Friday, May 21, 2010

Rules tweaks

I've been trying to incorporate the feedback I got from one helpful set of playtesters for Diggity.  They seemed to like the game, but they thought there were some balance issues with how the two-player game plays out. They suggested some pretty major changes to the rules to compensate - introducing a fundamentally different way to play for the two-player game compared to the "normal" way I had designed.

After playing some more, I agree with their criticisms - the two-player game can get pretty luck-intensive, and one person can get ahead pretty fast if things get out of balance.  But I don't agree with their fix. One thing I like about the game as it is now is how simple the rules are, and changing how gold is mined would change the whole balance of the cards.

So, I tried adding a simple fix - you need to play a few cards before mining gold.  This is in line with the simplicity of the rest of the rules, and isn't hard to understand.  Initially, I said you had to have four cards played before mining; playing with my wife, it became clear pretty fast that it would be better to have an odd number, three or five, so the first opportunity to mine for gold goes to the player who didn't get gold last.

What I wasn't expecting is how strongly this small change pulled at the two-player game in other ways.  With a guaranteed delay before gold can come out, it leaves you free to play less defensively and more strategically; you end up using different aspects of the cards (shapes, connections, location on the board, etc.) for different purposes during play, and you end up thinking harder.  Also, it's much easier to get carts, since people play more circle cards, which I wasn't expecting at all.

I need to play some more, to figure out if there are any other pitfalls to this rule change, and then I need to see if I want to add this rule to the 3-4 player game.  The problem of runaway advantage doesn't happen nearly so often with 3-4 players, so I don't think the fix is needed, but it might be nice both to have consistency in the rules for all player numbers and maybe to get some of the strategic benefits this new way of playing adds.  These effects wouldn't be as strong with multi-player games, because the players don't have as much control over how the game goes, but it might still be neat.  If it doesn't hurt anything, I think I'll leave it in for everybody.

It's remarkable how such a minor change in rules, meant to solve one problem, creates so many other possibilities. This is why I love messing with game design, and why testing is so important - I'm going to end up with a much better game because of my great initial testers forcing me to look at this problem, and because of the resulting tinkering.  Neat stuff.

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