Thursday, September 11, 2008

Moctezuma's Revenge - first playtest

Ben and I ran through a 2 player game of Moctezuma's Revenge tonight - it took maybe 40 minutes. The rules are simple, the game is pretty simple, and I wondered if it would be interesting to play or just boring.

While at first I was skeptical, and the action felt a little uninteresting, I'm happy to report that as the game developed it did feel more fun and more interesting. There were a couple of issues that I'll address for the next playtest, which will be tomorrow night, probably with 3 players:

* With the 5 actions a turn, and the only thing costing 1 action being "move", there were a lot of times when you simply had to waste an action. This felt crappy, and I remember from All For One playtests that players don't like that. I considered just making it 3 actions per turn, so you could move and search a little, you could move, move, move, or you could spend your whole turn searching a temple - no wasted actions! Another idea which I think I'll use instead (or in addition) is to add an action when searching. Currently it's 2 actions = draw 2 cards, keep 1; 3 actions = draw 5 cards keep 1. I think I'll add 1 action = draw 1 card, keep none. (cards not kept go on the bottom of the Temple deck).

* I think peeking at 2 or 5 Curse chits at a time s pretty powerful - I'm going to try making it 1 action = peek at 1 chit, 2 actions peek at 3 chits, no option to spend 3 actions looking at 5 chits. So maximum in one turn you could look at 3+3+1=7 chits, which happens to be the same maximum per turn under current rules (2+5), but I think that will be better overall. I might reduce the actions to 3 per turn as well, which means in one turn you could look at a maximum of 4 chits. I would like it to be worth looking at some chit sometimes, but not worth it to spend a bunch of urns just looking at chits.

* I'm thinking for the Clue temples - in order for the treasures to 'count as clues' and score the bonus, maybe they ought to have to be larger than 1vp worth... or "one from each temple, minimum value 2 (or 3)". Or maybe the value of the bonus could be the sum ff the values on the set of cards collected, you just have to get 1 of each to score them.
Edit: I'm liking the idea of scoring based on the actual cards you take out of the temple... part of the game I kind of like is acting based on your opponents' actions, so if they pull out a 5vp card vs a 1vp card, that should mean something. I think for the Lost City clue temples to be interesting, they should encourage taking a larger valued clue.

* I might try a more random method of determining which temple's curse chits are revealed each round, Ben suggested rolling 2d8, which would speed up the game some, but not too much because often the die would come up 8 (when nothing would happen), and once temples start to get fully flipped, they could be rolled again (in which case probably nothing happens). The strict flipping of 1 chit each round seemed to work fine, but it might have given us too many turns each. I think it would be neat if you could visit every temple and collect 1 card from each only if you don't dilly-dally or stop to do research.
Edit: I think I'll stick with a mechanical "flip the next chit" rule for now.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Moctezuma's Revenge! - Rules

by Seth Jaffee
A game of research and exploration for 2-6 players

At the height of the Aztec empire, great temples were built for the Kings. When their time had come, the Kings were entombed in their temples to be revered forever, surrounded by great treasures of the Aztec people! While researching the temples it’s easy to make off with Aztec treasure, but some of the kings are cursed!

Research the temples and collect treasure, but beware of cursed treasure – it’ll count against you! Also, some temples contain clues to the whereabouts of the fabled lost City of Gold! Find all the clues and lead the way to El Dorado!

1 Game board with spaces for 10 temple decks, as well as a chart for Aztec king names and spaces for curse chits.
16 Curse chits – 7 “Cursed!” And 9 “Safe”
10 Temple decks of 11 cards each, labeled with a number (1-10) and with a VP value (5/3/3/2/2/2/1/1/1/1/1)
10 Name cards – 7 with names of Aztec kings, and 3 that indicate Clue temples
6 Researcher pawns in 6 different colors
1 pad of Record sheets

Shuffle the Name cards face down and distribute 1 to each Temple deck. Shuffle the temple decks separately and place them in the 10 temple locations on the board.

Mix the Curse chits and distribute them face down to the 15 Curse Chit spaces on the board (next to the names of the Aztec kings).

Each player chooses a player color and places the Researcher of his color on the Library space.

