The results of my previous Pax tweaking…

by Gil Hova

…are more tweaking.

I sat down and played Pax with Heather and Gerald.  Both had played Wag the Wolf several times.  Heather had seen a previous version of Pax, so she was pretty familiar with it.

We played two games, both aborted mid-game; the first in Round 2, the second at the end of Round 3.  This isn’t a sign of failure or a bad game. It’s quite common to stop a playtest early, if it looks like the players are getting driven into the ground, and the designer has gotten enough feedback.

Gerald and Heather made a whole lot of suggestions.  It’s funny that Heather doesn’t enjoy playtesting, and yet she gave me no less than three incredible suggestions.  I’ll start with the no-brainers, and work towards the more contentious ones.

* There is clearly a problem with the early auctions.  The player who folds will always get more bots on the board, and will always make more money, even without scoring bots during sales.

The solution for now is to have all the “A” government cards give out $5, as well as VP.  That means bidding in the first two rounds will be higher, which is exactly the effect I want.

* The Level 3 Bots weren’t tuned quite right.  I had them at a $10/$12 Build/Sell price, but that made them way too powerful.  I’ve moved them to $10/$10, which is more lucrative than in the past, but not such a threat to snowball.  (The day after I wrote the last post, I set Level 6 Bots to $15/$15, which works much better.)

* Heather suggested that income from Demand Chips be immediately available. How awesome! This makes them even more valuable, so it’s more of a decision to not build a bot in an area before the Demand Chip comes out.  It also helps get the poor players put more Bots out, which is always a good thing.

* Heather is always good with component feedback, and this one is a head-slapper. She suggested getting rid of the plastic stands for the Bots, and replacing them with flat tiles. Players can mark Bot ownership by placing a token or a cube on top of the tile. Simple, cheaper, and no problems with Bots blocking players’ views!

* Heather observed that as the poorest player, the handicap mechanism wasn’t doing enough.  I want to try detaching turn order from the auction. In other words, at the end of a round, turn order is determined by income, and stays that way until the end of the following round. That should give the handicap more teeth.

* Gerald felt that with random Tech cards and a fixed board, the game isn’t as replayable as it should be. He suggested flipping it: randomizing the board and keeping the Tech cards static. I was skeptical at first, but the nice thing about this is that it keeps weird Tech distributions from locking the game up. I’ll probably try it.

* There was really only one suggestion that I’m not really sold on. Gerald isn’t so sure the Wag-style auction fits into Pax Robotica. He thinks it can be replaced by something more streamlined. I promised him I’ll think about it, but for now, it seems that replace the auction would create a completely different game.

I think Pax has the potential to be a great game with the Wag auction, and I’m not convinced that taking the auction out will result on a better game. It will be a different game, but I think the move is more likely to be lateral than vertical. I’ll keep the antennae out for a brainwave, but it’s unlikely.

Now, with all this criticism, it’s easy to adopt a defeatist attitude. But I can see how Pax will become a significantly better game once I implement all the changes.

There’s only one negative. Ubercon is in two weeks, and I am scheduled to run Pax. There is no way the game can run in its current condition. I need to sprint to get it ready.

I’m asking around, seeing if people can give me a hand with the game’s playtesting. I’m scrambling to see if I can enlist my friends for this. I’m pretty confident that I can get at least two playtests in by Ubercon. Hopefully that should be enough!