Last Saturday, we were very lucky to have an amazing group of designers, gamers, and reviewers play-test our game, The Valley, at Caffeinated Dragon Games.
I talked about the testing and initial feedback in this post, and the rules we tested against are in this post.
From our perspective, while parts of it were excruciating (presenting in public, watching as the things we knew needed fixing stood out in stark relief, hearing people being annoyed with elements of the game), these were also the best bits – speaking about the game in public is part and parcel of the game design process, and practice makes perfect; having our suspected issues highlighted by fresh eyes was validating; and having people express their issues with the game helped us focus on what and how we could fix issues.
We also got the type of feedback that told us this game was worth the effort, which is so important. You can tell when people think you just shouldn’t bother, and these testers were engaged and actively wanted to make the game more playable.
In the last post, I talked about the feedback we got, and what we initially got from it. In this post, I am going to explore the questions we asked ourselves. This post is intended as a glimpse into processing and refining feedback into a new iteration. Currently, the new version is full of questions and ideas, and not much is finalised. I personally love looking at this stage in other people’s work, so here’s your opportunity to see what it’s like for me!
Skip to the end for the TL;DR.
Moving the “sell” element of “Forage, Craft, Sell” into Phase 1
How should a sale work?
Forage, Craft, Sell is the main drive of the game, so sales have to happen. We thought about how a person who crafts primarily for a market would be interfacing with customers. We came up with three sales channels: special orders/commissions, online orders, and in-person sales. We decided to address these by creating customer orders, similar to the concept of the Mood card. In all three cases, the customer makes an order – some of them are our standard stock items, which would be things a customer could simply add to cart in whichever sales system they are using, and some are special orders that we would make to the customer’s specifications. The way that this would translate into the game would be “order received” which matches the standard stock items (e.g. kete, jar, jar, cheese), or “special order” which includes the recipe – harder to make, but guaranteed sold. We also want to have a market day, though, so how do we encourage players to keep making as much as possible, even if they don’t have a customer lined up yet?
Do you select your customer order at the start of your turn (perhaps the cottager moves first?) and then aim to fill the order, or can you only pick up orders you can already fill?
If we break up our turns into a choice of actions rather than having to do every step every time, one of those steps would be to engage with a customer. For commissions, players would have to have the card first in order to create the recipe. For standard orders, players can potentially have items ready to sell and make others as the customer waits – perhaps there needs to be a countdown to represent the SLA?
Does a sale simply go through as soon as you can take the action to fill it? Can anyone or anything prevent it, and is that somewhere that “take that” stuff makes more sense, or is that still not a good feeling? At markets, the only people who do that sort of thing are MLMs and hawkers, and everyone else hates them, so it’s not something you would generally wish on a fellow stallholder. Perhaps they make more sense as Fortune cards? Perhaps a Fortune or Spice card draw is part of the sales process, a bit like the Newsflash cards in Crimopolis have to be drawn before you find out if your job was successful?
Rather than having a Fortune card as part of every sale, we are considering having a Fortune card draw triggered by particular events, such as “first recipe completed”, “first sale completed”, etc. This makes drawing a Fortune card more interesting and the process less repetitive. It can also be used to track steps between events, if there are a set number of Fortune cards before the round ends, for example.
How should the cottager attributes be involved in closing a sale? Is the sale concluded with a better deal for you if you have higher acumen? Do you get more chances of making an add-on if you are kinder? Are you more likely to get a repeat customer bonus if your community score is high? Shoplifting is a very real issue for selling, as is getting your pocket picked (especially when you are carrying a float), so how do we incorporate a good score in guardianship?
The attributes are a strong part of the concept for me, I really want to get them to gel correctly. This will be an important consideration as we work through exactly how to close a sale in this new format. IRL, online customer orders tend not to need additional work to complete the sale – they are customer-driven, so there’s not much a seller can do apart from an add-on sale. Attributes, therefore, will have less impact on sales during the week, but should definitely come into play at the end of the game, if it occurs at the market.
If we assume that we flip over a certain number of cards for people to select, rather than taking cards from the deck, should the number of customer orders and recipes flipped and available for selection each round change depending on the number of players? For example, 3 for 2-player, 4 for 3-player, etc? And should that be the same for each type, or should there be more recipes available than sales?
