I have a blue pencil case that has a sort of wave pattern on. It is the Ocean Ok, try and set out the next version of the rules. Major change is the addition of contracts, and paying to draw larger numbers to try and meet those contracts.
Concept: You control a port. Ships arrive, from various nations, in straggles. You organise them into convoys; send them out, and reap the rewards.
Components: You have a reminder card, and a base board. There are some contract cards (some per player, some central). There are resource cubes (wooden barrels and gold bullion), and victory points. There are several kinds of ships - merchantmen, frigates and galleons (per player) and pirates (double sided, public).There is an ocean, into which some of the ships will go.
On your turn you will:
Pull some ships out of the ocean.
Possibly pay some cubes, to pull more out
Possibly have to resolve some piracy
Send out a convoy; getting some resource cubes.
Spend cubes to fulfill some contracts, earning VPs
Optionally spend cubes to enhance your dock
Return ships to the ocean
On to the nitty gritty:
Setup: Shuffle each of the three contract decks, and throw some back in the box. The numbers you need are in Table 1. Stack them in age order (1,2,3) Also prefill the ocean, ships per player are in table 1. Add one pirate ship. Give the remaining ships to their owners as a supply. Give each player a dock, and their set of private contracts. Each player also gets 3 wood and 1 gold cube.
(Shuffle the components you get, hand one face down to each player to start in their dock; and put the last in the ocean-bag, so it initially starts with 1 of each and a pirate)
Each player announces their name for the day. The most piratical sounding goes first.
Each round consists of one turn per player; and start player then moves on.
At the start of each round; clear away the currently visible public contracts (whether empty or partially filled) and deal out a new set - equal to the number of players.
Pull some ships out of the ocean
Pirates are revealed to everyone; other tiles are secret.
You draw equal to your current dock size - initially one fewer than the number of players - for free.
You get to look at what you've drawn before you draw more.
Pay 1 resource cube (either colour) to draw the first extra one.
Pay the other colour to draw the second extra one.
Pay 2 more wood to draw your third and final extra one.
Pirates: For each pirate you must do the first of these you are able:
Reveal another tile you drew this turn, and resolve it
Reveal a tile in your dock, and resolve it
Pay a gold cube
Pay a wood cube
Lose a point.
vs Merchant. Pirate wins. Merchant goes back to the supply. Pirate is set aside to go back in the bag at the end of your turn.
vs Frigate. Draw. Both are set aside to go back in the bag at the end of your turn.
vs Galleon. Pirate loses. Pirate goes back to the supply. Galleon is set aside to go back in the bag at the end of your turn.
Choose any number of tiles from your dock and those you just drew (but didn't set aside), that are all of the same colour.
Gain resource cubes for them; as enumerated on your reminder sheet. Larger convoys are better (unless you want wood particularly, in which case size 2 or 3 may be better)
Note that a convoy of your colour is better.
All contracts must be filled left to right. Typically there's a slight bonus for putting the last cube on a contract.
Pay the cube(s) and take the points.
You may only contribute to one public and one private contract in a turn - but you can finish them if you have enough cubes.
You can only contribute to OTHER peoples private contracts in this way.
Dock expansion: Pay (lots) of wood, and unlock extra spaces. This affects both how many ships you can retain between turns, and how many ships you draw each turn.
First slot costs 3 wood, then 6, - then 10 (unless playing 4 player, in which case you start with it) - then 15 (unless 3 or 4 player, in which case you start with it)
Returning ships: Choose ships at most equal to your dock size to hang on to. Return the rest. You may also add extra fro your supply.
Building these new ships costs: 1 for the first merchant, 2 for the second, 3 for the third (etc.) for a total of 1,3,6,10 etc. If you want to build any frigates, pay 1 wood - then the same as for the merchants. For a total of 2,4,7,11 etc. Galleons follow the same pattern - but you pay in gold. 1, 3, 6, 10 etc.
