MLH: Testing and Iterating

I've been writing quite a bit about Molly's Last Hope lately because I'm working on it fervently. I have a tight deadline for the contest submission and I need to be cracking! Last night I was able to hold a really good test of the game with a friend/co-worker/professional graphics designer who has tested many of my games in the past. The test revealed quite a few things about the game, good and bad, that I'll discuss now.

Before I get too far, here are the current rules to the game. Please note I'm still updating them per last night's test and I haven't updated the diagrams and examples to incorporate the new art that you can see in the image above.

The Pace of Battles: The biggest problem identified last night, as well as the easiest to address, was the pacing of the battles. Our first battle simply took too long and resulted in too many wasted turns due to misses. Firing on an enemy had a 50% chance of resulting in a hit if they weren't in cover, but in cover it switches to a 33% chance and that was simply too low. I noticed that all of the terrain on the game provided defensive bonuses. The thing is, there is too much cover and defense slows the game down.

So, I switched my thinking to that of "the best defense is a good offense." To speed up the game, cover now provides you with a tactical advantage: you may re-roll Action dice in hopes of getting better options. Towers give you a similar advantage in that you may re-roll a Miss in hopes of rolling a Hit.

I also found that one Action die per soldier was too slow. Sometimes you needed to race ahead with a soldier and shoot. Now, you can assign 2 Actions to a single soldier, but they cannot be the same Action.

Finally, I removed Flanking as it just didn't work AND was too complex. I'll find something better and simpler.

We incorporated these changes after the first battle and it greatly improved the game. I feel that battles are still missing something...special...but I'm going to let testing reveal what that thing is. Unless it comes to me in a moment of unforeseen clarity!

While discussing pace, the game took about 60 minutes plus a half hour of discussion and design. I'd like to get that down to 45 minutes, which I think is possible.

Battle Balance: The battles were balanced to be horribly in favor of the player with the most Units. This is good, as it means the player was making good strategic choices on the Planet Board with his cards. However, it also meant that battles were largely an exercise in probability. You knew who would win, it was just a matter of getting the hits.

In one case, my opponent made a few REALLY bad tactical errors where he attacked my clearly superior force with a hugely inferior force. He did this a few times! However, his thinking was soundly rooted in classic guerrilla tactics. He was willing to expend his few Units in hopes of killing some of mine. I want to allow such risks to be plausible.

Previously, players rolled 1 Action die for every 2 Soldiers. However, this means the player with 5 soldiers has 3 Actions versus the player with 2 soldiers having 1. Now, you always roll 3 dice. This gives you more variety, removes a fiddly rule (1 die per 2 soldiers), but still favors the player with more units. He has more flexibility and more folks to whom he can assign Actions.

Also, now that players always have 3 dice, I can incorporate more mechanics like rolling doubles and triples, which I believe is a simple and effective way to add something special to the battle.

Battle Map Complexity: Building the Battle Maps was, as I hoped, a quick and easy affair. We built every map in less than a minute and were ready to go. Other than a slight graphic design snafu it worked incredibly well. However, the alternate rules I added to the Battle Maps were a mixed bag. For one, all alternate victory conditions were wasted. They open up too many edge cases and were rarely actually factored into the battle.

My take away is to remove alternate win conditions AND simply make it such that they provide alternate rules and variations for the battle. These worked really well when they came into play.

Card Complexity: By and large my cards worked really well. I designed the game from the ground up to use a symbols only, text-free system. This was a fantastic constraint and has largely limited my cards to be simple and understandable. My friend had very few questions on what his cards meant. The questions he did have are easily tweaked.

However, I have 2 or 3 cards per faction that were just a bit fiddly and too difficult to use. By removing constraints like Orbit required for some of these, or varying the tuning slightly, I can greatly improve the flexibility of the system.

While we're on the topic of cards, I need to slightly reduce the number of reinforcements that the Confederation can dispatch in a single play. They were a bit too powerful, but not too much so. Just a smidge.

Discard Overpower: Some cards can force an opponent to discard cards, which both screws up his turns (the cards are discarded at random) AND hastens the end of the game. The game ends when a player is unable to play a card. Previously, a player could discard one card per battle to change a miss to a hit. This was a bad mechanic for a few reasons:

  • It didn't fit in. Players were focused on the dice and their soldiers and often forgot they could use a card.
  • It's too powerful. Guaranteeing a hit? Wowza.
  • It's doubly too powerful. Guaranteeing a hit AND hastening the game end? Yikes!

I removed this and will find something neat to modify battles elsewhere. It just won't be here.

The submission date for the game, March 1st, is rapidly approaching. I'm really happy with how far Molly's Last Hope has come so quickly. Though perhaps it hasn't been that quick at all? I wrote about the game first at the start of December. In November I shared some of the early ideas. So, I suppose one could argue (me being that one) that months of good thought and a simple idea have pushed the actual execution phase forward very quickly? I hope that's the case.

I hope to get this into the PPP very soon. Also, in case you missed it, I added a page for Molly's Last Hope.