Working rules for Phylo: http://phylogame.org/2010/05/12/ecosystem-building-game-v1-2...
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: http://phylogame.org/2010/04/03/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.
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: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/5121121 )