Randomly determine who will play first. Play will continue clockwise around the table.

On your turn you will have 5 Action points to spend. The actions you can do are:
1 action: Move your Researcher to an adjacent location.
Research Kings (at Library):
2 actions: Peek at 2 face down Curse chits.
3 actions: Peek at 5 face down Curse chits.
Explore Temple (at a temple):
2 actions: Draw 2 temple cards. Keep 1 and put the rest on the bottom of the deck.
3 actions: Draw 5 temple cards. Keep 1 and put the rest on the bottom of the deck.
* Note: you may never keep the Name card from a temple deck.
After each player has had 1 turn, flip 1 Curse chit face up (start with the first column of chits, turning up the topmost face down chit, then moving to the 2nd column, and finally Moctezuma’s 3rd chit).

Game end:
When Moctezuma’s 3rd chit is turned face up, the game is over and scores are tallied. Determine which treasure cards come from a Cursed temple, which come from a Safe temple, and which come from a Clue temple.

Each temple card from a Safe temple scores the number of VPs on the card. For each treasure card from a Cursed temple, subtract the VP value on the card from your score. Double the points scored or subtracted from the temples of Moctezuma I and Moctezuma II. All treasure cards from Clue temples are worth zero points, but if a player has at least 1 treasure from each Clue temple, that player scores a 12 point bonus for finding the City of Gold.

The player with the most points is the winner! In case of a tie, the tied player with more total treasure cards is the winner. If still tied, the players in question share the victory.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Moctezuma's Revenge!

The other night at dinner an odd thought crossed my mind and then I uttered the phrase

There ought to be a game called Montezuma's Revenge

What popped to mind was a game wherein there are Aztec temples, one of them home to the cursed Aztec king Montezuma (actually "Moctezuma," but you know us English speakers). The initial idea was to send researchers out into the many Temples on the board to loot treasure, and every once in a while any researchers who had looted the tomb of Moctezuma would die. Using this information, you would deduce which temple is cursed, while also trying to get uncursed loot for points.

I wasn't immediately sure how to have players find out if their researchers died without knowing which temple was cursed, so I went with the second idea, which I've fleshed out into Version 1.0 of the game. I hope to have a prototype ready and playtest it this weekend. Here's what I've got at present:

There are 10 Temples on the board, plus a Library. These are the locations a player can visit with his Researcher pawn. The Temples are numbered 1-10, and each has an identical deck of cards representing the treasures inside. The decks have 11 cards in them with VP value distribution as follows: 5/3/3/2/2/2/1/1/1/1/1. A Name card will be shuffled into each deck as well to indicate which Aztec king the temple was built for. The front of the card indicates it's VP value as well as which Temple the card is from. The backs are all identical.

On the board there is also a column with 7 names of Aztec Kings - these are the same names that are on the name cards shuffled into the temple decks. But there are 10 temples, not 7... the other 3 are labeled "City of Gold" or "El Dorado" or "Akator" or something like that. Those temples aren't actually the lost City of Gold, but they contain clues to find it. Next to each of the 7 Kings' names are spaces for 2 Curse Chits (3 for Moctezuma's temple) - the City of Gold clue temples are not cursed. There are 15 Curse chits, about 6-8 of them marked as "Cursed" and the rest "Safe". These chits get distributed face down in the spaces by the names, thus if a name has any Cursed chits by it, then that King's temple is considered Cursed.

On your turn you have 5 actions to spend. Actions and costs are:
* 1 action: Move to an adjacent temple (or Library)
* 2 actions: At Temple, draw 2 cards, keep 1 (you can't keep the Name card)
* 3 actions: At Temple, draw 5 cards, keep 1 (you can't keep the Name card)
* 2 actions: At Library, peek at 2 face down chits
* 3 actions: At Library, peek at 5 face down chits

After each player takes a turn, one of the Curse chits is turned face up. When all the Curse chits have been revealed, then the game ends. So over time the cursed temples become known, and the game will end after 15 rounds. Actually, I have an idea to make that "15 rounds or so" - but I'm not sure if I like it or not.

