Other Wise

Hippodice round 2

Subject: B: 'Ohana Proa
From: J C Lawrence 
Date: Fri, 31 Oct 2008 17:39:25 -0700
To: autorenwettbewerb@hippodice.de

J C Lawrence would like to submit 'Ohana Proa to the Hippodice
competition.  He is the sole designer and his email address is
XXXX@kanga.nu. 'Ohana Proa is designed for 3-5 players, age 10+ years
and lasts about 150 minutes.

Please find attached a description, the rules and a player aid.

J C Lawrence                        They said, "You have a blue guitar,
-------------------------(*)                        You do not play things as they are."
XXXX@kanga.nu                       The man replied, "Things as they are
http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/          Are changed upon the blue guitar."

Capstan turning chanty

The kula model is interestingly incestuous.


  • Added track markers
  • Added boat marker
  • Simplified delivery rules due to boat marker
  • Added missing text that when delivering through another player’s kahuna the other player gets VPS
  • Clarified 8th proa/prestige text to indicate that it may apply to both delivery rounds
  • One extra prestige awarded for every two gifts given at an island
  • 1 prestige point for each two kula given when a market is delivered

New rules for ‘Ohana Proa.

New Player Aid for ‘Ohana Proa.

Hey ho and up she rises!

Another playtest of ‘Ohana Proa last night using the knocked back rules (no reciprocal giving, shorter prestige track, single prestige for extra explore or extra proa etc). This time I got to sit out and watch them play rather than participating directly. Game-wise it worked well.


  • Several requests to add a boat marker so that players can move the boat along the routes during their deliveries and thus more easily visualise their positions and potentials. This seems a fine idea.
  • Just like the last playtest, many comments to the effect of the game being mechanically simple and yet quite un-obvious.
  • Many exclamations on how well balanced the game was. While one player fell far far behind in prestige, he was able to catch up through clever route building and bidding in the late game. Scores ended up with a ~25% spread from first to last (the eliminated).
  • Single prestige discard for extra explore or extra proa worked well and was regularly used. Player who used it the most later cursed this as he ended one turn in the lead with 29 prestige and was then second when the game ended. I was delighted.
  • Complaints that the board is too busy and difficult to visualise. Primary problem seemed to be that the route markers are round and easily visually confused with the round markets. The result was that there were many Oh dear that route is/isn’t claimed yet! during the game. Discussion suggested that making the route markers rectangular and visibly directional so that they clearly indicate the claimed routes and strongly visually suggest the connected network.
  • Only one kahuna was placed during the entire game and it was central to that player’s success. Early kahuna are clearly worth more than late kahuna. The players were not convinced that kahuna were really useful, but most indicated that they’d look hard at putting down early kahuna if they played again.
  • Remembering whether kula were fresh or stale when given was found a problem. The kula tiles are too small, easily flipped, easily lost track of etc. Some of the current problem is simply due to the tokens being too small. Cards may be a better option. -The game again ran long: ~200 minutes. These latest games have run far longer than previous playtests, despite the accelerated start, simpler end-game, faster economy and other game-shortening measures. I suspect this is due to the majority of prior playtests being conducted with experienced Age of Steam players who quickly grokked the delivery patterns of the game.
  • The game nearly ran out of markets before players broke 30 prestige. This is concerning. Prestige production rates are slightly lower now that prestige is not rewarded for making new kula. There are a few obvious addresses: 1) Lower the end-game prestige bar, 2) Increase kula production rates, 3) Increase kula production opportunities. It feels like the kula pool needs to be sweetened by 15%-2o%. The problem with sweetening the pool is that it then also becomes more volatile. A little more volatility would be nice, but 20% would be far too much. I don’t want to drop the bar. I don’t want to re-introduce prestige for new gifts. Thematically prestige for stale gifts works better but is also richer than I want. So far the most tempting idea is to award an additional prestige for giving away more than N gifts at a single island where N is probably PlayerCount-1. Another idea is to multiply the points received by the recipient by the number of gifts given at the island. This would be a much more indirect approach but have faintly similar outcomes(?). Interesting…

Good stuff. Yep, gifts for gift-giving parties seem a fine idea. Now to run some models.

Revisions of review

We did a semi-blind playtest on Monday. I was there to answer direct questions but otherwise intended to be silent. As happens we also lost a player at the last minute so I also participated in the game which was regrettable.

