There’s been a fair amount of happening under the hood with Hedron in the past month or so. The latest iteration brings a pretty dynamic change, as well as a complete overhaul of the rule book, some player aids and some online prototyping. I’m trying to get as many minds on Hedron as possible right now, to help make the game the best it can be and bring it to a final stage. But first, back to basics with the design goals (I crossed 2 and 3 out last time, because I really wanted to focus on the core of what makes Hedron an engaging game).
- Hedron’s key concept is the chain, creating the right chain to meet a specific outcome feels like puzzle-solving and solving puzzles is rewarding
Hedron is a brain-burner, you need to think about what you’re going to do Hedron has entropy, the game inevitably heads towards an end game state
- Hedron rewards skill and offers enough depth for repeat players but is still accessible for new players
- Hedron is print and play
I’ve been following a suggestion from lead playtester Yaoban Chan and it was a pretty fundamental change to the core movement mechanic. I’ve been getting a bunch of impressions from new players and those already familiar with the game to make sure that it’s something I want to proceed with.
Before I go in to the change, I want to stop and think about design goal no.4 for a second, specifically the accessible for new players part, Before proceeding, I’m going to change accessible to approachable, which is more the appropriate word (accessible is about making the game usable to people of varying needs, language and abilities; approachable is about making the game easy to understand and play for new players).
Through Hedron’s development there’s been a steady cycle of bloat (allowing the game to acquire new features through iteration) and trim (removing features and streamlining the game). Having a nice trim, lean game makes learning the game more approachable, simply because there’s less information to process, but there’s more to playing a game than understanding the game. For players to feel that they are playing the game properly, they need to have some sort of feedback. Points are a very obvious form of feedback in Hedron, but there’s also an important sense of accomplishment you get for pulling off an elaborate move. I call this being a cool guy feedback. This may or may not get the player closer to winning, but it lets the player feel that they are playing the game well and are, in fact, a cool guy. Dominion is a good, if slightly annoying, example of a game with good cool guy feedback; it feels really good when you’ve got your deck working well and are able to pull off elaborate combos. Rich Bentley, principally a designer of abstract games, calls this quality speciousness and argues that it’s more important than clarity in a game, that is, it’s more important to feel that you kind of know what you’re doing rather than have a complete knowledge of what’s the most optimal move.
The change is pretty simple but it does open up the game and allow the player to make longer reaching chains that are easier to achieve. Whenever you move from a larger dice to a smaller dice, you get 1 extra energy in your chain (cumulative) and you don’t get any energy back when completing the chain. As a quick exercise, let’s examine the difference between the original chain and the new chain.
The Energy is Never Destroyed Chain
If players activate every hedron in their chain, the energy spent gets passed on to the final hedron.
- This creates a small amount of positive reinforcement and tells players using more hedrons is better
- Gives player something to do which will likely improve their position in the game when they don’t have an immediate strategy
- Creates a puzzle that is rewarding to solve
- Using more hedrons isn’t actually necessarily better, as it doesn’t advance the game just moves pieces without losing energy
- It can lead to some players simply going around in a circle
The Slingshot Chain
Each time a player passes on energy from a larger dice to a smaller dice, they gain one extra energy in the chain
- Dramatically increases players reach and options
- Spreads out hedrons even quicker
- Creates a puzzle that is rewarding to solve AND asks players to have a goal in mind
- Doesn’t give players much direction about what to do
- More experienced players (and players with good spatial reasoning) can see the chain more easily, giving them a distinct advantage
There’s advantage and disadvantages to each mechanics but what it ultimately came down to, was fun factor. After I showed the changes around, all the players said they enjoyed the new version more, that it made them feel more empowered. The new mechanic opens up the board and lets the players feel that they are a cool guy, and in this designer’s opinion, that is always a good thing.
Dealing with the Cons
The introduction of the card mechanic into Hedron was a major step forward, as it helped push Hedron away from being an abstract strategy game and into a dynamic space battle game (with explosions). The cards don’t just give you more options, they also give you more direction, which is important with the latest change. If you have some explode cards, you want to be able to use them. The slingshot mechanic flings players across the spacefield and the cards give them a target to aim for.
More experienced players will have an advantage in most tabletop games, and the advantage is pretty distinct in Hedron, especially when playing with two players, but less so than more traditional tabletop games like chess. While players can strategise and plan out their game, the moves of your opponents and the opportunities given to you by cards encourages impulsiveness and adaptability.
Base chain mechanic. Already covered in depth, but changed after a few tests. After playing with a few new players, unfamiliar with polyhedral dice, the large to small rule proved confusing. This large to smaller version is my preferred way to play the game , but I think it makes the game less approachable for new players. For now, it’s been relegated to the back of the book.
Theme. I did toy around with the idea of spaceships but decided it was too close to another space battle dice game that is currently quite popular. The theme does tie into the mechanics, but I need to work on my initial pitch to bring this out.
Exploding. I’ve made 2 changes to exploding. The first was to remove the exploding at the end of the turn (there were 2 ways to achieve the same thing), and the second was to remove the reference to specific hedrons on the explode cards. They now work based on energy.
Cards. They’ve been retweaked to match the new base mechanic, and to work, at this stage to operate from a standard playing card deck (once again, the focus on Hedron being a print and play game).
First player advantage. With all the tweaking and reaching out to new players, I still haven’t got any definitive statistics on this one, although my 3-player tests are showing some interesting results.
d20 Swing. I’ve excluded the d20 from the explosion party, and this has returned it to being the engine of the set for experienced players, using it for energy generation and to launch powerful attacks.
Things that are still a little bit meh
The point system mechanic, still doesn’t feel quite right. The centre either seems too important and game changing or not important enough, and mostly ignored. I’m going to start to lean towards game changing being better, as it gives players something to fight for, as opposed to just fighting.
There are some things that get glossed over in playtesting, in order to focus on what’s important. In Hedron, one of those things is hedron placement. The possibilities of movement with no limitation on initial placement is reasonably infinite, so I limited this down by giving players a suggested starting format. I had a playtester point out that they were also consciously unconsciously placing any destroyed hedron back on the field, i.e. they weren’t thinking tactically about their placement because it would take to long to calculate the possibilities. My next step will be to limit the placement of dice, giving players less choices to make those choices actually meaningful.