With Nuri’s health issues this year, this has largely been shelved.
Until this week.
A friend of mine has been crashing with us while he’s at a training for work. He played the original version of the game and hated it, so he was very interested to see what I had done with it.
I incorporated a couple of changes that I had postulated after my last playtest.
- Basic Command Tech changed to “Command one two-ship fleet for one move”
- If you forego both actions in your turn, you may draw one extra card
- Impulse trim length is equal to the number of players
White v. Purple
Starting State: White: Command 3Y; Purple: Mine 3G; Purple goes first
Final Score: White 12 or 14 (I forget which), Purple 20+
Turns Taken: 7 White, 8 Purple
White tried an initially aggressive posturing strategy using chained Command actions to jump in Purple’s shorts and apply pressure from the outset while blockading the Sector Core. Unfortunately, White wrote checks his ass couldn’t cash and got sent packing.
Purple was smart and solidified a power base with a total fleet of 8 ships before running its engine full blast; Mine/Refine generated more than half of his points, with the rest coming from combat and Sector Core dominance. Be like Purple.
My friend said that this is superior to the base game. It was actually enjoyable! The tighter Impulse and fewer actions definitely makes the game run smoother and helps you keep a better handle on what’s going on, as well as making most decisions actually meaningful.
I played White and wound up losing because I failed to back up my posturing. I made a mistake in my second or third turn by Commanding a fleet with my basic Tech when I should have exploited a Build action in the Impulse to develop my fleet. I let that go by, and my opponent took that action on his next turn and then it was gone from the Impulse, and that was the most effective Build action in the entire game.
The tighter Impulse means what I wanted it to mean: you have to decide whether or not to capitalize on an opportunity, or it’s gone forever. So, that works as intended. A longer Impulse would leave options kicking around longer, and you could be lazy about capitalizing. Pegging it to the number of players means it will change steadily over the course of the game, no matter how large a game you’re playing.
We concur that there needs to be some kind of basic Plan ability. This has come up consistently in ever session and remains the single part of the game that sees the least engagement. Why have a thing if you never do it? I had a two-card Plan once in the game, and that was really because I didn’t have something better to do. Probably would’ve been better off Building more ships to be honest.
Combat is very chance-dependent, more than I’d like. Reinforcements are basically a crapshoot, and because of the aforementioned Plan problem, one of the major sources of reinforcement is completely out of your control and almost never comes up. So, I need a couple of ways to add a little more control, while also making sure there’s enough chaos to keep it risky and to prevent lucky draws from turning one player into a steamroller - you should have to build that steamroller, not just get it handed to you.
I slightly screwed up a rule because I forgot to enforce it: I allowed Transports sitting on a card to count for boost alongside a sole transport that activated the card. It didn’t feel that broken, to be honest, so I might continue toying with that. It would also remove an annoying conditional, and would allow me to say something simple like “all Transports count as wild gems for the cards they are on,” and that in and of itself might fix the “holding territory” problem I mentioned earlier.
It still doesn’t feel very 4X-like, and I think that might have to do with the setup. The tightness and closeness of the game make it feel like you’re playing the last 20% of a 4X game - development has already happened and now everyone has marched to war. If I can figure out a way to slow it down just a touch, maybe with one or two turns in low-level development before we get to the main event, I might be able to evoke a fuller 4X feel.
Thoughts and Possible Changes
A basic Plan action
The Plan phase is now “Plan/Delay/Implement;” you may either discard a card from your hand to Plan a card of its size, make no changes, or Implement your Plan and take all of its actions. I will leave the Plan size at a max of 4 (it would make sense to me to make it Impulse-sized, but I don’t use it enough to know if that matters) until I have more data about how well it works.
This would mean your turn is:
- Take up to two actions (Tech/Impulse and/or Add to Do); if you take no action, draw a card
- Cleanup: score Sector Core points, draw two cards, trim the Impulse
That seems much less confusing than the base game.
Farther down the line, if Plan winds up being useful, I could even seen making a choice between Acting or Planning - you either take up to two actions, OR you take no action, draw a card, and get your Plan phase. Not now, though - need to see how Plan actually plays out.
Minerals in Combat
To add an extra layer of control, minerals could count as reinforcements during combat. Expend them? Probably, because it’s a way to turn them into points. This will be tried after Plan changes.
Smaller Initial Hand Size
You have a lot of options to start with. I think dealing each player 3 cards (instead of 5) to start and then going through the usual setup would get you going faster and more smoothly by reducing AP and also possibly slightly slow rampant power growth.
To up the 4X feel, I could add the extra ring of cards by default. That would give everyone an extra buffer and a chance to actually build before getting to the action.
Progression of Power
One thing I noticed is that all power levels are available from the outset, which promotes the “end state” feel of the game. One possible variation is to intentionally grade the “rings” of cards a la Eclipse: the ring around the Sector Core is comprised of Size 3 cards, the next ring out is Size 2, and then the third ring is all Size 1. Start everyone in Size 1, and deal the initial hand from Size 1. Then shuffle everything together and play as normal. This means that you will all start with weak tech, but you will be able to draw and see more powerful options towards which you can build.
No matter what, the Plan changes are getting implemented because it keeps coming up, and it’s a whole chunk of the game that just doesn’t happen. That’s dumb.
As always, feel free to play along at home and tell me what you think!