Public Playtesting is Ongoing!

Posted: February 12, 2013 in Playtests

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Great progress in the last few weeks! Thanks to friends over at Battlegrounds in Norwalk I’ve been able to do some public playtesting. As you can see from the picture, everyone has their intense Euro-face on as they contemplate the difficult decisions of how to allocate their Warriors, Priests and Tribesmen. Much thanks to Will Scott, Tom, and Ed for helping out. I will bring the prototype again on Wednesday for more testing. The good news is that the game is pretty close to done! Sounds crazy, but there it is. Still need to try and break the game a bit more with extreme strategies, and there’s some fine-tuning of cards and card-timing still to be done, but the major mechanisms all work and they all work well together.

If you’d like to check out the game, you can come to Battlegrounds on Wednesday nights. I’m also looking to get more playtesting done at ConConn on March 15-17th. If you’re interested in that, please drop me a comment here, or a Facebook message on my page, Kind Fortress Games, or email me at isaac [at] sage70 dot com. There are a couple of publishers also looking for playtesters, so if you think you’d like to test out some new and exciting games, we’d love and appreciate your help!

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Color Printer = Color Map

Posted: December 24, 2012 in Art, Design Updates, Rules

I recently purchased a Konica Minolta color laser printer when it was on sale for the absurd price of $119 (it’s currently $199). So I decided it was time to add more color to Joshua’s Conquest. Check out the map below, I think it makes some things clearer, and livens up the joint!

20x32 map v109

Other big changes came with the map. First, I stole a concept from Twilight Struggle after hearing designer Jason Matthews interviewed on the Ludology podcast. I decided that instead of having city sieges take place once the siege tracks were filled, they would instead be tied to scoring cards. Each player would start with two in their hands, each representing one of the cities on the board. A player could choose to trigger a siege by playing the scoring card, but would suffer a penalty if the siege failed. I also tweaked the combat system so that players would score more VPs by taking out more powerful Canaanites. I’ll post a more extensive review of the revised combat system after another playtest to make sure I’ve ironed out the major bumps. The overall impact of this change is to give more agency to players, and to make the combat phase a bit more streamlined and fair.

Another major change came to Ark of the Covenant track. For one, it got renamed. Now it’s the Tabernacle track. Also, it doesn’t score VPs anymore. Woah. Instead, your place on the Tabernacle track grants you powers to push your priests forward on the various High Place tracks. And how do you actually claim the top spots on the Tabernacle track? Let’s wish a warm welcome back to blind bidding, a mechanism I fell in love with in such titles as A Game of Thrones.

Finally, I’ve tweaked card play, deciding that playing cards outside of combat should not cost anything additional, but that triggering the “miracle” effect of a card in combat would still carry a casting cost.

Hoping to get some more public playtesting, so if you’re around on Wednesday night, head over to Battleground Gaming on 267 Main Ave in Norwalk. I’ll be there from about 6pm with a playable prototype.

Almost in Beta!

Posted: July 15, 2012 in Art, Design Updates

Thanks to the Worker Placement Breakthrough I told y’all about last time, the game became officially un-stuck! In short order, I’ve updated the board to work with the new concept, re-did all the Israelite cards, and finally wrote the Canaanite cards. I also introduced new combat rules that include a rock-paper-scissors kind of mechanic involving infantry, chariots, and towers. All in all, it’s a pretty stupendous change in the game. Some things I learned that I want to share:

  • There are still lots of rules that are in my head, or scrawled in the margins of a notebook, but I’m not letting rule-writing hold up the design process.
  • A lot of what happened was that I began to replace stub mechanics (“A simple, easily implemented placeholder mechanic that fills in holes in the game design and lets you play the game. It is generally not well balanced, nor is it the ultimate desired system. It’s key benefit is that it lets you get a working iteration of the game play up and running quickly.” – Lost Garden). I had forgotten that many of my systems were actually stubs!
  • Iterating on the cards, the map, and even larger systems was much easier than I thought it would be. Even the details of printing, cutting, and mounting the new board went much more quickly.
  • Leaving the game out really helped push me to work on it more often.

