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Evangelists playtest

[Editorial note: Things have been quiet here for quite a while; I’m not altogether sure whether Belltower will exist at some point as a company, but work has continued on some of the internal designs that might have been Belltower games — so, I’ll plan to continue to post updates and such from that perspective, whether or not Belltower (or anyone, for that matter) ends up publishing the games at some point.]

Evangelists finally had its first playtest at Spielbany last weekend, and the results were really encouraging. The players enjoyed playing, and most importantly, the game played to completion without imploding, which is rare (for me) on a first playtest.

The game is all about compiling a Gospel. You start the game with two page cards, each of which has two slots into which you’ll place “tradition cards”. These pages, and others you add, are kept in a row, and while you can re-arrange pages, you can’t switch the tradition cards on an individual page, so there’s some planning required (more on this below).

The turn mechanism is simple: on your turn, you either move and then take up to 3 actions in a city, or vice versa. There are three actions you can take in a city: examine the city’s 3 “tradition cards” (i.e. stories that the community of believers in that city preserved about Jesus’ life and saying and doings) and add one to a blank slot on a page in your Gospel; interview an eyewitness (add cubes to tradition cards in your Gospel that were witnessed by that witness); and, take the city’s special action (draw some cards, or teleport to anywhere on the board, or add/rearrange pages to your gospel, or claim a scoring card).

If you took 2 or 3 actions, you increase the region’s “die adjustment track” by 1 or 2 spaces, respectively, then you can pay “region” cards matching the region you’re in, and roll the die, adding to the result (a) the number of cards you played and (b) the number on the “die adjustment track”. You compare that total to the current overall turn number, and your result is lower, it triggers an event. The playtesters suggested several ways to simplify this considerably, but one key problem we didn’t really solve was the “tragedy of the commons” effect — the event cards affect the overall game state, which affects everyone, so there’s not much benefit to an individual player to pay region cards to try to avoid an event, so therefore, pretty much, no one did.

I may have a solution: each player is given a “bonus” card, which they can use any one time during their turn to take an additional action or extend their movement. But, if they fail the event roll at then end of the turn, the bonus card is de-activated for the next turn. So, your decision to try to avert an event is influenced to some degree by your perceived need for some additional flexibility on the next turn. And of course, there’s the key question of whether it makes planning too open, giving rise to analysis problems.

We also found overall that the scoring isn’t quite balanced. You get points based on the number of eyewitness cubes you accumulated, the “literary devices” your gospel used (based on the scoring cards that you drew), and the number of tradition cards that matched your theme. But presently, the first of these accounts for about 50-60% of the player’s score. I think it should be more like 40-45%. The game is about talking to eyewitnesses, and using your limited number of turns efficiently to do so, but the literary device scoring should also be a bit more important. ie it should be hard to score well with a really aesthetically pleasing literary account that has poor eyewitness support, but it should also be hard to score without giving any consideration to producing a nice literary account.

There isn’t too much direct player interaction, although the moves that everyone else makes do affect you, but not in a competitive way, necessarily. I guess that’s fitting for the theme, and one advantage is that there’s probably no reason you couldn’t play the game solo.