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.

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