At the end of the game you score points for all treasures that came from Safe temples, and you lose points for all treasures that came from Cursed temples. Any treasure card from Moctezuma's temple is worth double the printed value (either good or bad). All treasure cards from City of Gold temples are worth 0 points, but having at least 1 treasure from each scores you a bonus for having found the lost City of Gold.

I hope to have a prototype by this weekend to try out. I'm sure I'll post about how it goes!

Late thought: Another way to do it might be to NOT have the Name cards in the decks, but instead have face down chits numbered 1-10 in front of the names in the column on the board, and allow people to research that as well. Not sure if I like that or not, it just came to mind and I wanted to type it out before I forgot. This would mean the decks could have different backs, which might be a little easier for sorting. Action costs might be:
* 2: Look at 1 face down Temple ID chit
* 3: Look at 3 face down Temple ID chits

Friday, September 05, 2008


Strategy (strāt'ə-jē): A plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result

In a discussion online today I encountered a speed bump in communication between myself and 2 of the people I often chat with, JC Lawrence and Ben Keightley. They said they didn't believe in "multiple paths to victory" - that it was a bewildering concept, and in the end had no actual meaning. Rather it's one of those catch-phrases that people adhere to without ever bothering to look back to reality.

In my mind that's not the case at all. To me, Multiple Paths to Victory means more than 1 distinct strategic approaches to the game. When I mentioned this, Ben said something I found interesting, and which explained to me why we weren't seeing eye-to-eye:

< cocadieta >: Puerto Rico has one dominant strategy. The dominant strategy, documented flawlessly on BGG, is to first establish income sources, then generate income, then turn that income into points.

To me, that's not a Strategy, it's simply how you go about games with economic engines. It's like saying "My strategy is to win the game!" No shit.

I guess in a general sort of definition, what Ben proposes is a Strategy, but to me that's not useful for discussion of any game in particular. At the genre level sure - "establish an income engine and then establish a VP engine" is a way to approach economic engine games. I could say that in Agricola you need to get a food engine going before you start increasing your family and building up your farm. In Puerto Rico you need to get some kind of cash crop in order to establish income before you can start shipping or building in earnest. To that extent maybe this overarching plan is the "Strategy" you can go into the game - any game - with.

On the game level though, when discussing a particular game, I find it more useful to consider more local strategy than that. Once you determine what type of game you're playing, the global - genre level - strategy becomes common sense, and now you need to consider game specific strategy. In my mind there's still room for both long term strategy as well as short term tactics at the local, game level, and that is distinct from a genre-level general over-arching strategy.

So when I say that Puerto Rico has 2 main strategic paths, Shipping and Building, I'm referring to local (game level) strategy. I agree that as a game in the Economic Engine genre there's a global (genre level) strategy of "establish income, then generate VPs," but to me that's not useful for any kind of discussion.

One thing I like in a game is multiple paths to victory. By this I mean more than 1 distinct strategic approach at the game level to establishing that engine, or to acquiring those VPs. When designing my games, and when looking at other designs, this is what I'm considering. To me it's more useful than general strategic commentary such as "score more points over the course of the game than the other guys."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

8/7 Central - thoughts on the plane

In the airport on the way to L.A. for Gateway 2008 (convention report forthcoming) I pulled out my notebook and wrote the following:

Friday 12:30: Leave Tucson, 2:00 arrive L.A.
On the plane I should either work on Ticket, Please! cards or else 8/7 central. We'll see how that goes. Time to board!

With that in mind, I went through all the 8/7c cards on the plane and read them, looking for what adjustments would be necessary to jive with the recent ideas I intend to implement for the game.

As a side note, I happened to notice that many of the cards were in sleeves backed by not junk, but good Magic cards, such as Beta Sinkholes, Hypnotic Specters, Ehrnam Djinns, Contagion, Hymn to Tourach, Dark Ritual, Winter Orb... I could have made a pretty good deck out of that!

I removed a couple of cards from the deck that no longer made any sense, and I made minor adjustments to about 8 other cards, some to make them work, some just to clarify.

I also postulated a central board which would display each player's lineup, and the Monday shows would all line up on Monday. This might read better than having the program cards in front of you and having to read everyone's cards upside down and backwards. The board could also house the Program Track from which I hope programs will be purchased.

