Since my last post, we’ve run both the first and second playtests of the game and I didn’t hold my promise of discussing how to write a rules document was written – as there was none. Going into the game design process very often swallows up a whole week of design, during which I wander from one part of the game to the next, making game pieces, connecting them, figuring out their logic and then redesigning other pieces until as much of the game as possible fits with all the other parts. At the end of such a week, I could easily write a rules document, and it would even be very beneficial to the game as that would allow me to iron out the last creases, but by that time I’m very often out of both time and mental energy, unfortunately. Thus, no blog posts or rules documents, so far – I’m planning to have better luck next time, as the modifications to the game structure will gradually become fewer with each version (I hope).
This post is the first of a series of after-the-fact posts in which I in turn will discuss the four main parts of the game: the populations, companies, local authorities, and the financial system. I will discuss both versions 0.1 and 0.2, which were played during Playtests 1 (12 players) and 2 (19 players), respectively, and discuss the reasoning behind design decisions and differences between versions. Let me just say that both playtests were very intense, rewarding, and enjoyable experiences as our enthusiastic and brave playtesters plunged themselves headlong into the megagame experience and really made the most of our hours together – thank you!
The heart of the game is the people for whom more or less all the energy in the game is intended: the population. The reason for letting players take on the role of population is that we want to avoid making the masses into a metric that is simply to be manipulated by the other players – instead, we want to create situations in which the population players not only resist change or thwart other people’s schemes, but also put pressure on e.g. CEOs of large companies by negotiating directly with them, or even scream at them.
Thus, in the first playtest we had four population boards with one player for each, sitting around a table. Even though the populations were very different (rich/poor, city-/country-dwellers) this created a very strong team which were considered a tough crowd by the companies – perhaps too tough, some said, as the population is more easily led in reality. This may have been due to them effectively forming one team (we had planned on there being two in each, but there were not enough playtesters), so for the second playtest the number of teams were cut to three (roughly upper, middle, and lower class, with the latter living in the countryside), and we had two players each. They still sat at one table, and still formed a strong team, but less so than during the first playtest.
The basic function of the population board was to provide information on the current happiness, energy consumption, and financial situation of the section of the population. The first was measured via the Quality of Life (QoL) track of the section of the population, based on fulfilment of needs/requirements of energy in different forms: transport, housing, food, goods, and healthcare. The second was based on data on import, production and consumption of energy available on the website of LEKS, a collaboration between the county administrative boards in Sweden, and used tokens that each represented 100 GWh of energy. The third, keeping track of the population’s financial situation was a bunch of tokens in different colours and a ‘Savings’ track (first playtest; see my previous post) and a track with green and orange markers and some green tokens (second playtest). Based on this information, the population players were able to assess the situation for their section of the population and take that into account when negotiating with other players.
Also, implementing the -1 QoL stated on the card in Playtest 1 was found to be difficult as players often were unsure on which number the marker stood at the start of the turn and so was unsure if it had changed, and so for Playtest often sad smiley token was invented to represent -1 QoL, making it easier for Control to make the necessary adjustments during the Resolve phase.
The effects of making changes in a rapid pace was a decreasing QoL, which during the Resolve phase resulted in the population receiving a number of red tokens (one for yellow, three for orange – no one ever reached red). More than two red tokens meant increased costs of making changes to the Transport and Housing categories on population board – more than five meant no changes could be made at all. This was an attempt to represent reactions to radical changes and make players think in terms of acceptance among the population. This was about to become a real problem after three turns in Playtest 1, where one population would have been unable to make any changes on Turn 4, had Turn 3 not been the end of the playtest. The only way to remove red tokens was to get QoL to green, which would have meant heavy investments, especially for the less wealthy section of the populations.
In playtest 1, the players used green tokens (poker chips) to keep track of recurring income, and when making deals with other players they gave (or received) green tokens the deal was then represented by an equal amount of orange tokens (white poker chips were used during the game) which were placed on top of the energy tokens they were used to pay for. This gave rise to a problem in terms how to represent money that was not recurring income, i.e. one-time spending such as savings or paying one-time costs stated on cards. This was solved in part by using blue tokens for savings, interest on savings and one-time grants given out by e.g. the government, but did not really solve the problem as players wanted to use their surplus green tokens for one-time costs as well. Thus, Playtest 2 used tracks for recurring incomes and expenditures, and the players received any surplus funds in green tokens (poker chips) that they were free to save or spend as they saw fit. Also, deals were kept track of using agreement cards, which existed in two copies, one for the seller and one for the buyer.
As for all the tokens on the population board, I’ll discuss them in coming posts, as well as the role of politician, which was held by some of the population players. In the next post, I’ll cover the companies, which all deal with energy in different forms.