Playtest Report (24th February 2021)
Players : Me (Human Officer); @InterregnumThe (Android Engineer); @HarperRob (Chimpanzee Deadeye) and a work colleague of mine (Stishak Lawyer)
Episode Play Tested: Episode 2 - The Scientists of Mars
(Currently this episode is titled episode 2 as I would like a pilot episode included as well, but I haven't figured out how that would be the introductory episode yet. So therefore I am using episode 2 as the introductory episode despite the fact I want it to be the second episode!)
The episode is split into three scenes:
1) Getting into the Research station
2) Defending the Scientists from the results of a failed experiment
3) Getting out of the research station and back to the ship.
The length of the game was about right, lasting a little over 2 hours. Rob pointed out it would be quicker in real life as the virtual table top slows things down. This means I actually have a bit of room to play with time wise.
In the first part, the players need to get past the Sentry Gun that is taking pot shots at them and destroying the scenery around them. This is the second time that I have run this and both times the players opted to destroy the Sentry Gun instead of hacking it to stop it from shooting them. That is a pretty small sample size, but I wonder if there is something I can do, to make both options as equally appealing.
Both times I have played this scenario, the scenery did not get damaged as much as I was hoping. This will need to be fixed, but I don't think that will be difficult.
In this scene, the players had the opportunity to place barriers around the map which blocked movement and position themselves to defend scientists from an onslaught. This worked much better than the last time I play tested this scene. The players organised themselves and the barriers before facing the onslaught and some nice team work took down the enemies without much loss of life.
This was definitely the worst part of the three scenes. Having just rescued 7 out of the 8 scientists, 3 of the NPC scientists died before the players acted. There was absolutely nothing they could do about it which was frustrating. In part this was down to the fact they finished the previous scene with the Lawyer's action, meaning that the enemies were due to take their turn next, but the fact this was possible at all was bad. It was very frustrating for the players to have done so well in the previous scene only to be robbed of three NPCs through no fault of their own.
The mission was a success, but towards the end it was obvious that given that the Chimpanzee Deadeye had parked itself in the corner, it could take the enemies out without fear of its life and there was no other conclusion other than success. The tension went out of the game a bit at the end.
Things To Fix
A lot of the things wrong were cosmetic things - I had monster tokens which were not numbered so we had to devise a way of remembering which monster was which. I had forgotten to make a token for the Drone that the engineer uses. Lots of stuff like that. I will assume that I will fix those quite easily. This leaves me with five thing I do need to address:
1) The Engineer felt underpowered - the Lawyer was better at moving enemies about, despite that being the Engineer's "thing".
2) The enemies are very predictable and not very challenging
3) There should be more interesting choices for the players to make
4) Prone was not enough of a deterrent.
5) Given the number of attribute points you can spend, the defences of the enemies and the dice you roll, it is possible to make it so that you know you will succeed on attacking them.
The first tweak I will make to the Engineer is that the Drone should be able to make skill checks. Hopefully, this will help with the Sentry Gun problem as well as it will be viable for the drone to fly up to the Sentry Gun and start hacking it to over ride it, giving the players the choice of whether to destroy it or over ride it. I think this also fits thematically.
Its powers need a bump as well. The Drone has three types of attacks, but they all target the same defence. All of the enemies in this episode have the same high defence, meaning it was difficult for the engineer to contribute. I think one attack per defence would mean that the Engineer will always be useful.
The way the enemies work is that there are a list of criteria, each criteria having an associated action for the enemy with it. For example:
1) In the same section as a Hero: Attack the Hero
2) In a section with a Scientist in: Attack the Scientist
3) Otherwise: Move up to 2 Sections along white lines
The players go down the list of criteria, skipping over the actions associated with criteria that aren't met, until they get to a criteria that is met. For example, if an enemy was not in a section with a Hero, but was in a section with a scientist in, then the players would skip over the first line and stop at the second line. The 2nd action is then used and as enemies only get one action per turn, then that would be the end of the enemies turn.
I will write a blog post about how to address this as this will get to be a rather large topic.
Interesting Choices for Players
I am going to wait to address this until after I have addressed all of the other points as it may be that in fixing other parts, the choices for the players will become more interesting.
Prone Was Not Enough of a Deterrent
Prone just means you cannot use move actions. You can still attack (which I think fits as you can still fire a gun while lying on the floor). However, there is no penalty. If you want to stay exactly where you are (which the Lawyer did in Scene 3), then being prone does nothing at all to you.
The suggestion in the play test was that you could only spend up to one fewer attribute point than your max allowed when attacking or making a skill check.
I think instead that I will construct a worse die and that you have it use that instead.
Automatic Success When Attacking
Once I have revamped the enemies, I will take a look at the mathematics of the dice + attribute points. I don't think being able to spend attribute points to automatically succeed is in itself a bad thing, but if it is the case, you should really be worried about spending those attribute points.
Screentop.gg is actually pretty damn good. I was not sure about it at first, because it takes more steps to make a deck of cards than it does in TableTop Simulator (TTS), however, once your games are uploaded, it is so much easier to modify them than TTS. And the almost completely 2D aspect of it means you don't have the over head of TTS. It should be easier to get play testers to play as well as they do not need to have purchased TTS (which is the main reason I used it in the first place as a friend of mine who I want to play test Spaceship 47 doesn't even have a steam account).
I was very pleased with the play test. I believe that I am on the correct track, even if I am very far from the destination. The players enjoyed themselves but still pointed out where things weren't working properly. I was very lucky to have such good play testers.
So now I need to revamp the enemies, which is what I will be blogging about next when I have had time to think about it.