They taught themselves the game from the rules, pretty much just reading it aloud in somewhat backwards order. This took roughly an hour. I can easily teach the game in under 15 minutes, but I also know it well. I’m a little unsurprised at the length involved as none of the players were prepared; they simply sat down, picked up the rules and attempted to learn the game from scratch A repeated complaint was the large number of forward and backward references in the rules. I’m not sure what, if anything to do about that. More distressing was that they did not use the introduction section to gain an overview of the game and thus provide context for the rest of the rules to fit into. Conversely I was pleased that there were no questions left unanswered by the rules and that all questions they did have were answered by the rules as written and roughly about where they thought that data would be.

The game also developed unusually. All initially claimed routes were adjacent in the initial exploration with many shared islands. Kahuna and a gift were purchased on the first turn of the game (first time ever for that). The game ended explosively with all players earning more than 30 prestige points in the last round. Final prestige scores ranged from ~56-75, which is a little ridiculous.

A few of the more specific complaints:

  • Calling exploration costs bids, while accurate, was confusing. They understood the costs as a bid towards turn order but felt that calling it a bid suggested an auction for the route explored. I’ve changed that language.
  • They missed the entire Game Start section (setting initial turn order and initial route explores). They suggested I either fold that into Setup or provide a link to Game Start (the immediately next section from the Setup section.
  • They missed the ability to trade VPs for resources ability. The text was there but they skipped over it for some reason. As a result they were confused over how anyone accumulated shells during the game. When I pointed this out the paragraph they’d missed there were no surprises as to where the text was or confusions over its contents.
  • Requests for simpler language in the (long) Delivery section. Done.
  • They noticed that the rules did not specify that delivery resources were taken from supply. Fixed.
  • Wayfinder was called out as a clearly visible antecedent design. They’re right. Added.
  • Kahuna were considered confusing and likely unnecessary.
  • Reciprocal giving caused an overly exponentially explosive end-game. This was considered a big problem. I agree. Reverted.
  • Playtime was over 3 hours. That’s far longer than any other recent playtest. I’m not clear on why.

On the reaction level the summary roughly summates to:

  • Very unclear what to do, what to head for, what to attempt from reading the rules
  • Mechanically simple, surprisingly mechanically simple
  • Too long
  • A (ver)y good game that still needs rough edges knocked off

Changelog for the new rules:

  • Bids are now costs
  • Corrected later/lowest language for turn order
  • One prestige for 3rd explore
  • Simplified delivery language
  • Specified that delivery payments are from the supply
  • Removed market colour game ending.
  • One prestige for an additional proa
  • Kahuna moved at cost on delivery
  • Added credit for Wayfinder
  • Moved Prestige multiplier boundaries
  • Reciprocal giving is gone (it was exponential in the end-game). Old-style gift/points are back.

I also reduced the prestige costs for extra explores and proas so as to make those choices more viable and interesting.

Thorn polish

With Hippodice drawing near it is time to dust and prune about the edges.

The changes aren’t large. I’ve shortened the end-game in “Ohana Proa a bit, hopefully lopping off 10 minutes or so, and allowed a pass action and end-game qualifier for Muck & Brass. I’m not convinced the latter is necessary but it is at least consistent with the rest of the pattern.


Seth Jaffee has made images for the tokens in ‘Ohana Proa and graciously allowed me to make them generally available.

Reflections on an atoll

In a recent comment Ben Keightly argued that ‘Ohana Proa both is and should be a resource management game, and to an extent he’s right. And wrong — well, if not-what-I-want can be accounted as incorrect then he’s wrong. Ultimately all games are resource management games: players have a variety of fungible resources, abilities and opportunities to exercise them during the game and the player that manages the use of their resources, abilities (really just another resource) and opportunities (yet another resource) most effectively will (should) win. Ergo all games are resource management games and it is thus a uselessly global and tautological definition.

