Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Rules Design for Planet Busters

Following my previous analysis, I wanted to make some rules adjustments to this game. My interest is in making improvements for the two player game. I get the feeling the game was really designed more with 4 players in mind, so this may entail some changes for that very reason.

As you can see in my analysis, the biggest issue I had was with the fact that one player would eventually crush the other one far before the game would end. I could have tried some sort of fancy rebalancing to ensure that one player can't easily crush the other until much later in the game. But instead, I decided to go for a simpler approach of ending the game sooner. I could just shorten the game, but since this is a wargame, I decided to really go with the idea of a battle to the death. I will simply formalize the concept of one player attaining a dominant position, so that the game ends at that point instead of going on indefinitely.

How to make the game mechanics decide that one player has a dominant position? This generally seems to involve one player running out of forces in play, so I will make that the criterion. The only problem with this is that in the early fighting, sometimes one side will temporarily have nothing on the board, but can still make a comeback if the right forces are drawn quickly. To allow for this, I will give each side a grace period - the game cannot end until a certain number of turns have passed. Keeping track of turns tends to be error prone in a game like this, so I will use a common game mechanism of setting aside a certain number of tiles for each player during the setup, and once these tiles are used up, the second phase of the game has started and you need to keep forces in play or lose the game.

What if the game really does go the distance? The original rules use the peace treaty tile to end the game after going through all the tiles about 1.5 times. This means that 2-player games will last twice as long as 4-player games. So I decided to shorten the 2-player game by ending it before going through all the tiles. This means the peace treaty tile isn't really necessary to end the game. However, the other effect of the peace treaty tile is that the players never know exactly when the game is going to end, so they can't to tricky things like playing a ton of planets or making an all-out attack just before the end of the game. By in my 2-player rules, this isn't much of an issue. In a zero sum game the players make all-out attacks half the time anyway, end of game or not. And hoarding planets in your hand isn't nearly so much of a temptation when it can get you knocked out of the game. So I'll just skip the peace treaty entirely.

Now that the big issue is out of the way, it is time to try some small improvements. In particular, making the tiles more game balanced. Now, in a game where you draw tiles totally at random, balancing the tiles isn't truly necessary for the game play; you can just accept that some draws are good and some are bad, you still have to fight with what you are dealt. But my preference is always for game balance unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise. In Planet Busters, I have no intention to create total balance between the tiles - a Dranaught is just better than a Baycruz. But when an overpowering unit can be toned down to have weaknesses as well as strengths, or when a pathetic unit could be improved to be more fun to draw and interesting to use, that is the sort of change I'd be looking for.

Planets seem awfully good. You get a fuel source, plus two extra tiles, for the price of one tile. The disadvantage of a planet under the normal rules is that it is a tempting target for attack, especially in a multi-player game. I think the bonus tiles are to encourage you to play it rather than leave it in your hand. But with my rules, and a two player game, I don't think this is so necessary. The game usually ends due to a military defeat, and a planet will help prevent that defeat. So I will reduce the planet bonus to one extra tile.

Colonies are even more extreme. In a game where tiles are really your only resource, having 50% more resources in just incredible. I couldn't think of a really elegant way to draw a fraction of a tile per turn, so I decided to make colonies have the same strategic benefit as planets, extra fuel. Planets don't give all that much fuel to begin with, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to give a little more. Running out of fuel isn't much fun anyways.

Tugs are just awful, by far the most worthless unit. They are useless by themselves, they are only effective as part of a combo. So they had better be pretty darn good when part of a combo; if you are lucky enough to get a tug and a satellite, you would think the combo would be better than your average 2 tiles. This is completely not the case. First of all, the satellites themselves are pretty pathetic; not only can't they attack by themselves, they also are weak units even on the defense. All that the tug does is give you the honor of pulling these weak units on the attack. Not only is the tug/satellite combo not as good as even a single average unit, it has the extra disadvantage that the enemy might capture the satellite. So I definitely wanted to make the combo more effective. My first idea was to simply add the tug strength to the satellite strength without halving.

Streamlining the fuel rules was something I did just to simplify the game. The main effect of requiring separate fuel to attack the planets is to make it harder to attack planets. With military victory so common, attacking planets doesn't seem nearly so valuable, so why make it hard. It just means that an attacker with little fuel will have a harder time finishing off a beaten opponent. I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but I feel like removing the extra step of fueling attacks on planets and seeing how it goes.

Here are the new rules:

These rules are for the 2-player game.

Setup: Each player receives a starting hand of 8 tiles. Put 20 tiles in the personal stack of each player. Put 40 tiles into a common stack. Don't use the Peace Treaty tile.

Drawing: Each player must draw tiles from their personal stack until it is depleted, at which point the player draws tiles from the common stack. If the common stack is depleted, no more tiles may be drawn.

Victory Conditions: If at the beginning of a player's turn, that player has no tiles in play and no tiles in his personal stack, that player loses the game. Otherwise, the game ends at the end of the turn when the common stack is depleted, and the player with the most points worth of planets wins the game.

Fuel: When a point of fuel is spent to allow a ship to fire weapons, that fuel allows it to perform any number of special functions for the remainder of the turn. You do not need to pay separately to activate special powers or attack a planet.

Planets: When you play a planet, draw one tile immediately.

Colonies: For noncombat purposes, colonies are treated as planets for all purposes; they provide free fuel and victory points rather than extra cards.

Tug: When a tug is used to tow a satellite, the value of the tug is added to the value of the satellite to determine the total combat value, without dividing by two.

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