User:JonPrud/Martian Pachinko History

< User:JonPrud


I started Martian Pachinko because I wanted a game that both my girlfriend and I would find fun and engaging, but that neither of us would dominate the other in.

I am a fan of abstract strategy games of perfect information with no random element. My girlfriend is not. She will humor me once or twice per game, but that is about it.

She will most often play games with heavy random elements. If there is randomness, I prefer either influencable or mitigatable randomness, so that is what I set out to design.

First attempt

My first design was on a river flowing theme. The board would involve pieces pointing in various directions. At the start of their turn, players would change the state of one or more pieces on the board, and then a new piece would start down stream, the starting position being determined by the roll of a die. The new piece's course would be influenced by how many pieces were pointing at it. As the new piece moved by, the board would change to reflect how it had moved. The object of the players would be to force more of the pieces rolling down the river onto their shore than land on their oponents.

I played it a couple of times by myself and found that it was not very interesting. If the die came up the same too often in a row, the board would quickly become scewed in one player's favor. A game based on who can roll a one twice in a row is not what I am aiming for.

Also, the rules for determining how the piece should move in the result of a tie were hard to phrase clearly, which lead me to believe they were too complicated. It felt like the movement rules were trying to compensate for the die roll too much.

Second attempt

My first change was to eliminate the die. I like the idea of randomly drawing a piece to determine where the traveling piece should start. If the drawn piece is not returned to the bag until after all the other pieces have been drawn, that would preserve some randomness and allow players to know what would not happen on the next turn, and plan accordingly.

I also wanted to try allowing players to pick which end of the board the drawn piece would enter from. That would make it a little more challenging for the first player to dominate the course of the river. If the pieces on the board did not behave symetrically, players would have to make trade-offs. Rivers could clearly not alternate between running towards and away from the sea, so the theme needed to be abandoned. Once the theme was not restricting how the mechanics worked, it occured to me that the sides of the board could wrap around and always allow the piece to reach the far end of the board. This meant that neither player had a 'shore' to aim for, so players should be allowed to pick which column to score from. Unclaimed columns would not score.

One situation I want to avoid is allowing a player to immediately undo the board manipulation of the previous player. If this were allowed, the board would settle into steady alternating states and not be very interesting. To avoid this problem, markers were placed next to each row to indicate that it was possible to manipulate that row. After chosing which piece on the board to rotate, players remove the marker next to the row. Once all of the markers have been removed, they are replaced and any row is allowed to be manipulated again.

First Playtest

I played through a game or two by myself and decided that it was interesting enough to see if my girlfriend would like it.

We played a game together. She was very excited about the colorful pyramids. The initial board was nine rows with four columns. Having the number of rows being relatively prime to the number of players was good, it meant that we alternated between having the most and the least choices available. I should have had the number of columns be relatively prime, too. As it was, the second player always knew what the last color in the bag was and could plan appropriately. This is a clear advantage to the second player; this advantage should be alternated between the players.

It played a little slow. The board seemed too long, and with half of the columns not scoring, it took a while for the player in the lead to finish the game. How the 'piece pointing up' rule works required multiple explanations and corrections. While I think it is valuable to have a piece that doesn't operate symetrically, the specific rule here might be too complicated.

Third attempt

  • Five by five board
    • Players can choose any side to enter from
    • In a two player game, two scoring colors are chosen
    • Only forbid manipulating the same row and column as the previous player
      • Since players can start from any side, restricting where a manipulation can be done only on the row is artificial, players can rely on playing only the columns

Second play test

  • Too easy
    • Board was too short, it was too easy to compute all paths through the board before choosing what pieces to rotate
      • Allowing the pieces to enter on any of four sides made it almost always possible to make a safe move
    • Too much backing and forthing because board rotations could be undone too quickly
      1. Something to try: mark all rows and columns. After chosing a location to play, remove the marker from both the row and the column, replace all markers once no rows or columns are marked
      2. Something to try: first players make all board manipulations, and then all rolls are made
      3. Something to try: Player A makes a board manipulation, Player B rolls the stone, alternate
  • The 'piece pointing up' rule still a point of confusion
    1. Something to try: a piece pointing up always jumps to rows down the board, still asymetric but eliminates the sideways bounce confusion