Formal Ferret Games

Gil Hova designs, publishes, and plays board games

Category: Pax Robotica

Pax Robotica direct conflict update

So in my last couple of blog posts, I wrote about how I’ve been trying to introduce direct conflict into Pax Robotica.

It seems that my tweaks have been successful, for the most part.  Players love the die, and there haven’t been any complaints about the game being too dry.  I worry about a lack of replayability, but I’m sure that’ll have some way of resolving itself.

In other news,the countries have names now!  At least, better names than “North,” “Central,” and “South.”  The three warring nations are now North Vulturian, Central Weaselium, and Lower Insecticus.

Speaking of the nations, I have found a problem with the distribution of the three countries in a 4-player game.  Because two players start with bonuses to North Vultarian and the other two start with bonuses to Lower Insecticus, there’s no incentive to sell to Central Weaselium.  As a result, the Sea and the City tend to founder in a four-player game.  I’m resolving this by eliminating Central Weaselium in a 4-player game.

Finally, some playtesters don’t like the way the Battle Bonus.  The fact that the leader just needs one Bot to get the bonus is, in one tester’s words, “lame.”  So I’m going to try awarding the bonus to players who have two or more surviving Bots on the winning side.  Will it work?  Who knows!

Protospiel report

So, I’m back from Protospiel. Here’s what happened.

I brought three games: Pax Robotica, MacGuffin Market, and Grand Guignol.

Pax Robotica was awesome! Players really enjoyed it. The last change I made to it, adding the die, made an enormous difference. Players didn’t find it too random at all, perhaps because they get $5 every time their Bots are blown up, as opposed to $3 if their Bots survive. (The math works, but it’s a little athematic. Hmmm.) I think I’m very close to publishable with this one.

As for MacGuffin Market, hmmm. How can I put this? MacGuffin Market is now a “well, it’s okay” kind of game. I’m very unhappy with where it is, to the point that I’ve decided to shelve the design. I may not ever come back to it; there is simply too much for me to work on right now to worry about a mediocre game.

Now, the third game. I suppose you want to hear about it. Very well. It’s called Grand Guignol, and it’s a drafting game. I’m setting it in the legendary French horror theater, which should give the design some bite. In the game, players roll dice to determine how shocking your plays can be. If your plays are just shocking enough, you receive Faint Tokens. If you ignore the Shock Threshold, that might work also; there’s a bonus for most shocking production, regardless of the Shock Threshold. At the end of the game, the player with the most Faint Tokens wins.

Grand Guignol was played by other people for the first time at Protospiel. Players seemed to enjoy it, although it’s still very, very raw.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this one develops.

I think I got it

So, after a weekend of hard work, I think I have a version of Pax Robotica that includes direct conflict.  I just finished a solo playtest that felt very good.

I ditched the idea of new draft cards with values printed.  That means I’m keeping the 1-3-6 Bot levels.

But I’m keeping the idea of chips tied to pairs of Bots.  When you pull a chip, you resolve the battle the chip points to.  So if you pull Sea #2, that means the Bots in the second Sea column will fight it out.

How will they fight it out?  I did something I never thought I’d do: added a die.  Each player rolls a d6 and adds it to their Bots’ level.

Why did I add a die?  A few reasons:

  • It gives a lower-level Bot a chance to defeat a higher-level Bot.  This allays one of the fears I had about the new head-to-head system: a slowdown with the game because everyone refuses to sell to a spot across from a high-level Bot, and there aren’t enough tech levels to fight him.  With the die, there’s a shot at beating him.
  • It makes ties much smoother to resolve.
  • Dice are fun.
  • It adds a good uncertainty to the Battle Bonus at the end of the game.

As for said Battle Bonus, I’m going to go with sliding a cube up a track for every battle in a region.  The higher the cube is on the track at the end of the game, the higher the Battle Bonus payout.  I hope it’s not too fiddly.  We shall see.

More Pax Robotica revisions

Before I go any further, I want to thank my friends Seth, Jeff, and Geoff for their incredible help with my game.  I may not incorporate all of your good ideas, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them.

