Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pacificon 2009: Rottweiler

This Labor Day weekend Helen and I trekked off to Pacificon for three days of intensive gaming. Happily, Pacificon really isn't much of a trek for us: it's about 10 minutes from home, so we could spend all day and half the night at the con and still sleep in our own beds. But because we did game late every night, we we're pretty bushed by the end. (That, and an unexpectedly busy week, makes this a late posting.)

A primary goal for me was to get in a few live playtests of Rottweiler. I'd hoped for three, but got two, which wasn't bad at all. (Lesson learned for future: schedule stuff like this in advance. Trying to get pickup sessions together is unreliable and time-wasteful.) Both sessions went very well, all things considered. I had some experienced players and some newbies; some but not all of the experienced players had seen a prior version of the Rottweiler map. Overall, both sessions "worked": nothing was clearly broken. The balance of the various starting positions wasn't perfect, but of course I don't expect or need it to be; I just need it to not be too horribly unbalanced. Game lengths were a bit shorter than I expected, lasting about two hours or a little less each. I am considering adding a few more empty city markers to extend the game another round or two.

There were some parts that didn't work as well as I'd like. One new feature continues to be troublesome. I've tried a number of variations for it. One such sounds good on paper, but is rarely used in practice—and given that, why bother having the feature at all? Another does get used simply because its rules pretty much require it; but it does not foster competition or interaction among the players, so again it feels pretty pointless to me. I would happily abandon the whole notion, but it's something the publishers are interested in, so I feel that I must make a strong effort to make it work. Then if I fail, I can at least list all the reasons why the feature should be dropped.

A few other items need tweaking or abandonment. There are some Rail Baron and Railroad Operations cards that I added for historical theme; there I may be trying too hard. Some are specific to certain historical locations and events, and wind up feeling like unjustified gifts to those players who build in the area. That's okay as a general rule—Service Bounties are like that—but I have to be careful not to make them too powerful (which is unfair) or too weak (which is pointless). It's surprisingly difficult to balance these things: the granularity of VPs and achievements seems too coarse at times. If I lower the difficulty, the reward is suddenly too great. If I raise the reward, it's too much advantage for the player who achieves the goal. Argh! But I have some other knobs I can tweak, so I think I may yet be able to salvage these items. The map itself seems to be much improved. I didn't find anything in these sessions to suggest any urgent changes, although I did find a couple of "typos" to fix up.

I think the next step is to run a few more solo playtests, to try some tweaks to the troublesome issues. If I can make significant improvements, I'll look for more opportunities for live playtests. The publisher has some groups they want to sic onto Rottweiler, and they seemed to want to start this process in September, so I'll try to get something together for them soon.

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