At a lower and more useful altitude I define resource management games as games in which the resources in question are (generally) enumerable, limited, and usually highly granular. At heart resource management games are exercises in scarcity. At a crude character level players must mete and dole and shave their pennies while still accomplishing the victory conditions. However, that’s not my interest or goal for ‘Ohana Proa. I’m not interested in ‘Ohana Proa being a game of managing scarcity, rather it is intended to be (and is) a game of [[jocund|jocund]] excess. The resources I’m interested in players managing are not discrete enumerable elements of fish and shells and VPs and kula, but of opportunities and mutual player (dis)incentives and posture. Any reasonable player in ‘Ohana Proa will have more fish and shells and kula etc than they necessarily know what to do with, they are going to be fundamentally rich and they are going to stay rich if they pay even marginal attention.1

Being rich is not the problem. Spending the wealth is not the problem (there’s always the turn order auction for that). The problem is simple: prestige. To get prestige the players must individually create and sustain situations in which the other players consistently give them disproportionately more than they give each other. It really is that simple. You have, more or less, all the wealth of the world, you are rich, but there’s a strict protocol for prestige-generating gifts and you need to manipulate the system so that you get to give more, more efficiently, than the other players. There’s a big machinery behind that prestige-giving protocol. There’s routes and auctions and fish and shells and kula and rot and a whole mess of details, all of which, Ben is quite right here, are almost busywork details.

There’s a common (and false) stereotype of rich people’s visiting gifts being things like a small pot of hand-made jam or the like (recently reiterated in Six Degrees of Separation, a wonderful movie BTW). ‘Ohana Proa perpetuates this sorry model except that now the players have to grow their own berries, pick their own fruit (for themselves or each other), boil their own mixtures and in general go through a whole big and somewhat extraneous ritual just to get the little jar of hand-made jam to give their friends when they visit. But they have lots of friends and managing (there’s that word again) both the production pipeline of jam (kula) and the rate of opportunities to deliver (density of deliveries to islands connected by multiple players) as a set is difficult and the heart of the game.

Ahh, so there are resources to manage: the kula production pipeline and deliveries to multiply connected islands! Too true! Those are the primary resource challenges of the game, which makes it kinda sorta a resource management game except that the primary resources are:

  1. Opportunities to make deliveries to islands which are connected by multiple other players
  2. Network meshes that generate sufficient resource flow to afford those opportunities

And those things are not generally enumerable, particularly limited (scarce) or granular. They are more akin to diffusive field effects. Yeah, at a grand-level it is all busywork. All the little fish and shell etc stuff is noise, but it is important noise. It is busywork that builds the stuff that starts the multi-step inferential pipeline that establishes the incentives for the players to emergently create those opportunities and network-properties for your personal victory.

Quoting Ben again:

The way markets and kahunas interacted with the network is so interesting. It reminded me very strongly of the illustrations you sometimes see depicting gravity, with large planets sagging the 2D space-time grid. The way these interactions worked was clear as day. Unfortunately we were watching them happen from behind a pane of glass, and not consciously participating in the process.

Again, he’s right. My challenge is to diffusively but yet tangibly connect the players with that rubber sheet. I think, hope, that the recent rules changes, especially finishing splitting kula and damping the effect of kahuna will help make that diffuse connection more tangible.

  1. The concept of continual affluence is, in part, a deliberate swimming-upstream against the flood of managing-scarcity games. There are a great many games which manage scarcity in variously interesting ways. I don’t know of any other games which require the players to manage largesse without also drowning them in micro-management.

Curmudgeon rescinds generosity

New rules.

New player aid.

The really short version is that my response to recent playtester feedback was overly generous and enthusiastic. The correct response is more conservative and curmudgeonly. I’m keeping the response to Slow Start, albeit slightly muted. That’s fine and even admirable. Automatic proa upgrades is not such a good idea. I considered that model extensively in the early development of the game and threw it out then, which I then forgot more recently. The game needs an additional drain on fish/shells for the first few rounds while the players build their networks. The drain doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be non-negligible. This prevents a too-early and crippling kula rush before the route-network can support it. I tossed out the ability to cash in kula for VPs immediately upon receipt as it destabilised the kula and VP markets in oddly feed-back-prone ways. The split kula remains as a fine way of maintaining off-turn player involvement while also adding pleasantly collusive elements, but the prestige and VP allocation is heavily adjusted with an eye to reducing the total number of manual transactions per turn and per gift.

Note: The kula/prestige/VP values are not final — I’ve not quite finished running models.

I also threw out the redundant About Fish & Shells section of the rules, which saved half a page. The only original material there was the statement that VPs could be discarded for fish and shells, which has been moved further up the document.

In summary two changes remain in the offing:

  1. Adjusting kula/prestige/VP values
  2. Pull in the end-game prestige line a bit (~27?) while also shortening the prestige multiplier brackets.

