Prolix Redux

by Gil Hova

Screenshot 2016-01-07 at 07.43.43 AM

 

Let me start with the lede: I have a new set of rules for my 2010 word game Prolix that I think represent a huge improvement over the original game. I have plans for these new rules, but for those of you who own the game, you can try it yourself!

All you need is to download the prototype scoresheet. (Please forgive its look; it hasn’t been seen by a proper graphic designer yet.) The only difference is the new rules assume a 30-second timer, and the original game shipped with a 45-second timer. You can look for a replacement timer, but the new rules will probably still work fine with a 45-second timer.

(You may also want to discard down to 2 letter Fs in your set, and make them worth +1 each, like Ws and Ys. I did this by marking up my set with a blue sharpie. This change isn’t technically part of the new system, but I think you’ll find the game better this way!)

I’ve tested these rules about 12 times, so while they’re still subject to change, they’ve settled enough that they should be fun and enjoyable for you.

Here are the new rule changes for Prolix Redux. They assume familiarity with the original rules for Prolix Classic.

I’ve tested these rules with a maximum player count of 6. The game may take more players than that, but I haven’t tested that yet.

PROLIX REDUX

Overview

In Prolix Redux, Interrupts have been replaced with a new mechanism, currently named Interjections. So one player will be the “active player” taking his turn. The other players are allowed to Interject when it’s not their turn.

Interjections do not stop the active player’s turn; players simply write their Interjections on their scoresheet. At the end of each turn, each player compares their Interjection against the active player’s word. If it’s higher, they get a bonus. If it’s equal to or lower, they get a penalty.

Players will score the sum total of their 6 best word scores, regardless of whether they were Interjections or not. They then add bonuses and subtract penalties to get their final scores.

Prolix Redux takes about 20-30 minutes to play; almost half the time of Prolix Classic.

Playing a turn

Each turn, one player is the Active Player, and the other players are all Interjectors. Everybody looks at the board to try to find a single high-scoring word.

If you think you have the best word, write it down on your scoresheet, next to the current round number.

If you’re the first player to finish writing a word, start the timer, regardless of if you’re the Active Player or an Interjector. All other players now have 30 seconds to write down their words. Do not start the timer until you have completely written your word.

Interjectors are not obligated to Interject; they may pass without penalty. But the Active Player will be penalized if he fails to come up with a word on his turn.

There’s no limit to the number of players who may Interject on a turn. It’s possible that everyone may have a word in a given turn.

If the timer runs out on any player still writing their words, they’re allowed to finish writing it out, but they may not change it or cross it out.

Scoring a turn

The Active Player scores their word first, using Prolix Classic scoring rules. Then each Interjector will score their word in clockwise order.

If an Interjector’s word’s score is greater than the Active Player’s word score, the Interjector checks off her +2 box for the current round. This shows that the Interjector will get a straight 2 point bonus applied to her final score.

If an Interjector’s word’s score is equal to or less than the Active Player’s word score, the Interjector checks off her -1 box for the current round. This shows that the Interjector will get a straight minus-1 point penalty applied to her final score.

If the Active Player did not come up with a word this turn, he checks off his -1 box for the current round. Again, that is a minus-1 point penalty applied to his final score. If any other players Interjected here, they all get the +2 Bonus.

There is no penalty for not Interjecting. The Active Player scores no bonuses or penalties other than the minus-1 point penalty for not coming up with a word.

After scoring, move and redraw letters according to the rules of the original game. (Note: when playing with 2 players, discard and draw 4 letters instead of 2.) The next player clockwise becomes the new Active player; rotate the board to face her.

In Prolix Classic, it’s possible for a player to get a second turn after being Interrupted. In Prolix Redux, a player is never Active Player twice in a row, regardless of how many players Interject on his turn.

Challenges

If a player’s challenge reveals a word to be invalid, that word is considered to be 0 points. The player who tried to use the invalid word checks off his -2 box for the current round.

