One Pizza The Puzzle (Part 4)

devlog

This is part 4 of the devlog for my game "One Pizza the Puzzle".

What did I end up changing?

I rewrote the rules to focus on the concept of having pizza couriers, because that simplified explanation a lot. It was also suggested by several players, because they kept being confused by the fact that "moving" applied to all your couriers, but "eating" was only a single action, always.

The first sentence of the rules explanation is now:

> "You start with one courier. Each turn, you execute one action for each of your couriers."

This action can be either moving or eating. This is intuitive, simple to explain, and it makes the "Eat" action as valuable as moving. (Because, if you have 2 couriers, you can now also eat twice that turn if you want.)

In the end, I didn't like adding an "exception" that says: "only two players may run their couriers parallel". It feels ... clunky and an unnecessary addition to the game.

Instead, I tried to rewrite the special actions of all ingredients to automatically stop players running parallel each other.

For example, I toyed with the idea of "gates" or "fences". You place a fence behind your current courier, and from that moment on, nobody can go through it anymore. This clearly blocks opponents.

Gates are more nuanced versions of that. At the moment of writing, I've invented two:

  • A "line gate". They only allow one line to go through. (So once a single player has crossed it, nobody else may cross it, not even on the other side of the road.)

  • An "ingredient gate". You can only pass through this gate if you have the corresponding ingredient, or pay 1 money. This means you're not 100% blocked, but there's still a price to pay and you must have a good strategy to get where you want.

I'm still not sure if these are already on the randomly generated board, or if they are drawn by players as a special action.

That's the direction I've taken the game. It should be a short, fast-paced, very interactive/competitive game, that's also really easy to teach and play. Bringing everything down to two possible actions per courier, and no exceptions/special rules/whatever, feels like the way to go.

(Besides, the "Eat" action is extremely simple. The rulebook has only two lines for that: "Eat an ingredient you own. Cross it out and execute its special action -- see appendix A. Ingredients")

This game should not be a highly strategical game that takes more than an hour to play and is mostly about following your own pizza courier without outside influence. (Which is what some of my test games turned out to be, and although it was fine, everyone felt the game should be shorter and could be better.)

Playtest Session #3

To my pleasant surprise, I was able to get in more playtests just after completely updating the rules!

This was another major update to the rules I made: you can't move 3 steps any way you like anymore. Instead, a set of shapes appear on the board, and you must move according to one of those shapes. See the image:

Move according to shapes; the big improvement

Why did I do this? As I said before, moving 3 steps each turn is quite repetitive. Perhaps ironically, because there are so many options (you can take three steps any way you like), players get overwhelmed and take the same option each time.

This problem is made worse by the fact that you need to follow the traffic rules. Whilst playing the game, you're constantly thinking "wait, is this the correct direction?" and it feels more like a chore to follow those rules.

So, I scrapped all of that. No need to follow traffic, just pick one shape from the list and add it to your line. These shapes are randomly picked from a long list (about 20 shapes) and printed on the board. This makes each game different, but also means you don't have to look up the shapes in the rulebook -- they're right there on the board!

So, how did it go? It went well! Rules were much simpler to explain, we got to play quite quickly, and the game was shorter than previous test games. (One player remarked: "huh, feels like this game was slightly easier to understand/play than your previous game(s)")

Players were also quite enthusiastic: they really tried to get certain ingredients and think about where their courier should go. (Some even started to roleplay actually running a pizza restaurant, which I always encourage! More engagement and story is always better in a game.)

Still, some issues remained.

Issue #1: Now it's a little too easy to get more couriers. Just get a champion, eat it (and take the penalty), and repeat. At one point, I had 5 couriers, and I completely overpowered my opponents. At the same time, it became harder and harder to keep track of where all my couriers were.

Solution? There are several options:

  • Just remove the champion action -- you only get more couriers by delivering pizzas.

  • Make the penalty much harsher. But in that case, the champion ingredient becomes a bit weak.

  • Create some other simple mechanic that regulates how many couriers you have. Maybe there's a fixed maximum that you need to increase, or you need to pay "upkeep" for each courier, just something simple that automatically limits it.

I'm actually leaning towards the first option, as it's the simplest, and it frees up that ingredient to use for a different interesting action.

Additionally, as I'll explain in a moment, splitting your line has become a quite important element of the game. That's basically a more interesting version of having many different pizza couriers, so I want to focus on that mechanic instead.

Issue #2: there are two elements in this game that are necessary (for balance and general gameplay), but also make the board more cluttered and chaotic. These are:

  • Players running their couriers parallel to each other.

  • Players splitting their courier line in two.

Because of the "shapes" movement, it's already much more likely that you block other players and prevent this situation. Still, it can and will happen.

Solution? Well, let's try to solve two birds with one stone! If we could somehow prevent players from running parallel near places where a courier has been split, it would solve both problems in one go.

I need to explain the idea of "splitting" anyway in the rules, so it wouldn't be too bad to introduce an extra minor rule there: when you split a line, write a dot on the square/split point. There may only be ONE LINE in a square with a dot.

This means that a square with a split can never become messy (because nothing else is allowed in the square). It also means you can strategically split your line to block other players, and splits are more visible (because there is a big fat dot indicating them)

Line splitting and the limitations of the DOT (image from rulebook)

Issue #3: I need to be careful with which shapes I choose to include. For the test games, I quickly drew a random set of 5 shapes on the paper. After a while, only 2 or 3 of them were actually being used, because there wasn't a clear use for the others.

Solution? Well, maybe I should categorize the shapes ("straight", "box", "corner", "exotic") and include one from each category. Should solve it.

Let's implement all of that and see where we stand!

Until I can test again, let's already polish the game and work on expansions!

This devlog continues at part 5, which explains the expansions.