We will test with all recipe slots always filled, and an increasing number of sales available per round – something like 3, 4, and 5. For example, there might be two customer order options at the start of the week, but by the last day, the order slots are filled to the maximum. This may prove too limiting, or might need to be scaled on player count.
Once you have picked up either a customer order card or a recipe, do you immediately refill the gap, or does it refill at the end of the round? Why would it be good/bad to wait until the end of the round?
Refilling immediately makes the most sense (and seems to be the most common amongst mot of the games we have played with choices of face-up cards or tiles). There’s no reason to avoid refilling them immediately, as the same person can only draw a maximum of three recipes or sales in their turn.
Would it be fun to have an add-on deck, or add-on cards in the orders deck, which allow you to increase the sale by a certain amount if you can fill the add-on order requirement? An add-on deck would mean the top card is always flipped, so there’s always an add-on available, whereas having them in the deck means you might find several available at once. If there are add-on cards, can you pick them up on their own in your turn, or do you have to take a sale as well, and then do they have to be sold together?
This feels like something that would be really cool to have – how do you unlock the add-on? Does it just cost an extra move? Or do you have to have an order that matches that add-on to pick it up? Something to figure out as we develop the concept further. Perhaps add-ons are one of the same 3 things, and all you need is to match them to the type of sale – for example, if your sale includes a kete, add-on another kete half-price. Yes, you only get half the value for that kete, but also, you get the sale of the kete…
If there were actions, should every character meeple move every time, or should players have an allocation of moves to share out as they wish amongst their meeples?
This is something that we will test – perhaps three moves per player per turn, move any character meeple according to their action and movement rules.
If there were actions, and they were specific to each class of character, what would be things the cottager should be able to do? What about the gatherers? What about the apprentice? For example, the cottager is actually the one who concludes the sales, so should they be the one who trades for Artisan recipes, while the gatherers trade for the artisan ingredients? And perhaps cottagers can also trade for attribute increases in the same way?
There should be some moves that all character classes can make, although some are restricted by the difficulty level. Trading with the Artisans should be possible for all gatherers, regardless of what’s in their basket, as recently-harvested items have not yet been sorted, cleaned, and checked, or receipted in to the cottage store. They are simply popping in on their way past to trade on behalf of the cottage (settled from the cottage pantry to represent digital transactions). The Cottager trades directly from the cottage pantry.
Action options for all character classes/character agnostic:
- Flip a Spice card
- Choose a recipe
- Work a recipe (apprentices can only work basic level)
- Trade for artisan items and/or recipes (trade from cottage pantry)
- Increase attributes (trade from cottage pantry)
- Sell to customers
- Trade for artisan items and/or recipes (trade from cottage pantry)
- Move and Harvest
- Bring baskets back for any gatherer on team (proximity not required; one at a time unless they have a Super Apprentice card)
- Move (and Harvest, only with Apprentice basket Spice card)
When you are working on a recipe, should it still take a certain amount of time? So your gatherer is tied up making the recipe as their move for the next X turns?
Perhaps players have tokens to spend for actions, maybe 3 per meeple, and they can choose to use them in whatever way matches that player class? For example, use all three to complete a recipe, or use one to do something else and finish it later?
Trading with Artisans
The Cottager and the Gatherers can trade with the Artisans. We have removed the Skill requirement, which means that the exchange rate for Artisan tokens is no longer driven by anything. Instead, we have four spaces in each corner, with a set exchange rate. As players arrive, they take a spot and their exchange rate is set – the first player will get 2:1, the second with get 3:1, and the last two are 4:1. Players can choose to either wait or pay a higher exchange rate. The rate applies to Artisan trade items, Artisan recipes (either type), or attributes. All trade is performed on behalf of the cottage, and all costs come out of the cottage pantry. Gatherers cannot use the items still in their baskets, as their harvested items have not yet been cleaned, checked, and receipted into the cottage accounts.
