Hedron’s been almost finished for quite a long time now. I’m in that final 5% that seems to be taking twice as long as the last 10%. The last few iterations have seen no major design changes, the system is working really well and I’m finally getting the climatic end game that I’ve always aimed for.
The Final Finish
I arrived at the final end game and scoring mechanic after being pretty happy with the current state of the game. Everything was working well, the game felt balanced and even, rewarding strategic play but with enough of a risk element to make catch-up viable. After being happy that the game played well with normal people, we decided to push it a little further and give the game an extra good shove to see if anything fell out, and one thing did. With the Flux mechanic, players were open to a variety of viable strategies but we discovered one strategy shut the others down and led to a slightly miserable end game. A player could remove most of his dice from the board and concentrate on Flux. This was especially powerful if you were in the lead, as removing the d20 from the board, limited other’s scoring opportunities. Following the idea that positive feedback works a lot better than negative feedback, I came up with the idea of rewarding players for placing high value hedrons on the board by adding a final scoring mechanic that added player’s energy on the board to their final score. This is working very well and I’m happy to say we’ve had a few photo finishes and stand up dice rolls.
The economy of cards has been one of the trickiest things to balance. I’ve been striving to make cards scarce enough to be valuable, while still remaining bountiful enough to keep the game moving (less cards means less possibilities means more stagnation). Throughout the different iterations of Hedron, there have many ways to acquire cards, including kiss-it-better cards, received after the destruction of hedrons. The latest iterations tied card acquisition to your hedrons in flux and this kept both the game and the cards flowing, but just a little bit too quickly. Keeping hedrons in flux created too much positive feedback, rewarding players for making the choice to keep hedrons in flux with more flux power. For the latest version (after many iterations), we went back to the beginning, and made hexes the only source of cards, but changed the way the hexes worked. Instead of getting a card for landing on a hex, players now receive cards for each card hex they occupy at the end of the turn. This makes cards flow, but also asks players to to make the choice between leaving a hedron on a hex or moving it on, making card acquisition more of a balancing act between current and future scoring opportunities.
The final finish mechanic helped to balance out the flux strategy but it called for some tweaking to the rebirth phase. I needed to make sure that players were encouraged to put hedrons on the board throughout the game, rather than just flooding the board at the end game for a nice points bump. The original solution for this was to make players pay for placement with flux cards but this was causing a more drastic demand for cards that was hard to balance without increasing the supply to a flood of cards. Once again, I went back to the (non-drawing) board for a solution. I converted the card hexes into flux hexes which now give 2 benefits, players get cards for landing on flux hexes, and the capacity to add one hedron to the board for each flux hex occupied at the start of your turn. This created a flow of hedrons without having a flood and without introducing extra mechanics. I’ve needed to add more hexes overall to limit the possibility of stagnation in a 2-player game (while still allowing some politics to come in to play with larger player counts).
I’ve changed Explode to Self-Destruct after a comment from a playtester (thanks Jordan!). The change in title tells the player that the card damages the attacking hedron and may kill them. One of the not-so-hidden benefits of playtesting is you get to challenge your own assumptions by seeing what makes intuitive sense for new players.
Strategy and Tactics
Part of the joy in hedron is that can often feel like a boxing match, especially in a two player game, with players exploiting their opponent’s weakness for harder hits and more points, while trying to block their opponent from doing the same. This creates a tactical game, encouraging players to make the most of current scoring opportunities. The latest iteration brings strategy back into the game by placing a renewed emphasis on board position without removing the tactical element.