Monday, August 24, 2009

Rottweiler: Learning to Heel

Last night was the first live playtest of Rottweiler, following four solo playtests over the last couple of weeks. I learn more with every play.

Although I've been playing RotW games (under their original "Railroad Tycoon" name) for several years now, this is the first time I've done so while taking a global view. Instead of concentrating on my own plans and paying attention to others only to the degree that they might interfere with me, I am now watching what every player does, and why. It's been very instructive.

I've learned what should have been obvious from the beginning: that the various bonus-scoring opportunities—Major Lines, Service Bounties, and Baron cards—have a large effect in shaping the game. (Major Lines are bonuses for laying track between specified pairs of cities; other bonuses may have similar effects.) For my first cut, I set up the bonuses to motivate players to re-create the historical rail routes. Two plays showed me why that was wrong: it allowed as many as five players to each carve out a separate empire, with little need to get in each other's way. This makes for a boring game.

So I've had to throw out some of the history. I re-worked the Major Lines, removing a couple that routed around the edges of the board, and adding some to draw players together at a couple of central nexuses. The improvement in the game was immediate and marked: suddenly there was contention in these targeted areas, and players had to start worrying about their opponents' plans and activities much earlier in the game.

Last night's playtest went very well. Everyone seemed to enjoy the game, and there was nothing that was clearly broken. But there is certainly room for improvement, and I happily received some good analysis and a number of excellent suggestions. My next steps are to extend some mountains here, reduce some cube counts there, and tweak the Major Lines some more. Then print the new map and run some more solo tests before taking taking it to Pacificon over Labor Day weekend for more live playtests.

The news is not all wonderful. Part of the motivation for Rottweiler is to add a couple of the innovative features from my Hammer and Spike game to this RotW expansion. One of those features is working well, but the other one is not throwing the same kind of sparks. I need to find some way to improve it. I'd like to have a better revision in time for Pacificon, if I can swing it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Code Name Rottweiler!

It's not much of a code name if everybody knows what it means, but I've taken to thinking of my expansion for RotW (the abbreviation of "Railways of the World") as "rottweiler". This comes purely from the letters; for the record, I see no particular parallels between the dog breed (or any dog breed!) and the game system. And I wouldn't have bothered mentioning it here, but I couldn't resist the hyper-dramatic "Code Name Rottweiler!" title for the post. Sounds like a bad spy movie!

I should make up for the preceding blather with some meaningful news, so here's the current status of... Code Name Rottweiler! (Okay, I'll stop now, I promise.)

I have a first cut at the map nearly complete. I just need to add starting cube counts to the towns and cities, and make sure it will print okay in black and white. (Why? See below.)

I have a first cut at the Railroad Ops cards designed. I still need to make the deck, either by laying out some mocked-up cards on the computer and printing them out, or by just scribbling on paper. Either way, I'll stick the EUS deck into card sleeves, then slip in the paper cards over the real ones. I've also finished the first cut at the Rail Baron cards. I have a good selection of Barons and (I hope) a good set of bonuses.

I'll need to tune a VP/income track for the game, but I can start with the one from the main game. I can use the modular scoring track boards that Helen made for our copy of the original Railroad Tycoon until I decide what tweaks I want to make. (If you play RRT on the big board and hate that scoring track, you can download Helen's modular scoring track from BoardGameGeek. Be sure to give her a thumb if you like it!)

Acting on a tip from an experienced developer, I discovered that I can print out a full-size board on a single sheet of paper at Kinko's, for just $0.75 per square foot! That comes to all of $6 for one copy, which is dirt cheap. I'd always looked at the color prices which are significantly higher, and I had never realized that black and white is so inexpensive. A RotW board doesn't need much color; what little it needs can be added in five minutes with a set of felt pens.

The bottom line: I plan to print my first board tomorrow and be doing my first solo playtests this weekend! That's an exciting thought.

Monday, August 3, 2009

J.C.'s "On Drowning in Games"

In case any of the gamers who read this blog don't also read J. C. Lawrence's blog, here's a post of his that I particularly liked: On Drowning in Games.