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Playtest report: Scoring system unbalanced, invasives TOO good

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Alpha test #1:
Working rules for Phylo:

Alpha test game #3 and #4.

As suggested in previous report, we opted to play with a partially constructed open hand. We started with 3 cards of our choice in the opening hand. First turn you then draw 2, so you start with same 5 card hand currently required. However, the constructed hand allows you to start with at least a Habitat, which you MUST play at game start. Current random draw may mean you have no legal plays turn 1.

We also trimmed the decks down from the original 40 card to 30 card decks. This made the game actually FIT on the coffee table and play time came out at about 30 minutes both times. For actual non-playtest play, 30 cards should yield a 20-25 minute game, right around target time.

We played game #3 with the current staggering rules which produced a fairly large number of weird "half spaces". #4 we played without staggering. It made things a LOT clearer with regards to movement and placement how things worked without staggering. I would suggest that the staggered layout be eliminated. Add it to the end of the rules as an advanced variant, but base game with use no staggering. It makes it a lot easier for new players or younger players.

J and I used basically the same decks as previously, just with fewer total cards and more Events.

Despite including more events in my Grass deck, the results still came out about the same vs J's urban deck. She spanked me HARD. Alpha game 1 and 2, she got twice as many points. Ditto this round. The final scores were 39 to 19 game #3 and 20 to 46 in game #4.

The primary issue here was the Invasive species cards. They're too easy to play and frequently immune to the Events because they are playable on so many different Terrains that swapping the Habitat barely annoys them. Playing on top of my cards meant I got a lot fewer cards.

Overall it seems like the scoring system for the game just doesn't work. The Invasive Keyword is particularly overpowered in this regard because mechanically there is NO reason to play anything other than Invasive species. Why play Badger when Raccoon is clearly SO MUCH BETTER?

Considering this is supposed to be educational, Invasive species should not be so valuable. Otherwise it teaches kids that Invasive species are AWESOME.

Overall the scoring seems to not work well because its unbalanced. I'd suggest a 3rd stat we added to card that is simply the final scoring value. Easy to play cards that work on many habitats and climates and have useful abilities would have a lower score value, more specific, hard to play cards would be more valuable. That score would ONLY affect scoring, nothing else mechanically.

The Invasive heavy deck also spawned a bunch of other questions.
1. Can Invasive Species be played on top of themselves? Can the Raccoon displace the Raccoon? (I recommend that Invasives cannot play on top of other Invasives)
2. When an Invasive species moves to a new location, do you move the entire stack, or just the creature on top? If its just the top card, it seems the species underneath could be exposed later. Ditto if the Invasive is somehow destroyed. (I would suggest this is the case, that the native species will become visible)
3. why would I play anything other than Invasives?

The pile of Events also spawned a lot of questions. In general, they seemed VERY unbalanced and borderline NOT FUN. They varied from doing nothing to wiping the board. From the scores, its obvious I usually got hit with the wipe the board. The Urban/Invasive species can survive in so many other terrains and climates that most of the events were really ineffective on them. An Event played onto an Urban habitat (largely occupied by Invasives) would remove one or two species. The same thing done to my grass resulted in 4--6 species dying everytime something was done.

This is FINE and accurately reflects real world conditions, but produces an end game where an devastated Invasive filled Urban habitat is more valuable than any other environment.

