Unstable Universe (Part 7)

devlog

This devlog is part 7 (and also the final part) in a series of articles about the development of Unstable Universe. Check part 1 here: [Devlog] Unstable Universe

Supporting Different Player Counts

One of the problems with these One Paper Games, is, well, the fact that it's always a fixed size single paper. This means there's often too much space when you're with only 2 or 3 players, and too little space on 6+ players.

As I come from a large family, and simply like playing games in large groups, I still want to support a wide range of player counts.

How do we solve this? Here's what I came up with:

  • First of all, I foresaw this problem, which is why I removed all "fixed" numbers from Mission Nodes some time ago. It's not "own at least 3 Plant nodes", it's now "own more Plant nodes than anyone else". That scales automatically with player count.

  • On higher player counts, there are more power dots around each node (on average). In a 2 player game, each node can only be moved to once ( = it has one power dot). At 8 players (maximum capacity), each node has 2-4 power dots around it. This ensures you always have the right amount of movement options.

  • The numbers on "progression" nodes depend on player count. (For example, you can only enter a "Critters" node if you own as many "Stardust" nodes as the number shown. This number should be lower on higher player counts, because it's less likely you'll own so much of the board.)

  • On higher player counts, I only allow one cutting step by default. I'm not sure if this is needed, as an average board has many cutting steps before it's completely broken*. Also, this would add a nasty exception to the otherwise straightforward rules.

  • On higher player counts, I increase the minimum/maximum number of node occurrences. For example, because the "Clock" node is vital to the 2^nd^ expansion, it's programmed to appear at least X times on the board ( = minimum). If you have more players, you obviously need more of each node to make the game coherent.

The last solution stated, however, also means the total set of nodes is less diverse, which can be a problem. The only way I see to fix this, is by making all nodes smaller so we can fit more of them on the board.

But I don't like creating nigh unreadable boards. At most, I could go one step smaller on higher player counts. This would gain one extra row and columns, which are roughly 15-20 nodes.

I'm still not sure if I want to do this, but it's an option. (On average, the game should be able to fit 3 different node types in 20 extra nodes. That's not nothing!)

(I just counted one board, and it easily had 120+ edges to cut. Even in the worst-case scenario -- eight players aggressively taking 2 cutting steps per turn -- that's at least 8 full rounds. But because of all the different actions and cutting rules, you should usually go slower. Hmm, difficult to make a decision here.)

Update! (Another spoiler alert) After a lot of playtests, and improvements to the board generation, I did decide to make nodes smaller on higher player count, so more of them fit on the page. At max player count, 9 players, you get a significant extra number of nodes and edges on the field. I approximate how many extra nodes you received and use that to keep the total collection of nodes roughly the same size. (More than 12-15 unique nodes per game, is just too much to comprehend for players, and slows down the game a lot.)

It looks like this (although it's still a work in progress):

Large player board for higher player counts

The Electric Expansion -- Again!

Ugh, this expansion is giving me trouble. I needed to simplify it and incorporate the theme of electricity more with the base game (and expansions before this one).

As usual, the solution was to tell myself the core mechanics in the game again and force me to consider them. Core mechanic? Cutting the paper? We need some sort of power network or connection for electricity? What a minute ... when you cut the paper, you ALSO add a "line" to the paper!

So, forget all that stuff about "extending" the power net I talked about earlier. Seems a bit silly in hindsight.

Here's the new rule:

  • The center node has a number on it. You may only enter if it has (at least) that much electricity supplied.

  • Every electricity node connected to the center with CUT lines, supplies its electricity ( = number on the node) to it.

Way simpler. Fits better. Sometimes my brain is drunk when I make up the first version of a game idea :p Luckily, it usually finds its way back to sobriety after sitting on a problem for some time. (Not always though.)

The Energetic Expansion, image from rulebook

All other icons from this expansion are simply about generating electricity (through Solar power, Wind power, burning Biomass, the usual stuff), transferring it (with a Battery), or using it to buy cool powers.

In the final version, I had to leave out some of the nodes, because it was just too much. (The rule is: if images + explanations don't fit on a single A4 page, the expansion is too complicated.) For example, I had a thematic "Fracking" node with a cool cutting action (to mimic the real-life action of fracking the ground in search of oil), but it just didn't fit.

In my "doubt list" (which I always write when I'm not sure about something in a project), I've written that this expansion might need even more simplification later. But for now it seems fine.

Playtest Session #3!

Everything is finished! All expansions are done, their boards can be generated on the website (without bugs), everything has an icon and a nice image to explain it.

This means it's now time to playtest the heck out of this game!

As I've said before, I would love to be able to playtest a game more during development, but it's just really hard to find the people and give them a good impression of the game when it's not yet finished. So it's my current habit to finish the game as a whole, and then playtest it as much as possible over the span of a couple months.

The game works! With the correct player boards (without any bugs, but with improvements to node placement and such) the game is exciting until the end and everyone has enough options at all times. It was easy to explain, easy to play, and everyone had fun.

Only some minor issues remained:

  • I'd forgotten to update some rules in the latest version. (They talked about nodes being "destroyed", but that's not something that can happen anymore in this game.)

  • The worst offender was the "Puppy" node. Everyone kept forgetting its penalty when cut loose. That action is probably more "visible" if the penalty only happens when you cut through a Puppy (and not just when it completely comes loose).

  • With the lowest player counts, the game can take a bit longer (45-60 minutes), because there's simply more space. Similarly, at the highest player counts, the board is very small, so I might want to add some more space there (more nodes and edges, or less cutting steps by default).

  • Some balancing, as always. The numbers on critters could be slightly lower, some nodes should appear more or less often. (For example, "cut blocking" nodes that force you to stop your cut are quite important to the game. Without them, the board is destroyed too quickly in most games.)

I'll fix these and then I call the game done!

(As always, I still playtest the game, improve where I can and would love any and all feedback or errors you find. It's just not in "active development" anymore.)

Conclusion

So there you have it. The first ever "cutting boardgame" in the world!

The concept works really well. You don't need to explain to anyone what cutting means or what "cutting loose a piece of paper" implies. It's an intuitive, physical action that is quickly understood by all players.

The boards ended up looking nice and inviting. (And I got to practice different art styles and hand-drawn sketches, which is also something I needed to do.)

Last but certainly not least, the game is quick to teach and quick to play, for all ages and players. Just print a few games and get a pen + scissors, take them with you (on vacation, to school, to friends, whatever) and you can have fun for hours!

This is also the longest devlog I've written thus far, which isn't surprising. The game ended up quite large (both the original rules + expansions and the website component) and it took a long while to figure out how a cutting game would work.

Hopefully this devlog was fun to read, inspired you, or at least explained how I made the game!

Until the next devlog,

Pandaqi