Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Mathscades: Iteration Number Five

Another playtest! This would be the fourth playtest with “real” people. (The first was with my family. The second was my son and one of his friends. The third was my son and a guest. This last one was with visiting family with my wife kibitzing.) I made several new cards to fill up space. I was afraid of not having enough options for people to play on and I didn’t solo test to determine that sort of thing. Everyone had six six-sided dice, everyone played simultaneously, and I ruled this time that using all the dice (a “Mathscade”) gives you double points for that round.

One thing that came clear this time around is that there really is a few basic player types when it comes to this game:

  • The “I Get It” people: these people have a knack for math and immediately grasp what this is about and jump in ready to compete and show off what they can do.
  • The “My Brain is Mush” people: these people may or may not be that good at the math and probably have little patience for egregious “brain burning” puzzles. Even if they want to be good sports, they may end up just staring at the board with their eyes glazed over. (Signature quote: “I think I had too many snow days.”)
  • The “In Between” people: these people aren’t good at what this game is asking them to do, but they can learn and maybe sorta want to learn if/when they get into it.

The “I Get It” people will tend to want to help out the other player types, so the game does produce the sort of teaching type activity on the part of the players that I was looking for. When I work on the game, I’m really straining to do everything I can for the “In Between” people. The “I Get It” people seem to be able to make the game work no matter what I do and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot I can do for the “My Brain is Mush” type. So the real goal here is to do something that will draw in the “In Between” people and keep them around long enough that the get into the game.

A few observations about the play of the thing:

  • Things move faster the first few rounds and then slow down. (The numbers 1-4 are easier to make with the cards and dice as they stand.) I think this is backwards. I think things should feel like they’re accelerating as play moves along.
  • Players complained about the lack of subtraction on the cards. (“I think there needs to be more minuses,” said one. “You have like tons of multiplication facts and not enough subtraction,” said another.)
  • One card in particular was called out for being useless: _x_x_x_x.
  • I was worried that we were going to fail to complete the game when it got towards the end. Things really were dragging. When one player made it to “ten” I immediately called the game and didn’t let people finish out their stuff. (I really want to avoid having people stall the endgame– I want people to be able to go after it with impunity.)
  • To manage things, I’m using risk counters to mark out who is playing where… and Illuminati money to keep up with how people are progressing on their individual target tracks. I also give everyone a box top to roll their dice in.

Here are the scores and how they developed:

  1. 2 + (0 + 10) + 20* + 5 + (5 + 10) = 52
  2. 2 + 1 + 2 +  (2 + 2) + (1 + 5) = 15
  3. (4 + 20)* + 2 + (2 + 1) + 1 + (2 + 10) + (8 + 4)* = 54

You can see the Mathscades marked with the asterisks. Playing to ten lead to six separate rounds, which is not terribly long. The way we’re set up now, people can pretty well always get one number and usually get two in a single round. (Outliers are possible, I suppose.) The scoring system really works to incentivize peoples’ looking for the more interesting answers. When my wife suggested one “easy” solution, a player responded with, “Noooooooah! Don’t touch!!!” That player wanted to take the time to find something with more points on it!

Now I’ve got to admit… I’ve felt like abandoning this game lately. But… the “In Between” player from this session immediately asked to play again at the end. (!!) Granted, she narrowly won the game… but she really wanted to get better and beat her dad real good and without any help. I don’t think it was put on for politeness sake… and I’m pretty sure the other players were not interested even if they weren’t short on time… but it was enough of a spark that I am willing to continue developing this thing a bit more.

Here’s some ideas for the next iteration:

  • I’ve gone from having too few cards to too many cards!
  • I think players should have a set of operators that they can use. I think… they should be able to subtract from a card… and they should be able to do operations on the cards. Like… divide one card’s result with another’s. (I’m trying to find a balance of flexibility and clarity and “teaching” props.)
  • As I said, I let a player short circuit a round when they finally got to ten. That was actually a pretty cool rule that should be expanded and generalized. Now I think that any “Mathscade” should immediate end a round. I think this will amp up the pressure enough that things will not drag near as much.
  • I want the game to unfold more. I’m not sure how… but I think the players should be getting something like more cards and/or more dice and/or more operators each round. This will vary the gameplay more and keep things from getting as monotonous. (Maybe a card draw should determine how the gameplay develops for each round? I think that’s it!!)
  • I actually want to see people fighting over a card or aggravated that someone took their card. I haven’t seen that, yet. Maybe the extra dice and the operators are coming out with the new cards… and people have to act fast to get them because there’s not enough to go around….

The simultaneous action is doing a lot to turn this idea into something that can almost be a game. The double score for a Mathscade seems to be about right… but the threat of a Mathscade ending a round prematurely… that seems like something that can tighten everything up. From a raw “touch and feel” angle, I need less mess and more options. I’ve no doubt that fewer cards combined with separate operators can do the trick.

Just all that would be fair enough for what I’m going for… but I think something to do with making the game unfold or blossom… while the tempo is accelerating… that’s going to be the thing that makes people want to play again. The thing is just too tedious without that sort of pacing….

One response to “Mathscades: Iteration Number Five

  1. Pingback: The “Learning Game Design” Online Course from Lewis Pulsipher | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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