Since diary no. 6, I’ve been able to spend a couple of weeks holiday tweaking the game and got even more tweaking done after a day of demoing at TAGE. Thanks to the involvement of many people, the game is progressing well and I believe is very closed to being finished. Hedron seems to be engaging new players and providing a reasonably unique gaming experience. There’s been almost 2 diary entries worth of changes, so let’s get down to business (we’ll do design goals next time).
With some amount of sadness, I’m retiring Explosions. The concept behind explosions has always been fun, but they’ve never quite worked right. The latest iterations (since diary no. 4) have been somewhat focused on trying to fix the balance issues that explosions introduce and handle them in a less fiddly manner. With explosions played upon in explosions, the effect of playing an explosions was somewhat random, not determined by the attacking player’s skill but rather by how many players happened to have that explosions card in their hand. I do believe explosions could be integrated and balanced, but not in a way that doesn’t create more complications and rules for new players. I’ve been playing without explosions for some time and the game is now much easier to teach, getting players actual playing before their eyes glaze over with rules overload.
With the removal of explosions, player advantage seems to be working a little more logically, with the first player having an advantage as they have the 1st opportunity to score. and I’ve introduced a new starting limitation to start players off on equal footing. On a players first turn, they can only create a chain with as many links as their player order plus one, that is, the first player can create a chain of 2 moves, the second player 3 moves, the third player 4 moves etc. This limits the 1st player advantage with a limited amount of flux.
The flux concept seems to be going over well, but the initial card balance was off, not giving players enough of a push to manage which hedrons they keep in flux, and making card draw a game deciding element. I’ve trimmed the card list beyond removing explosions, to help guide players, and revised a few of the cards based on actual play.
I’ve been working towards making the end of the game more climatic, as this keeps getting requested by my generous and cruel playtesters. My first iteration of this was to have the 90 points trigger the final round, rather than the end of the game, softening the final blow and giving players one last chance to catch up (with an opportunity for having 90+ points). This worked to a degree, but I was still getting the same comments. The problem wasn’t the actual win condition, but the feel of the end game. A player lagging behind had little chance to catch up. My second iteration was to have the 90 points trigger the penultimate round, and to have an end game bonus for the centre hex of 20 points, allowing a last minute struggle for power.
One of the most useful insights I got from my visit to TBD was that there was an opportunity for ruthless players to occupy the centre hex with their d20, and keep generating to keep players out. This didn’t prove to be too dominant a strategy, as it essentially limited the player to a point per turn, which is easily achievable in more fun ways by a competent player. However, if you couple the strategy with the boost card, it does become game dominating. I introduced an energy cost for the 10 points gained in the centre hex a few iterations back, starting with 2 and scaling that back to 1 when I realised players were unlikely to take the centre hex at such a cost. My latest revision has been to ban recovering energy in the centre (a la King of Tokyo) and tie the cost to dice size (with a d4 having no cost and a d20 having a 5 energy cost). I just need to test this out with real people to see how it affects players interactions with each other and the centre hex.
One of the key things that’s helped me iterate a bit more quickly was tying done the value of actions, energy and points in the game. All this is contextual, but this is the rough worth I’ve deduced
- 1 turn = 10 points (on most turns you’ll score once for 10 points, but on some turns you’ll get 20 or 30).
- 1 turn = 4 energy (you’ll generally build up to a chain of at least 4 on a turn, hedrons with 4 or less energy are vulnerable targets).
- 1 move = 1 energy (obviously, because you’re gaining 1 energy with each move)
- 1 card = 2-3 energy (landing on a card space is less desirable than getting points, but can help you get points later on)
Following this through, 1 energy = 2-3 points and 1 card = 8 points. This told me that the centre hex should be worth at least 2 energy in exchange for points. Players didn’t seem to agree, but it was a good starting point. I did toy around with paying for the points in the centre with cards, but it turns out the degeneration of energy in the centre added more balance to the game.
Something I’ve struggled with for Hedron has been card utility. For most playtests, players have been happy with the cards in their hand but I’ve found that the same cards tend to get discarded. I’ve mostly got that sorted out now, so cards are discarded more on a contextual opportunity basis but I’m finding there are just a few too many cards to deal with. To give players a bit more flexibility, I’ve added in some extra function to every cards. Cards can now be played and discarded (ignoring their stated effect) to reroll any roll once (flux, placement or generate) OR to add 1 energy (and therefore 1 movement) to a single link. This seems to have increased both the worth of cards and the rate of card play, and also enables players to be competitive without flux.
The Next Version
The current version is currently made up of scribbles and things in my head. It’s not too different from the current prototype, but there’s a fair amount of rules updating that needs to be done. I’ll be locking down a few more things before re-releasing an almost final playtest package!