There’s an ethos in game design: you have to be prepared to kill your darlings; take a grenade to your rules, and let the real game – free of unnecessary additions – be reborn. Well, we’ve just stepped that up and taken a thermonuclear H-bomb to FUSION. We’ve North Koreaed its arse.
More than a year ago, when I’d just trimmed some extraneous item or other from my bloated beast, my colleague and brother-in-arms (and actual brother to boot), Andrew, said “Maybe instead of trimming bits and pieces, we should take it right back, then choose to add things IN that are needed.” This was of course nonsense – everything that remained in the game at that point was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. What was left were all cogs in my machine, intricately intertwined with each other to create gaming perfection.
It was just a small matter of balancing things and voila – Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 would no longer have the top spot on BoardGameGeek.
Except of course what Andrew said was all true – all of it. The game was still taking too long. Even Andrew and I would forget game phases or adding bonuses etc, because there were too many exceptions and extra things that would come into play. So over lunch at the Bistro in the Bankstown Sports Club, where we were attending LFG Australia, we discussed what the game needed to have, and ONLY what it should have:
- The CORE mechanic – playing command cards and countering your opponent’s cards.
- Keep anything that emphasises this mechanic, for example the TRANSMIT VIRUS command and ANTIVIRUS counter command.
- ALL extra things such as Pilots and Upgrades become command cards, following the same mechanics as existing commands.
- Keep anything that enhances the replayability, and broadens the strategy.
- Remove the brain-burning aspects. Probably the biggest contributor to the longer time was analysis paralysis as players decided on courses of action.
That last change was key: we needed to remove some of the open information. Up until this point, we’d had the “Network” – 4 face-up Tactics cards that players could purchase from. You always knew every card your opponent had. This led to agonising decisions – “I could play this, but he has that card. Hmm would he play it then, or might he do something else. Ah if I do this other thing instead, oh but he also has that other card.”
Now all the Tactics cards are face-down, and players choose from 2 or 3 of them, without their opponent knowing what they are. Less information leads to faster decision-making, because there’s less to consider.
We’ve gone through the Tactics cards, and increased the number that respond to an opponent’s play. It can lead to some groan-inducing moments, as you realise your careful plans are about to be scuppered, but it’s okay, because you know you’ll scupper their plans too…
After several play-tests between Andrew and myself, we’re ready to unleash it back on our ever-forgiving primary play-testers, Dean and Chris. Then back to the blind play-testing that brought this to light, discussion on BGG, rules rewrite, graphic design, artwork, kickstarter campaign planning,…
I suspect Pandemic’s spot might be safe for a while yet.