Playtest Report 3rd April 2023
Updated: Apr 6
On Monday 3rd April, I play tested the latest version of Spaceship 47 with two friends over Tabletop Simulator. It was dispiriting to say the least. Here are my thoughts on the session.
After a couple of years of resisting introducing deck building as the main mechanism for the game, I finally relented when I watched a video by No Pun Included which pointed out that that the arc that Deck building naturally creates is similar to the Heroes Journey, which is also not too dissimilar to the arc of an episode of an episodic TV show. So despite my objections to myself that I am jumping on a bandwagon and not creating anything new, Deck Building is now the main mechanism for the game.
To determine what the players can do on their turn, they have a hand of cards, half of which are drawn from an individual deck and half from a communal deck. Players get two actions on their turn. An action could be:
to move (which is always available to them and is on their player board)
an action that is available to their character because of the location they are in (for example, hacking a door to open it)
a card played from their hand
If the action that the player takes requires a dice roll, then they may discard cards. For each card that they discard they add 1 to the result of the dice roll. If the roll equals or exceeds the target number then they succeed, if they get less than the target number then they fail.
That's the main mechanism for the turn, numerous turns make up a scene of which there are three in each episode. There is a mini objective for each scene (e.g. get to the door and unlock it) and a main objective for the episode (e.g. rescue the scientists from the station and get them back to the shuttle).
The players move their characters around the map, completing skill checks, killing enemies, improving their decks all while trying to meet the objectives of the mission/episode.
For the play test on Monday, there were some things that did not work at all and some that did work as intended. Lets start with the negatives.
Things That Did Not Work
Separating Used and Discarded Cards
The cards that the players played from their hands as their action went in one pile (USED) and the cards that the players discarded to boost their die rolls went in another pile (DISCARDED). This can be see in the image below:
The reason I implemented this was that I was worried that the players might work out that one card was over powered and would constantly use it at the expense of the others. But if I used normal deck building rules, then the card would not get cycled round quickly enough for the players to play too often and even if it would, if the players find it fun to play that card, why not let them? This added nothing to the game and just interrupted the flow while we worked out which card we had just played and which ones were discarded to boost the dice roll.
Solution: I am definitely removing the different piles for the Used cards and Discarded cards. In the next version, all cards that are played, will just go in the Discarded pile.
Two Decks Combined
When I decided that I wanted Deck Building as the main mechanism, I wanted to reinforce the fact that Spaceship 47 is a co-operative game. With this in mind, I started constructing a communal deck, that all the players would take their cards from, and they would collectively build the deck by buying cards and removing cards just like any other deck builder, but in this game it would be communal. However, I didn't know how to have a communal deck, but also make each character feel like an individual. How to do cards for a melee tank character, that were also applicable to the high damage dealing ranged character without making the cards so abstract as to lose any thematic meaning? Other game designers could come up with a solution, but it was beyond my intelligence. So I split the difference and decided that the characters would have their own individual decks to build as well as a communal one. It could well be my implementation of it, but taking cards from two different decks and the stupid discarding rules that I outlined in the previous section made the game on Monday very messy.
Possible Solution 1: Scrap the communal deck and have players just have individual decks.
Possible Solution 2: Scrap the individual decks and just use the communal deck and work out how to make characters feel different from each other.
Possible Solution 3: Instead of having the communal deck contain cards that are put into players hands, draw the communal cards at the start of the turn and have them face up where every player could see them. So instead of having to manage a hand of cards drawn from two different decks, the communal deck would be in the middle usable by everyone.
The Numbers Were All Wrong
I hadn't had a chance to run through the game by myself before unleashing it on my players so I knew the game would be either way too easy or impossible. It turned out to be the latter. The most glaring problem was that the enemies just could not hit the players. You would think that that would make the game super easy for the players, right? Wrong! We couldn't succeed on our skill checks. We played through about 20 turns in the 2 hours that we played, so that was about 60 skill checks in total and we succeeded on about 9 checks. Not really in keeping with a fast-paced scene to introduce the players to the game!
Solution: Lower the player's defence scores. Increase the dice average slightly.
Discarding Cards was Too Restrictive
I wanted the players to have to choose whether they wanted to keep the cool card in their hand to play in future turns or discard it to help boost the roll they were making this turn. However, with the dice being weighted against succeeding, the players had to discard a lot of cards to even have a chance of succeeding. This led to frustration that they were discarding way way more cool cards than they could play.
Solution : Instead of discarding cards and adding one to the dice roll for each card that is discarded, I am going to say that you can discard ONE card when making a roll. Each card will contain a number on it that you can add to the dice roll when it is discarded - this is similar to how King Arthur is played in the first Unmatched game. This will also help with the previous complaint as I can tweak the numbers on the cards to make it easier or harder to succeed checks.
Land Mines Were Obvious
Three sections on the board had perception checks associated with them. These same three sections were also the only sections that also instructed you to flip over the card as soon as you set foot on it. Once the players had succeeded one perception check to discover a land mine it was so obvious that the other two were as well. One of the players suggested that instead of denoting certain sections be flipped over when you enter them that that should be the case for every section as you move along. This would give the game a great tension as the players slowly made their way across the board scared to trigger a land mine. So I am going to take this suggestion and move it to a different episode. Its a great idea to increase the tension of a scene, but for the scene we played, I am aiming for fast free flowing action.
Cumulative Skill Checks Had Too Many Checks
Cumulative Skill Checks were required to hack the SentryBots that were trying to kill the players and also to open the door to the research station. These checks required 6 checks each to complete and there was a push-your-luck element to succeeding the cumulative skill checks. Within a single turn, you could do as many checks as you liked, but lose all progress if you failed a skill check. You could bank the progress to try again on a later turn, starting from where you left off. Even if the players succeeded on the checks more often, I think there were too many checks to accomplish their goals. Especially as this scene is the very first scene of the game, and is supoposed to be designed to ease the players into the game.
Solution: Lower the number of checks required in the cumulative skill checks to 4.
Things That Worked
I think having two boards, one for scenes that take place outside and one board for scenes taking place inside is good. It is thematic as a 90s Sci-fi TV show would be limited by budget for sets so would be redressing sets for different episodes. It also makes set-up really quick as you just deal the 30 cards into the recesses in order to make up the map. It can also make the game board more dynamic than if you used a book of maps.
Line of Sight
This was obviously going to work as it was used in Tannhauser with people like the Dice Tower commenting on how good a mechanism it was. It has also been used in the Unmatched board games by Restoration Games - we both made the circles more colour-blind friendly than Tannhauser by making the colours textured.
The Enemy AI
At the moment the enemy AI kinda worked, as in it was easy to see what the enemies would do and it was quick to resolve their attacks against the players. The numbers were wildly off though, so the enemies hardly hit. We didn't get to the more complicated enemies so it will be interesting to see if more complicated enemies reveal flaws in the enemy AI system.
There is a bunch of stuff to change before the next play test (there were a few minor things that I need to correct like typos, icons etc, that were too boring to mention here). Hopefully the next play test will be soon as I want to make a physical copy of the game to take to UK Games Expo in June.