Some quick Prolix updates

by Gil Hova


So in other news, I’m trying to tighten up the various player counts. Here’s where we stand…

The “official game” is for 3-4 players. That seems to be tight as a drum.

The solo variant, Solix, is very good.

That leaves the 2-player game and the 5-player game.

I found that the 2-player game was missing pop. If it was just me and someone else, I would turn down a 2-player game of Prolix. That’s a bad sign right there.

The problem is that an interrupt in a 2-player game isn’t really as interesting as in the other games. 2-player games are pure zero-sum games. My gain is your loss. If you’re going to interrupt the other player, why not make it a straight puzzle game?

By “puzzle game,” I mean a straight, turnless game, where both players are trying to work out their turns simultaneously. I tried a puzzle variant at Protospiel 2007, and the result really wasn’t much fun. The problem with a puzzle game is that it tends to get unbalanced very quickly. Usually, a group will have one really good player and one very crummy player. Granted, that’s the case with most games. But in a puzzle game, and especially in puzzle Prolix, that good player ran away with the game, and the crummy player never got a chance.

Clearly, puzzle Prolix wasn’t the answer for a multiplayer game. I insisted on keeping it turn-based, and I’m very happy with the decision.

But I had a thought last week. What if I made 2-player Prolix a puzzle game, and put in a strong handicap?

So I hammered out Prolix Duel, a 2-player Prolix variant. Here’s the gist of it. There are up to 9 rounds, and each player is trying to get a “mark” each round. 5 marks wins the game.

You get a mark by getting the best word each round. To start the round, you lay out the board as normal, and then both players start thinking of a word.

If a player comes up with a word, he flips the 45-second hourglass in front of him, and secretly writes his word down. The other player now has 45 seconds to come up with his own word.

When the timer runs out, both players score their words. The higher-scoring word gets the mark. In case of a tie, the player who flipped the hourglass wins.

Here’s where the handicap comes in. The player with the most marks has a handicap every round. So if I lead you by a score of 2 marks to 1, my word this round will be worth 1 point less. If I manage to get a mark this round too, my word next round will be worth 2 points less.

The handicaps are what turn this from “meh” into a something with pop. I’ve played it twice now, and both plays have been really interesting. Today’s game was my friend’s first game, and she took me to the wire. I got the first 3 marks, but she rattled off 4 straight marks. I managed to sneak the last 2 marks in to win, the last one by 1 point! It felt much more like a game than the 2-player game has ever felt. So it’s probably good enough to hand over to the blind testers, at this point.

Now, the 5-player game. This one is a tougher nut to crack. I playtested this with 5 last weekend, and it didn’t go so well. One player fired off three straight 20+ point words, and interrupted twice by the third round. His game was effectively over, but he kept seeing great words that weren’t worth interrupting with. He was frustrated, and I can’t blame him.

Granted, this is possible in a 4-player game, but much rarer. It’s more likely in the 5-player game, where someone has to wait four turns in between his own words. That’s four interrupt opportunities. It’s a lot.

This player happened to be a very experienced game player; he developed for SPI in the seventies. He gave me some thoughtful feedback, but the changes he proposed would radically alter the game, and I’m not convinced they would completely eradicate the problem without introducing a different set of problems. Stupid elegant ruleset!

My current choices are…

* In the 5-player game, each player crosses off one fewer word in his Regular Scoring column than he Interrupted with. This has a nasty implication: Players should interrupt at least once to maximize their score, plus once for each zero they were forced to take.

This will greatly increase the number of interrupts. But that’s what we want, right? I may have to note in the rulebook that the 5-player game is the most brutal version of Prolix.

What I like about this ruleset is that it’s really only one minor change from regular Prolix. If this works, I don’t want to change anything else.

* But if it doesn’t work, I may have to introduce radical changes into the 5-player game. One of the playtester’s suggestions was that if a player is interrupted once, he flips the timer for his second turn. No one can interrupt him, but he must take a -3 for his word.

I actually had something similar to this rule early on, but I wasn’t crazy about it. I want players to be continually engaged every turn. Also, it’s a big change from the base game. It’s different, but not necessarily better. So I may try it, but I’m afraid I’m skeptical.

* Perform a 5-player-ectomy. In other words, cap the game at 4 players. This would be my last resort, but I’d rather limit the game’s player count than endorse a potentially lousy game experience.

I’ll probably get to try the 5-player rules in a couple of weeks at Recess. I’ll also be sending a blind test copy of the game to Atlanta in a couple of weeks. I’m hoping to have this thing zipped up soon.