When in doubt, sink the battleship

Kublacon saw another ‘Ohana Proa playtest with a response ranging from I want to play this again, I want to play it on Monday, bring it with you on Monday! to This is good but these bits need fixing. Happily all the complaints aligned with the extant problem list. Against my better and more generous nature the current idea is to make the following sweeping changes. They analyse Okay but I’m not sure I like the resulting picture, but suspect parental bonding for this latter.

  1. Tone down kahuna:
    • 1.5x production rather than 2x.
    • When a market is delivered to an island over a player’s route that also has a kahuna on that island, the kahuna-owning player earns VPs for the delivery in addition to the moving player. This may allow VP doubling for one’s own kahuna. not sure yet (ie the models haven’t finished running)
    • Building a kahuna once both have been built teleports one of the pre-existent kahuna to the new location
  2. Rejigger kula:
    • Rework all cost relations
    • Kula do not reward VPs upon receipt, but may be immediately discarded upon receipt for VPs or fish & shells
  3. Gut proas.. Players proas increase by one every turn unless their proas are already larger than the turn count. Automatic proa increase may be refused in return for resources and players may buy ahead for standard cost. If they buy-ahead then the next free proa doesn’t affect them. This is a standard tide-that-floats-all-boats

The most interesting change here is gutting the proas. Automatic increment removes a primary concern from the game, but also adds a potentially interesting decision without affecting any of the other base structures of the game: buy ahead for this-turn advantage or hang back for this-turn resource advantage? Removal of VPs from kula receipt is a little less interesting as the primary effect is to make kula dumping (stale kula gifts to players earlier in the turn order in the second delivery round) less significant. The second order effect of adding a thin kula management layer to the kula dumpee is mostly uninteresting.

New rules and player aids are on the slip.

Compressed freckled waves

A productive evening:

  • Put in a double switchback exploration round for the start
  • All players start with 2 explorers and 2 proas (need more resources too! forgot that)
  • Advanced Game has been made default, Beginner’s Game added for the kahuna-less game
  • Reciprocal kula implemented.
  • First pass at new kula value/pricing done

So far the models look Okay, but I’ll probably need to adjust the Prestige Track end-point upward a bit to 37, 39 or 42 or so.

The new kula language:

There are (blue) fish and (red) shell kula items, each available in two values. Small value kula items may be enhanced to larger value kula items.

Kula token costs:

(Table here of values. In short, fish kula are 3 or 7 VPs, shell kula are 5 or 11 VPs and costs are 7 or 5 resources for low value kula (basic/beginner’s game), 17 resources for big kula, and 11 for upgrades.)

Players may only spend resources on kula if that kula item is immediately given to another player as part of a delivery (see Deliver). Enhancing a stale kula item (face down) to a larger value creates a higher value stale kula item (face down).

When a market is delivered to an island containing a market of the same colour, the moving player may give a kula item to each player with a route connected to the destination island. The kula item given may be newly purchased with fish and shells, or may be an item previously received from another player (optionally enhanced). The gifting player receives all the following:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for giving the kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if it was a large kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if the kula item was just bought with fish and shells for this gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if giving the kula item to a player with a kahuna on the destination island

The player receiving the kula item receives half the value of the kula item as victory points rounded down, or full value if their kahuna was present on the destination island. They also receive one victory point for each kula item they already possess.

Upon receipt of a kula item, the recipient may immediately give a kula of the opposite type in return to the giver and may spend fish and shells to buy a kula for this purpose. In this case the player reciprocally giving the kula receives:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for giving the kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if their gift was more valuable than the gift they were given
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if the kula item was just bought with fish and shells for this gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if giving the kula item to a player with a kahuna on the destination island

and the new recipient receives:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for receiving a kula in response to their gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if it was a large kula item
  • half the value of the kula item as victory points rounded down, or full value if their kahuna was present on the destination island

At the end of each turn old face down kula items are discarded back to the supply and new kula items rot and are turned face down (see Rot).

Temptation: Crunch for the Khan?

Seth Jaffee is encouraging me to enter ‘Ohana Proa in Kublacon‘s game prototype contest. 1 I’m tempted but it would require sorting out the specifics of reciprocal kula Right Now ™ which is rather more analysis that I’d set myself for this week. Still, the work does need to be done and Ben and Morgan are waiting for the new changes…

Humbug! I should shut up before I too persuade myself. Two against one wouldn’t be fair.

  1. Clearly the real problem to address is listening to Seth

Suggestive responses

The Slow Start is probably the easiest of the two problems to address, at least initially.


