So as we're gearing up for a real crowdfunding run we're taking a last look at some of our mechanics. (It seems we've taken several last looks but there's always something to improve!) Something we've noticed as we've expanded our playtesting is that many people complain about certain elements of the game being unbalanaced or unfair. However, when we look at our materials we see that every element of the game is 100% mathematically balanced and that none of the perceived overpowered combinations actually have any effect on who wins the game. In other words, the game is technically fair, but it feels like it isn't.
We've been very slow to realize this, and even slower to recognize the problem. See, it doesn't really matter at the end of the day how well we balanced everything if it doesn't feel balanced. If players feel cheated out of something, even if they were treated fairly, that perception can color their opinion of the game and ruin their good time. We can convince ourselves all day that it's all in our heads, but ultimately it's our failure to design the mechanics in such a way that our intentions are communicated clearly.
Here are some of the problems we've seen:
Players feel that it's unfair that some people get to be speaker more often than others.
Currently we just go around the table, but if the number of players is anything but 3, some people get fewer chances at playing speaker. It doesn't affect much since speakership is easy to usurp and there are many ways to earn points. However, by framing speakership as "your turn," it can feel incredibly frustrating to have fewer than everybody else, especially if your turn gets cancelled by emergency bills!
Players get frustrated when one person hoards lots of money and they feel that person has become untouchable.
We've put a lot of things in the game to counter this. However, it's not immediately apparent how this can be done, especially on a first playthrough. What exacerbates the issue is that money is distributed in large amounts, but infrequently. So if one person is far ahead, it can feel frustrating because their "comeuppance" is sometimes a half-hour away.
Players feel that losing their elections is tantamount to a game over.
We feel the punishment for losing is pretty light. So what gives? We've figured out it has to do with the randomness involved in the election process. It's just a part of the game that the amount of money you need to pass your election is somewhat randomized. However, if it's too random, then when you lose it feels incredibly unfair. Not only that, but the jerk hoarding all the money might get super lucky, further increasing the distance between the winners and losers.
There are other issues, but these three loom large in our minds. We have already started working on ways to fix these perceptions. Some of these fixes are incredibly simple. For instance, our election process has gone through multiple iterations as we've tried to find that proper balance of randomness and fun. That will just get a slight tweak. However, in other places we may have to say good-bye to some idea that we've held on to for far too long.
Thanks for following along! We'll be telling you all about those changes once we get them finalized and written into our rulebook.
The Weather Gage Team