Passages & Plunder – New Colonists

Version 0.92 is out! But first…

It’s been a bit over a month since I’ve put the game up for public playtesting. How is that going? Not great, to tell the truth.

I’ve shared the original post on a number of platforms – a couple of subreddits, Google+, a Facebook community, Twitter, BGG. Several people were kind enough to read the rules, or at least glance at them. Their feedback was quite positive. Looking at the click through numbers, 11 people at least looked at the print & play files. There’s 6 subscribers to the TTS mod on Steam, 2 of which are me and a friend I’ve playtested with previously. It’s unknown if any of them have actually played the game, but if they have, they haven’t told me.

This puts me in something of a bind. From what I’ve gathered, blind playtesting is essential. But getting people to try your 2-or-so-hours board game, on their own, after printing out a whole bunch of pages, is not easy. It would have undoubtedly helped if I had any kind of online presence in any of these communities or platforms, but I’m a lurker by nature. That’s the issue with treating the blog as a hobby: there’s no cutlivated audience here, either. I’d even come up with what I thought was a smart idea for an exchange playtest and review program*, but failed to find any takers as well. Maybe I just suck at selling “free” things to people.

While not a blind playtest, I did manage to play the game with two groups of people I didn’t know, found via meetup.com. Shout out to Jeff The Gamesplainer, who took immense delight in screwing over the colony.

Between his efforts, another player who found out she could get lots of points if a bunch of colonists died, and my own machinations, it was a quick game. Whenever I playtest P&P, I tend to stay relatively quiet, only reminding other players of potential dangers, not pushing my own agendas. I don’t want to be seen as the authority on the game, to skew the inevitably fatal results. Still, I find it interesting how I get sucked into the mentality of quietly grabbing points and hoping others will protect the colony. I know it’s a failing strategy, but do it anyway.

I’m gonna try and find other groups to test the game on. Other than that, I’ve signed up for the Sydney Protospiel event happening in July (haven’t heard back from them yet). July is far away, though, and it feels like I’m spinning my wheels. I’m not sure what to actually do next, how to contact publishers. The ones I’ve found accepting submissions so far weren’t looking for a game like P&P. I’ve been writing these design diaries, mostly for myself, to stay motivated. Barely anyone reads them: I haven’t posted the link anywhere other than my personal accounts, as I doubt they’ll be of much use to anyone not already interested in my game. I will publicise this post, though, this is probably an experience other designers have faced or will face.

Passages & Plunder 0.92 update

As mentioned in the previous post, sponsors are now randomized. After a few games, it became apparent that keeping track of 4 sponsors’ agendas at once was a bit much. To that end, there are now only 3 sponsors per game, out of a total of 8. In addition, rules now encourage players to volunteer to track one sponsor of their choice. We’ll see how this plays out.

Expedition decks have been updated to remove iconic reminders of sponsors, as sponsor icons are no longer tied to sponsors themselves – you can still play with old decks just fine as long as you ignore those bits.

I’ve removed 4 of the calamities (Green Mists Rising, Heat Wave, Iron-Eating Locusts, Chanting in Darkness) that formed a mini cycle – reducing a specific skill for each colonist for a turn. I like their theme, but their mechanics just made playing harder, not more interesting. That’s the only change to the calamities deck.

You can find the print & play files here, and the Tabletop Simulator mod here. The rulebook is here. If you do give it a try, please let me know, and respond to the questionnaire in this post.

4 thoughts on “Passages & Plunder – New Colonists

  1. This might be a horrible thing to ask: but what chance this could be playable (in some form) in 60 minutes or less … sometimes its purely the length of the game that can be off-putting.

    • Well… It’s certainly possible to lose in 60 minutes. And the game can end on any turn, if the players decide to evacuate. Still, normally it goes for longer than that. If you really wanted to keep it short, I’d suggest ignoring the sponsors entirely (too many pauses to update stuff), keeping arguing between players to the minimum (though that’s kind of the point of the game), and perhaps starting with 11 colonists no matter the player count, to jump straight into action.

      • I guess there’s a reason that most medium-weight boardgames try to keep playtime to something like 20 minutes per player. When your game is out, it only gets worse, because now you have to convince some random folks not only to try out your game without you, but also pay money for that. I mean, big play time is a problem, and it won’t go away by itself. Also, unlike calculation games, negotiation games usually tend to be on shorter side, because players have much more ways to fail in negotiations, and the most desired feature in diplomacy-based games – betrayal – has to be really devastating to have any impact. Because of that negotiation games are supposed to be restarted pretty often, so one mistake won’t make you suffer for hours.

        One of the useful things to do is this: next time when you playtest the game, write down each really improtant decision (not operational stuff, but real strategic choice) and time of this decision. Then, after the game ends, you will be able to tell where the decisions were too sparse, and condense or cull those parts of the game. Also it would be useful to mark which decision were about negotiation, because if it’s the point of your game, but most of the play time players actually do something else (calculation, optimization etc), then you have to change either point of the game or the way that is supposed to get players there.

        • I’m not really concerned with the game length. It is what it is. It doesn’t feel like the game drags at any point. To significantly reduce it, I’d have to significantly change the game, not something I’m willing to do anymore. There’s been too much of reinventing it as it is. Your advice on playtesting is solid, but not at this stage.

          It’s tricky. Yes, player interaction is the purpose of the game. But all the other elements – exploration, resource management, survival – provide context for the interaction. Strip them away, and you’re left with the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

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