Yesterday I go to try out the new version for the first time. I had hoped to try it out at work and then again in the evening at Newcastle Playtest, but I'd had Monday off work with a filthy cold and didn't feel up to a late night (just as well really, I've been up since 1:45am with The Daughter who's not right, so I'm wasted today even without the late night).
This was my third prototype and my fourth set of rules. It introduced some fairly major changes in an attempt to counter three items of critical feedback I'd received for the earlier versions. I'd separated the cards into three decks, the low valued ones (to play at the beginning of the game), the high valued ones (to play at the end) and the negative cards, which I'd introduced some special rules for.
We were playing at work on our lunch break, which is convenient but also particularly useful for Zombology since I work for a company who sell scientific software, and hence my colleagues have a good understanding of the scientific community that I am lampooning in Zombology. Three of the four people playing had PhDs and we had all attended scientific conferences and worked with scientists as they try to publish their results.
I started explaining the new rules and how there were now two types of round: Research rounds during which you perform your own research and Conference rounds where you can either present new findings or rubbish an opponent's research. Dave in particular got very excited (he's an excitable fellow!). It was nice to see them buying in to the slightly deeper theming. The rules explanation made it clear that these changes made things more complicated, and hence it wasn't that surprising that the game lasted slightly longer than our previous plays (just under 20 minutes I think). And the scoring was still difficult to clearly explain.
The game went fairly smoothly until after the first Conference round. Until then we'd been playing a card and drafting the rest in the same way as in previous games. In the Conference round you have the option to either play one of the cards you've been passed by your neighbour, or to play one of your two Prejudice cards: negative cards in particular suits that you have an irrational hatred of. Because you keep your negative Prejudice cards, whether you play them or not, suddenly everything was out of kilter. People who played a negative card passed on the two remaining cards in their hand (to which another three cards were added, making a hand of five for their neighbour), but people who chose not to play a Prejudice card, instead played a normal card, and only had one to pass on, leading to their neighbours only having four cards. Through no fault of their own, they had less options. So far, this felt a bit unbalanced, but I could explain it away as an attempt to undermine your opponent's research, so I was only slightly uncomfortable with it.
After the second Conference round, it all went Pete Tong. Now there was one player with only 1 card to choose from for the last round, one with 2 and two of us with 3 cards. Broken! We cobbled it together by letting everyone draw up to a hand of three cards. But clearly it was now a problem that needed properly addressing.
Last night, on the bus home from work I thought about it a bit more and came up with a proper solution:
- If after the first Conference round you have a card less than any other player, draw an additional card from the Groundwork deck.
- If after the second Conference round you have a card less than any other player, draw an additional card from the Trials deck.
That should fix it - I've updated the rules PDF accordingly.