• paulbaalham

Playtest: 6th February 2022


Stock Wix image of stars with some purple colour

This past Sunday, I finally got to playtest my latest version of Spaceship 47. I played solo, as I wanted to test some things before putting the game in front of other people. Before I tell you the results of the playtest, I need to explain the systems I am now using for Spaceship 47. I have split this post up into three sections: Maps, Enemy AI and Player Actions. Lets get into it.


Maps

Every Dungeon Crawler needs some form of map for you to put your minis on and move around. Spaceship 47 was going to use a book of maps for the locations of the missions, but then every other game started using a book of maps. Being the petty person I am, I got in a huff and I decided that I wasn't going to use a book of maps on principle.

Now that I have regained my sense of maturity, I am actually really pleased with my alternative. There are now two boards that are used instead, one for scenes that take place outside and one for scenes that take place inside (see below for the outside board). Each mission is split into Scenes, which will either take place inside or outside on a non-Earth planet.


A square picture of Mars, with a grid of white rectangles denoting where cards can be put on top of the picture. There are six columns and five rows of card holders.  Each card holder is connected to the surrounding eight neighbours by black straight lines.
An image of the outside board

Each board has a grid of recesses that hold cards. At the start of the scene, the players simply deal out the cards into the appropriate slots and boom, they have a map. Four example section cards are shown below (without the art that would sync up with their locations to make the map look complete):

Each card contains:

  • A section number inside a hexagon - this denotes which slot the card should be placed in when dealing out the location cards.

  • A number of circles. Each creature in the game takes up one circle, so the number of circles is the number of creatures that can be in the same section at any time. These circles are also colour coded, showing which other sections a character can target with a ranged weapon from this section. If two sections share at least one colour then a character can target a creature in the other section. The colours were chosen to be colour blind friendly, but once I get better at using image manipulation programs I plan to give each colour a texture as well to make it even easier to distinguish between the colours. If the section circles are empty and have a dashed grey circumference (like Section 27 in the image above), then that means that any creature on that section can only target creatures in the same section or the sections connected to it.

  • Arrows that denote which adjacent section cards a creature can move to from the current section card. There are sometimes symbols indicating that a player needs to do something if their character moves in that direction, for example, preform a physique check to jump over something between the section cards.

  • Icons located in the top on the right hand side. Section 3 above has an icon that denotes that the section has a Fortitude score of 3.

  • Text denoting any other pertinent information for the players. For example, in Section 1 there is text saying that players can attempt a vision check to see what is in the pile of rubbish - the further away the players are, the harder the check is. For Section 11, the text is the instructions if the section is hit by the Sentry Gun. In this case it is to flip the card over - this reveals the same section card, but with a reduced number of circles, i.e. fewer creatures can be in the section at any given time. If the section is hit by the Sentry Gun for a second time, it is discarded meaning that creatures cannot move into that section any more.

I like this way of doing the map for two reasons:

  1. I am trying to recrate the vibe of a 90s sci-fi TV show. These tended to have limited budgets and therefore a limited number of sets. I don't believe that any 90s show only had two sets, but this invokes that feeling.

  2. The maps are more dynamic. In the very first scene of the game, the players are trying to get inside a research station on Mars while a Sentry Gun is peppering the landscape with plasma blasts. If the Sentry Gun hits a section, the card can be flipped over to show the effects of the blast. Other examples of the dynamic map could be fire sweeping through a map in the style of the Pandemic board game; vehicles that move relative to each other as a chase is going on, with the players leaping from vehicles to vehicle; bridges collapsing; walls collapsing allowing players to target sections that they could not beforehand, etc.

Playtest Result:

Pros: I really liked the cards as maps. Even in Table top Simulator it was quick to deal out the cards to make up the map and the dynamism of the map was great.

Cons: I shouldn't be lulled in to thinking the cards can do everything. Scene 2 of the first mission sees players preparing the map before a mob gets to them. They do this by erecting a number of barriers. In the previous version, this was a token placed along the movement lines between sections, but I thought the cards could serve the job by having one entry/exit point as the barrier. However, when I came to play this, I realised the players may want a different entry/exit point on the section card to be the barrier than I had chosen.


Enemy AI

For this version of Spaceship 47, the enemy AI works as follows. An enemy card can be seen below:

The top contains the name - Sentry Gun. The row of icons underneath the name are the three defences plus the starting health of the Sentry Gun. Below these icons are four separate blocks, each representing a different action that the Sentry Gun can take. But when the Sentry Gun takes its turn, how do the players know which action to use? The card is placed on the enemy board, which is shown below:

The individual enemies are labelled A to G. Each enemy has a column of circles below them. The board starts off with all circles showing the symbol for the default action (radial grey arrows). As the scene progresses, the circles will fill up with other icons. An example from further into the game is shown below:



When it is time for the enemies to take their turns, a card from the enemy action deck is drawn and placed on the space in the bottom right, this determines which symbols are activated for each enemy.


