Monday, September 9

A Breath of Fresh Air

This week has been a busy one. It started in Bristol, leaving my parents' house before 8am on Monday, then a five hour car journey to York where we spent a few days staying with my friend Paul and his family. I was primary carer for The Daughter while The Wife attended a conference for work (it's alright, everyone survived!). Then finally back to Newcastle in time for a work team building event on Thursday (I found out that I'm good at archery, but rubbish with a shotgun - so stick with someone else come the zombie apocalypse). To round it off, Saturday we had four friends and their four kids under five round for dinner and Christmas homebrew bottling - a busy and slightly chaotic day!

It was nice to get out and about, to see my family and The Wife's family in Bristol and then Paul and his family in York (for the second time in just under a month). The team building day was fun, the homebrew bottling is always a fun day if very busy - I'm looking forward to a quieter week next week though.

As I mentioned last week, I've recently introduced some changes that speed up the game (particularly for two or three player games), and the first feedback wasn't great. Dave and Chief, my two main playtesters who play most weeks on a lunchtime, were both not fans of the shorter game, feeling that it was too short to really get into the strategies available.

On Tuesday, after a few games of X-Wing Miniatures, Paul and I sat down to a game of Vacuum. It was the first time Paul and I had played since July last year. I'm not sure if Paul had played in between (he has had a copy since April, and several people from his Games Night mentioned it, but I don't know if Paul played with them or not). We played the new faster rules, and after the game, Paul admitted that he too did not like the shorter game - he would have liked a chance to get more done during the game. Paul's not a Race for the Galaxy fan, and he saw a number of parallels between Vacuum and Race. He had a number of criticisms, things about Vacuum that he prefers games not to have. He didn't like that the game could end with so little warning, and that he didn't know how long he had left before the end.

Despite the fact that I'd been up since 4:45am that morning, and the game of Vacuum didn't finish until about 11:30pm, we spent the next hour or so chatting about ideas of things we could change to improve the game/make it more to Paul's tastes. I was almost asleep on my feet (well I suppose on my bum is more accurate!), but we discussed a whole range of ideas from fixing the game length to making the victory conditions a random selection that are revealed as the game goes on. It was a very useful conversation. The next morning while I took The Daughter for a walk to get her to take a nap my mind was buzzing with ideas either discussed or triggered by the previous evening's conversation.

Upon my return to work I discussed a few of the ideas with Chief and Dave, and I think I'll try out the fixed number of turns shortly. I've also got some feedback from the Newcastle Playtest session I attended a few weeks ago. Both playtesters have sent detailed feedback emails that I need to go through a few times to really take on board, but interestingly, both of them mentioned that the game felt very abstract, with little tie-in to the theme. We played the basic game that night, and I think the advanced game is a bit more themed, but it's certainly something I need to be aware of, since I've been aiming for a tightly themed gaming experience with Vacuum. The fixed number of turns could be implemented with a turn track that counts in years, which might help tie things together.

In other news, we're probably going to make the Newcastle Playtest sessions a bi-monthly thing, with meetups on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month, so hopefully I'll get another chance to get some feedback shortly...

Finally, I gave my copy of Vacuum to Paul this week (I didn't have time to make a new one for him as well as update the rules), so my goals for this week are buy more ink for my printer and then to make a new copy in time for Thursday playtesting and to try out the turn track at the same time...


Hoopy said...

As a general principle I'm not generally too much of a fan of having fixed number of turns as it can really break the theme and feels very artificial.

However, a clear and well themed 'when will the game end' can be a good thing (Stone Age, Race, Hansa Teutonica etc).

The games where a turn counter does work are those that prevent the game going on forever or getting daft (Carcassonne, Age of Waterdeep etc). I don't think Vacuum suffers from those potential issues though.

Maybe you need some resource that is very visible, will reliably be consumed and whose absence marks the end of the game. But which doesn't complicate the game.

Please don't ask me what that resource should be though! Maybe money or exploration tokens or something that could signify a sufficient level of dominance that someone is clearly the victor?

Jackson Pope said...

Hiya Hoops,

I'm not sure how it will feel, but we'll give it a try this lunchtime. From a theming point of view it works, since you can give each turn a date, and then say the game ends in the year X, and whoever is most dominant at that time wins. Anyway, we'll give it a try and see what happens.