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Finished first play test for The City

Well, it certainly took a while but I finally finished The City prototype enough to play test it.  Walter and Bob sat down with me for about an hour on Sunday at Maker Works and shot my poor game to pieces :) .  Actually, it was really productive and I've now got lots of work to do to prepare the next version.


Images from the first play test

After playing a bit

Here's some key elements that we quickly learned:

Shared versus Private property

One of the purposes of the game is to create lots of player interaction through limited, shared resources.  During the first play test players literally shared everything except the power poles (the black and colored objects with LEDs on them).  So if I built the land, you could build a house on it, and then the next player could pull a character into the house.  Walter didn't like this much stating "It's my damn house, not yours - you can't use it!".  Next time, we'll have player controlled houses, but land will stay communal.  If you go to completely privately owned stuff, then there's little player interaction unless you create a new level of interaction (like the competition for spaces in Carcasonne, or competition in commodity markets like Power Grid, etc.).  I want to avoid those, so I'm hoping to get that player interaction by forcing players through repeated prisoner's dilemmas where they develop respect naturally (or screw each other until the game ends and everyone loses :) ...

Building community through repeat prisoner's dilemmas

Initially, I created a "respect" type card which is provided to players who do some kind of nice thing for other players - "respect" could then be traded like any other commodity, and acted as a component of victory points.  While this is effective, it's also a very blunt game tool - it would be much better to in fact build real respect among players and allow that actual feeling impact game play.  I feel this occurs in games like Bohnanza and Settlers of Catan, where by the end of the game you'll see trades which, strictly speaking, may not be logical but occur anyway because respect or repoire has been built between players.  One of the ways I want to build this type of in-game repoire and mores is by having repeated prisoner dilemma type interactions (if you don't know what prisoners dilemma is - see the wiki article) with food and lumber.  Food is  commodity which needs to be cycled through "farm" and "compost" to be replenished.  If I leave you with no food in the kitchen, then it's much more costly for you to replenish it.  Lumber is in very limited supply, but is replenished by players using their work - but if it gets below a certain threshold, again it becomes much more costly to replenish.  In this ways, players (hopefully) will develop mores for when and how different resources will be replenished, and players who screw other people will likely be punished themselves for breaking these mores.

Some other ideas for building community / in-game mores are to have random negative events which impact everyone (think Pandemic) like tornadoes and floods and stuff.  Still thinking about this one, or combining it with other things.

Designing in more strategy, randomness or both

I was disappointed to realize over the course of the play test that the game lacked in lots of strategic decisions.  Even though we didn't even finish the game, it was becoming clear that decisions felt too static, obvious, or somewhat predetermined.  In that first iteration, there were very few random elements, and most of the random elements which existed tended to have distributed positive outcomes instead of just helping one player.  In Catan, for example, basically the randomness of the board combined with the randomness of the resource draws (dice rolls) makes the game.  I think I need to add additional randomness to shake up those first 10 player turns more so that people head down different production paths and specialize.  I'd also like to try to identify some elements to increase strategic decisions in other ways, but haven't figured that out yet.

Successful design of the electrical system

It took an inordinate amount of time to get the electrical system right.  The goal is to allow either hand crank generator or solar panels to distribute power to the power poles (LEDs) which indicate which houses have power and which don't.  Powering houses is one way to win the game.  The hard part was sizing all of the components, not only to ensure that nothing would burn up (the hand crank generates about 8V at 2A but distributes power to LEDs which run at 1.8V and 0.001A!), but also to ensure that the LED timing worked well from a gameplay standpoint.  After testing, one hand crank of 6 seconds in length (we'll call that a "standard crank") results in 1 LED remaining on for almost 8 minutes.  A solar panel with sufficient light (100W bulb at 15 - 20 inches) can keep about 5 LEDs on permanently, but not 15.  These felt like good starting points for gameplay testing.  Also, I had a build a connector to place the LED at the house (the black Ts with LEDs on them below) which made good, consistent, low friction contact to the wires.  In the end it was George Albercook (of Rocks and Robots) who came up with the idea of integrating the breadboard jumpers (see picture below) into the acrylic itself.  These are designed to make good, consistent contact and after lots of testing and tweaking, it worked great!

Final successful iteration with solar and hand crank connections

What a breadboard looks like on the inside

Previous iteration which failed for many reasons

Artwork and Narrative

Rachel's been working hard on the artwork and I've been writing the storyline/narrative (Rachel's a local Ann Arbor artist who is great - you can see more of her work here).  So far, we've got over half of the characters done, and the entire narrative (except once character) is finished.  Once that's done as a draft I'll post it to get additional thoughts.  Here's the current basic design for the box cover:

"Ok, I got my solar power hooked up... next step - fusion... now where can I find small scale open source plans for nuclear power ?"

And here's some of the characters cards that we have so far (not a big fan of Abdul and Tom, but I generally like the rest) -

A lot of adjustments until the next play test which hopefully will be next week.  If you're interested in play testing this game and you live in Ann Arbor, shoot me an email.  I'll be showing off a version of this game (and at least one other game) at the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire on June 2nd at the Washtenaw Fair Grounds and the Detroit Maker Faire on July 28 - 29th.  I'm also hoping to take it to Protospiel and see if anyone will want to play at GenCon in Indianapolis in August.  More posts to come (more often, I promise!).


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