  1. Players start the game with 2 explorers. More cannot be bought. The Explorer track is removed/defunct. Prestige can still be used to buy a third explorer for the current turn only.

  2. Players start the game by claiming two free routes. This would be done settler’s style with the first-to-last and then last-to-first. Once the free claiming was done exploring a single new route (and bidding on it) would happen in the normal fashion

This would tend to have the effect of making the big islands with many exits a bit more valuable than they already are in the early game and it may (slightly) accentuate the value of the centre of the map, but I suspect these factors are counter balanced by the values of tieing in with those centre placements from the fringe. It is a tough call but it feels about right.

Solving Opaque/Confusing is harder. Ben Keightly pointed specifically to the currency translations surrounding kula as being a little over-wrought. I suspect he has a point. His proposal was to lose the kula fish/shell typing entirely but that seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Something a little more delicate and incentive grid torqueing is needed — something that maintains the value justification for shells as well.


  1. Same kula tokens, same VP values and costs (I’m uncertain on the costs — I’ve not run the production volume models yet)

  2. No more mixed fish/shell kula items. Every single token is now a kula item

  3. When a kula item is given the recipient may also give the giver a gift of opposite fish/shell type that’s also of lesser value

  4. Both directions receive the normal VPs/prestige for their gifts with the addition that the initial giver receives an extra prestige if they receive a return gift

  5. All other kula rules like rot and upgrades remain unchanged except for those aspects sundered by splitting the kula token/item concept

I’m nervous about this last proposal. It feels about right but I’m quite uncertain the numbers actually work out. I’m particularly concerned about excess Prestige inflation from the new give-back prestige. Tough call. I’ve a hunch that the costs and rewards both will need adjusting. I’ll try and run some models on Sunday.

BTW: The new kula model is rather thematic. Kula primarily consisted of shell armbands (mwali) and necklaces (veigun or soulava). The armbands moved one way around the kula ring and the necklaces the other. Upon receipt of a pair of armbands one was supposed to give a set of necklaces and visa versa. Theme baby!

Feeling the wet (d)ark

Benjamin Keightly and Morgan Dontanville were both kind enough to blind playtest ‘Ohana Proa recently. Both played 5 player games. Both had similar and related complaints and praise. Paraphrasing and summarising heavily:

  1. The early game is too procedural
  2. The game doesn’t get started fast enough
  3. The first third of the game seems like setup for the real game
  4. It takes too long
  5. Kahunas are wonderful (A neat quote here that I hope the poster doen’t mind me revealing: Nowhere is your famous line about torquing the incentive grid more palpable than with the way kahunas operate. Every one of us thought they were fantastic.)
  6. Income rates were far lower than usual for here (eg about 2-3 whole turns lower)
  7. The turn order auction is too chaotic
  8. The network is too large
  9. There are too many currencies and currency bookkeeping tasks

The first four complaints clearly form a set which can likely be summated as Slow Start. The lower income is probably explicable by inexperience. The last three also seem a set which I’ll generously lable Opaque/Confusing.

After getting over the traditional they’re criticising my baby reaction I think they have a point or three and likely very good ones. They’ve made a variety of proposals for addressing the Slow Start none of which appeal directly as they lose other qualities I still (wrongly?) feel significant. Ben also has a bunch of quite credible suggestions for the Opaque/Confusing which make sense but also head off in the woods from the problems I’d like the game to address. It will take a bit to digest that impedance.

Polished knuckles

At the prompting of Benjamin Keightley (Coca Lite) a number of small clarifications to the rules:

  • Clarified that resources are produced for every island along the path of a market delivery.

  • Addressed the case where claiming produces a stack of more than 5 markets.

  • Tweaked the end-game condition to over 33 prestige.

Also added one brand new rule to partly address the minor problem of dumping kula items on a player who is far out of contention:

  • Kula recipients also receive points for each kula item they already have.

New Rules and Player aid posted.

The importance of not being seen

Aaron up at Endgame Oakland rather graciously requested a playtest copy of ‘Ohana Proa. This last Wednesday I dropped off a copy of the map. He already had rules and player aids printed. The store stocks all the other bits needed. I’m greatly looking forward to his reports: the Endgame players are perceptive, aggressive, and demanding.

Outing the publicity

Someone has created a BGG entry for ‘Ohana Proa. I suspect it was created by one of yesterday’s playtesters.

The reduction of bouncing water

‘Ohana Proa did not make the cut for Hippodice. It scored 3.33 versus the required 3.1.

