February 5, 2012

Poor Abby Testworth: Results of the first Test

I took the opportunity to test Poor Abby Farnsworth this past week. We didn't play a full game due to time and some issues with the game, but the test went remarkably well and I've finished implementing the changes that came about as a result of the test.

Below I'm going to detail the results of the test as well as the changes you'll see in the game. The foundation to the game didn't receive any drastic changes, though one significant support feature was removed and I tweaked an existing feature in a pretty significant fashion. However, most of the changes were polish and tuning fixes.

Here are the updated rules for Poor Abby Farnsworth. As always, your feedback is very much appreciated. I'm fairly pleased the rules are a tinge shorter now, even though the game is deeper.

Before I dive into the test data, I wanted to share some thoughts based on my experience with this design. I've been struggling for months to move onto a deeper, more substantial game design. Farmageddon is a good game, but is definitely a lighter experience. I decided to take it slowly with Poor Abby Farnsworth. I knew two things: I wanted it to be a deckbuilding game and I wanted it to be about a witch trial in colonial Salem.

I spent months just thinking about the mechanics, the foundation, and how to make the deckbuilding component embrace the theme and emerge as something other than a Dominion clone. The result of the months of thought and design and the slow weeks I spent designing the content have really shown through. Whereas on Frontier Scoundrels I fundamentally altered the game after each test, here, the foundation of Poor Abby is strong. My players understood the flow of the game. The mechanics interested them and made sense. They weren't fumbling or asking questions. In fact, at one point I left to go to the bathroom and returned to find they kept playing without interruption.

We all design differently. But, if you can spare the time, I recommend devoting a few months to just pondering the fundamentals of your next game. It's really paid off for Poor Abby.

Onto the test notes!
  • The game took off too slowly. It took too many turns for interesting things to start happening. As a result, I'm expanding each player's starting deck (they will be equivalent) with new cards to get things moving.
    • 5 Influence cards
    • A piece of Evidence to control a Juror
    • Evidence cost reduction card
    • Dice manipulation card
  • There weren't enough Evidence cards to choose from. I'm going to scrap my 3 separate piles idea (it was one for each Evidence type) and I'll combine all cards into a single deck. They will now be drawn out like Ticket to Ride or Ascension to provide more choices and variety.
  • Court Actions (dice activated actions) weren't useful or interesting enough. 
    • Players will now have 4 dice (up from 3) to take more actions.
    • In general, Actions will now cost more to make it more of a choice.
    • Actions have been changed to be more powerful and interesting.
  • Players can only control one Juror per turn (for balance reasons)
  • To speed up the game, I reduced the number of Influence cards in the deck by 5 (down to 15). 
    • One of the game ending conditions is the Influence deck emptying.
  • Some of the Evidence cards were too powerful, especially for their cost. I inflated the costs of many Evidence cards as a result.
  • Introduced the mechanic of Overmax. Previously, all Evidence cost, at most, 6 (assign a pair of 6 dice to activate the Court Action). Now, some Evidence can require overmax, i.e. assign a pair of 6 dice and discard 1 Influence card for each number in addition to 6.
  • It was too hard to obtain a "Use to Control Juror" piece of Evidence. I should know better than to rely on probability. 
    • Now, all Evidence cards can be used to take control of a Juror. However, you can only use the ability on an Evidence card when used in this manner if it's a "play to control Juror" evidence card. Furthermore, the card will be tied up as long as you control the juror, so you have to choose whether to use the card that way.
  • Objections have been cut from the game. Their intent is too subtle for such a quick, two player game. It may be a notion I return to, but for now, it's unnecessary and not useful for the game.
    • I may introduce some of the cards as Evidence.
  • The Summon a Witness Court Action was too powerful. It also made the game a little clunky and fiddly. This has been changed to be more interesting and strategic.
    • Now, when you Summon a Witness you get to add the Witness to your side. Only you get to use the Witness' Court Action.
    • You still get to obtain an Evidence card of a matching type, but now it's from the center cards -- no additional drawing.
    • You can only obtain an Evidence card with a value equal to or less than the highest value die in your straight (a straight is used to activate court action). This makes it harder to pull off.
  • I've updated the Evidence cards. I've noticed tons of errors that one often notices upon a second reading.
    • Added iconography to begin testing that. Even sketched in pencil is useful to test.
    • Cleaned up phrasing, made the terminology more consistent
    • Added more balance and improved usefulness of cards
Finally, I thought of a really cool way to use the dice in a more meaningful way. One of the most interesting, subtle mechanics in deckbuilding games is the timing. When do you add a card or take an action? Too soon and it can slow you down. Too late and you've missed your chance.