If the player with the invalid word was the Active Player, he checks no further Penalty boxes for having an invalid word, but of course, all Interjecting words this turn get the Interjection Bonus.

If a player challenges a word but the word turns out to be valid, the challenging player checks off her -2 box for the current round. The challenging player’s word is still considered valid, though.

Game end

The game ends after 12 rounds, regardless of the number of players.

To score, each player adds the values of their 6 best words. Then each player adds points from +2 Bonuses and subtracts points from -1 and -2 Penalties. The player with the most points wins.

Changelog

1/3/2016 – Reduced length of game to 12 rounds for 3 and 4 player game.

1/7/2016 – Streamlined scoreboard into single column, fixed game to 12 rounds regardless of player count.

Thoughts and miscellany

In 2010, my first game came out. It was a small word game called Prolix. It got critical acclaim, getting named as part of the GAMES 100 that year. It went out of print only a couple of years later, a casualty of Filosofia’s purchase of Z-Man Games.

For years, I’ve been wanting to make a mobile version of Prolix. With Bad Medicine finally out and The Networks almost at the printer, I can finally do this.

I have a decent amount of experience in C#, so learning Unity has not been a huge obstacle (though it’s weird to have so many public variables!). But one thing that I realized need to change was the game’s rules.

When I first tested Prolix years ago, I found that the game needed some sort of timing element. It was fun at 45 minutes, but was a drag at 2 hours, and yes, there were 2-hour playtests!

I ultimately settled on an “Interrupt” mechanism that allowed a player to say a word when it wasn’t their turn, interrupting the current player’s turn. So if you take too long to come up with a word, another player can halt your turn.

At the end of the game, each of your Interrupts replaces one of your regular words, so you don’t want to interrupt with a low-scoring word.

It was a cool system, but it was polarizing. 5-player games were especially brutal, with players getting interrupted a lot! And it’s synchronous, which means that everyone needs to be paying attention all the time. That doesn’t translate well to an asynchronous mobile game, where people will take turns logging on.

One morning, I found myself mulling over an alternative set of rules. Let’s face it, the Interrupt system was fairly clunky, difficult to explain, and was probably just as much of a reason why the game didn’t take off as its mis-sized components.

I’ve tried the new Interject system with old Prolix hands and players new to the game, and both have loved it. But why?

First, the system is smoother. The interrupt system had to deal with all sorts of exceptions. What happens if two players say a word at the same time? What happens when a player is interrupted once? What happens when that player gets interrupted again? What happens if a player uses all their interrupts?

Second, the original game’s endgame scoring wasn’t terribly difficult once you had a game under your belt, but it was tremendously difficult to explain because of all these edge cases. Wait, your Interrupts… replace your words? How does that work? It was really tough to understand without trying it first.

The new Interject system is much easier to grok: everyone gets one turn, and you’re either trying to score more than the Active Player or trying to keep the Interjecting Players from scoring more than you. Endgame scoring is much simpler too: just score your top six words, throw in your bonuses and penalties, and voila!

It’s great that Prolix Redux takes half the time of Prolix Classic to play, but I’m just as happy that Prolix Redux takes half the time of Prolix Classic to explain, and no one is confused as we start playing.

But wait, what does this have to do with the app? Isn’t the Interject system also synchronous?

It is synchronous, implemented this way, of course. But for the mobile app, I plan to detach the timing mechanism. Assuming I can pull it off, all players will get a chess clock, à la Ascension. When you log in to take your turn, you’ll see all the other players’ boards first, and will get an opportunity to Interject or pass for all of them. So you’ll have much of the interaction of the physical game (at least, under the new rules), but with the convenience of digital.

And now the big question: will there be a new physical version of the game?

My answer: I don’t know. It depends on a lot of things.

Nevertheless, I think amazing things are in store for the game. I can’t wait.

I have a LOT more to discuss here. You’ll see it here soon!