Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Round 6

Design Workbench

Design Objective

Since it has been a while since I last reported on this project and the game is actively being playtested, I thought I should report on progress even though there are no major changes. I propose a few tweaks here that may cause changes to the rules and the cards, so by the next round I may post all new documents for rules and for building a deck. Historically, I have introduced new ideas in this notebook after they have been tested and changes decided. I am going to break form in this entry and suggest a couple new rules that we will be testing in the coming weeks. With many successful tests behind us, these are in the range of fine tuning. We are not experiencing any major problems with the game.

Playtest

Prototype

The prototype hasn’t changed from the last round, but I have a proposed change this round that may change it for next round.

Playing

The first thing worth mentioning is I have offered to play other games to my key 2-player tester and he is only interested in playing this game. We have played about 30 games (10 sets of 3 games) and are still discovering new tactics and strategies within the game. Surprisingly, one recent tactic is at the setup. We are taking more stock in what the other player has showing in placing our initial 3 cards; anticipating cards to be traded away and others to be unavailable for matching.

Stalemate

With many games under our belts, we have now had one instance when we could have hit a stalemate; each player uses their two actions to counter the other player’s turn. The change many months go to allow two actions per turn has mitigated this possibility, but apparently it hasn’t destroyed it entirely. This was the scenario:

  1. Player 1 was using a 5: Force Trade with the Trade Row to force Player 2 to trade an important card (one of a set) to the Trade Row. This required 2 Actions each turn – Conceal the card to use its Action then Reveal it.
  2. Player 2 was using a 3: Trade with the Trade Row to get the card back. This required 2 Actions each turn – Conceal the card to use its Action then Reveal it. Player 2 did not have the ability to use another card action to disrupt the Player 1 action (force a trade, swap a card, etc.).

Although it is not uncommon for each player to have the necessary cards for this to happen, it just doesn’t because there are many other actions available. However, it was late in the game and Player 2 was ready to conclude the game, but could not get enough actions to Lock or Reveal the remaining cards. Player 1 did not have any other valuable actions and was not happy with his grid.

A rule to call the game after a certain number of repeats could help, but the timing of that call would have been very important since it was the difference of a set to Player 2 and coincidentally an unused Wild. The point swing would have been 8 points for Player 2; the set was of 3’s and there was a 0 in the Trade Row, but it could have been a lot more. Ultimately, Player 1 decided to reveal his last card and force the end game since neither player was advancing.

Point-Action Value Adjustment

As we have been playtesting, we have realized that the action to swap two cards in your grid (the 4 Action) is probably the second most valuable. Meanwhile, the action to force a trade with the Trade Row (currently the 5 Action), even though it affects the other player, is possibly less valuable than even the action to trade with the Trade Row (currently the 3 Action). So a new alignment of Point-Action Value may be in order. We will test this in the coming weeks.

New Rules

Stalemate

At this point, with only one occurrence in many plays in which the players worked it out, I’m not ready to create a new rule to deal with the stalemate. A chess-like “threefold repetition” rule may be necessary, but I would like to avoid that still. It would be better to prevent the condition, so it is on the playtest hit list.

Peek at the Trade Row

Note: There were a few rules changes in Round 5 and as we have been playing another opportunity to simplify has arisen. The new rule is to change:

  • 1 Point Card: Peek at, Reveal, or Conceal any card in any Grid.

To:

  • 1 Point Card: Peek at, Reveal, or Conceal any card.

This allows a player to use the action to Peek at or Reveal a card in the Trade Row. It also opens up the action to Conceal a card in the Trade Row, but I doubt anyone would do that. However, there have been a few times when a Player may want to know what is concealed in the Trade Row.

Dealing with a Dud Hand

Although it hasn’t happened yet in our playtesting, it is possible that a player could get a grid that does not have any actions that allow manipulating it. There are only nine cards in the game with actions that will move a card in a player’s grid (3 each of 3, 4, and 6 – the 5 moves a card in the opponent’s grid). Fortunately, three of the remaining four point cards that would make up that player’s grid are the lowest cards, so they will likely still get a low score. They would also almost certainly have at least one 2, so they could rush to the end game as they discover their predicament and catch the other player with unmatched high cards. Even so, that isn’t very exciting. Additionally, if they have any Wilds, they may get stuck with them going unused and a 5-point ding to their score.

For them truly to be stuck, the other player would also have to withhold using the 6’s and possible 5’s to trade cards in their grid as well. It just isn’t very likely. However, I am going to test a new rule to help mitigate this remote possibility. Since the Wilds have such scoring power, they have no actions and they have the penalty for non-use. In a hand like I’ve described, though, they are dead weight (with a rope around your neck). So here’s a new rule that we will implement to see if it ever gets used (for this reason or any other):

  • A Wild may be traded with the Trade Row as an action.

Although, the intent has always been to take three cards out of the game to eliminate the possibility of perfect information, optionally this rule could allow for trading with the discards. This trade makes 3 more cards available to the player.

This should require a truly desperate player to take advantage of it. This now brings the total cards in the deck that have a move action to twelve (half of the deck). It would take (almost literally) a perfectly awful deal for a player to get no cards that have a move action. Since there are three cards in the Trade Row and three cards out of the game, one player may still get no movement cards. Going back to an early decision in the design, the draft is also intended to mitigate a bad draw of cards. each player will have access to a minimum of five cards through the draft; two in addition to the three they take. So a player has a total of eleven cards available. I would really like the number of cards that activate movement to be at least 14 to completely remove this from possibility.

Alternatively, allowing for trading with the discards brings the total number of cards available to a player to fourteen, assuming the payer gets to choose from them, which eliminates the problem. However, it also could be used to gain additional information about the opponent's cards, which is not the intent and at this point undesirable.

So, the questions is whether this issue is more important to remedy than the actions available on the 0, 1, 2, and 5 (soon to be 3) cards; particularly, if it is more important than including orientation in the game, since that action hasn't been activated in the game yet. A truly bad deal could result in a score of 18 (allowing for trading away a Wild).

Self-Activating

Finally, until now there has been a rule that a card cannot be used to take an action upon itself. Given the stalemate condition discussed earlier and a common desire to break this rule, I am reconsidering this rule. We will test some games with the rule removed to see if it has a positive impact.

Summing Up

So incorporating all these suggestions into the Point-Action Value chart we get: (Green is new, Red is changed).

Points

Action on Card

Player Affected

Basic Type

0

Change the orientation of any card.

Either (+/-)

Orient

1

Reveal/Peek at/Conceal any card.

Either (+/-)

Reveal

2

Reveal/Peek at/Conceal two cards in your own grid.

Self (+)

Reveal

3

Force another player to trade a card with their choice of card from the Trade Row.

Other (-)

Trade

4

Trade a card in your grid with your choice of card from the Trade Row.

Self (+)

Trade

5

Swap any two cards in your grid.

Self (+)

Move

6

Trade a designated card with another player. The player taking the Action gets to select both cards.

Self (+)

Other (-)

Trade

Wild

Trade this Wild with the Trade Row.

Self (+/-)

Trade

Working It Out

The new rules to allow Peeking at a Trade Row card and to allow trading a Wild to the Trade Row make a little progress on opening up the game more.  Unfortunately, the discovery of the stalemate condition causes us to lose ground on a few factors:

  • Few Decisions
    • Simplifying the 1 Point card Action provides another choice for that action.
  • Game Length
    • A stalemate condition can drag out a game.
  • Frustration
    • A stalemate condition is frustrating.
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