The golden, and indeed wooden, rule:
Any time you want to spend cubes, but have run out - you can put out one of your private contracts. Claim the cubes for it - but some other player is probably going to get the VPs.
If it's time to deal out new contracts, but the deck is dry - that's it, the game is OVER. Everyone gets to fill their own private contracts that they didn't use; and any remaining cubes score 1 for wood, 3 for gold.
Highest VPs win. Draws are settled by sudden death calvinball.
First playtest: It works! It runs slightly long; but that might be unfamiliarity.
End condition had a problem - I need some special case rule to break the tie of "No one wants to launch to start the last turn"; "you only get to pass once when there's no cargo available" is an obvious thing to try.
It was very close. That's good; but also bad because everyone did exactly the same thing (once others bought privateers/navy, they had to)
For next playtest: Reduce refit cost of merchants to zero. Later on, they're risky, so give them some reason to exist.
I had another change, but I forget it now. Oh right; it was the "Kill stuff with navy is worth something"
Playtest 2 & 3.
Worked pretty well. First game was shockingly peaceful; a few privateers bought, one case of piracy, but no war until the very last turn when it couldn't matter. Having a navy as a deterrent worked well; having fewer ships in the ocean was a huge downside, however. Not getting your ships drawn out snowballed. High points spread at the end.
We decided to make merchants cost 1 to put back in the bag. It's still almost always right to do so; but having it be a decision with at least some downside is more interesting than having it just obviously right to do.
Then we made another change that seemed good, but test 3 showed to have been bad. We shuffled some pirates into the cargo pool. This was meant to make things slightly more risky. But what it actually did was make merchants valuless compared to privateers; and then killed the starting merchants. So it brought out an odd corner case that there was no way to declare war even if you wanted to and had navies ready! Probable fix for this (which can happen in a normal game too) is to permit building of a declaration of war like a ship.
Both games had a lot more launching of ships than test1, and 2 had deliberately refilling before the last red could be drawn out as an extra. This was interesting; but it was suggested that the pool of 5 cargo be expanded to 7 in a 4 player game, as the same player always got stuck. Or maybe let the refilling player choose the number to fill to?
Was also noted that the game is already in the fine tweaking stage; but it's an unstable equilibrium; need to be very careful not to swing it too far (as the 0-refit merchants did)
Changes for next test: Navies can carry cargo, at 2/3 value. Merchants refit for 1, privateers 3, navies 4. Navies carry cargo, but pay the proper taxes so it's only worth 10. You can build a declaration of war, 3 turns, free but it WILL launch when it completes. Got a balance problem here. If I balance privateers for 2 player, then piracy in multiplayer is weak. If I balance it for a multiplayer environment then it's dominant with few player. Maybe the "Declare war first" strategy, and balance for 2 will work? Also thinking about formal alliances (share some value of each others cargos, get to relaunch during each others turns)
Next two tests went ok; the biggest gripe now is the randomness on the first round being too important.
I think the attempted change here is to introduce the ramp up of cargo value; 5/10/15/15/15... incrementing when the launch action is taken. It's not a perfect fix; but someone having 15 to launch with against your 10 is much less disruptive than 25. I think I'm re-introducing the "Build at most one ship" limit, too.
Navies carrying cargo worth 10 had the intended effect; but we're not sure we like the result. Has also been suggested that it could be 15/10/5 depending on what ships it - I don't think I like the complexity though. Certainly not both at once.
Ok Two player test - incrementing value not tried, instead: Cargo worth 15/10/5. Ability to build war. And the interesting one: Storms. If there is a "Launch ships" and you have nothing to launch; you gain a storm token. You can use that after you draw two ships to say "Nope" and redraw. This was intended to sort out the "Third player didn't see their ships drawn has to launch, sucks" problem. But it also works to give more interactivity and was pretty much all around fun. Keeping that. I think the rules are pretty close to done, now!
