Lesson #8 – Considerations with Player Count

In this week’s lesson, Dan takes a look at player counts. Using his three Kickstarted games, he explores what’s behind the numbers, how those numbers can affect play, and the importance of playtesting throughout the range.

Games place a suggested player count on the box, but there are many times that one or multiple of those counts just do not work. You may have a 2-4 player game that you own but just never play at 2p because it really does not work. I wanted to talk today a little bit about scaling games for various player counts and some of the considerations I have made in determining player counts for the games I have published.

Dino Dude Ranch – Player Count: 2-5 ^

Dino Dude Ranch started out as a 2-4 player game. During the Kickstarter campaign, we were doing very well and I was unlocking various stretch goals. In looking at the components, I realized that there were basically enough dinosaurs, Hired Hands Cards and food resources to support up to 5 players and all I would need to add were more Tar Pits and another player board to make it work. However, in playtesting with 5, I realized that in adding those components, it did not just magically work with 5 players.  The game actually played great, downtime between turns was fine (turns are pretty quick in the game), and components supported all 5 players. One main issue arose! Although turns moved relatively quickly and the downtime between them didn’t seemed to be a problem, it felt like by the end of the game that it was just a REALLY long game. Longer than necessary. Game end is triggered when one player fills their ranch (player board) with 15 dinosaurs and I decided that since the player boards were double sided printing, we would put 11 spaces for dinosaurs one the back (we colored the 15 space side standard and called it daytime, we colored the 11 space side darker and purple-ish hues and called it night time) and basically listed in the rules that for a 5p game or for a faster 2-4 player game, use the night time side. Otherwise, for a standard 2-4p game, use the day time side. This small change was very well received in testing and basically smoothed out the only major issue we had come across in increasing player count.  This allowed us to support up to five players and keep the gameplay experience positive all around!

Dirigible Disaster – Player Count: 2-5 ^

Dirigible Disaster is a real-time co-op that basically gives players one action on their turn, and turns pass as quickly as players can take actions in the allotted time. In testing, we found that two players can very easily pass a die between each other and are splitting whatever actions they can perform during the round only two ways. We’ve found this leads to more actions accomplished per minute for two players than other player amounts.

As more players are added you can in fact spread out on the board but each player will get less actions per round. When going from 2 to 3 players we found that it can be tougher to pass the die around the table but adding in beyond 3 players does not increase this time much more. As a result, 3-5 players has generally yielded approximately the same amounts of action per minute as each other but less total actions per minute that in a 2p game.

In order to address this issue, we made adjustments for the length of time that the real time rounds last. A standard 2p game will have rounds of 45 seconds while a standard 3-5p game will have rounds of 1 minute.  However, what is great about this system is depending on player experience, age, or any other factor, these are all adjustable. Players can take it upon themselves to have rounds last 2 minutes or 30 seconds depending on how they are feeling that day and basically tailor the game to their specific desires!

Gadgeteers – Player Count: 2-3 ^

Making a 2-3 player game was a really tough decision for me. Originally the game started out as a 2-4 player game. However, as mechanics evolved and the game progressed, we found that the 4p experience would occasionally come up short. The game CAN support 4 players and we had one reviewer play the game that way and enjoy it, but I think that the 4p player games can strongly be affected by the group playing it and their expectations and experience. When we first decided that 4p did not work as we expected, we considered making the game 2p only to tailor to that specific audience (as we thought 2-3p was a weird player count). However, there were times we playtested 3p and we would look at it saying “you know, 3p may be even more fun than the 2p (which is pretty darn awesome)”. So we knew there was no way to remove 3p. It was just too good.

So why did we remove 4p? What was wrong with it? Well first and foremost, the game seemed to fall a little flat. What is great about Gadgeteers is that it can be very chess-like. You read your opponent, play them well, and force them into making moves they maybe did not want to make. In a four player game, the options for placement, bluffing, and controlling parts because so expanse that you start to focus far less on your opponents and how you can manipulate your way into control of parts and you solely look to yourself and your own tokens. AP becomes far greater, turns become significantly longer, and stalemates arise far more frequently. In many blind-bidding games, you are fighting for single locations but in Gadgeteers, you need to be in control of three different locations at the SAME time. With 4 players, this becomes significantly harder and stalemates arise very VERY frequently.

We tried to address a lot of these issues. We considered adding more locations/parts for the 4p mode, we considered allowing the top two people who placed on a location to have control, but none of these systems worked well enough that we were happy with them. They never truly solved the problems.  We are actively working on a “joint inventor” variation that may allow team work (without predetermined teams) to jointly build gadgets and share points/powers. But this system is far more complicated than standard and we are not excited about a rulebook full of exemptions to the rule based on player counts.

We are VERY VERY happy with how both 2 and 3p play. We actually truly believe this game at 2 or 3p is better than any of our other games at any of their player counts (and we obviously really enjoy all of our games). So we do not want to market the game as up to 4p (even though it can support it) if it is going to deliver a subpar experience as we are so happy with 2 and 3p, we are very comfortable delivering the game as a 2-3p game.

Since writing this post (but before it published) we have added in a 4p variant for Gadgeteers. Here is how we approached it.

The changes are two minor tweaks that really make 4p as good of an experience as 2-3p.  The first change is that players will remove two tokens from their token pool, a “2” and their “5”.  The reason for this being that once four players are in the mix, there is so much information on the board (either public or hidden) that it is just too much for players to try to calculate. Players stop focusing on what other players are doing and are less able to try to play their opponents. Instead it starts moving towards four players all playing for themselves without any consideration for other players moves. It is just too hard to guess what they are scheming. Well reducing the token pool helps in reading your opponents and works well to keep a solid player interaction.  It also gives a player less to consider in playing their own tokens and speeds up turns that originally took longer in earlier 4p playtests.

Second is we are allowing the top two players on the corner parts ONLY to have control of those parts. An issue that arises in 4p is there are a lot of ties and varying control on parts due to the higher player count. We originally tried allowing the top two players on all parts to control them and this was boring as it seemed everyone could build everything they wanted every time they tried. That was fun for no one and we needed to find a fix. As there are two gadget cards that require 3/4 corners, the corners come up more often than any other part. We decided to allow the top two players on the corners to have control of them and it worked brilliantly.

Although these two changes sound like minor things, they were really small finesse changes that have a big effect on gameplay. Our entire intention with this was that we did not want to put out a subpar 4p experience with this game and we truly feel that we have nailed it down and created a great experience overall, for 2-4 players!

The main point to take from all of this is to remember that just because your game CAN support a particular number of players does not mean that your game SHOULD support that number of players.

If you can’t get enough and want to talk more board games with me, find me on twitter, Instagram and Facebook @Letimangames or email me at Dan@theindiegamereport.com . I’d love to hear from you with questions, comments, or suggestions for future topics!

Until next time, happy gaming!

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