Previously, the player would assign a control token to a Juror to indicate control. The Evidence card and all Influence used to Control the Juror would also be tied up, i.e. removed from your deck. Now, instead of a token, you'll assign a die AND the value on the die is added to your Influence cards to fortify your control over the Juror. This means a few things:
  • Will you use that 6 to activate a Court Action or control a Juror? 
  • You will lose that die, which means as you Control a Juror you will have fewer dice to roll.
    • You get the die back upon losing control of the juror, much like your cards.
  • You can have a really high die roll, but you immediately lose control of a Juror if there are no more Influence cards on the Juror. So if you have 1 Influence card plus a 6 die, that seems really impenetrable until your opponent plays an Evidence card to remove that Influence...
  • This makes dice useful and interesting throughout the entire game. Previously I worried dice would lose some of their value around mid game. Not anymore.
  • As an added side benefit, this reduces the components of the game. Saving money and tightening your components is always good.
I haven't tested this final idea yet, but I think it's a really good one.

What's next for Poor Abby?
Testing! Testing! Also, testing! As I've said a few times now the structure of the game is strong. It's rich with choices and decisions. It flows reasonably well and isn't overly complex. But, I need to tighten the initial set of the game and the mechanics so that it goes from being functional to being fun. We need to play a few games so we can move past "let's play it for 20 minutes to find flaws" to "let's play it completely 3 times in an hour." 

Once it gets to the point where a full game can be played without a major issue or head scratcher, then it's time to enter the long road of balance testing and strategy adding. The best additions to Farmageddon, namely my favorite combos and the most interesting cards, came about after months of testing. It'll be at this point I sit down for a few days of Photoshop labor to create a prototype via The Game Crafter. Note that the game will not be for sale. 

I've begun assembling a group of victims, err, blind testers who I hope will help me find those strategies and combos. 

So far this crew includes two of my college roommates in Austin, Texas, Eric from Games and Grub (a clinical DBG fiend), @FarmerLenny and @FutureWolfie of I Slay the Dragon (Dominion aficionados), and my publisher for Farmageddon Phil. I'm sure I'll find a few other victims. Dang! I need to stop using that term.


Nolan said...

Count me in as another victim.

I like the new rule for using dice to control a juror. My first reaction was to be concerned that it would be frustrating to roll low when you otherwise have a good hand to control a juror. However, losing a die to control a juror may be enough of a handicap that a player won't want to do it every time they roll a 6. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

If it doesn't work, you still don't need the control tokens. Add "Defense" and "Prosecution" to the two ends of the influence cards in such a way that it says "Defense" on top when oriented one way, and "Prosecution" on top when oriented the other. The text/background colors would match the dice (white-on-black, black-on-white). Then when you tuck the influence cards under the juror, you only show the text that matches who played the influence.

Your tie-breaker needs to be adjusted. Why not just make the tie-breaker be whoever controls the most jurors? You're guaranteed to get a winner that way.

I have a feeling there's room for Objections in some format, even if it's a "mini-expansion".

Grant said...

You will absolutely be a victim!

Good call on the tie breaker. I don't like that as the win condition, but as a tie breaker it's clean and very straightforward. Also fictionally excellent.

I'd love to bring objections back. I think it's one of those things we'll discover properly through testing. It's too subtle to design at this phase (at least with my talents), but it's exactly the type of thing that comes about from playtesters.

Good idea on the component reduction idea. Players do like having "stuff" so I'll need to find the right balance between cost, fiddliness, and fun components.

I really appreciate you taking the time to read.