As I mentioned last week, when I discussed an idea I'd had for Zombology with Dan (the other Newcastle Playtest organiser) he promptly countered with another idea which blew my idea out of the water. So, I'm going to steal his idea shamelessly. Here it is:
I've had a few problems with timing in Zombology. Each round the players simultaneously choose a card to play in secret and then simultaneously reveal them. The cards then get resolved in a rough sort of order: Upgrades, then Events and then Science cards. But within those groups it kind of all happened semi-simultaneously. Most of the time this was fine, but I'd come across a few problems with particular situations, and by far the longest part of the discussion about Zombology at the last Newcastle Playtest session was about one of these edge cases where the semi-simultaneity meant that the rules got really complicated and a little bit broken. I've also had a rather awkward conversation with one of the blind playtesters about how a particular card works if multiple people play it in the same round.
As a result of these types of problems the rules explanation is either not descriptive enough to cover edge cases, or so ridiculously wordy that it feels more like a legal agreement than a simple card game rule book.
Dan's solution? Number each card and then resolve them in number order. That's so simple that I can explain it in ten words. Ten. One of the games I've been considering as a guide while I design Zombology is 6 Nimmt! It's very quick, has simultaneous card selection and can get quite brutal as the cards are actioned and someone inevitably gets shafted. How does 6 Nimmt! solve the card resolution? You resolve them in number order. Genius! Why didn't I think of that? Seriously, why did I need Dan to point that out?
It solves all the individual problems I've been having and in a way that is simple to explain and understand and that cannot be debated during gameplay or lead to rules lawyering. Card 3 happens before card 5. Full stop. It allows me to be prescriptive about the order in which particular cards happen (if the Fatal Mistakes need to happen before Pay Rises to make sense, all I have to do is give them lower numbers) without bulking out the rules explaining that you must do A before B. In fact, it will take a lot of words out of the rules, making the explanation shorter and easier to understand.
Timing is critical to so many games - actions must happen in a particular order to make sense and to frame the game in a way that is fair to all players. I'd been focussing so hard on making the individual cards work alone and in conjunction with each other that I'd neglected to take into account the flow of the game. There had been warning signs in the form of awkward email explanations and long discussions about which cards relied on which others, but I'd brushed them aside. I really hope that when I finally get round to making a version with this improvement in it will be another leap in game quality - making things much smoother and simpler to explain.
It's Newcastle Playtest again this week, but due to the busy week last week and then guests over the weekend I've not had a chance to incorporate my new ideas into either Zombology or Vacuum :-( I'll just be going as a playtester this month instead.
In other news, my boss Ian and I played Border Reivers at the end of Games Night on Thursday. I'd not played for four or five years and it was Ian's first game ever. I was a bit rusty on the rules, but that was no excuse for the absolute beasting Ian delivered, crushing me at my own game in fairly short order. It highlighted a few of the flaws in the game that I was already aware of, and now I've got Border Reivers Second Edition in my head too. And also in Evernote. I need to finish something off and work on fewer games at once!