First few turns are boringly mechanical (only 2 ships in bag) - obvious fix? In a two player game, start with 2 merchies in the bag each.
Trying to rectify the midgame (losing player is obviously gonna stay losing): The 'build ships' phase becomes: "Add one new ship to your dock (paying for it) or advance one ship a single step" rather than "Add as many new ships as you can afford." It will sometimes be the right thing to do to advance a ship rather than buy a ship, and at worst you'll only be one purchase behind per turn. Possible future change is to reintroduce warfare: Intended to address the weakness of war; though I don't want to make war TOO profitable, since it's money without progressing towards game end. Here's the new rules:
Blockade. If you're at war, then during your turn, ships of players you are at war with do not carry cargo.
You can declare a blockade when not at war; provided there's no red cargo being carried this turn. Doing so lets the other guy(s) declare that you are at war, if they choose, just like pirating them.
Declarations of war are built at 3, not 4; so they come up one round sooner.
2015-10-28. Playtest.. five? With docks and convoys.
Game length was ~1hr. Slightly too long, but not too bad.
Mechanically, it worked better. Still not a lot of _fun_ in it though; not much interaction. Primary problem is that you are mostly just being impacted by the player previous to you, and impacting the player after you. It did work well in that buying no ships, and buying all of the ships were both losing strategies; a middle course did better.
Scores were 41, 56, 57, 93 Pretty good spread, really. Could be a bit tighter.
Comments from players:
Allow spending gol as wood, to make gold a purely better resource
Pirate ships double as a fifth useless colour, that was liked
Interesting, perhaps odd, that frigates and galleons can never be removed from the game
There needs to be a gold sink - wood was fine, everyone spent all or at least most of it; but there was spare gold
Which is partly because the 5 and 6 rewards were too high; flatten the curve-up at the end quite a bit. High convoys are 'hard' but the difficulty is mainly luck.
I intended 6 to be aspirational; it got hit, twice, by the same player.
Last player had something of a penalty when it came to picking up contracts.
Additional pulls were a great way to mitigate the luck.
increasing your dock was vitally important to winning.
I need some form of headwind/catchup.
people wanted it being YOUR ship that killed a pirate to mean something.
Wasn't clear (in game decision) whether you pull dock-size-1+3 or initial-pull+3 as max, I called it the former.
Ability to attack other players ships seemed natural (But that may be a hold-over from previous playtests)
Needs flavour to make turn order more natural.
Anyone keeping accurate records of what ships are being sent out, shall be termed 'Venetian'.
I don't think a contract was ever part-filled. Simplify! (We ran out of VP markers)
It still feels pretty random. In order to do well, you need to draw 3-4 ships on your turn of a colour that match 2-3 that you've got set aside in your deck. In order to do really well, you need to fill the bag with your ships, then get some of your ships set aside, then draw all your ships at the same time. And that last is not something that you have any control over. You can increase the size of your dock to draw more per turn, which is very good and I should have done it, but even if you've filled the prerequisites that still only takes your chances up from 20% to 30% (or whatever).
Maybe bring in some way to reject certain drawn tiles and draw a replacement. Like your old Storm tokens, or Port Royal's "repel" action.
It's a very big change to eliminate players' ships fighting among themselves. It does work all right, it just threw off my intuition. I guess you covered this above.
Firstly this was a lot of fun. The press your luck aspect didn't have the huge all-or-nothing feel of Port Royal, thus I think making it a better game. Although there was basically no reason not to press your luck if you could afford it.
I think it would be interesting to play again with more people adding both ships and pirates.
I think that the reason that no contracts were partly filled was that the majority of ships were of two colours and there weren't many pirates. This meant everyone had more resources than they might, I think another play through could change this a lot.
Strategywise I don't think there is any reason to fulfill contracts early. At the moment adding ships and upgrading your dock will give you better draws later, when more points are up for grabs.
