Unstable Universe (Part 3)

devlog

This devlog is part 3 in a series of articles about the development of Unstable Universe. Check part 1 here: [Devlog] Unstable Universe

First Playtest Session

Finally, FINALLY, this idea seems to be working and I have game boards (that are good-looking enough) to play it with.

So, I printed a few of these, and played it.

(I also printed the rulebook, which is still ONE page for the whole game, ONE page for Mission Nodes, and ONE page for Regular Nodes. Why do I keep mentioning this? Because it's the shortest and simplest I've ever created, and I'm really proud of that, as sorry simplicity seems to be the hardest word.)

What's the result?

An image of the board after playing, version 1

It works great!

I was really surprised by this, in a good way! It usually takes a few versions to get something working well, especially if it has such a weird main mechanic. But this just ... worked.

The missions we played seemed well-balanced, even the harder ones (which receive special powers to compensate). Although I must note these things:

  • There need to be more PLANT nodes on the board (for the Biologist), which are also distributed more fairly. (In this game, the biologist and almost all plant nodes were literally on opposite sides of the board.)

  • There needs to be more STARDUST, and Critters need lower numbers. (Now players just go around them, because it's not worth fighting.)

  • Maybe I do need to reduce the different number of Mission Node for your first game.

    • Because right now, when you learn the game for the first time, players are just staring at the board and reading all the descriptions for a few minutes. Even though I always recommend just doing something random on your first game, because it's a learning game anyway, it's hard to convince others to do the same.

The nodes itself were also simple to understand, yet really useful and powerful in the right situations. People were immediately able to strategize, think ahead, make some plans, understand the effect of a certain action. Some remarks:

  • The WATER node might be too powerful. (It gives you teleportation AND an extra turn.)

  • Sometimes, your options are too limited. You literally only have ONE node you can go to. (Being completely boxed in by opponents is fine, as that is just your own mistake and it allows you to restart somewhere else.)

  • The first several turns, people forgot the "During a cut" action of nodes. But that's not a big issue, because they understood it afterwards and made no mistakes again, so that just seems part of the "learning curve".

  • It's a bit confusing that a basic cut allows you to cut two nodes, which includes the first one when you start from the edge, but excludes your starting node when you continue an existing cut. (It's quite intuitive when looking at the board and taking the action, yet it feels like something that should be streamlined and explained better.)

Lastly, the board is really clear and cute. Everyone immediately understands what's going on, likes the art style, and tells me "this is my favorite icon/node" :p

  • However, some nodes can be quite unclear once cut off. (Because most of the node icon or player icon is removed, but the node is still active, you're not sure what is happening.)

I managed to create a game that balances itself, which is always nice. For example:

  • You can try to cut off your opponents, but this also gives them options to hurt you (as you create more gaps from which they can start a cut) and it takes many turns to cut off large chunks of the board.

  • You can try to focus solely on your personal mission, but that leaves the door open for other players to remove your resources or finish earlier than you.

  • The cutting action is pretty basic, but so useful that there's this constant dilemma of: "Do I want this node which can cut, or do I want this other node with a unique action?"

  • Because of the organic board (which creates irregular shapes) and the rule about the "power dots" (remove one and the node is destroyed), cutting actually becomes really strategical. Sometimes circumstances cause a node to be almost impossible to cut off -- recognizing this before anyone else is key in winning.

The biggest thing for me, however, was that I asked my fellow players to read the rules (and learn the game) themselves. I gave no hints, or explanation, or whatever. I just gave them the rules and asked them to explain the game to me, once done.

Apart from some minor confusions because I hadn't yet put images into the rules (which always say a thousand words), they immediately understood the game and had no issues with it.

Intermezzo

I'll fix these issues I encountered. Mostly, I need to think about a way to create a roughly equal/fair distribution of nodes.

I don't want, say, all the Oil nodes to be right next to each other. But I also don't want them to perfectly spaced apart, as that is boring and predictable. So I need to find a middle ground, something like "Oil may not be connected to 2+ other Oil nodes"

(I talk in the Technical Devlog about how I actually solved this, as it's too ... well, technical to explain here.)

The other issues are fixed by actually finishing the rules (and adding images) and being careful with placement of nodes/power dots on the board.

One very funny side-effect from this game ... is that you automatically end up with a puzzle! Once the game is over, you have somewhere between 5 and 20 irregularly-shaped pieces of paper. It's can be quite challenging to put them back together into the original paper!

So I'll just add that as a fun suggestion. Because the people with whom I tested the game seemed to find a lot of joy in cutting extra pieces and then solving that puzzle :p (It's the simple things in life.)

Some thoughts about (printing) costs

I've been thinking hard about money.

Because you can only play each paper once, you'll need to print a new paper for each game. How expensive is that? How feasible is this for the average boardgamer? Am I even making a difference here?

So I decided to calculate it. Printing a game board, should be somewhere around 10-15 cents per paper (on average).

How did I get this number? Most of the board is black and white (and if you want, you can make it completely black-and-white) and it's not completely filled at all. A black and white page is 3-5 cents, a full color page can be 20-50 cents -- I just took the average.

A regular game like this would probably cost 20+ euros. You need to play this game 160 times to spend the same amount of money. (That's over 80 hours of gameplay.)

Pfew, that's good to know. I don't think anyone will come close to that amount of games. And if you do like the game so much, it's surely worth the money.

So yes, I think my idea of One Paper Games (and the optimizations I've been making) is actually a huge improvement and makes the boardgaming hobby much cheaper and more accessible.

This devlog continues at part 4: [Devlog] Unstable Universe (Part 4)