More Pax Robotica tweaking, plus a Prolix renaming update

by Gil Hova

Let’s get the Prolix renaming update out of the way first.  The new name will be: Prolix.

That’s right.  None of the candidates really grabbed me, and I figure that if I put the game out on the iPhone, I can always call it “Prolix, from [REDACTED GAME COMPANY].”  Or “Gil Hova’s Prolix.”  Or “Reiner Knizia’s Prolix.”  (Hell, he’s got so many games, would he really notice another one?)

So, that helps with logistics.  Hopefully I can get some blind test copies out this week.  Of course, the challenge is finding blind testers who will actually play the game, which is easier said than done! That will be this week’s task.

Onto Pax Robotica.  I’ve had three playtests in the past two months, and there have been some small but significant changes.

Making the auction more important

I’ve noticed that most winning players follow the same pattern: Ignore early auctions and get lots of Bots out on the board.

Specifically, I found that a player who folds early has a financial advantage over players who participate in the Round 1 auction.  If he gets lots of Bots on the board, he’ll get a head start on revenue that he can ride the rest of the game.

I want a successful Pax Robotica player to have to juggle both auctions and Bots.  You won’t be able to win every auction, so you have to time your charge properly.

I also want the auctions to be absolutely bloodthirsty.  They should be the most competitive part of the game, with bids going no lower than $11.  But lately, I’ve seen winning bids of $7 and even $5.  This will not do!

Most Government Cards were about 3-5 VPs.  I realized that with a $10:1 VP exchange, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bid much higher than $11 for a card.  So I raised the High Bid bonus from 3 to 5 VP, and I’ve roughly doubled the values of the Government Cards.  They’re now worth between 5 and 10 VP.

I tried this last turn, and it worked out pretty well.  But players still weren’t investing in the auction like they should.

So I have a twofold change lined up for the next playtest, and a significant one at that.  First, Bots will no longer score when they’re sold.  They’ll only score their VP at the end of the game (plus war scoring for surviving Bots).  This means that most Level 1 bots won’t score.  It also has the ancillary benefit of no longer requiring the scorekeeping player to constantly remember to score Bots, which was an enormous amount of fiddly work!

Second, I’m going to change the profit level of Bots.  Right now, a Level 3 Bot’s base revenue is $2 less than its cost, and a Level 6 Bot’s base revenue is $5 less than its cost.  Players can potentially turn a profit on these Bots, but only with a good combination of Government Cards and Demand Chips.

My original thinking was that the high-level bots should provide a form of negative feedback on the economy.  If the best bots offered the best profit, players who built them early would gain an insurmountable lead.

It’s turned out to be a sour note in the game.  First off, it doesn’t actually work.  The players who build Level 6 Bots early still cruise to victory.  Second, it’s a false choice.  There’s never an agonizing decision whether to build a lower- or higher-level Bot, which was my original intent.  Third, players found low revenues for their best Bots athematic.

So I’m going to make Level 3 Bots more profitable than Level 1 Bots, and Level 6 Bots more profitable than Level 3 Bots.  The idea here is to make the Level 1 Bots pure revenue generators.  Most of them won’t survive, so you won’t score a lot of points from them directly, no matter how many you build.

High-level Bots will score you points, but the main VP source of the game will now be the auctions.  That’s good, because the auctions also act as a money sink.  The richest players will spend their money, and hopefully give a chance for the poor players to catch up.

As always, positive feedback mechanisms have been a sore spot of the game (as with most economic games), so I’ll have to keep an eye on these changes to make sure things don’t snowball out of hand.

Cube pulls

I used to have a number of cubes coming out of the Battle Bag equal to the current round number. 1 in Round 1, 2 in Round 2, and so on, up to 5 in Round 5.

Players didn’t find this bloody enough, as significant bot loss tended to only happen on the final round.  So I changed it to 1-3-3-3-6, then 1-3-3-6-6. I’m going to go a step further next game, to 1-3-6-6-6.  I think players enjoy the additional bot turnover and the extra scoring opportunities.  It also makes a card like “Scrapyard” more appealing.

I’m also happy with the 1/3/6 scheme.  It mirrors the Bot Level numbers, so it fits with the rest of the game’s numerology.

Starting cash and folding for free

I originally balanced players’ starting cash based on their (randomized) starting position.  Each player started with $2 more than the previous player.

Remember the first-player-folding issue I mentioned before, where an early folder would buy more Bots and build a financial buffer he could use the rest of the game?  Imagine if that player is also the one who started with $6 more than everyone else.  Yeah.

So, players now start with the same amount of cash.  To balance that out, I’ve changed folding for free a little.

Previously, the players who folded for free only had the advantage of not spending any money at the auction.  But this didn’t help poor players all that much.  I’ve now changed the Bid Track so that the first player to fold for free gets $5.  In a 4-player game, the second player to fold for free gets $3 (although I haven’t seen that used all too much yet, so it may not stay).

This also helps even out the starting imbalance of the first auction, where a player who starts late in turn order can choose to have a financial advantage.  But with the early auction representing a much higher amount of VP now, this hopefully won’t be a no-brainer decision anymore.

Income, turn order, and handicaps

Another common complaint was the fiddly nature of income.  When you built a Bot, you handed a bunch of bills to the bank… and then you just got those same bills right back to your income area.  It didn’t seem intuitive.

Also, there was an early rule where each player got $5 every round.  This was annoying to remember and do, and the $5 didn’t really help anyone but the poorest players.

So, out goes the $5 automatic income (replaced by the $5 First to Fold for Free rule).  Out goes the income area.  Instead, players track their income on the scoring track with a different pawn.  I had tried this before, but I wasn’t happy with how it worked.  Now, for some reason, it seems to work like gangbusters, and players feel that it’s much smoother.

Another benefit to keeping players’ income on the scoreboard is that it’s public to everyone.  That means that instead of inverting the turn order every round (fiddly), the order of drafting in the next round is now based on income, from least to most.

One adjustment I’ve made for this is that drafting Tech Cards only serpentines on the first round.  In every other round, players draft both their cards straight.  There are a few extra Tech Cards available, so the player going last isn’t totally hosed Tech-wise, but it does provide a decent negative feedback mechanism for the poorest players.

A subtle implication of keeping track of income on the scoreboard is that Demand Chips aren’t included when factoring turn order.  I may change this in the future, especially now that we’re no longer scoring Bots when they’re sold.  But it adds an interesting layer, at least for now.

Miscellany

There’s all sorts of extra tweaks I’ve made.

  • Previously, if all cubes for a region were pulled out of the Battle Bag, that region was closed, and players couldn’t sell Bots to it anymore.  This has happened twice, and both times, it didn’t feel right.  I’ve eliminated the rule, and the result is a cleaner ruleset and a more fun game.
  • New Government cards!  I won’t go into detail about all of them, but there are several new one-time-use cards that give you game effects if you flip them, but bonus VP if you don’t.
  • Bot counts have changed, and continue to fluctuate.  I still want the number of Bots to be a limiting factor, but I don’t want it to be so limiting as to be frustrating.

Phew!  That’s a lot of changes.  My next playtest will likely be two Sundays from now.  I can’t wait to see how it plays.