Saturday, April 4, 2015

Last minute anxieties

Clockwork Wars is currently printing in a factory in China and everything is 100% on schedule.  I should be thrilled, but I'm anxious (of course).  I'm concerned about how the game will be received. I've lined up 6 well-known reviewers who should be releasing reviews right around the time the game hits shelves, and I'm convinced they're all going to pan it.  Since this blog serves both as a design-brainstorming space as well as an emotional release, I figured I would openly discuss what I'm most concerned about and maybe that will help me process it - and make me a better designer.

First, I'm concerned about the rulebook.  There's just no way to make a perfect rulebook, I'm convinced. Everybody reads rulebooks differently, and what seems like a perfectly sound organizational structure to one person, seems obtuse and counter-intuitive to another.  In addition, over the past couple months (since sending the printer the final files), I've identified a few areas in the rulebook where I could have clarified things.  For example, the Spymaster action Counter-Intel allows a player to gain 1 Influence Point in whatever discipline they want.  In addition, they can force all other players at the table to lose 1 IP in any discipline.  This is what the rules say.  But I should have clarified that the targeted discipline can be different for each player.  And what happens if that player doesn't have any IP in that discipline?  In retrospect, Counter-Intel should read...
Gain 1 IP in any research discipline.  In addition, you may force any (and all) of your opponents to lose 1 IP in that same discipline (if they have any IP available).
Even that's not perfect, but it's a simpler rule and better than what's in the rulebook right now.  Uggg.

Second, I'm concerned about the Espionage cards.  During development, one issue that came up was that players felt the Espionage system wasn't particularly exciting and they didn't see the point in investing Spies to the Court.  A common request was that Espionage cards should have more impact on the game.  I was initially wary of this suggestion, since my intention was to make an Espionage card worth just a bit more than a single Worker.  So, for instance, you could pay 1 Spy to gain +2 to Army Strength.  But I was convinced by my developer to buff the Espionage cards, and after a major round of revisions, the cards became worth significantly more than a single Worker.  Ambush gave you a +3 bonus in combat.  Propaganda gave you +2 VPs per won battle instead of just 1.  Etc.

Another card that received a significant buff during development.

The result of this round of changes was very positive, I think. Players are much more excited by Espionage cards and can't wait to use them. The Spymaster action R&D is a sought-after action. You can even win a game through careful and deliberate use of Espionage cards, which is now a legitimate alternative strategy (to extensive board control). However, my current concern is that players will view Espionage cards as too powerful - perhaps over-shadowing astute deployment and research decisions.

Generally speaking, I'd prefer that players view Espionage cards as over-powered vs. under-powered. Under, and they'll be ignored.  Over, and players will be forced to develop strategies to deal with them. And good play in Clockwork Wars still trumps all.  In my last game (played just last week, 4 players, with me as Trogs), I won the game without using a single Espionage card.  So there's that.

Perfect balance is a unicorn that you'll never capture. Both are also make-believe. But that doesn't stop me from worrying.