But enough about big ideas and realizations. Here’s the cool new map!! And yes, it’s still all in B&W except the bottom layer, but it’s got enough flavor for playtesting purposes. Apologies and thanks to all the art I’ve clipped from Google. I hope it’s ok that I’m using this stuff to put together a rough-and-ready version of the game. I expect I will replace all of the art with actual paid-for art when the time comes.

After a few long months of struggling, on and off, with figuring out the economic system and the sheep and wheat tracks, I had an epiphany. But before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story:

I was listening to the Ludology podcast interview with Caylus designer William Attia. Ryan Sturm made the point that Caylus was, in his mind, the most important board game of the last ten or so years in that it introduced many key mechanisms that collectively make up what we call Worker-Placement today. What was fascinating was that Attia said that he’d never used the term or really thought of Caylus in that way. Rather, the central mechanism that he built the game on was the road, and the idea that there would be more powerful effects available later on down the road, but also a level risk that they might not be activated.

Which got me to thinking. The central idea in my game is that players are in a difficult competition against the Canaanites, on the one hand, but are actually in an indirect, yet more important competition with each other. Joshua’s Conquest is a game about tribal rivalries, about how these different groups could compete, even when limited to competing only indirectly. As soon as I’d articulated that, I realized that I needed to focus the game on all the arenas for indirect conflict, for competition for resources, and that at heart, what I had was a worker placement game.

In line with that, here are some key changes that I’m experimenting with now:

  1. Fields and pastures are not freely available to the players. Rather, on the east bank of the Jordan, three tribes (Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh) have pastures and fields that can be activated by Tribesmen. There are a limited number of spots in the pastures and fields, and they yield different amounts of wheat and sheep. It now costs an action to place Tribesmen into those pastures and fields. The Wheat and Sheep tracks have been eliminated.
  2. Additional priests and warriors are now only available from the three tribes across the river, and in limited number. Acquiring these units also costs an action, and when they have all been bought, no more can be bought. They will only return and be available for purchase again when they are removed from board during a city siege or High Place challenge.
  3. Each turn, a Canaanite card will flip over, and will indicate the season, as well as the production of the pastures and fields. Additional weather effects may appear on other cards as well. What this does, aside from introducing some variation into the value of the pastures and fields, is create a countdown, because the Canaanites win the game on the exhaustion of their deck.
  4. The auction to go first will be replaced by a worker-placement action to select when you want to go
  5. Sacrifice is no longer a phase, but an available action for any who have priests in the Altar section of the Temple (which is just a renaming of the courtyard). Only priests can trigger a sacrifice action, and a limited number are available each turn.

The theme of all these changes is evident: as much as possible, I’ve tried to place all the moving bits into the worker-placement bucket. That also means conceptualizing priests, warriors, and tribesmen as workers who can unlock different kinds of actions.

That’s all for now, more to come as we play some more!

Rethinking the Levites

Posted: February 28, 2012 in Design Updates, Rules
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A key dynamic I’m trying to create in the game is the feeling of divine intervention, the sense that players can channel godly assistance in their battle for Canaan. At first, I thought this would be achieved through card-play, and there is certainly some of that, but it just felt like something was missing. Worse, Levites played like any other unit, and didn’t really feel special or interesting.

As I was reworking the economic system I started asking what would happen if you put a Levite in a farm or pasture? I wasn’t sure, but it brought into focus that Levites and Tribesmen were too similar. Thematically though, I got the idea that having Levites in a field or pasture should make it more fertile – that they brought a divine blessing with them.

That got me thinking that in general, Levites represented that extra “oomph” that players could choose to direct towards some area of the board, whether that was towards the Tabernacle and control of the Ark, or in city sieges, or to take High Places, or to increase the fertility of crops and flocks, and maybe even to be able to draw cards.