Trading with other players
Players will no longer be able to trade freely, but we will create an “honesty box” where the trade rate is set, and players can place items in the box in exchange for whatever is there. For example, a player with a surplus of acorn tokens may choose to exchange two acorns for one chanterelle token. To do so, they will pay one action and simply perform the exchange. The honesty box will be designed to cater for trading with no interaction required.
Should sales take any time to complete, or are they simply one of the Cottager actions, and they cost one action to complete, once the Cottager can produce all the items?
Sales should take 2 action “points” – one to pick one up, and one to complete the sale. This means that players can pick up the sale whenever, and fill the order immediately if they can, or wait. There should be a maximum number of orders in progress, so people aren’t just stockpiling unfilled orders. Order slots with countdowns on the player board would be a good way to manage this. Perhaps the same thing could happen with recipes, so the time a recipe takes to make is about where the recipe is placed on the player board, rather than the card itself?
And how do we manage the sold items, if we don’t make completed recipes into market goods?
Well, as we no longer have to build up stock to take to market in the same way, we can actually hold onto the recipe cards themselves as we complete them. Perhaps they can actually all work like the Artisan recipes, with an image of the completed item on the back, as the back of the recipe no longer needs to be held in the hand and hidden.
What happens to the sold items?
If recipes now represent the items they make as well, they simply revolve back into their relevant decks once they are sold – so they can then be made again.
How do we manage making stock to keep to take to market?
We simply hold onto the recipe cards instead of selling them during the week.
How do we make house recipes, when they are not driven by a physical recipe card?
Perhaps we have a mini deck, or tokens for our house items only.
And how do we make Artisan Skill recipes, which are a single card that makes multiple items?
Perhaps these actually make Artisan trade tokens, so you no longer need to buy them at all? Or they still make a different physical counter, like a cheese or a bottle.
If a move is to flip a Spice card, should all classes of character have that option? Why/why not?
Now that Spice cards will be less damaging, players have more incentive to choose them as an action. There’s no reason why any class of player shouldn’t draw a Spice card, thematically, although perhaps it adds too many moves to the turn.
What if only the top discarded Spice card is relevant? In other words, flipping a card replaces whatever the previous state was.
We are going to implement this – it means that the good or bad effects only last as long as the card is flipped, or until the next evening. It will be interesting to see if some players choose to leave something flipped for several rounds, and perhaps we will need to make a Spice card flip a compulsory move for each overall turn?
One of the things the play-testing group thought would help mitigate the “mathsiness” of the game would be to place the resources on the board (for example, the way you do in Ishtar). Players would harvest according to the rules and resources would be depleted visibly (still maintaining the scarcity that we want), and increasing the immersion into the foraging theme.
We will start with harvest tokens on the board and on the player boards, so that players can start making recipes and harvesting immediately.
Testing will establish whether we still offer the bonuses for being on the same tile, or whether that depletes the resources too fast. I am inclined to keep it, and pay bonuses from the “overstocks”.
Player aides for actions will include any remaining calculations, such as bonuses.
Another minor change, in terms of the assets, would be that instead of moving from the centre of one tile to the centre of another, players would now move along the edges, from point to point, or node to node, as in Catan, giving each player the choice of three resources. This is a fairly large change to the inter-relationship of tokens on the Valley floor, so it will need some testing to see if it works. We will keep the rule that movements can be made to any node adjacent to a team-member.
In order to re-up those supplies of resources, we need some kind of a growth cycle. We also like the way night-time resets the board, giving players the opportunity to empty their gatherer baskets, and also resetting worker placement on the Valley floor. With that in mind, we want to have a “night” – but people didn’t like the way that the Thyme board worked as a countdown, and they didn’t like that it cut off incomplete recipes. Realistically, people with a deadline wouldn’t dump an unfinished recipe, or not start it, when they are under pressure to meet deadlines – they would stay up late to finish it. Even more if they had worked hard to gather the ingredients.
Should they refill at different rates, and if so, how should the cottager of that particular harvest type have an advantage over other players?