Now to playtest!

Strategicon report - work in progress

Last weekend I went to Los Angeles for one of the 3 annual Strategicon game conventions - Gateway 2008. I like Strategicon because they have a lot of mini tournaments at which I can usually earn some dealer dollars to spend on a new game. I also like that it's usually a cheap plane ticket and a short flight to get to L.A. - and now I have a lot of friends out there to hang out with.

Here's a brief summary of my trip. I was in something of a daze for most of it, as I really didn't sleep at all, but according to my notes this is what went down.

Friday 8/29/08:
I arrived on the scene and immediately saw Greg Richardson at a table where the Ticket to Ride card game was being taught. I ha never played that game, so I learned it and played in the tournament, and lost miserably. I was overly ambitious with tickets, all of which shared several colors, and I only managed to collect 1 White card... so I was able to do exactly 1 ticket in the first scoring phase, and the rest of my collected cards went to waste! In the 2nd half of the game I did much better, but that wasteful first round really killed me. Greg more than tripled my score!

After that I talked someone into playing the prototype of Prolix I'd brought with me. I can't recall who that was for some reason, maybe Greg, maybe not :/ I've played Prolix a couple times now since I received it in the mail. I think the board could be a little more interesting, but all in all I think it's still my favorite word game.

The next thing I did was an Amun-Re tournament. I don't play this game very often, but I usually do well at it. This time I didn't draw enough cards, and the cards I did draw just doubled up on cards in my hand. Boo! I made some bad bids, mostly because I'm horrible with the 'jump bid' card - whenever I draw it I try to do something tricky and end up screwing myself. The final score was 41-37-36-?, I finished 3rd. Sadly, a Princes of Florence tournament started before our first game of Amun-Re was over, so I lost amun-Re AND I missed out on Princes of Florence!

Next was a game of Race for the Galaxy with some of my L.A. friends (who have played the game twice as much as I have). I'm not a big fan of multiplayer RftG. I played several games of it this weekend and my opinion has not improved.

We had some time, so I suggested Wizard's Tower. Shannon liked that game, so she played while I also taught Travis. I don't think Travis cared for it much.

Erig Burgess, Travis, Chris and I sat down for a game of Tinner's Trail. I had been playing poorly in general all day, and that didn't change here. however, in Tinner's Trail I made some disappointing mistakes based on misunderstanding or simply forgetting parts of rules. I'm usually better about that, and I was frustrated at how badly I digesting Tinner's Trail. I finished dead last, and would like to play again just for that reason - but as for the game itself I don't think I liked it very much. It's just not all that interesting.

Finally in the late night it was time to play some Werewolf! I went and found Winton in one of the side rooms leading a game. I played in the next one, and I was eaten in the first night. I had to wait hours for the game to end and start again, and was eaten in the first night again! I spent a lot of time waiting and not much time playing, and by the time it was over and Winton and I went to his place to go to bed it was almost 7 in the morning! After after 4 or 5 hours of sleep we headed back to the con.

Saturday 8/30/08:
The first game I got into was a Notre Dame tournament. It's been a while since I've played that game. Our game finished with scores of 68-68-65 (I had 65). I made a mistake midgame that cost me probably 2 points, possibly 3 - still not enough to win because the winner had better tiebreakers than I did.

While we had some time, Chris and Shannon suggested Fairly Tale. I never liked Fairy Tale much because i felt like it was a sort of wimpy version of a Magic: the Gathering booster draft, only after you draft in Magic, you play a game! When my friends wanted to play it I was reluctant, but better to play that than nothing. I had to relearn the rules, and I didn't want to hold things up so I decided to relearn them as I went. So I went ahead, learning rules as I went along, choosing cards mostly at random, or because they had similar symbols on them. After the game, which I didn't win, I suggested we play again now that I knew what I was doing – but noone wanted to! Bah.

