Prolix Redux: March update
by Gil Hova
I’ve been hard at work on a bunch of things. One of them has been refining the rules to Prolix Redux.
The rules have stabilized to a point where I can share the most current version. This version of the game seems to have gotten the best reception from playtesters; it is quick, intuitive, and fun.
The general difference from the previous version (from my last post) is that there is no more “active player.” Instead, everyone reads the board at the same time. The first player to finish writing their word flips the timer, giving everyone else 30 seconds to write their words.
During scoring, anyone whose word scored better than the player who flipped the timer gets a +1 bonus for the end of the game. If the player who flipped the timer had a word that was equal to or better than at least half of their opponents, that player gets a +2 bonus for the end of the game.
Here’s the current scoresheet. And here’s a more thorough rules explanation…
In each round of Prolix Redux, players will come up with what they think is the best word for the current board. Each player whose word is better than the fastest player gets a small bonus, while the fastest player gets a larger bonus for having a word equal to or better than half of their opponents. The player with the highest score after 7 rounds wins.
Playing a round
All players look at the board simultaneously. The first player to finish writing their word on their scoresheet flips the timer (if they have flips remaining; see below). All other players have 30 seconds to finish writing their words.
Scoring a round
The fastest player scores their word first. Then score other players’ words, starting with the player to the fastest player’s left.
Each player whose word’s score is higher than the fastest player checks the +1 column for the current round. They will get one bonus point to their final score at the end of the game.
Once everyone has scored their words, if the fastest player’s word is equal to or better than half of the opponents at the table (round up), then the fastest player checks the +2 column for the current round. They will get two bonus points to their final score at the end of the game.
In other words…
In a 2-player game, the fastest player gets the +2 bonus if their word is equal to or better than their opponent’s word.
In a 3-player game, the fastest player gets the +2 bonus if their word is equal to or better than 1 other player’s word.
In a 4- or a 5-player game, the fastest player gets the +2 bonus if their word is equal to or better than 2 other players’ words.
In a 6-player game, the fastest player gets the +2 bonus if their word is equal to or better than 3 other players’ words.
After scoring all words, move the rightmost four chips off the board. Move the remaining four chips to the right side of the board, and draw four new chips.
The flip limit
In a game with 3 players or more, each player only has a limited number of times they can flip the timer. Players keep track of the number of times they have flipped the timer in the bottom-left of their scoresheets.
(There is no limit to the number of times a player may flip the timer in a 2-player game.)
In a 3-player game, a player may only flip the timer 4 times.
In a 4-player game, a player may only flip the timer 3 times.
In a 5- or 6-player game, a player may only flip the timer 2 times.
Once a player is out of flips, they may no longer flip the timer, even if they have the fastest word. Players must cross out flips regardless of whether they got the +2 bonus on that turn.
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 their -2 box for the current round.
If the player with the invalid word was the fastest player, they check no further Penalty boxes for having an invalid word, but of course, all other words get the +1 bonus.
If a player challenges a word but the word turns out to be valid, the challenging player checks off their -2 box for the current round. The challenging player’s word is still considered valid, though.
More Thoughts and Miscellany
For those of you who have been following Prolix’s journey since December, first off, thank you! Second, welcome to game design, where things can always get better…
The version of the rules I posted in January were good, and tested well. But they didn’t sit right with me. Why did active player keep moving around? What did that have to do with flipping the timer? Couldn’t I try combining those two? It seemed so natural.
I’d tried a version of the game like that before, but testers didn’t like it as much as the rotating active player. But back then, there was a significant bonus to your word for being fastest. What if the bonus applied to your final score, but only if your word was good enough?
So I started messing with these rules, and I was surprised to find that testers preferred them greatly to the rotating active player. It’s just a more natural fit.
Still, there were some surprising ripple effects from these changes. First, the game is much more mentally strenuous now. Before, if you weren’t the active player, you could relax a bit. Now, you’re “on” for each round. So I needed to cut it to 7 rounds. 7 pretty exciting rounds, though!
Second, I found players trying to rush other players by writing down any word and flipping the timer quickly (I didn’t have a timer flip limit then). That tactic failed more often than it worked, but it was a bit of a bummer for the other players when it kept happening. I kept an eye on it; it only happened with competitive players in the mix. Was it a magic circle problem, or was it something I could address?
Third, I still felt the game was missing an arc. Not a narrative arc, of course, but a game arc. There was no opening, midgame, or closing. Each round felt exactly the same, then the game ended. What could I do to make each round feel a little more interesting?
I tried a few radical solutions, like keeping letter chips instead of scoring bonus points, and then making a word out of your collected letter chips. Nothing really worked. Then one tester suggested limiting the number of timer flips in a game.
I love tweaks that fix multiple problems! Not only did the flip limit address the people trying to rush the game and made each round last a more rational length of time, it introduced just enough arc into the game to make it more interesting. Players now have to consider if their word is worth spending one of their precious flips. It’s a compelling decision!
(If you’re wondering why I chose these numbers of flips, it’s because I want to avoid the situation where only one player can flip the timer in a round. For example, in a 3p game, if each player only had 3 flips, then two players could conceivably be out of flips by Round 7. This would not be interesting.)
So there we are, the most current rules to Prolix Redux. They’ve been working really well lately.
Are they done now? I’ll get back to you in a couple of months about that…
In the meantime, I’ve made some letter chips with distributions that work in different languages. I now have a set in Spanish, French, and German. I know Spanish and French are just a matter of tweaking the letter distribution, but German presents a fascinating problem. I have no idea if it’s going to work, given the language’s affinity for huge compound words. I have a few ideas I’d like to try, like limiting each word to 15 or 20 characters, but only playtesting will tell me if this is something that is realistic.
And finally, the app. I’ve made progress; I now have a version on my phone that features local multiplayer with AI! It’s too ugly to put in the app store, there’s no online multiplayer yet, and there’s still a few lingering bugs, but the core of the app is done.
How much longer will it take? Who knows! I’m about to hit a very busy summer, but hopefully I’ll have a “juiced” app (that’s the industry term for an app with a slick and polished visual presentation) by the end of the year. If you’re interested in becoming a beta tester, I suggest signing up for my mailing list. I’ll put out a request for iOS testers sometime in the fall (maybe), and then another request for Android users (maybe) a few months after that (maybe). It all depends on stuff and things, of course.
And of course, there’s the question of if I’ll ever release an updated physical version of the game. To which the answer is, of course… maybe.
Still, I’m continually amazed by how much this little game has taught me. It’s not done with me yet, and for that, I’m eternally grateful!