So what’s up with Carousel?

Arcádia, Carousel, Multiuniversum, playtest


Carousel is doing great! The main reason I haven’t been posting about is because I have been working on it so much. I’ll try to resume what’s been going on:

Prototype 3: At the Arcadia meeting some unexpected big flaws showed up, which brought the game to an endless loop. The biggest problem was that getting all the factors right so you could play a number card was so unlikely that nobody was able to do it. Most of the numbers that can get you points show up as the game progresses so the game was locked at the very beginning.

This called for a major redesign.

Prototype 4: This time I went back and changed the number cards. Now there are only 8 single number cards which you can play at any time. There’s a new action that lets you take a number from the table to your hand, which allows you to control the time flow. Other new actions allow you to play the previous number or refresh your hand.

There are now five more action cards so the total is 54, and the actions were moved around so they appear the same number of times per number. Games took longer than expected and I saw some situations where people won almost accidentally. I certainly don’t want that!

The main flaw seemed to be the lack of purpose in player’s actions. Sure, you want to get five cards in the bank but you don’t know what numbers will give you that. You could be moving the arrow around so your opponent doesn’t get to the highest numbers but they may have a card that scores them a point in the lower ones so what you did was basically random.

I know just how I can fix that.

Prototype 5 (the one you see in the picture above): I took away the action that scores points from the action cards! Now the way to do so is to get to the “$” card on the timeline. This card is on the table tight from the start and provides a much clearer goal to everyone. You want to get there but you don’t want the other players to to so. Also, it’s easier to steal cards from the bank than to get there, which allows for some interesting turncoat player interaction. The players liked that so much they wanted a few more “$”.

This sounded cool but they couldn’t be permanent just like the initial “$”. These are one-time uses. You can take a number from the table to your hand, leaving the “$” where that number was. The first player to get them gets to store it in the bank. Brought four of those in, took four action cards away to compensate.

There was an action which allowed you to trade your hand with an opponent’s. That brought an interesting dynamic element: you could play your actions so you get one card only, use that action and get a whole new hand. The player gets your (empty) hand and in their turn they won’t be able to play. As a designer I certainly found that interesting, but it was a frustrating thing to suffer while playing.

Nuno Carreira liked the game mechanics so much that he suggested something new: Advanced Mode. Don’t let the name scare you off, the only thing that changes in the rules is the fact than you can play three cards per turn instead of just one! This allows you to control the random aspect of the game, making it a lot more satisfying and tactical. It can be played without changing anything about the current cards!

Prototype 6: These ones are intended for Ludopolis. I rearranged the action spreads for 40 cards and made two new versions. One looks just like the previous one but with more balanced actions and a slight change in wording.

The other looks entirely different, with a whole new layout and icons instead of text. This new version is language independent and makes it easier to show the other players across the table the action you’re using. I can’t wait to try it.

Also, Carousel now has a Boardgamegeek page which you can access by clicking here.

“Sinking” Milestone 1 – Design

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

The design for “Sinking” is complete! The changes to the way ties are solved worked just as I hoped. The rules are now easier to memorize and after a couple of turns new players seem to really get the hang of it. As a matter of fact, yesterday the new player ended up winning!

I’d like to keep testing it to better define how long the games should be. This doesn’t involve changing the player boards any further, just changing the limits on the center board. For the record, last night teaching the rules took 5 minutes, the game itself took 35. Obviously this number will change as players and strategies change. If it wasn’t for this devastating double attack it could have easily taken 10 more minutes. My goal was 45 so it’s pretty close.

What’s next? First I have to write the rules in a clear way so that players can learn how to play the game from there. That is mostly done. I know from experience a bad manual can wreck the whole experience so I’m paying special attention to that.

After that it’s time to work on the iconography and further develop the look of the boards.

The main part for me is done, though. My goal was to create a game from scratch with interesting dynamics and tweak it until it was fun. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the process, so I’ll keep going.

Playtest update – pirate ties

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

Yesterday’s playtest had two neat surprises:

  1. The game is balanced now
  2. I won at my own game for the first time

I finally reached the fine balance I was looking for. I took notes about the problems I noticed in this session, but they were only about solving the several types of ties that can happen mostly at the start of a game. I won’t change the player boards for the next sessions, this version seems like a winner so I’ll play it until it breaks.

Speaking of winner, I finally won! It took 12 play sessions  but I did it. That’s how you know the game isn’t rigged – though now you can argue I’ve been changing my game so that I can finally win.

Also, if you’re hanging around Lisbon check out MOTELx! Besides the horror flicks there will be a Horror-themed Boardgames and Roleplay session from 19h to 5h from Saturday through Sunday. Come by Cinema São Jorge and give your brain a workout! All the cool kids are doing it.

Playtest update – making it more intense

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

Another really good playtesting session showed me a couple of things that could be better about the player boards. Good thing that paper prototypes allow me to just write the changes on them and use them in the next game.

