There are two main states of game development:

Exhilaration – You have a list of some issues in your game that need to be addressed. You’ve come up with a solution to one of the problems on paper. You think it is so elegant and will solve all of your problems. You, sir, are a genius! You live in the land of happiness and can’t wait to try out your idea.

Despair – Your elegant solution failed completely. It made the game unbalanced. It made the game broken. It made babies cry. Now you must head back to the drawing board to face that annoying issue you were trying to resolve in the first place.

So, this process continues over and over. New issues replace old issues. New fixes break old fixes. You become an expert on your game, and you have tinkered with every aspect of the design. One day everything everything falls into place and you have a game. Sometimes this takes you by surprise. In the end, all the highs and lows were worth it.

Today I received some feedback from Mike and the guys at the Royal Steamwork Society about Stellar Underworld. Here are some of the main points I pulled from it:

Rules Clarifications

Can contraband assets be delivered in multiples?

Yes. This will have to be explicitly stated in the rulebook. Contraband assets are different from other assets in that they don’t require any contracts to score them (because contraband is always in demand). This leads to some extra rules in dealing with them, and I guess this area had some confusion.

When can a sector ability be used and how often?

For the most part they are used during the docking bay ability phase. I will need to clarify this a bit more. I also plan on adding a glossary for each sector to answer any specific questions.


Is acquiring henchmen too powerful of a strategy?

There are two methods of scoring points in the game: recruiting henchmen and completing contracts. It has been suggested that taking a strategy of heavy recruitment is the best way to go. I know that henchmen are important because they not only score points, but also provide the manpower to activate abilities. I don’t believe you can win by ignoring them, or by solely focusing on them, but I need to test this out.

Test: Play a test game where one person only scores via henchmen.
Test: Play a test game where one person does not recruit any more henchmen.

Are warehouses necessary?

An interesting occurrence happened during the blind playtest: In their second game, the players completely ignored one feature of the game because they deemed it too weak for its cost. The feature is the warehouse. The warehouse allows you to move assets around more effectively, keep them safe from commandeering, and set up more efficient scoring. The cost for loading an asset into the warehouse is one henchmen. You also have to pay the cost for unloading too. In all of the other playtests, everybody used their warehouses. I am always on the lookout for dominant strategies, but I failed to look for utterly weak ones. Maybe the warehouse is too weak. I haven’t really thought about it, but I will need to investigate more.

Play a test game with one player does not use his warehouse.


Players don’t feel like they own their ship

In the game, each player has one ship and there are two neutral ships. Owning a ship means that if someone tries to commandeer (steal) it, you can defend it and try to stop them. Other than that, owning your ship means nothing. In real life, owning an object really means nothing either except that you feel like you would need to defend it (by force, lawsuit, etc.) if someone tried to steal it. That was my reasoning, but it doesn’t seem to come across to well in the setting of a game. Especially in a game setting where stealing is an everyday occurrence.

Possible Solution: I think that stripping out the idea of owning a ship is the way to go. I have an idea on how this would work, but would like to experiment with it first.


The board is too small for some components

The board is a map of a space station with a space in the center for the “bank” of henchmen and contracts. I underestimated how many of these things there would be and it does look cluttered.

Solution: This one’s easy! I think I can just reduce the number of pieces or make the board bigger where it needs to be.

Frustration Points

Replenishing no assets or no Contracts at a sector

Frustration: The production system in this game uses a random method that could result in the sector gaining no contracts or no assets. Having no contracts at a sector means that you can’t score points there, and having no assets at a sector means that when you arrive there you’ll have nothing to ship back on the return trip. Statistically, it shouldn’t happen that often, but when it does, it is really frustrating. I have yet to determine if this actually hinders the player or if it is a psychological issue.

Possible Solution: I need to add more flexibility to this system, but I’m not sure how to do this just yet.

Having limited end game options

Frustration: The game uses a system where each player has an identical set of cards. Each turn you play one card a turn until no players have cards. This system inherently causes the end game to have limited options.

Possible Solution: Make the end game occur before the players reach their last card, possibly third to last. This will still give players choice on the last turn. Of course, this solution will cause a new frustration: player wanting to play the rest of their hand!

Not being able to ship directly from sector to sector

Frustration: The core idea of the game is that you always have to stop at the space port when traveling from sector to sector. There is no direct route. If there was a direct route, there would be little reason to use the space port (the whole point of the game).

Possible Solution: Give each player one or two Direct Route Cards to allow this to happen. It should appease player frustration enough, and answer that question “Why can’t I just go from here to there?” The best “abilities” in games come from easing player frustration.

Ian’s Unnamed Space Game Playtest

Ian, Jon, and I played a newer version of Ian’s unnamed space game. This game is your basic 4X game: explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. Actually, the “explore” aspect isn’t really there because the board is pretty much open information from the beginning. So, I guess it’s a 3X game. Anyways, the real ingenuity of the game comes in the form of flicking, as in Crokinole or Ian’s other game Taktika. Instead of dice or card draws, the random element of the game comes in the form of flicking. About 80% of the time, the flicks are successful, but that remaining 20% keeps players in a haze about their future. You see, the rest of the game is perfect information, and the only uncertainty comes from your opponents and the flicking. All in all, this game is coming along nicely. It will take a lot of play-testing because there are so many build paths and strategies.

Venture Forth Playtest

Ian, Jon, and I played my latest incarnation of Venture Forth. This game started as an ambitious project two years ago to make a Euro-style Talisman. It has gone through many many incarnations between periods of being shoved in the back of my closet out of frustration. The core of the game has remained throughout: character ambitions. My big beef with fantasy games is that it is assumed that all characters have a bloodlust to kill monsters and an unending desire to acquire treasure. My game would allow the character to be who they are and be rewarded for it. For example, in the current version, you can have just a lone Faerie in your party and score points by just ‘making friends’. There is still treasure and there is still killing, but only certain characters desire those things.

Last night, I got to test it with more than two players and it worked great! My new bonus point system worked as well as my new cube ‘currency’ system. Everything fell into place, and I couldn’t be happier.