Tuesday 26 August 2014

The Fractured Lands - Playtest

I was soooo excited with some of the changes in my game I just had to share it with you all!

Game: The Fractured Lands
Playtesters: John Gibson (designer), Paul Saxberg, Tom Sarsons and Marty  
Play Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

I had a great play testing session yesterday at the Sentry Box. It was what I would call a breakthrough, and I was told that will all the changes I had made to the game since the last iteration, there was no downside.

So just a quick recap about what Fractured Lands is about:

In The Fractured Lands, a game for 3-4 players, you and your opponents each play a commissioner belonging to one of five races. You will be rebuilding the great city of Unity and vie for control and influence. As a commissioner you will direct workers from five different races: Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Minotaurs and Trolls. You'll gain prestige by constructing buildings, building walls and bridges, and erecting monuments in this epic building project. Can you reunite The Fractured Lands and rebuild the mighty city of Unity?

Number of Players: 3-4
Playing time: 60 - 90 minutes
Age Range: 12 and up

The game board is a 5 x 5 city map that you can put building tiles on. 5 of those squares are river hexes running diagonally through the map. The map is also surrounded by 20 wall sections. Players use 5 different coloured meeples (representing the 5 races) to construct and place building tiles on the board, and to build wall sections. Each building card has 2 meeples pictured on it, and so these are the meeples you would need to construct that building. Each wall section has a meeple beside it as well, indicating which meeple you need to build that wall.

How do players get these meeples?

There are 25 meeples dumped into a bag; 5 of each colour. At the beginning of each round, the starting player reaches into the bag and draws out 12 meeples at random. Then in counterclockwise order, beginning with the player to the right of the starting player, each player drafts one of the meeples, continuing until all the meeples have been drafted. In a 4 player game each player should have 3 meeples; 3 player game: 4 meeples.

I don't want to bore you guys with the rest, so let's get down to the changes I made before last night's game, and that should clear up some stuff.

1. Replaced 120 wooden cubes (24 cubes for each of the 5 colours)  with 40 $1 tokens and 12 $5 tokens

I have been working on different versions of this game for about 2 years now, and up until yesterday one of the key components was the wooden coloured cubes for each race. Players would get cubes by generating income on the map board. Each building tile would generate 2 cubes, 1 for each of the 2 races that you needed to originally construct the building. So for example after generating income a player might receive 2 black, 2 red, a blue and a yellow cube from 3 building tiles.

So what are/were the cubes for?

Players would use the cubes to buy actions on the action board. There were 10 spots on the action board, 2 for each cube colour. In the first row of 5 action spots, you could perform that action for the cost of 3 cubes of a specific colour, and the 2nd row it would cost 4 cubes.

For example, if you wanted to build a bridge to place on one of the 5 river tiles, it would cost you 3 blue cubes. If a player couldn't manage to generate 3 blue cubes because of the buildings they constructed, then they would never be able to purchase a bridge. Also, once all 5 bridges were built, then blue cubes were not as useful anymore.

I also had to limit how many cubes of one colour players could have at any one time (6) in order to keep hoarders from hurting those who were trying to generate income.

So I scrapped all the cubes and replaced it with money. Each building tile produces $1 when generating income. I then reduced the 10 actions spots down to 3: Building Bridges, Monuments and Tenants. Each spot costs $4 to perform that action.

So if we look at the example I mentioned before, the player would receive $3 for generating income instead of 6 cubes of various colours.

2. Players share a pool of Masons instead of each player having their own set of 3 Masons each.

Remember the actions spots I was referring to in my earlier comment? Well in order to use them you can't just have $4; you also have to have a Mason (They were called foremen, but now I am calling them Masons).

In a previous version of the game each player had 3 mason discs which they could use to perform actions not requiring a worker meeple. When a player ran out of their colour of discs, then they could no longer perform any of those actions. The reason for this was that when a player performed the generate income action, they might also end up generating income for other players. This became a sort of death spiral of actions in a 4 player game where a player might run out of cubes in one turn, only to have the next player generate them a bunch, thus allowing them to do more. So I gave each player 3 masons discs so they could perform only 3 actions per turn (they could turn a meeple into a mason with a special power, but let's not get into that right now).

But after trying different combinations of rules and components I (or one of play testers?) came up with idea of a pool of masons that can be accessed by the players. In the first round there would 4 available, 8 in the second, and 12 in the third and final round. What this means is that some players could end up playing more than 3 actions in the final turn, which also means another player might end up with only 2--you snooze, you lose! As to the incrementing number of masons, in the first round players are still working on building their economic engine so they will not have as much money to spend on actions anyway. So if one player can manage to squeeze out 2 actions in a turn, the somebody else is gonna get screwed!

I felt this added an extra element of tension to the game we played last night as players kept an eye on the dwindling supply of mason discs and considering the opportunity cost of performing a mason action versus an action requiring a meeple worker.

3. Got complete rid of the Blight Attacks mechanism.

As this game was evolving from version to version, at one point I found that players were not building walls because they were just not that interesting or compelling an action. So I added a mechanism where one or more times a round the city would be attacked. Using either dice which were rolled after a certain number of turns or flipping over a special card, the players would have to deal with an attack by the Fractured Lands most horrid enemy: The Blight!!1!

So players would have to build walls to protect the city. If the players won, then maybe the player who contributed the most would get a reward, and if they lost, then a player might lose a cube or even a building tile.

But my players found this to not be a good addition to the game and what was lost was too much dependant on luck (a die roll). This game is almost a solid Euro, so the dice weren't jelling with that style. So I scrapped it and the game went smoother.

4. When you are putting a new building tile down on the map, if it is adjacent to another one you own, then you gotta pay for it.

I haven't decided how to theme this rule, but I sure love the mechanic! When I put a building tile down on the map board, and it is not adjacent to own I already own, then I can put it down for free. But if it is next to one I do own, the it will cost me $1 to do so. If I put one down and it creates a clump of 3 adjacent buildings I own, then this will cost me $2, and so on and so on.

This does a couple of things: a) Now there is another use of money that will be competing with a player using it to perform Mason actions. b) Players will be not so quick to clump their buildings together at the beginning of the game because it will be too expensive (players get extra victory points for their largest group of buildings). This gave other players the opportunity to stick one of their buildings between an opponent's squares to mess them up.

Finally all these changes made for the fastest, most satisfying game of The Fractured Lands ever! We played it in 75 minutes and I am sure after a few more plays with experienced players that the game will come in at under an hour.

Anyhoo, thanks for reading and I would be happy to respond to any questions, comments, suggestions, etc.


John Gibson  

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