Jul 02

Design Diary #3

This past Thursday night was time for the second session of play testing “The Realm”.  Once again a very brief description would be that it is struggle between powerful families attempting to be named heirs to the throne of a fantasy kingdom whose king is without a successor. Using worker placement mechanics to represent the assignment of tasks to various family members, players compete to increase their family’s honor, influence, and glory. Families acquire these attributes by performing tasks in the borderlands, at court, in the tournament, completing quests, and by going on pilgrimages to the holy land.  These attributes allow families to gain victory points in pursuit of the crown!

My friend, Adam Pressnell, would be playing the modest and loyal Averones family.  The only way in which this honored family is known to be remarkable is for their complete lack of being remarkable!  All of the Averones are well-rounded and neither very low in any attributes nor very high in any.  Would this prove to be an advantage in their pursuit of the crown?  Perhaps…

My wife, Heather, would be playing the infamous Borgions.  A family that is only more feared than it is reviled!  They are well-known for their never-ending machinations and treacheries at court in their ongoing quest to further the power of their family.  They seek to finally seize the ultimate prize and lay claim to the throne.  Will they succeed?  The realm shudders at the thought!

This evening I would be playing the pious, but power-hungry Croesians.  A family of ancient tradition and old wealth that seeks to bring law and righteousness to the land no matter what is required!  Though wealthy and influential at court, they have become soft in the ways of war and boast the weakest military prowess of all of the families in the realm.  Can the Croesians parlay their political power, legendary wealth, and devotion in the holy land into possession of the crown?  We shall see if their shields of faith are stronger than swords of steel!

Once again, we played a greatly shortened version of the game.  There were extenuating circumstances that contributed to this as well as game situations that aided our decision to stop fairly early.  We played three full rounds and at that point the Croesians were leading with a solid 11 points.  Followed by the Averones at 9 and the Borgions with only 5.  Although the scores were relatively close I had a board position that would have been extremely hard to deal with for the other players.  On the first turn of the game the law, “Consolidate Power” was passed which reduced the size of the council at court from 6 to 4 seats only.  I was happy to vote yea on this motion as the Croesians have strong cunning attributes and would only grow in power with fewer total voters at court.  On turn two I was able use that increased power to vote for and pass the law, “Inquisition,” which sets a minimum on piety for a character to even be placed at court.  This combination of laws gave me a virtual ownership of court and thus the influence rank for the foreseeable future.

There was also some interesting activity at the tournament.  While playing the weakest family in the prowess department, I was still able to sneak in a first turn tournament win and climb the glory track as a result.  During the next two rounds I hired the sellsword to draw the Black Knight in to the tournament and this resulted in my sabotaging the tournament for Adam and Heather.  Both times the Black Knight emerged the victor from the tournament!  This denial of glory to their families helped to tighten my grip on that track as well.

On the questing front for the evening, the Sphinx was defeated again and the Siren was bested in her first appearance.  There were elements of these quests that have forced me to think about rebalancing the rewards and difficulty levels of some of the monsters and treasures.  As it was starting to get late, we decided to call the game.  Even though it was a shortened game I was able to gain much more insight in to what was needed to improve the game.

Observations and Concerns

It was realized that successfully completing a quest was about the best thing a character could do.  The glory and sometimes honor rewards coupled with gold and a magic item seemed just a little too good.  I have since gone back and balanced the rewards and difficulty of the quests.  I look forward to my next play test session as I feel this will strengthen the game.

Both Adam and Heather expressed concern over the starting player mechanism in the game being determined by the family with the highest influence.  They felt that this was a difficult position to unseat a family from and should perhaps be looked at.  In answer to this i created two new laws: “Age of Heroes” which switches the first player determination to glory and adds to the glory leader’s point total and “Chivalry” which does the same thing but with honor.  The inclusion of these laws will give players an opportunity to force a change of policy through the council and lead to more conflicting votes at court.  Hopefully with more testing I will be able to see how players react to this change.

The above situation, along with the two laws passed during the game, forced me to consider just how great an effect I wanted them to have on the game.  I decided that I wanted the laws to be powerful enough to create disagreement at court, but not so powerful as to destroy the game.  With this in mind I set about balancing the laws very carefully.  Some have been rewritten completely and some have been gently modified, but it was an important step in the process to really tighten up that portion of the game.

As mentioned in Design Diary #2, I became aware of a serious end game issue regarding the temple and pilgrimage spaces on the board.  I have spent the last week pondering solutions and believe that I have managed to come of with some simple changes that will still keep those spaces in high demand even on the last turn of the game.  Now all I need is to test this under real game conditions to see how effective the fix will be and if it creates any other unforeseen problems.

I would say that this was another successful play test session and look forward to the next.  Hopefully I will soon be able to get in a full game and try some different numbers of players.  Interested? Comment on this post and we will discuss the possibilities!  I think the game is really starting to crystallize into a final or near to final form, and I am very excited to test it with as many hardcore gamers as I can.  What better feedback could an aspiring designer ask for?

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