making XP easier to obtain - now players get 1XP for dealing damage to Monsters, even if the Monster wasn't completely killed.
Reduced the XP cost of Reward tokens (the permanent stat upgrades) down to 4XP each - players could now 'level up' much quicker.
Increased the stat values (and variation) of Reward tokens - previously they'd all just been +1 to a stat, which wasn't particularly exciting.
Looking back now, I perhaps went a little too far on reducing the cost of the Reward tokens, as some players became overpowered in a short space of time. I'm going to experiment with Reward tokens costing 5XP and hope I'm not too far from the 'sweet spot' - the joys of balancing! There will also be 'cooler' things to spend XP on, so spending XP on Reward tokens will be a choice, not a requirement.
Other things to note:
An interesting problem that arose was when a player stole the Golden Idol. The issue was that once they'd stolen it, their turn was over and they couldn't do anything but defend the next attack. Due to this, players would end up grouping in the same few spaces and would end up mindlessly attacking each other, until only one of them was left alive (which was all quite boring).
A simple workaround could be to allow players to roll one dice after stealing the Golden Idol, allowing them to move (up-to) that many spaces. Gaining an additional move when stealing the Golden Idol (I hope) will help circumvent the issue - a perfect example of the value of playtesting I think!
The final thing I'd like to highlight is how the Door tokens worked. I'd removed the Door cards and made the Door tokens larger, which enabled me to add the details onto the token itself - which (to be fair) was brilliant. The issue came from how to reveal a Door token, it was all just a bit messy and inconsistent. You could reveal a Door token by spending 1XP (but only if you were on it), and you could also reveal a Door token for free if you had the Golden Idol (again, only if you were on it).
In practice, this didn't seem to add much value to the game. Not the Door tokens themselves, just the system of revealing them. I'm currently trying to think of interesting ways to reveal them - one idea was when the first Monster is killed, or when the Golden Idol is first stolen, or even when the first turn is taken (then why have them hidden at all?).
I wanted the Door tokens to be a 'reveal' mechanic because I really liked the idea of not knowing if the Door would be open, locked, caved-in or even a Mimic (*chomp*). I really like the idea of a surprise for players, but I need to weigh up if it's actually a fun mechanic or not (genuinely a tough decision).
In summary; things I took away from the festive sessions were:
Change the Monster dice to a D6 (I'm thinking Dragon x1, Minion x1, Savage x1, Event x3).
Allow players to move after they take the Golden Idol (E.g. roll one dice).
Refine the Character Skills (have both 'passive' and 'activate with XP' Skills).
More XP, but increase the level for obtaining Reward tokens (prevents being overpowered too early in the game).
How Door tokens work (there's something about this mechanic that I'm just not 100% on).
Add more walls to the maze (I didn't talk about this, but now the maze it rotates differently I can block off a few more areas, making getting to the centre more of a 'journey').
The Dragon needed to be more powerful (specifically HP and Defence).
Should players get something 'extra' for killing the Dragon? (I'm not convinced just yet).
Make the starting Items more interesting, and thematic with the Characters.
If you made it this far (seriously) I thank you! It takes me quite a while to write these updates and I truly appreciate each and every reader I get - your feedback is also greatly appreciated!
I'm amazed at how far the Rotating Maze Game has come in the short space of time that it has been an 'actual thing' (just a few short months) and I'm forever grateful to every person who has helped (and continues to help) me along the way.
Happy 2020 everyone! *enthusiastic cheer*
Below; my attempt at custom dice... regular plastic ones with paper glued to them (thanks for the idea James and Sophie!)