Most fruit ripen in waves, so they would crop similar amounts each day. Nuts tend to ripen all together, so it’s likely that you would start with a rich crop but only small amounts after that. Flowers are pretty consistent throughout their season, so they could follow the same rules as the fruit. Most herbs are stimulated by being picked, as long as it’s done judiciously, so they could follow a growth rule that depends on how hard they have been hit. this will make balancing more difficult, but given that people can see and choose their recipes, it does make it worthwhile to change the balance of resources throughout the game – it’s another facet of realistic scarcity. Regardless how engineered the environment might be, there’s no way to force a constant yield. Reflecting that is a realism that pleases me.
Should players also be able to influence growth rates? For example, some types of mushrooms grow back faster when they are harvested with a knife, whereas cutting can completely stunt others – that could be used as a Spice card or it could be an advantage that the Chanterelle House has over others – they could increase the yield on a specific tile each night, for example.
This is interesting, but possibly adds too much complexity to the game at this stage – something to file away and use if we find that there are some yields that are too imbalanced, or if the Chanterelle House needs a better house advantage.
The arrival of night is currently controlled by the Thyme board – but time flows differently when you are working. Sometimes, it’s like treacle, and sometimes, it’s gone in a flash. We want to have more of that and less of the plodding.
What if night happened at an arbitrary time (an “evening” card in the Recipe or Spice card pack), or after a certain number of cards (like in Spirit Island), with the card drawing triggered by particular conditions being met?
We think this is an interesting idea to test. Do we just add a single “night” card to the Spice pack, and reshuffle every round? Or do we have a set of rules, for example:
Shuffle the Fortune (renamed “Thyme”?) deck, then place the first three cards in space A, the next four in space B, etc. Shuffle the night cards, and place one on top of stacks B, C, D, etc. Combine all the cards in a deck. Every time one of the following events occurs, flip a card.
Does the random/event-triggered arrival of the evening make a difference to how you feel about recipes taking a certain amount of time?
The purpose of the “night” is to reset the board – everyone comes home, baskets are emptied, and the “growth” cycle occurs. Should it have any other impacts? For example, if you could always finish a recipe overnight, so there was no countdown timer to start a recipe, if you stay up late one night to finish your recipes, should that affect your morning?
At this stage, we don’t think so – but if we use the shuffled deck of “night” cards, we could have different versions – each card might include the growth rates for this night, plus perhaps the impacts of staying up late or give people a good or bad night’s sleep.
We confirmed that having cottages on their own crop makes sense (except for the Werewere-kōkako house, see below), so that part of set-up has changed – regardless of how many players we have, we deal out one tile of each colour to 5 of the 6 points, and perhaps flip the 6th for the Werewere-kōkako cottage.
There were other problems that we can now address, too. Currently, the Valley is a table hog, and a lot of that is to do with having somewhere to keep the cards and resources. These are a standard part of working with a prototype, and didn’t make sense to address before we had a better idea of how the game would work.
Now that we have a clearer idea of what the cards and resources will be, and that we are not packing up the hex tiles to play a second phase, we can also look at solutions for moving storage up rather than out – especially as we are moving from a deck to an array of cards for the customer orders and the recipes.
We have started playing with ideas for making better use of the Artisan corner areas to store the Artisan tokens and recipes, as well as reworking the player boards/mats to give a clearer indication of where to work on recipes, customer orders, store resources, etc. In the meantime, we are literally back to the drawing board on those areas.
The Werewere-Kōkako Wildcard
Werewere-kōkako is a wildcard House. When you play as this character, you can flip unoccupied tiles to make them wildcard tiles – people who land on them can choose whatever they want to harvest. But there is no WK tile – so that cottage has nowhere to go, if we give each cottager a house on their home turf (which makes a lot of sense). Assuming all other houses start with, say, three of their own harvest and a house recipe that doesn’t require artisan trade items or skill to make, how can the WK house match that advantage? Perhaps they get one of every harvest item to start, but no house recipe, and their house is on a wildcard tile for the whole game?
One option is for this cottager to be an add-on, or a player to use only for an advanced game. If so, perhaps we also add wildcard harvest items that can be gathered from the WK tiles when flipped, as opposed to being able to choose from the 5 others (and potentially influence scarcity). The easy recipes, where we were suggesting accepting wildcard harvest items, could use either actual wildcard tokens, or continue to act as wildcards and take any other harvest tokens… or both?