Instead we played Pow Wow. I like Liar's Dice, so I thought Pow Wow might have been OK. It's a cross between Liar's Dice and Indian Poker. I managed to win without even losing a round :) it was neat deducing the probable value on your card based on what people bid. A few times I made it really obvious by my math what everyone's cards were, and Chris 9to my left) was able to make the 'correct' bid. he commented on my making it easy, and I noted that it was on purpose - I could let him take down each player to his left in turn, doing all my work for me! :) there was an old way to play Magic that involved attacking to the left and defending to the right - I recall using a similar strategy there... I used Varchild's War Riders to give my left hand neighbor an army of creatures, then watched as he mowed through each player around the circle. When it became time to fight 1-on-1 I would simply destroy all his creatures and stop giving him more :)

I somehow got suckered into playing another multiplayer game of Race for the Galaxy :/

Liz arrived, and while she was waiting for Aaron and Travis to finish 2-player games so they could all play Indonesia, I showed her BrainFreeze! We played a few rounds of that and a game of Wizard's Tower with another guy.

I've wanted to play Winds of Plunder at home for a while now, but I had forgotten how and was being lazy about re-learning the rules. So I took this opportunity to play the game again. Soon after my first turn I remembered that you should never start that game without picking up a cannon in the first turn! Or at the very least, don't do it when there's a cannon on the upcoming tile. i picked up a treasure map instead, and then I was followed around the board by another player, being plundered at almost every turn. Then one turn when me and my aggressor were on one edge of the board and the other players were on the other edge, I had 5 wind cubes, my aggressor had some cubes, and between the 2 players on the opposite edge they had 6 cubes. I had the Blackbeard tile, and I bid all 5 cubes. If my aggressor had bid even 1 cube then we'd have won the wind direction and we wouldn't have had to use all of our actions for a gust of wind just to get anywhere. So even inadvertently that guy had my number! I finished dead last :(

I taught BrainFreeze! to the guy that was all over me in Winds of Plunder and his wife, who had gone to the U of A for grad school. She was pretty good. He wasn't as quick...

They always have Charades events at these cons, and it's fun to play once in a while. I found Winton in a back room where they'd just started a game of Charades. I jumped in on a team, which happened to be the team that won! I didn't realize it at the time, but that earned me 2 dealer dollars!

Travis, Chris, Shannon, Winton, and Daniel were in the main ballroom playing Gimme 5, and I joined them for a while until it was time for more Werewolf. Chia and Greg were playing Tichu in the vicinity, and would occasionally pop in for a round or to comment on the choices.

Finally, another night spent playing WW. This night was much better. I had some good games, including one where I was a Wolf, and I did the best job I'd ever done – until I was put on the stand, gave a really good defense, and then didn't stop while I was ahead. When I'm really tired especially, I tend to babble. I couldn't stop myself, and I ended up giving myself away. I died, but the wolves ended up winning thanks to the brilliance of Amber, who ended up leading a charge against the final Werewolf so she wouldn't give them both away, and then going against 7 villagers on her own and coming out ahead!

At 7 or 8 in the morning it was time to either go to sleep or go to breakfast. I decided to go to breakfast with 5 other WW players.

After breakfast I wanted to wake up a little, so I played BrainFreeze! Again with 2 of the Werewolf players from breakfast.

Sunday 8/31/08:
I jumped in a Power Grid tournament and ended up at the same table as Chris. I don't play PG very much since I don't like it a whole lot. But when I do play I generally do well. This time I didn't play terribly well. I didn't like the starting location I chose, but I didn't make any huge mistakes. In the end, Chris had enough money to buy up to 17 houses and power them all. I could power 17 as well, but couldn't afford to buy them all. Another guy could afford to build the houses, but his power plant capacity wasn't big enough to win.

Because of Power grid I was too late to get into the Brass tournament, but I went to check it out anyway. 4 new players had learned the rules and had just begun the game. Had I been there in time it would have been a pretty easy game for me, as it takes a game or two to figure out how to play well. When one of the players had to go and asked me to take over his game, it seemed like a handicap since his game so far had not accomplished anything. He had almost no money left, hadn't built any income, and had built some tiles and canals that were completely useless. In the end I won by about 4 points, but it was really hard and fun to dig myself out of that hole! The win earned me 10 dealer dollars as well :)

[will finish later - left notes at home]