Formal Ferret Games

Gil Hova designs, publishes, and plays board games

Category: Prolix

How to promote a game

So, in case you didn’t notice, I have a board game out!

Prolix came out in September, and I couldn’t be more excited.  Now the challenge is to spread my excitement to others.

I’ll let you in on one secret of being a published designer: the angst doesn’t end once the game comes out.  I know I’ve come out with as good a game as I’m capable of designing, but that and a dollar gets you a donut. Most publishers don’t have the budget or time for a large ad campaign to support their games, so the legwork is left to the author.  This sounds unfair, but is in fact how it works in the world of book publishing as well.

So, it’s time to shamelessly self-promote!  Here’s what I’m doing.

  • Running the game at local game conventions.  I’m kicking myself for missing ComiCon this weekend, but I aim to hit most of the other area cons to demo Prolix.
  • Donating copies to reviewers.  I just sent a bunch of copies out today for reviewers.  Of course, I don’t expect the reviewers to slant their review either way because they got a free copy.  Unless you believe Roger Ebert pays for all the movies he sees?
  • Appearing on podcasts.  You can hear me in a week or two on The Dice Tower talking about the challenges of designing a word game.
  • Submitting Prolix to the Mensa Mind Games awards.  This wouldn’t apply for most games, because Mensa tends to skew towards lighter family fare.  Fortunately, that describes Prolix pretty well, and I think it has an outstanding chance of doing some serious damage at the Mensa awards.
  • Discussing self-promotion on my own blog.  How very meta.

Here’s what I’m not doing.

  • Paying money for ads.  I simply can’t afford an ad campaign of any effective size.
  • Making appearances at game stores.  I’m not a “name” yet, and anyway, most game stores cater towards 15-year-olds playing Magic, which isn’t exactly Prolix’ target audience.

I mention both of those because they’re what most people are suggesting I do to promote the game.  I wish I had the money and name recognition to pull both of them off!

So that’s that.  In the meantime, why don’t you hop by BoardGameGeek and take The Prolix Challenge?

I swear that these will be my last changes to Prolix

Yes, I made two more Prolix tweaks. I swear that these will be my last!

The first is straightforward. I’m changing the order of the columns on the board to go 4-4-3-2 instead of 4-3-4-2.

The main reason behind the change is in the 1- and 2-player games. In those games, letters move two columns every round instead of one. With a 4-3-4-2 board, the letters in the first column will automatically be 4 points in the third column. The 4-4-3-2 layout keeps things interesting. As a bonus, players in the 3-5 player game find it more intuitive. Win-win all around!

The second change was a tougher decision. It applies to the four-player game only. Under the old rules, at the end of a 4p game, each player crossed out one regular word for each interrupt he or she made. Now, each player crosses out one fewer word than the number of interrupts he or she made. So if a player interrupted 3 times, she will cross out two words.

Alert readers will recognize this as the 5-player variant. I decided to copy it to the 4-player game because I noticed too many 4p games dragging.

Players want to interrupt. Why deprive them of the chance?

More Pax Robotica tweaking, plus a Prolix renaming update

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.

Renaming Prolix, and Pax Robotica tweaks

I am renaming Prolix. I won’t get into why I’m renaming it, but I do have good reason to.

Just like with Pax Robotica, I asked friends on Twitter and Facebook to help me brainstorm.

For awhile, I wanted to base the title off the word “Lexicon.”  As I was getting into the shower yesterday morning, a name hit me out of nowhere: Consonance.  It has a nice ring to it, and it reflects the fact that the game is mostly consonants.

So, the leading candidates are:

  • Consonance
  • Lexicon
  • Lexation
  • Lexica

What are your thoughts?

Meanwhile, I’m still processing the four-player game of Pax Robotica we had at Protospiel.  The players enjoyed it, but the game stalled in the last round.  The battles also took too long to happen.

I might be able to test the game on Saturday, if my game group is willing to try it.  Here are the changes I’m making:

  • Extra bots for the 4-player game.  Three more Level 1s, three more Level 3s, one more Level 6.
  • One more Level 1 bot for the 3-player game.
  • I’m tweaking the Tech deck.  Right now, there are A-level cards that come out in Rounds 1-2, and B-level cards that come out in Rounds 3-5.  I’ll tweak it so that the B-level cards come out in Rounds 3-4, and a new C-level card will come out in Round 5.   C-level cards will award points as well as Tech, so the Round 5 Tech draft won’t be useless to half the players.
  • Changing the number of cubes to pull from the bag.  Right now it matches the round number: 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 cubes from the bag depending on the round.  I’m changing this to 1, 3, 3, 3, 6.  This way, there’s more action in Round 2.  I also like keeping the numerology consistent with the rest of the game, so it’s easy for players to remember.  My one concern is that Round 4 may not be dramatic enough with this new scheme, but we’ll see when we playtest.