Some of the questions we had about Events:
1. Event cards currently play on top of Habitats and largely change them to Habitat type X. Does this mean you can play another Event on top of the other Event to counter it? (I would suggest you can. It means you can sometimes save your butt)
2. Most of the Events have a value on them which appears to be the same as the Range value on Habitats. When they're played on top of a Habitat, does this mean the Range is reduced as well? Example, Cold Snap (2) is played on Urban (3), is the range of the Urban card now 2? Or are these numbers totally unrelated?
3. The symbols on the bottom of the Events, is this what type of Habitat they can be played on, or what you end up with at the end? I'm assuming it's SUPPOSED to be what you play it one based on things like Flood: Which appears to be only playable on Forest, Grass, and Urban. (it doesn't make sense that you could flood the Ocean)
4. Habitat Loss doesn't have a value. Is this correct?
5. How long does Drought last? Clearly it lasts forever and it is NASTY. Also, discard species from hand or from board? (alternate text proposal for Drought, that it simply reduces the Habitat's Range by 1.)
6. Severe Drought can currently be played on the Ocean? If it really supposed to dry up the Ocean?
7. Wildfire's text is unclear what it means by "support". If a species can be correctly linked back to another habitat, is it okay, or can it just not touch the Habitat affected by Wildfire at all? Either way, simply DISCARDING the Habitat would probably be clearer mechanically.

Other random observations:
Alpine Mitrewort has Tundra as one of its terrains... yet it's climate indicates it can only be played in cool and warm. Um... Isn't Tundra COLD?

Plants can technically be played anywhere that they match the climate and terrain. Does this mean plants can be placed beyond the Range of a Habitat card?

Side thought, Flying species should probably be allowed to move DIAGONALLY. It would work well to represent the ability.

TL,DNR version:
1. Scoring is currently unbalanced.
2. Invasive species are too powerful.
3. Most of the Events are currently really confusing.
4. A constructed hand seems to work best for opening hand
5. 30 card deck should a 20-25 minute game.
6. Staggered layout is confusing and should probably only be used in advanced game.

(crossposted this to BoardGameGeek as well: )

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Very interesting things here.

I think the Event card system needs to be revamped and standardized just like the other cards. I also believe rush producing a few "positive" and "counter" events would help balance out event gameplay. A simple positive event that comes to mind would be "Algae bloom - search your deck for two [Genus species] cards and immediately play them."

I believe the number that indicates scale and range on other cards indicates duration of event for event cards. I think this should be made more clear in the rules, since right now it's easy to overlook. Currently, an event card with no top number indicates a permanent event. However, I think permanent events should be denoted with either a "P" or something else that makes it stand out, while event cards with no number are instantaneous, provide some action, and are discarded in that turn. There needs to be a way to denote one-off cards that give some beneficial action, such as drawing extra cards, forcing opponent actions, etc.

Targets and results should also be standardized and made clearer. A rule should be made that if the habitat or terrian type is not mentioned in the card text, it is not affected by the card. The resulting habitat or terrain type should be explicitly stated, and the graphics that are on the bottom of the card should reflect the result, not the target.

Events that end after a certain number of turns should be removed after the player actions, but before the removal of species cards that are no longer properly connected. For simplicity's sake, we could also just say that the "discard" phase of the turn includes both event cards and species cards.

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There should be a game mechanism that encourages biodiversity. Many different creatures at one habitat could protect it from events in any way. In reality a diverse habitat is more stable, too.

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An explanatory diagram of what each of the values on the cards MEAN would be really, really, really helpful.

If its on the Phylo site right now, its disconnected from the rules and hard to find.

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Thanks for this. Invasives being AWESOME would be a bad thing (although reading that did make me laugh). I'm at a workshop until next monday, but will try and recollect all these points into a V1.3 rules.

I'm wondering if the invasive stuff can somehow be mitigated by building a deck that guards against their use (this ecoogically would be a very biodiverse system - fewer niches to invade). i.e. maybe when a player has "X" number of cards around the invasive species, you have to remove it so that only the original card is there?

Alternatively, there's usually a precipitating event that allows invasive species to establish themselves - maybe a bottle neck can be introduced so that it's not so easy to play them?

Oh yeah, the number at the top of event cards is the "duration."

Let me know which event cards were "wipe outs." If you have suggestions for negating event cards, pass them on, and I'll look for pictures - we have some pictures that we haven't uploaded yet that look like they relate to population control or competition...

(back to my workshop)

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davehwng wrote:I'm wondering if the invasive stuff can somehow be mitigated by building a deck that guards against their use (this ecoogically would be a very biodiverse system - fewer niches to invade). i.e. maybe when a player has "X" number of cards around the invasive species, you have to remove it so that only the original card is there?
That's what I meant.

