There are two large areas for designers to consider when they are putting a game together. Playability and Printability. Playability is simply how well the game plays and how it feels to the players. Is it a satisfying or frustrating experience? Printability comes to play in the components you include in your design. Are there too many varied components in your design that make it hard or impossible for a publisher to print and sell the game and make a profit? The mining system in First Contact was having issues on both these fronts.
First let me briefly describe the old mining system for context then I’ll line out its problems. On a player’s turn, if they wanted to mine, they would place their Asset (worker) on an asteroid with an available mining space. The asteroid would tell the player what minerals were available to mine in it. The player would then roll a certain number of mining dice (depending on their mining level). The mining dice had different minerals available on each face. If they rolled any of the minerals available in the asteroid they would receive those minerals. If their roll did not match any available minerals they received nothing. Clear as mud? OK, on to the problems with playability and printability.
An important aspect of a worker placement style game is having some assurance of the benefit you will receive when you spend a worker take an action. When you place your worker on a space in Agricola, Lords of Waterdeep, Manhattan Project, or Euphoria you know you will receive X benefit. In First Contact, you could spend a worker, roll your mining dice, and come up empty. This produced frustration in players and I saw it often enough in play testing that I knew it needed to be addressed. Workers are a very valuable commodity in worker placement game so to waste one is frustrating and can have a big impact on the outcome of the game.
Randomness can add great fun and tension to games, but I felt that the randomness in First Contact was far too negative. I didn’t want to lose the randomness completely since I felt it fit the theme of asteroid mining so I needed to find a way to replace this negative randomness with a positive randomness instead.
I have had several people express an interest in play testing First Contact which was very exciting to me. This required that I come up with a way for people to print the game so they could play it. This was the first time I had to consider what it would take for someone besides me to get First Contact to the table. The mining dice presented a big problem. At the time, there were 20+ custom dice needed in 4 different colors. I didn’t feel right requiring people who wanted to test my game to create 20+ custom dice. Also, having this many custom dice would surely impact the publishing feasibility. This provided an opportunity for refinement.
I needed to reduce the number of components to make it more printable and change the randomness to be positive to make it more playable. The solution I came up with is called Guarantee + Bonus mining. Each action space on an asteroid will show the exact mix of minerals the player is guaranteed to receive from placing a worker there. Then they get to roll bonus mining dice (depending on their mining level) to potentially produce some extra minerals.
This solved the playability problem by removing the frustration of potentially getting nothing for an action but maintained the randomness in a positive way: a bonus. They will get the guaranteed minerals with the potential for a little something extra.
It also solved the printability problem by cutting the number of custom dice needed in the game from 20+ to 4. That is a big reduction and will make the game much more print-and-play friendly as well as more appealing to a potential publisher.