Saturday playtest results for Prolix and Pax Robotica

I got to playtest Prolix and Pax Robotica on Saturday. It’s rare that both my games hit the table in the same day, so I was quite flattered.

Prolix tweaks
For Prolix, I was specifically testing the 5-player variant. As I discussed in my last post, I wanted to try a variant where each player crosses out one fewer Regular Scoring word than the number of times he interrupted. So if a player interrupted three times, he’d cross only two words out instead of three.

The upshot of this is that players must interrupt at least once, plus once for each zero they were forced to take, in order to maximize their score. It seems that players were frustrated by the lack of interrupt opportunities in a 5-player game, so I hoped that this would open things up.

And it did! In the last 5-player game I saw, the guy who eventually won didn’t really have a practical interrupt opportunity after Round 3. In this game, we were all paying rapt attention to the board until the last round. It felt much better.

The final scores of the game were pretty thrilling: 103, 102, 102, 101, and 96.  It was quite close!

The only problem was that one of the players was new to the game, and he didn’t really grok the scoring system. I’m probably going to recommend that new players start with the 3-4 player game before going to 5 players.

So I’ll be sending a blind test copy of the game this week with this 5-player variant, plus the 2-player variant I talked about last week.

The next change I’m going to make is to change the timer length to 45 seconds. Right now, players use a 1 minute timer for everything except for the 2-player game, which uses a 30-second timer. I’d rather include only one timer with the game, and one minute is a little too long anyway. 45 seconds seems like a nice compromise.

The only problem? I don’t seem to be able to buy 45-second sand timers in any quantity less than 100. Hmm. I’m not planning to make that many blind test copies.

Pax Robotica tweaks
Pax Robotica got some much more significant tweaks. I was concerned about the relative value of the bots, so I sat down and did some math. It turns out that it’s better to buy two Level 3 bots than one Level 5 bot. I didn’t like that; I wanted the big bot to be a real hammer. Two Level 4 bots should be about equal to a Level 5 bot, and that’s not even close. It seemed that some re-juggling was in order.

I scribbled like crazy in my notebook, and came up with some better numbers. There are now only three levels of bots: 1, 3, and 6.

It’s neat, because the numbers represent three things:

  • The number of Tech symbols you need to build a bot of that level.
  • The amount of VP you get when you build the bot.
  • The battle value of the bot.

Now, the highest bot is about even with two of the lower bot.  If you do the math, selling two Level 3 bots gets a tad more VP than one Level 6 bot because they’ll be getting twice the survival points.  But the Level 6 bot is cheaper to build, more likely to survive, and more likely to swing the endgame VP bonus to its side.  So it’s no longer a slam-dunk decision.

In our game, we never got to build Level 6 bots, because I found I need to make the Tech deck more dynamic.  I’ll probably split it into A and B cards like the Government deck, and put 3x Techs among the B cards.  That’ll make tech growth much more explosive.

Bot quantities were another thing I found I needed to tweak (which didn’t surprise me, considering that the best I can do before a playtest is guess).  For the next game, I’m going in with 6x Level 1 bots of each type, 5x Level 3 bots, and 2x Level 6 bots.

I’m very excited about this change, because it streamlines a lot of rough edges.

  • The bot values now stand for three different things, which is much neater and easier to understand.
  • It’s no longer necessary to remove double Techs revealed in the first round.  That always felt kind of artificial to me.
  • The Level 1 bots get less attractive by Round 3, because they’re so likely to get blown up.  So I don’t think I need to have a minimum bot value in the later squares of each battlefield.  Another fiddly rule gone!

The game showed a lot of rough edges of the new system, but a lot of potential too.  It ended on a tiebreaker, although if the Level 6 bots had come out as they should have, I think they would have been different.  I also felt that the auction was a bit more powerful than before, which was great; I’d seen players disregard the auction entirely and win on bot placement, which isn’t how I want the game to go.

Some interesting thoughts came up regarding the tiebreaker system, but I’ll save them for another post.