I’m pretty satisfied with the the game as-is. The rules are in good shape, it plays well, I enjoy it. Perhaps it is time to start talking to the Peter Eggerts of the world.

Onward ho!

Willing the dead horse to live

New rules link.

Several sections of the rules slightly re-ordered (moved advanced game text lower in each section. Some wordings tightened. Nothing significant.

Oh, and I submitted ‘Ohana Proa to Hippodice.

Temper now, careful of your temper

New rules.

New player aid.

Brand new game player introduction (with pictures of the game in play).

Most of the many changes are due to the generous help and commentary of Scott Russell.

Additional playtests have put the game time solidly around 150 minutes with new players, a little less with experienced players.

Beat this ploughshare boyo!

New rules.

New player aid.

In a fit of masochistic self-pity I proffered the rules for criticism on the Spielfrieks mailing list. Happily they weren’t gentle.

  • The most common complaint was resolution of turn order, specifically the handling of values of shells versus fish and whether or not multiple players could bid on the same route. It is likely that “bid” is the wrong word for this section but I’ve yet to come up with a better one. Rewritten

  • Clarified that bidding on a route also explored it

  • Clarified that deliveries could use other player’s routes

  • Clarified that only directly connected routes produce during delivery

  • Clarified that discarded fish, shells and kula are returned to the supply

  • Clarified that kula may be re-given

  • Re-ordered prestige generation rules for clarity

  • About Explorers and Proas section removed, content rewritten and folded into the Explore and Delivery sections.

  • Duplicate content removed from Delivery (specification of stopping at first island with a matching market)

  • Further annotated and signalled Advanced Game portions

  • Other small edits

  • Matching changes made to player aid

Beat the drums lowly, the changes are slowing

New rules.

New player aid.

Slight edits to the map:

  • Added a red section to the prestige track to call out the game ending condition of 33 or more prestige

  • Removed the previous player aids on the map as they’ve been supplanted by the actual player aids

— Trimmed the size of the background image to be narrower as we had difficulty fitting the game on the narrow tables in this weekend’s sessions

As I’ve had difficulty finding a good map of the thousand islands region of the St Lawrence River, I’m going to toss the Earthsea map and just use the same base map for three players by just varying the setup:

  • Back down to 5 colours of markets instead of 6. This should change the rate of market stacking on development from 1/3 to 2/5 (ie slightly more frequent). The result will be a marginally more resource and thus prestige rich game, but also one in which delivery opportunities and intersections matter more.

  • One less market per development stack. This should accentuate the slight starvation patterns encouraged by the reduction in colours. It should also encourage a more diffuse network building pattern. Happily the math works out too.

Both changes should lead to a tighter, leaner and more aggressive game, as suited for 3 players.

There were several more playtests this weekend. All played smoothly and I’m well pleased. I’ll attempt to remember to get the pictures off my camera and post them. Calling out two sessions in particular:

Session 1:

4 players, 3 new, playtime of 165 minutes. Game ended on 33 prestige but would have continued no more than 2 more turns before one market ran out. All four players had more than 30 prestige. Less than a dozen points spanned from first to last, making this the closest game to date. The eliminated player had the second highest score before elimination.

The new player aid was frequently used in the rules teaching and was regularly referred to during the first quarter of play (up until just after focus moved from resources to kula). We started out with a 3 player game but then added a fourth (Eddie) just after the rules explanation. Jason did a notable job of teaching Eddie the rules while I ate lunch. While I gave him a copy of the rules, he taught the game entirely from and with frequent reference to the player aid. Jason called out the player aid as both useful both in comprehending the game and in adding a comfort level for players attempting to digest the game’s complexity (”I can ignore the details, concentrate on the big patterns, and look up the details on the player aid later when I need them”).~~

Session 2:

4 players, 2 new, playtime of 130 minutes. Game ended on 33 prestige but would have continued no more than another turn before one market ran out. Two players had more than 30 prestige. More than 30 points spanned from first to last. One of the players from the first session above beat me by 1.5 points — he had second-most VPs but just enough more prestige than me to take the win. The eliminated player had the lowest score before elimination and appeared overwhelmed for much of the game. Again the player aid was frequently referred to during rules teaching and up until shortly after the kula race started.

While players were (almost) always able to answer their questions from the player aid, there seemed to be some uncertainty on where to look on the player aid for the answer to a particular question. My current summary is that the player aid has the right factual content, but may need a presentation/sectioning/titling adjustment.~~

A change of attire

New rules.