The sentry gun is a Solo enemy, so when it acts, it gets to take two actions. In the above example the top row of icons are activated, so the Sentry Gun will take both the crescent action and the green explosion action.

The players then just read the appropriate section on the enemy card and carry out the instructions.

The idea behind this is to try and get the enemies to react to what the players are doing. If the players are walking through a certain part of the map, then the Sentry Gun will be more likely to target that part of the map.

In addition to the card resolving which actions are used, it also shows the attack score for any attacks the enemies might use on that round. The reason for this was to speed up taking the enemy actions, as the numbers the players need is drawn once and used for the entire turn. However, this led to combat in the second scene being quite swingy as all of the enemies used the Medium attack score and the enemies that shared an action card ended up doing the same thing. I need to find a way of making each enemy have a different attack score to make it less swingy.

The big problem with this system began in the second scene. There were three enemy action cards with two enemies for each card, for a total of six enemies. Each pair of enemies were trying to get to a different section card. If the enemy got obstructed in some way while moving, then tokens were added to its column. One of these potential actions was to flip the card over and then the enemies controlled by that card would head off to a different section. However, as both enemies sharing a card acted at the same time and would invariably have the same tokens, then the card would be flipped over twice, meaning that the enemies would do nothing, despite the intention that they should do something. It was possible for this to happen multiple times in a row essentially meaning the enemies would get stuck. I ended the play test there while I tried to work out what to do next.

I now have a solution for this and will roll it out for the solo next play test.

Playtest Results

Pros: I felt like this system did not take up too much time and it kept things from being predictable, but it still made the enemies feel like they were reacting to events.

Cons: I need to tweak the system so that enemies don't nullify the action of other enemies. I really need to be careful when implementing this system that there aren't infinite loops - it is almost like computer programming in a way.


Player Actions

In this version of the game, the players have a few cards in their hand, each card has a different action on it. Below you can see the MOVE card for the Officer, which contains the following actions:

  • Move up to 2 sections

  • Perform a map action (i.e. an action outlined on a Section card)

  • Make a saving throw

  • Regain ability points (by reducing the maximum number of ability points and then moving the ability point counter up to the new maximum)

If the Officer is knocked prone, this card would be flipped so that the Officer would be unable to take any of these actions, although they could perform a stand up action to flip the card back.

The card shows the actions that the Officer can perform while they are able to move: Move 2 spaces; A map action; Make a saving throw or regain ability points.
The Officer's Movement Card

Each action costs a certain amount of time, in the above example, the actions cost 2 time. Below is the turn order track. All of the players start a Scene at 0. They then each take it in turns to take an action, moving their counter down the track a number of spaces equal to the time taken to perform the chosen action. Whichever player is highest up the track takes the next turn (like Tokaido). Each time a player crosses a red line, the player completes their turn and then all of the enemies take their actions.



Due to the game grinding to a halt in the second scene, I didn't get to fully test the player actions, but I still had some thoughts:

  1. The times for the actions were too similar, a bit more variety would shake up the turn order a bit.

  2. In the previous play test, the Lawyer was incapable of getting to where it needed to be to lock down enemies, so for this play test I gave it a movement speed of 3 while the other Heroes had a movement speed of 2. However, that meant that the Lawyer zipped around the board really quickly and ended up waiting at the open door for the other Heroes to get to that section so that the game could move to the next Scene. I will tweak this by giving the Lawyer a speed of 2, but the player can spend an ability point to move an extra section if they wish.

  3. The red lines were misplaced, I will move one line to between 2 and 3 and the other one to between 5 and 6.

  4. I should probably come up with some non-combat player actions, to show players that they don't have to blast their way through everything.

  5. The starting maximum number of ability points is 10. These ability points are spent when making checks, with the maximum number of points spent depending on the skill check (Physique, Vision or Intelligence) and the character (the Deadeye can spend up to 3 ability points for a Vision check, the Engineer only 1). When a player wants to recover their ability points, they reduce the maximum by one and then move their ability point counter up to the new maximum. This means that in a single mission that a player could spend a total of 55 ability points (10 + 9 + ... + 1). This seemed way too many from the part of the game I played. The maximum number of ability points a player can spend on a given turn is 3 and not every turn will use ability points - currently you do not spend ability points to move. I will reduce the starting number of ability points to 8, meaning that the player can spend a total of 36 ability points in a single mission and see whether this feels more restrictive.

Playtest Results

Until I get the cards in front of other people I don't think there is too much I can say about them.


Conclusion

I was happy with the play test as some of the new systems seemed to work the way I wanted and if I correct the mistakes I think I have a rather promising game. Of course, this may change when I show it to others and they tear it to pieces! :)

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