We love the idea of introducing chaos into this neat little world, and the chaos element will repeat throughout the series, so it’s important to integrate it well into this first game.
Removing Phase 2 from the game
One thing is certain: we just can’t get Phase 2 to fit onto Phase 1. The important thing for us is that the “sell” aspect is in the game, and that we can apply the attributes and the stories within another part of the game.
If phase 2 became a separate game about the market stage (as opposed to filling orders), would it be a fun add-on for the main game in Kickstarter options?
This is a good reason to keep all that work around rather than scrapping it entirely. It still ties in thematically, although it feels too different to be part of the main game itself. It has moved further and further away as the game development has progressed, and this is a natural parting of ways.
Instead of dice for sales negotiations, could you have a personal deck of some sort that allowed you to either “buff” yourself or “nerf” other players?
The expressions buff and nerf in this context are used in the video game world to mean increasing or decreasing the effectiveness of a particular ability or power. My assumption, from a short search, is that “buff” relates to shining something up to make it look better, and “nerf” comes from the nerf toys, where the projectiles are changed to foam to make their impact less harmful.
Could each cottager have a personal deck that was differently balanced from the others, that gave them advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of sale?
An expansion of the “attributes”, in the sense that each cottager’s deck would contain skills and disadvantages that are specific to their character’s story and personality, and would add an interesting assymmetry to the basic concept of the market.
If we assume that every player starts with a personal deck specific to their Cottager, and a personal array of products aligned with the house specialty, then the other issue to resolve if the dice feeling too random. Perhaps overcoming the Moods and Mood-Killers could be negotiated using the nerf/buff concept rather than the dice, or a haggling combination rather than just pure luck?
A big problem for our players was that they had grafted hard to create these items, and then the outcome was being decided by luck. If this is a separate game, that’s less upsetting – but it’s still a very numbers-heavy game, and I need someone else to calculate the scores every time, or I have to get out my calculator, which isn’t all that much fun. Too much admin can kill a game. If, however, you can negotiate using cards that you spend to temporarily increase your powers of persuasion, or temporarily reduce those of your opponent, that could work very well. A dice-based negotiation option for the sale value could also be included.
Conclusion: Phase 2 is no longer part of The Valley, but will be developed further in tandem with it. Working title TBC.
Triggering the end of the game
So we are definitely removing the Thyme board, one way or another, and we are definitely not moving onto Phase2. So, how do we manage the end of the game?
If there is just one “night” card revolving through one of the packs
If we place a night card in the Spice, Recipe, or Fortune pack, and it is simply shuffled back into the same pack each time while everything is reset, the win conditions are the only way that the round, and the game, will end. The game could be over very quickly, or take a very long time. This unreliable game length is probably not very marketable.
If the final round is the same as the other rounds
If we use the “thyme” card concept, but we don’t change the way that the final round is played in any way, and simply allow the game to continue with harvesting and trading as well as selling until a win condition is met, the final round could still be very long, as above. For example, the win condition could be a form of set collection (first to collect x number of x), or VP-related, or when a particular resource or card is exhausted.
If the last round is a market round
In this configuration, the game moves into the end phase after the last card in the “thyme” stack is flipped. This is the last “night”, although there is no need for a growth cycle, as there is no harvesting or making recipes in the last round, so there’s no need for an actual card. All recipes in progress are completed, and all unstarted recipes are discarded.
The last day would be all about the market, and all moves would be sales-related. Only the cottager can sell, so only cottagers move in the final round. That would make this round much faster, with no further resource creation (just like at a real market), but could be a very lopsided experience, depending on how players have played until this point. Some may drop out, sold out, while others could have enough stock to sell for several more rounds.
Alternatively, perhaps at this point, all remaining (non-commission) sales cards are simply dealt out evenly amongst the players, with extras discarded.
Winning the Valley
It still makes sense to receive points for sales and other achievements. Winning will still be based on the number of sales, value of sales, and values of various other elements, with the final victory point score (VP) being the deciding factor.
We don’t like the feeling of a race to a particular score, for example, first to 100, as the remaining work feels wasted if it can’t be realised. It’s also possible that this score could be reached before the final round, or not reached at all.