The ocean size is such that the previous player's action heavily influences your draw, and also it is possible to have some knowledge of roughly what ships are in each player's dock and in the ocean. I think this is nice.
You could add convoys of different types, at risk of muddying the waters of the convoy system which is currently very easy to see (group by colour is trivial). I was wondering about convoys of ships of:
One ship of each colour
One ship of each size
What about adding bigger pirates which can kill tier 2 ships, or possibly two tier 1 ships? (Cost 1W or something). This would mean that pressing your luck could be less of a universally good thing.
I think first player definitely needs to move on in the current way of doing things. However I think there is a way around this:
Make the public missions a FIFO, every turn a new one is revealed.
If you don't like the current set you can pay 1G to advance the FIFO
To address, these, then; for the next play-test I propose:
Gold can be spent as a wood substitute. (Also simplify +pull as wood, gold, 2 wood)
I'm not 100% certain that there wasn't some reason I wanted small convoys to be useful later in the game; but we'll see. You only get 5 turns...
Add to the 'things you can buy' "Pull down a new contract" for 1 gold.
Flatten the 5 and 6 of the curve; they do want to be good; but not SO much better.
+2VP if your ship kills a pirate (colour, not player's turn)
+1VP for adding a pirate to the ocean.
Include a cheat sheet for turn order!
Played a few hgames two player; with a few changes on the fly. Mostly improved it.
First problem was too many contracts in 2player; winner was obvious too early; last few turns sucked. Cut down # of contracts massively (5/3/3) and this helped a lot.
Clarify: Purchased ships cannot stay in harbour. Owner gain for convoy size one reduced to 1 wood. Allowed purchase of # ships/turn, separate from dock size. Which ended up no-one ever upgrading dock size. I do want dock size to matter.
What happens if two customs are pulled? (I ruled that yeah, pay up twice - the removed the duplicate for the next game) What happens if you can't pay? (I rules lose 1VP; probably need to make it 3)
No one bought new contracts. Bit too much analysis parlysis eary on. Also; amusing possible turn 1: Draw your ship and pirate. Pay to pull the other ship; let the pirate eat yours and keep the othe back (so your dock now ha 2 matching oppoent ships and the bag contains.. 1 pirate). Need to rule on a lone pirate (currently goes on to attack dock - probably should let it die instead) - but not a horrible problem 'cause buying a galleon for a guarnteed 2VP is better.
I made unspent contracts worth striangle VP at the end.
Generally pretty fast and fun; but things I want to improve for next time:
Each turn should matter.
You should have rgeater control over the ocean - docks a considerable fraction of bag; and be occupied
Contracts don't feel, well, contractual enough.
For next time:
Cashed, but not nabbed by someone else, a/b/c/d cards are worth triangle penalty points at end.
Contracts roll off - there's n+1 slots, and the move to the left each turn, one new one added each turn.
They are much larger range; some a lot harder, and more valuable
And you don't have to pay them now - but are penalised at end of game if you fail them completely.
Game ends when deck runs out; no full round after that.
You can only store 1 cube per ship in your dock. Send out smaller convoys and hold back more!
Dock space upgrades are however 1 wood per slot.
Pull size growth still 3/6/10/15
A new disaster: Blockade. Either all opponents gain 1 VP; or set aside all ships you drew and draw again (same number)
Considered: Choose a contract to aim for before you pull; but AC pointed out it would lead to badfeels more.
Longer term things to try:
Adding more upgrades that you can buy.
Find solutions for downtime and interactivity. (Not a problem in 2player)
Contracts are sorta trading, that gives an in maybe?
Turn order, maybe you pass the bag to anyone who didn't take a turn yet?
(Buying new contracts hastens game end potentially, that's in for next test already)
Maybe the ability to arrange taxes or attacks on other people's ships as a way to play pull down the leader?
Taxes brings up their ability to pay and having to cash a contract mid-turn, which mean paying attention off-turn which is nice.
Maybe your ships retained in dock can be a defence too, somehow?