After a lot of thinking and retooling, we believe we have the fixed mechanics for Congress: The Board Game. We'll still have a few minor tweaks to make but the broad strokes changes are in place now. If you haven't yet played our game, the following may be hard to follow, but here are the bulk of our changes:
The biggest change is that we've shortened the game length. Again. Our very first prototypes, the paper-and-pen versions we made in 2015, were obscenely long. The game lasted for 12 sessions and it was easy to blow through 3 or more hours in our test runs. So over the course of our testing we cut the game down to three terms of three sessions and felt that we had trimmed it to the quickest version we'd ever get. There was no way to get the game to less than a half-hour per player, we thought. But now we've shortened it some more.
It's not that the game was too long on its own. We felt that the nine-session length allowed for some good long-term strategizing. Still, many players were not feeling that rhythm. No one ever gave us the specific note "your game is too long," but we feel that cutting a bit of time off will help sovle other issues we'd run into regarding the number of sessions. Now the game is composed of seven sessions total. The mid-term elections happen at the end of the second, fourth, and seventh sessions - so the term lengths are variable. Now we feel confident saying the game is 20 minutes per player. Our in-house playtests are 45-50 minutes total with 3 players!
Another change has to do with selecting the speaker for the session. It used to be that one player began as the speaker and the "role" was passed around to the left for each new session. It worked fine but it led to games in which, by design, some people got to be speaker more than others. We can tell you all day that it doesn't really matter that much (given how easy it is to steal speaker's points and to break the flow with emergency bills), but when you get down to it what matters is that players felt powerless to control their own game. Now, at the top of each session, the three bills are drawn and all players have the opportunity to bid for speakership. That way you can never really have your "turn" wasted with three bills you hate! If you hate them, just refuse to bid.
Of course, if there is a bidding every turn, we need to make sure there is money in the game. Another complaint we'd received had to do with players feeling like they could never make any money. Usually, payouts happened only at the end of the term. This meant that if you had nothing, you would have nothing for a long time. Instead, we've instituted a stipend - all players receive a small amount of money every session in addition to whatever payouts are received by interests before the elections. This means that, during the bidding, everyone is guaranteed to have at least one million dollars.
That extra money doesn't mean money problems never happen, though. Given the shorter term lengths, you have less time to gather your interests. In addition, the randomness of the election roll has been significantly reduced. Initially, we had players roll two dice and add the total, but this was far too random. Then we had players roll the first die at the start of the term - this was the "polling die" that all players shared - and then during the election each player would roll the second die and add the total to the polling die. However, even this was too random. Now, we have a fixed polling die result for each term, and the election roll is made with a 4-sided die instead of a 6-sided one. Over the course of the game, the election rolls get harder. Ultimately the amount of money you need to finish the game is about the same or slightly more than the average amount needed in previous versions, but the level of randomness is mitigated so that players don't feel the game is totally unfair.
Finally, we've eliminated state powers. No one was using them. Literally no one but us found them helpful in-game, and playtesters were generally confused. It's taken a while, but we've realized it's time to let go of this concept. This means that there is no longer any reason to match red or blue senators with states, which will also make the initial game setup quicker.
But this created a new problem. Our initial design had 12 states. Half of them had 3 interests and the other half had 2. While this sounds unbalanced, we'd worked out mathematically that everything was perfectly square, and the state powers of the 2-interest states made up for the loss of an interest. If those state powers are gone, and the term lengths are shortened, suddenly having a 2-interest state is a detriment. So, we're going to redesign states. Since there are 5 pairs of competing interests, and we want all states to have 3 interests, we need our number of states to be a multiple of 10. We'll have to get rid of two of our states in this initial version of the game to make the balance possible, since it matters more now.
That's all for now! Thanks for following along!
The Weather Gage Team