Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cave Troll, or rescuing a bad game

This weekend I played Cave Troll.  It is a zone control / resource management / dude placement game that is themed around a dungeon full of adventurers and monsters.  On your turn you can take 4 actions, each of which can be either moving a dude one space, drawing a new tile from your stack and putting it on the board or  moving a monster one space.  Tiles in your stack can be monsters which only attack your enemies, regular dudes that are bad but get you points and powerful unique tiles that give you massive board control or tons of points.  We played the game once and I blew everybody out; while I think I played really well I don't so much credit my success to my play but rather blind luck.

The trouble with the game is that there is no incentive at all to use your monsters.  Just like in many other FFA type games people have the choice between advancing their own position and beating up on an enemy.  Since this is a 4 player game if you regularly choose to beat on an enemy you are virtually guaranteed to lose if either other player focuses on their own game.  The optimal strategy is to completely ignore your monsters and just focus on spamming guys onto areas that can score points.  The other big problem is that the special tiles are enormously powerful and so drawing them early is incredible.  Anyone who has a lot of their best tiles near the bottom of their tile stack is doomed.  In the game that I played I focused on burning through my stack of tiles and got through it when the other players had ~6 tiles remaining each, which is huge, but I also got my best tiles relatively early in my stack.

That said, I like the idea of a 4 player game where you are running around a dungeon trying to escape the monsters and beat up the other team, so is there a way to salvage a decent game from this mess?  A mechanic Ziggyny told me about in another game where monsters fight militaries is that you have a certain amount of actions that must be used each turn on your monster and some others that must be used on your military to attack the other monsters.  This way you still have the problem of people ganging up on each other but at least good players can gang up on the leader without destroying their own position to do so.  In Cave Troll this would translate to giving people 1 action per turn that must be used to move or power up a monster.  You would probably have to give each player 2 monsters to start with (Wraith and Orc) so that they would always have something to do with their monster actions.

The other difficulty is the randomization of the powerful, unique tiles.  The game obviously isn't meant to be a super tight strategy game so some randomization is fine but there is just too much at the moment - a pro player would be easily beaten by a newbie who drew much better.  The best idea I had so far was this:  Have two stacks of tiles, one of which is regular dudes and one of which is powerful tiles.  You can draw from the regular dude stack any time you want but you can only draw from the powerful tile stack if you have at least 2 regular dudes on the board for each of the powerful tiles you have already drawn.  This would mean that each player would need to draw some regular dorks and keep them alive in order to draw from their power tile stack; it would keep the number of power tiles you have in play fairly regular and would allow for a bunch of interesting strategy in killing other people's dorks to keep them from drawing more power tiles.

I think my new version of Cave Troll would be a much more interesting game.  There would definitely be a fair bit of thought going into how to use your monsters and beating up on the leader without throwing away the game yourself would become very feasible.  The thing I don't know for sure is whether or not it is worth trying to salvage the game from its current state.  I like the genre but maybe games that are just bad should be heaved rather than fixed.  I obviously have a strong tendency to take games apart and try to remake them in a better way; it is hard for me to know when I am doing too much and should just let go.

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