I want to start with incremental changes, keeping the game’s base and tweaking the Bot, Tech, and combat systems.  I think the game works well enough as it is that I shouldn’t just throw it all out the window.  Plus, I’d rather start with a small change, and if doesn’t work, proceed to a radical change (like the seductive map-based game that Jeff suggested).

Here’s what I’m thinking.

  • Bot changes:
    • No more Bot levels.  All Bots are the same at first.
    • Instead of drafting abstract Techs, you’re drafting specific upgrades, like armor, guns, missiles, and nunchucks.  Each upgrade is tailored for a specific Bot type, and is effective against 1, 2, or 4 Bot Types.   Each upgrade is worth a certain amount of Battle Points, with later upgrades being worth more Battle Points.
    • The first Tech you get for a given Bot Type means you can start building that Bot.  Anything else adds Battle Points.
  • Economic changes:
    • Each Bot costs $4, plus $1 for each upgrade you have.  So a Bot with 3 upgrades would cost $7.
    • Selling a Bot gives you $5, plus the round’s demand, plus (possibly) a certain bonus for selling to the losing side.  This is based on Geoff’s suggestion, but I haven’t fully figured out if or how I’m going to implement it.
  • Battle changes:
    • No more cubes.  Instead, there are chips between facing Bots.  Each chip is numbered, and tied to a specific region.
    • The bag starts with 4 Junkbot chips inside, tied to a specific region. Also, there are Peace Chips that go into the bag every round, instead of Peace Cubes.
    • When you fill up a column, the corresponding chip goes into the bag.
    • If you pull a chip, the corresponding Bots fight, based on Seth’s suggestion.  You can tell which Bots fight by the region and number on the chip.
    • If you pull a Junkbot chip for a certain region, they blow each other up.
    • Each player counts the BP of his Bot.  The player with more BP wins the battle, and blows up the other Bot.  (Geoff’s flipped-tile damage idea is also seductive, but I’ll go without it for now, and see how it plays.)
    • If there’s a tie for BP, both Bots die.  I’m not 100% sure about this yet; let’s see how it plays out.

So, as you can see, it’s a big change, but not a radical one.  If this still plays like too much of a bloodless Euro, then I’ll move forward with more radical changes, most likely based on your suggestions.


Two more changes to battles:

  • Pulled chips go back in the bag.  This is essential, because otherwise, selling to a battled spot would be a no-brainer.
  • Every time a Bot blows up another bot, put a cube by the nation’s name.  If there’s a tie, both nations get a cube.
  • At the end of the game, if you have a surviving Bot on the winning side of a battle, you get money equal to the total number of cubes in that region times five.  So, if the South wins against the North 3-2, then players with surviving Bots in the South get $25.  This might be a little too fiddly; we’ll see how it plays.

A recurring Pax Robotica complaint, and what to do about it

I got to playtest Pax Robotica again, this time with Ares Project designers Geoff and Brian Englestein.  They seemed to enjoy the game, but they had the same problem that Seth Jaffee had with it at BGG.CON; namely, the game isn’t thematic enough.  Battles don’t feel like battles; they’re too abstract.

I’ve been meaning to address Seth’s comment for awhile now, but it always went to the backburner.  Hearing exactly the same thing from Brian and Geoff has pushed me to action.  I have to do something.

Here’s what I’m thinking.  Each region starts the game with five cubes.  I’m going to mark up the last three cubes with a white dot.  These “last three” cubes will always be the last ones pulled from a region.

If a regular cube is pulled from the battle bag, then the battle is a “skirmish,” and the current battle rules apply (each side loses its weakest bot).  However, if a marked cube is pulled, then the battle is “heated,” and the resolution is different.

In a heated battle, you go from right-to-left in the given region, looking for two bots facing each other with different values.  If you find one, then you destroy the weaker bot.  You repeat this for every heated cube you pull.

If there aren’t any different values between bots in a heated battle, then the battle becomes a skirmish.

If you pull both a heated and a skirmish cube, then the skirmish cube counts as a heated cube.

I don’t know if I’ll get to try these new rules anytime soon, as my work situation has exploded, and I may have to work next weekend.  But I’ll definitely post as soon as I get a shot at playing this again!