New player aid.

Added endgame condition of 33 prestige.

Slight formatting and language changes.

Delivery boy for the penultimate end

We’ve done four more 4 player playtests without much event. However the last couple 3 player playtests have been more interesting:

First session

After just over 15 minutes of rules explanation we played a 3 player game in a little under 150 minutes. The game worked well and generally as predicted and was well received.. Oddly almost 3/4 of market development stacked immediately. Unlikely. As a result scores were unusually high in the early game, and deliveries were scarce and aggressively fought over (turn order) Exchanging VPs for resources remained popular far later in the game than is usual and as a result the game never got into the mad struggle to convert resources into prestige that is desired. Yet…it worked. Perhaps not ideally in my mind, but it functioned and was more than interesting.

As a result of that playtest I added an island and a few routes to the Earthsea map to try and balance out the (highly thematic) advantages of c These are the same changes mentioned in the last blog entry.

Second session

This time the market distribution was equally unusual with almost no stacking and an extremely even distribution of market colours across the board and within development stacks. The result was a 210 minute game before three colours finally all ran out on the same turn. Aggressive play (as the leader) on my part could have shortened the game but I would have had to sacrifice positional advantage to do so. Prestige levels were absurdly high due to the continuously rich delivery field. Whereas games will usually end with the highest prestige in the high 20s to low 30s, I ended the game with 67 prestige with another player also above 60 and the trailer in the 50s. Not good. The game was clearly determined long before it ended (I ran away by almost a factor of 2). This suggests that an alternate game ending condition which would trigger at the early determination point is indicated. Functionally the game worked. Both players found it enjoyable with the second place player happily bemused and pondering at game end (a desired response that also occurred in the previous 3 player session).

With the current game end definitions play length is effectively a function of the normality of the market distribution. If the random market distribution tends towards clumping and stacking, then the game will run shorter. The more the random market distribution runs toward an (equally unlikely) even (and unstacked) distribution, the longer the game will play. The range is roughly from 135 minutes – 240 minutes assuming “typical” players. The goal is 150 minutes with new players. An obvious temptation is to end the game when a player achieves a prestige of 35 or more. That’s just far enough into the final multiplier bracket that a close competitor is likely to follow, but not so far that the game will exhaust. The result should be that only unusually even distributions invoke the end condition and that the new condition should curb the game appropriately.

Roke remains too strong. Much as I Like the idea of a specifically 3 player map, it is not clearly needed or clear that the default Polynesian map wouldn’t function equally well for 3 players. The problem is that Roke effectively sits in the centre of the map, doesn’t have the problems with draining too quickly like Havnor and is trivially connected to all the major lobes of the map. The real problem is that the map is roughly circular and asymmetric with Roke in the lynchpin position. I expect that I’ll abandon the Earthsea map rather than fix it. Much as I like Earthsea (I adored the books as a kid) the long term licensing fees and problems surrounding a licensed product are too large to bother with. I’m tempted to do a Science Fiction map set in the worlds of Perry Rhodan (an absurdly popular SF pulp series in Germany that I also like), or, more likely, in the more than 1,800 islands along the St Lawrence River between Kingston and Brockville. At least there the amerindians have something of a gift economy tradition to fit that oh-so-essential theme and the map is naturally long/narrow.

Nanometres of the edge of life

New rules — no big changes, just tweaks on wording.

Polynesian map rescalled and trimmed for easier play, but no graph changes.

Earthsea map added an island and a couple links to stretch the endgame by 1-2 turns.

The new map images are a little easier to play on due to better node spacing.

Sticking it to the kahuna and approaching gravy

New rules.

I’ve moved kahuna to the Advanced Game and for now I’ve decided to go with the increased kula prices rather than shifting the multiplier ranges. According to the spreadsheet it works out well enough. Oh, and I upped the market colour count up from 5 to 6. We’ve played several games this way and it makes market delivery patterns slightly tighter earlier in the mid-game and brings in the end-game a turn or two faster.

The only rules change required for the smaller Earthsea map is a reduction in the market distribution to match the smaller set of nodes (25) and distribution stack markets (80) (as versus 30 nodes and 95 distribution stack markets in Polynesia).

No other changes seem to be necessary or called for in the game other than the above. It is feeling very close to done. Now to test the Earthsea map and re-verify the Kahuna-less game.