Saturday playtest results for Prolix and Pax Robotica

by Gil Hova

I got to playtest Prolix and Pax Robotica on Saturday. It’s rare that both my games hit the table in the same day, so I was quite flattered.

Prolix tweaks
For Prolix, I was specifically testing the 5-player variant. As I discussed in my last post, I wanted to try a variant where each player crosses out one fewer Regular Scoring word than the number of times he interrupted. So if a player interrupted three times, he’d cross only two words out instead of three.

The upshot of this is that players must interrupt at least once, plus once for each zero they were forced to take, in order to maximize their score. It seems that players were frustrated by the lack of interrupt opportunities in a 5-player game, so I hoped that this would open things up.

And it did! In the last 5-player game I saw, the guy who eventually won didn’t really have a practical interrupt opportunity after Round 3. In this game, we were all paying rapt attention to the board until the last round. It felt much better.

The final scores of the game were pretty thrilling: 103, 102, 102, 101, and 96.  It was quite close!

The only problem was that one of the players was new to the game, and he didn’t really grok the scoring system. I’m probably going to recommend that new players start with the 3-4 player game before going to 5 players.

So I’ll be sending a blind test copy of the game this week with this 5-player variant, plus the 2-player variant I talked about last week.

The next change I’m going to make is to change the timer length to 45 seconds. Right now, players use a 1 minute timer for everything except for the 2-player game, which uses a 30-second timer. I’d rather include only one timer with the game, and one minute is a little too long anyway. 45 seconds seems like a nice compromise.

The only problem? I don’t seem to be able to buy 45-second sand timers in any quantity less than 100. Hmm. I’m not planning to make that many blind test copies.

Pax Robotica tweaks
Pax Robotica got some much more significant tweaks. I was concerned about the relative value of the bots, so I sat down and did some math. It turns out that it’s better to buy two Level 3 bots than one Level 5 bot. I didn’t like that; I wanted the big bot to be a real hammer. Two Level 4 bots should be about equal to a Level 5 bot, and that’s not even close. It seemed that some re-juggling was in order.

I scribbled like crazy in my notebook, and came up with some better numbers. There are now only three levels of bots: 1, 3, and 6.

It’s neat, because the numbers represent three things:

  • The number of Tech symbols you need to build a bot of that level.
  • The amount of VP you get when you build the bot.
  • The battle value of the bot.

Now, the highest bot is about even with two of the lower bot.  If you do the math, selling two Level 3 bots gets a tad more VP than one Level 6 bot because they’ll be getting twice the survival points.  But the Level 6 bot is cheaper to build, more likely to survive, and more likely to swing the endgame VP bonus to its side.  So it’s no longer a slam-dunk decision.

In our game, we never got to build Level 6 bots, because I found I need to make the Tech deck more dynamic.  I’ll probably split it into A and B cards like the Government deck, and put 3x Techs among the B cards.  That’ll make tech growth much more explosive.

Bot quantities were another thing I found I needed to tweak (which didn’t surprise me, considering that the best I can do before a playtest is guess).  For the next game, I’m going in with 6x Level 1 bots of each type, 5x Level 3 bots, and 2x Level 6 bots.

I’m very excited about this change, because it streamlines a lot of rough edges.

  • The bot values now stand for three different things, which is much neater and easier to understand.
  • It’s no longer necessary to remove double Techs revealed in the first round.  That always felt kind of artificial to me.
  • The Level 1 bots get less attractive by Round 3, because they’re so likely to get blown up.  So I don’t think I need to have a minimum bot value in the later squares of each battlefield.  Another fiddly rule gone!

The game showed a lot of rough edges of the new system, but a lot of potential too.  It ended on a tiebreaker, although if the Level 6 bots had come out as they should have, I think they would have been different.  I also felt that the auction was a bit more powerful than before, which was great; I’d seen players disregard the auction entirely and win on bot placement, which isn’t how I want the game to go.

Some interesting thoughts came up regarding the tiebreaker system, but I’ll save them for another post.