Those minor changes made the game a lot tighter. Some exotic ties were solved and now the boat can sink a lot faster. Going “all in” is an even bigger risk than before because now it allows the other players to make you sink even further.

I thought these changes would make the game a lot faster -and that would send the endgame spot on the board flying from 20 to 30 – but that didn’t happen. Both games lasted just as long, but this second one was way more intense.

It gets to a point where everyone sort of forgets about fighting and just wants to drain water out of their ships! The ending is very tense, but it’s balanced so that no players get too far ahead. So far haven’t found an optimal strategy because the real action costs change every turn.

Still need something to identify the players’s ID colors so they can plan accordingly. Asking a player’s color can reveal your secret plans and that shouldn’t be part of the game. Other than that I don’t think I’m going to change the boards for the next playtest because it’s really solid.

Time to think of a name for it!

Playtest update – we’re getting there!

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

This third playtest was by far the most successful one, but it started on a road bump. I got there and realized I didn’t print the new center board (the square one with all the numbers) and had to improvise one on the spot. It worked well enough, nobody complained. It may actually have lowered expectations from new players and eased them in.

At the start there weren’t that many people available for a game so I tried a two-player game for the first time. I didn’t really know if it was balanced or not. Turns out the game is a lot faster with only two players, but it’s hard to bring back dead crew members because the winning player can use the two cannons to attack, and score most of the time. I’ll test it out more and fix some of the rules for a fair two-player game.

The four player game was by far the most balanced yet and most fun yet. The new rules made it a lot more interesting, because going “all in” puts you in great risk. We cut cut the board short at 15 because it was really late, but that made the game more intense and I was very surprise when it brought a crowd in to watch the final turns.

More than that, the people who were watching were mainly people who hadn’t played it before and were curious about the rules. A couple players wanted to know what had changed since last time because both boards looked different.

It’s really getting there, and it will only get one minor wording tweak for the next playtest.

Big thank you to all the playtesters, you’re shaping my original idea into a good game!

Playtest updates – sacrificing “Sacrifice”

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

The second playtest was a lot of fun, but it was marked by the most game-breaking rule yet, “Sacrifice”.

My intentions were to create opportunities for losing players to get back on track, but I had no idea it would be abused as it did. As soon as I taught the testers about this rule I could see their eyes shine as their plans formed.

I knew I had made a mistake, but I let the game start like that anyway.

The players started using it on the very first turn, which is something I expected. What I did not expect, though, was to run out of crew tokens. This rule is out!

This lead the way to a new idea that increases tension and reinforces the game’s theme. Not mine, but Jorge Graça’s. I just adapted it to fit the game. Now you’ll have a chance to control the speed at which you are sinking by assigning crew members to drain the water out. Betting big on an action means you’ll have to take them out of there and risk sinking faster.

Also, there’s an 8 crew member limit now.

The arrows on the side of the actions were barely used as a reference at all, so I’ll keep the standard from left to right, up to down order and update them for reference’s sake.

I’ll give the players more opportunities to chose which other player’s crew members and resources are they affecting with the most expensive actions.

I have to mention Nuno Carreira found a design flaw and pounced onto it like a hungry cheetah, winning the game in a way I hadn’t thought of before. Thank you man! I’ll fix it in time for the next playtest.

Next up: both board redesigns and an updated prototype!

First Playtest

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

I was warned by a veteran tester that most prototypes have really rough first playtests. A lot of them don’t reach the end because of some unforeseen design flaw, and some don’t even go beyond the first turn.

So, how did the my playtest go?

It went really well. Players enjoyed themselves and told me they want to play the next versions, so I think I’m off to a nice start.

It’s amazing how they’ll will ask questions and find out strategies you weren’t anticipating. I spent as much time playing with them as I did writing notes about things to change for the next time.

I played two full games and some of the rules changed between them. I corrected a couple of things in the game boards and welcomed four new players. The new fixed rules were taught and I let them play as I peeked around and took notes. One of them saw a loophole and tried to break the game using it. I was glad to see the current rules balanced it out by themselves and he didn’t end up winning.

I intend to take the dice out of the game. It can create some tense but unfair outcomes when the effect of an attack or tie depends on a random factor. Its ironic though, because the original idea for the game came up as I was trying to design an original dice game.

It’s hard to recover your position when an overpowered player constantly attacks you, so I’m going to try something new – a turn phase called “Sacrifice”. At the end of the turn a player may sacrifice its position on the board for new crew members. Sounds a bit unbalanced, but I’m curious to see what the players will do with it.

The board shields were way too light and small. The most obvious situation was when a player made a specially clever bid and proudly laughed while looking at his board. The shield fell down, and now everyone got a chance to look at his boards and change their bids accordingly.

It’s really good to see that people enjoyed it and gave me a lot of suggestions as they played and after the games ended. They are a very important part of it, and the game is taking shape with every question and strategy I see.

Onwards to the new set of rules and prototype 2!