Blockade's Evolution Post GenCon
Every time I write about Blockade is really just a verbose excuse to Google Image Search a new image of a sci fi space battle.
I took Blockade to GenCon 2013 and tested it about 5 total times, thrice with random testers, once with friends, and once with a publisher who isn't interested in it (bad fit), but liked it and I love hearing their input. I also pulled out the pieces several times just to give people a quick taste. In short, I had a lot of eyes (and hands!) on the game, which allowed me to take in a great deal of feedback.
The purpose of this post is to cover these changes and why. If you don't know anything about Blockade, this post may not be terribly interesting. I recommend you check out the updated rules, then come back here!
The high level takeaway is that people like it, get it, and enjoy it. The pieces are satisfying and fun, the dice rolls are great, people get to make bold moves, people sit and think about their next move, and the activation mechanic works. A great deal of my iterative focus, therefore, is on tuning, balance, and polish. My favorite! No, really!
The Cards: The wording on the cards needs work. This is true of any game with cards or really, any game with text. Humans interpret language in so many different ways and with so many games using words in different ways, it can be trouble some.
The most troublesome card was Full Broadside, which said you can attack from two different sides. My intent was that you'd use two sides to attack two enemies, but many saw it as two sides on one enemy (for a monstrous attack).
In other cases I simplified the cards. Countermeasures now just says "roll 3 yellow dice." Not "roll the yellows for the side being attacked."
The final big change for cards is that there are now Defensive Cards, i.e. cards you play when it's not your turn and you're being attacked. Previously these were just attack cards, but this led to some confusion. Now, you have Maneuver cards, Attack cards, and Defense cards.
The Center: The center space has been confusing for some time. It's gone through quite a few revisions. Some input I received from multiple sources was simply REMOVE it. Block it off. You cannot enter the center space. I'm going to replace it with scenario based items, like a space station you need to assault, or a planet that needs to be bombarded, or even a wormhole that lets you do weird things on the map.
More Powerful Crits: One of the core decisions you must make in the game is how to arrange your ships, and whether to do so for offensive or defensive purposes. You're primarily balancing the number of lasers you have exposed with the number of weakspots exposed, as opponents roll bonus Critical dice when attacking weakspots. The problem is, Crit Dice had a 50% hit rate compared to the 66% hit rate of all other dice. This dip in probability made them far less useful than I'd like. Now, it's 66% all around.
While we're on the topic of dice, Direct Hits now cause 2 damage AND are referenced by some cards. Previously, it was just the latter.
Kamikaze: A problem revealed through the PPP testing and again at GenCon is that devastated fighter squadrons with only 1-2 fighters remaining lack usefulness. They only fire 1 yellow die per fighter alive, and capital ships require at least a green, so 2 fighters aren't going to do much. Now, you can kamikaze when you have 3 or fewer fighters. You roll an orange critical hit die for every fighter remaining and assign damage as normal. The trade off is, you lose all of the fighters, whether they hit or not.
Tweaking Activation: I'm really proud of the activation mechanic. It's subtle and simple and works. Problem is, I didn't design for what happens when you lose ships and therefore have more Units than tokens. The new rule is fairly simple: You remove tokens such that on your turn you always have at least two units from which to choose. Obviously, when you have 2 units you alternate and one unit, you just use it over and over. This tested well and was easy to explain, so I'm happy and look forward to solving new problems.
Loosen Up: I had a few unnecessary rules, such as limits on the number and type of cards you could play. The thing is, people want to play cards, and they are fun, so why the heck not? Now, play whatever you have. The other issue is that people feel they get cards they can't use and it gums up their hand. I think this is more a perception issue and a part of the game in most cases, i.e. figure out how to use what you have. But, one or two cards might have little to know use under some conditions. That's fair. Now, you can discard any cards you don't want to clean up your hand and draw new ones.
More Events, More Environment: People really liked the exploding debris, which is great because I love it. People want more events! People also want "terrain," which in space means things like asteroids, suns, and so forth. I always planned to add some of these elements with scenarios and now it seems a requirement. Cool!
One of the first ones I'm adding are asteroid fields. Throughout the game they'll shift in space. If they collide with you, damage. But, if you move into a field, it provides bonus protection when being attacked. You'll see more as the scenarios come online.
Customizable Ships: The reality is, this game probably won't ship with wooden blocks with holes drilled into them. It just dramatically increases the price. If I had to guess, the ships will be thematically shaped punchboard ships. Totally cool by me. A publisher with whom I'm discussing the game had an idea for customizable weapons. For example, instead of pulling ships at random and being stuck with them, what if in some situations you could outfit your ships with anti-fighter lasers deliberately, or a balanced approach?
I took this a step further to include various nodes that let you launch fighters (Carrier Bay), reduce enemy attack potency (ECM), or even have ranged weapons (Green Missiles versus Green Lasers).
The balance I hope to strike is that for most scenarios, I specify what you need. This is for the sake of balance and accessibility. But, in sandbox mode, you can tweak your squadrons and try things out.
Sandbox Mode: This is an idea I've revived somewhat. I thought it would be neat if there was a simple way you could play a meta-game in addition to singular brawl mode or the pre-set campaign mode.
The idea is, you add a small board with the solar system's planets called out. There are cards for every planet that detail things, like strategic resources: ship production plant, fleet base, warp station, etc. On this meta board, you say "I'm moving the fleet at Mars to Io." You then build your fleets, shuffle in some events based on the site, and you fight it out.
When it's time to pack up, you gather and separate your side's planet cards, fleet cards, etc. This helps you remember the status and means you don't need to write it down on paper or any of that mess.
This would add some cards and such, but I think it'd be neat, probably as an add-on, for the experience.
The next steps...
I'm happy with the current rule set with its updates and will begin testing it more thoroughly. However, I'm going to start doing it using scenarios. I've designed 2 or 3, but they haven't been evaluated under this rule set. Therefore, I'll need to tweak them and design more (of course). My hope is to take what is proving to be a nice, core system and expand it with one-off rules, exciting event cards, and difficult situations to keep players riveted throughout the experience.
I want great replayability. It's time to get cracking on scenarios! I should note I'll be making a nice PNP for this soon. Stay tuned to this site or my Twitter feed to learn more.