Well that’s kind of a big idea, and it goes hand-in-hand with another big idea, which is that you shouldn’t be able to just buy more Levites. They should be a more limited resource that each player deploys based on the strategy that he or she is pursuing.  Shifting Levites from one role to another will be a key part of the strategic decision-making, since players will never have enough Levites to do all the things they want to do. This feels like a winning dynamic… now to figure out the mechanics that make it work!

Combat Mechanics

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Design Updates, Rules

Having ironed out some of the kinks in the economic system, I’m turning towards the combat system. To be honest, the current system is only a little more advanced than a stub mechanic – a quick-n-dirty way to at least make the game playable. Here’s how it works:

Each city has a strength rating, which is directly related to how many units can be placed to besiege it. For example, Beer Sheba has a strength rating of 30, and space for 13 units to besiege it. Hebron is a 35, and can be besieged by 16 units. Units are worth different amounts of attack strength: Warriors are worth 3, Tribesmen, 1, and Levites aren’t worth any points at all. However, Levites allow you to play cards. These cards each have a strength rating, and may also have an event that further modifies the strength of either the Israelites or the Canaanites. Having multiple Levites can double, or even triple the impact of those cards. There’s also a bonus of +3 attack strength for every tribe past the first who participates in the siege.

When a siege takes place, players total up their attack strength, including all the cards, units, and tribe participation bonuses. They then compare that number with the Canaanite city strength. There’s also a Canaanite deck, and those cards include a modifier to the Canaanite attack strength, and sometimes an event too. If the Israelites have a higher total, they win. If the Canaanites have a higher total, they win. If the Israelites win, the tribe with the greatest attack strength reaps the most rewards, and lesser tribes reap smaller rewards.

In theory this doesn’t sound so bad, but in practice, it’s a little boring. There’s plenty of tension around whether you’ll have enough strength to defeat the Canaanites, and around who exactly will be the leading tribe, but each city is basically the same, and with ten cities to conquer, there’s not enough flavor. It also seems like there’s not too much strategic choice in going for one city or another.

One idea I’d like to try out is to introduce variability from city to city. What if each city had a tile, flipped face-down, that indicated some special rule for that city. For example, what if the tile indicated that warriors only count for 2 points against this city, or that tribesmen count for 3 points, or that the city was immune to card effects. Each city would have a different tile, and only tribes that placed units against the city could see the tile. Each game would be different, because the tiles would get shuffled and laid out randomly at setup, and this would yield some interesting effects on the core strategic choices of warriors+wheat vs Levites+sheep.

Definitely worth trying…

I had some crazy idea that I’d bring my prototype over to my parents’ house, where I ‘ll be watching the Superbowl later today (Go Giants!). With various cousins, nephews and nieces around, I thought I’d be able to wrangle up a group. With that in mind, I brought the game to the table this morning for a dry run at home.

Turns out I’m still a long way from testing this with others. For one, the new wheat track didn’t really solve the problem of runaway economies. Second, not counting card play as an action felt odd. Finally, warriors continue to feel weenie and underpowered. (And let’s not even get into the balance between cards and their casting costs.)

The new mechanics we’re set to try for next time:

  • Warriors will now be worth 3 attack points instead of 2. It’s worth noting that either cards have to generally be made stronger, or I need to live with the assumption that most sieges will call for each player to play 2-3 cards, not 1-2.
  • I haven’t figured out the exact wheat and sheep track scales, but what’s clear is that you need to invest more tribesmen in climbing the tracks. So I’m introducing Pastures and Farms. In order to advance a step on either the sheep or wheat tracks, you will need to fill your pasture or farm with some number of Tribesman – let’s say three to startOnce you fill the pasture or farm, you push the marker and then empty the pasture or farm.
  • We’re also going to have playing cards cost an action, but we’re going to move buying cards our of the action sequence. I’m going to try it in the Harvest phase first, but it might actually make the most sense in the Muster phase. We’ll see.

Anyway, just for fun, here are the sheep and wheat graphics.