We prefer a game that plays out until its natural end, and gives everyone a chance to catch up.
Reducing the gameplay to just the cottager for each player should increase the sense of speed, and we want a fast-paced race to the final hurdle as a culmination of the growing tension and momentum throughout the week. This is what was meant to happen in Phase 2, with the added mood-killers to play against anyone who was too far ahead, and the mood-storm, which allowed the person with the lowest score to have a greater advantage and potentially catch up.
We would like to give players a variety of paths to victory, which may or may not include multiple win conditions, so we are refining a new final round to reflect the change in gameplay. Watch this space!
Yup, it’s a lot! Here’s a summary of what we are going to do:
- Instead of plodding through a list of the same moves every turn, players choose from x number of actions.
- Instead of drawing recipes blindly from the pack, players will choose from an array of face-up cards as one of their actions.
- Actions may still be played per meeple, or they may be shared amongst all of a player’s meeples.
- Instead of using a combination of recipe cards, market stall display cards, and market goods tokens to create and represent goods for sale, and then Mood cards, Cottager Attributes, and dice to process the sale, we can tidy the whole process up by moving the sales into phase 1 as an action, and using recipes alone to represent the items to be sold.
- NEW CARDS: Customer Orders.
- Instead of using Mood cards to represent customers, we will have customer order cards. Some will be exact matches to recipes, and some will be commissions, which include their own recipe.
- Customer orders will also be face up, and will be available for selection as a cottager action.
- To help with harvest calculations, resources will be placed on the tiles each morning, and will re-grow overnight. Bonuses may still be paid, tbc in testing.
- Meeples will move from node to node instead of centre to centre, and all meeples must move every turn in order to harvest. Undecided as to whether players are forced to use their actions to move any meeples in the Valley or if they only have to move in order to harvest.
- There will be four spaces on each artisan corner for trading, ranked by order of arrival, which supersedes Skill Levels and exchange rates by skill. Exchange rates apply to Artisan trade items and recipes. There is no limit on trading for these items.
- Trades with Artisans are made against the balance in the cottage pantry, not the contents of the gatherer baskets.
- There is no open trading. We will design an “honesty box” for cottagers to trade with each other as one of their actions.
- Spice cards remain an action option, although some will be removed. The top Spice card in the discard pile is the only one that applies.
- NEW CARDS: Night Cards
- The Thyme board will be replaced by “night” cards, which will include the overnight growth parameters for this re-set. Rounds in each day will continue until a night card is triggered.
- We have two possible ways to have a “night” card occur – either there is one card that is shuffled into one of the decks, and play continues until it is drawn, or else we have a structured deck with a “night” card every x Fortune cards, each of which is flipped when a particular milestone is passed in the game. To be tested.
- We will increase the connections between the Cottager and their house by adding a house recipe and house-specific bonuses that relate to the house and their harvest items. Basically, developing the current Cottager skills and House Rules benefits.
- Player boards will be redesigned to take into account the new way to play, including managing sale and recipes in progress, and sales scores.
- NEW ASSETS: 3D storage
- The corner boards are ready to be developed into the next stage, which will include allowing for the arrays of recipe, customer order, and “thyme” cards, and creating 3D storage for harvest and artisan items.
- We need to develop the wildcard elements, including making easier recipes wildcard recipes, and making harder recipes require specific ingredients.
- We need to decide how to approach our wildcard cottager, werewere-kōkako, and their tile-flipping skill.
- We will test several ways to reach the end of the game: using the random night card and no market phase, using the random night card and a final market-only round, or using the “thyme” card option (with a new mini-deck of Night cards) and the market round.
- We will test whether a victory state triggers the end of the game, or whether the end of the game triggers a point count, but we plan to go with the second option.
- There will be some new points allocations and weighting based on being able to sell throughout the game, which will include the attributes.
- We will split off phase 2 as a separate game, which may remain connected to the Valley.
- Our hook remains forage, craft, sell – these changes are intended to emphasise the connection to that process by refining the mechanics and linking them properly to the experience and theme.
We are giving this game a good pruning, as if it’s an apple tree, so that we get a better yield next harvest.
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