Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rottweiler: Coast-to-Coast

I see I've been lax about blogging lately. That's mostly because I haven't been doing much that I felt would be of interest: some gaming, some music, a nice Thanksgiving with the family. Recently we've begun remodeling the house, and that may prompt some commentary at some point.

But last weekend, Helen and I pushed the Rottweiler map edge-to-edge with its matching previously-published map, and we played our first "continental" game. I'd cobbled together a rule set for what would clearly be a long game, and knew that it would need playtesting to get right. The results were mixed: some good news, some bad.

The good news is that it was an interesting game. It definitely felt different from any other RotW game we've played (and we've played them all), and the new strategies it evoked were challenging and fun. I also felt that it wouldn't need much tuning to really get it right—although that may be unjustified optimism. But there were a few issues that will have to be addressed.

One issue is the income/score track. RotW and Railroad Tycoon veterans know that your income goes up as your score goes up, until a bit after mid-game when your income begins to decline as your score continues to rise. Thematically this represents the overhead of running a large railroad; from a game design standpoint it's to keep cash scarce and make players budget. If you perform well, you can wrap the scoring track and your income begins to rise again. Normally this happens late or not at all, but in the continental game it will happen at about mid-game. It's a bad time to be short of cash.

In our one playtest (Helen and I managing two players each) one player hit the trough just wrong, with no saved cash and no cheap prospects for getting out of the trough; that player finished last. Another player had to build track aggressively, to delay entering the trough until he could rush past it in a sudden flurry of deliveries; that player finished second-to-last. The other two players were either already past the trough or had enough cash on hand that it wasn't an issue; they finished first and second.

The continental game is long, and I don't want miring players in the income trough to be a frequent occurrence. They'd have to spend a couple more hours finishing the game with no prospect of winning. But it may be that it's never necessary for an experienced player to be stuck, if you know to plan ahead. One simple solution is an optional rule for beginners: once your income first climbs above $10 or $15, it never falls below that level. Experienced players can use the unmodified income/score track for a more challenging game.

The biggest actual problem we encountered was a shortage of pieces. There are simply not enough goods cubes, track tiles, or even control locos in a single base set. I'll be talking with the publisher about how to handle this. The decision will be up to them, but the obvious possibilities include putting the extra bits in the expansion, making a "Continental Pack" available separately, or simply requiring the bits from two base games.

Progress! I hope to try the continental game again soon with real players, but Christmas may intervene. When it happens, I'll post again.