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To balance Invasive, or any other really powerful keyword, I'd be inclined to add a third stat: the final score.

This then allows you to build cards based on a point system.

For example: (rough draft)

You'd start with a card having 10 points as the final scoring value. You'll then add or subtract from it based on what's spent.

Every species gets one Terrain and one climate for free.

Every additional climate and Terrain subtracts 1.

Move subtracts 1 per move.

Various Keywords could have various costs. For now we'll assume they're all 1, except for the superpowerfrul Invasive. (some of the negative ones might add value)

So for example, European Starling has 3 Terrains, 3 climates, Move 2, and Invasive.

So it's 10-2-2-2-2. Starling is worth 2 at end of Game

The Royal Starling (same scale, diet, and rank) has one Terrain, 2 climates, Move 2.
It's final value would be 10-1-2. Final value=7

Now the European Starling is still pretty awesome because its easy to play with all those Terrains and Climates, PLUS it can wipe that value 7 Royal Starling off the table... but it's balanced by only being worth 2 at the end of game.

A pointing system like that lets you easily balance out various things so there are balance reasons to play things like the Royal Starling instead of just European Starlings.

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Possible balancing factor for Invasive species: In addition to being Invasive, these guys are also species, and therefore should be playable as normal species in addition to their funky Invasive stuff. So... how about if the Invasive keyword is dropped, and replaced with an Event card which gives all the Invasive-related benefits to whichever species it's played on?

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Invasive pandas?

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fenrislorsrai wrote:Invasive pandas?

I cant tell you how many times I tried attracting deer to my house, only to have them run off by invasive pandas.

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I'll trade you some deer!

Ours are so acclimated to people that I can pull into the driveway in the car, get out, let the DOG out of the car, and walk into the house without the deer on the lawn 15 feet away doing anything more than look at us. sigh. There's nothing that eats them, unless you count cars as a predator.

There's a wolf captive breeding program nearby that actually encourages local hunters to go shoot them deer. Yes, shooting wild deer to feed captive wolves. They only feed wild game to their wolves since they're intended for reintroduction, so they're always looking for hunters willing to go hunt for their wolves. There's also some local anglers that bring them fish in the summer. They also have a deal with the local DoT to call them to get roadkill. Tells you something about how messed up the local ecosystem is...

Anyway, GAME MECHANICS. As I noted above I think the best way to deal with both the Invasives issue and that cards are unevenly balanced (pandas are worth the same as pigeons...) is a pointing system as I outlined.

To add slightly more to that pointing system, you might want to add the food chain rank to the base score. So things higher up are worth more because they're so much harder to play. It also makes for consistency in card design because you can value cards appropriately.

For an example of a more complicated version, you can see this example of a point based card building system

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Hrm. The Invasives being awesome is a bad idea. How do we normally kill off Invasives when they attack in the real world? Counter-species? Common events that are designed to poison them and kill them all together? (Pesticides, control programs and herbicide/fungicides come to mind.)

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We dont want to solve the problem by introducing counter cards, since it doesnt deal with the root of invasive species carrying the same point value as the original card with no detriment. From a game play and learning standpoint, counter cards dont remove the idea that introducing invasive species to an environment should be encouraged since they are worth a great deal of points. Not something we want to be enforcing to young kids.

However, I dont want to rule out event cards that deal with invasive species, I just dont want that to be the main solution. I believe a more complex scoring system would be the most ideal way.

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Silver bullets work great when card sets are small... but then start to slowly degrade the play environment as you need to pack more and more silver bullets in your deck just to deal with an increasing number of broken cards.

When at all possible, avoid silver bullets by having a good design to start with.

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Perhaps invasiveness counts against the player that played it, instead of for them? Or that invasive species that take over another area's habitat score for the owner of that habitat/species instead of for the player that introduced them? We may not have to complexify anything.

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