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Howdy folks, Dan Knight here. Today I get to share something really cool with you all: an insider’s look into the world of playtesting Doomtown: Reloaded.
To take you through this journey, we’re going to look at two cards that greatly affected each other during the test phase and the decisions that were made to get them to their final form: Xemo’s Turban and Arnold Stewart.
Before we start though, let’s take a look at the process as a whole.
Each cycle, we generally test three saddlebags at a time, and the cards are given to us on a schedule closely resembling the release schedule for the actual product in so much that we “normally” get a set of cards to look at, break, test, fix, and terrorise each other with every eighteen weeks or so (this is shorter when we get a Pine Box thrown in). New set day for us is just as exciting as spoilers are for you guys … only we have to wait longer.
I came on board with playtest in January 2015. At that time, Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force had been finalised, The Light Shineth was just wrapping up, and the next three Saddlebags (Dirty Deeds, Foul Play, and Bad Medicine) had been released to the test team (so we’re about a year ahead).
During each playtest cycle, we play many, many games of Doomtown. There are a number of different playtest teams, and each one is responsible for rating all of the cards and relaying those results to the Design Team. The team then tweaks, fixes, or completely changes what a card does and passes it back for us to try and break again. We currently have forty-four playtesters spread over eight teams from all around the world.
Xemo’s Turban is the first Experimental gadget that doesn’t do something nasty when you pull a club. Instead, it just fails to work. But this is its final form. This wasn’t the case when it started out. When we first got it, it looked like this:
Repeat, Noon, Pay 1 Ghost Rock: Draw a card. Choose a card in your play hand and pull. If the pull is a club, ace that card, otherwise discard it.
As you can see the “pull a club = bad stuff happens” aspect of Experimental gadgets is still there, but is it really that bad? It sounds like it should be; you have to ace a card if you pull a club. As it turns out, we realised very quickly that it gave you a repeatable way to thin your deck. You actually WANTED to pull clubs. A simple and effective repeatable action to remove all of your off-value cards. Some of the early test decks using this were also putting Lula’s Exploit to good use letting you effectively use the Turban twice for free.
Multiple playtesters quickly raised this as being far too efficient and it was flagged as being too good. However, the change to its final version didn’t happen until we started to combo Xemo’s Turban with Arnold Stewart.
When Arnold first arrived he looked like this:
Noon: Boot a Gadget on Arnold to look at the top five cards of your deck. You may boot Arnold to place an out of town deed into your hand and replace the other cards on top of your deck in any order.
So he didn’t end up much different but take a moment to look at that ability. Let’s ignore the fact that he can fetch deeds for now and just focus on looking at the top five cards of your deck.
#1 – You know exactly which five cards are going to form the core of your shootout hand if you’re about to get into a fight.
#2 – You not only know exactly what value you are going to pull next, but you can ENGINEER that value by changing the order of the cards.
If you see a full house or better, you know you can send in anybody to a shootout, even a 0 bullet chump, and guarantee a decent hand. More crucially, not only do you know what you’re going to pull, but you know exactly who to target with Asyncoil Gun, Arden Gillman, or the various Grit based Hexes.
Either of these abilities makes for a VERY powerful card, but the synergy with Xemo’s Turban is what really forced us to look at them both.
You could use Arnold to look at the top five cards and then choose which one you want to draw with the Turban by making sure it went back on top. It was like a miniature tutor effect. If there was nothing you wanted to draw, you could make sure the second card down was a club to guarantee being able to ace something and thin out your deck.
Sorry guys, we were never going to let that one through. Clearly something had to be done.
We also came across some instances of “Analysis Paralysis.” This is a term used in a lot of card games to describe a turn stalling out due to too much information becoming available at once. Being able to keep the five cards leads to people trying to memorise all five and the order they are in, then come the questions about whether you can or cannot take notes during a game and how much time should be allowed if you can. It gets very clunky, very quickly. That was something we wanted to avoid if at all possible.
The first change was Arnold. He lost his ability to stack the cards and they went back in the same order. This nerfed the Turban synergy somewhat but scouting your next five cards was still incredibly good.
Arnold’s ability to find deeds was a specific design intent that we had to keep. He HAD to be able to fetch deeds in some way so that didn’t give us much room to move. How does he fetch a deed if he doesn’t look at cards? The idea of letting him just search your deck for an out of town deed was floated, but that made him a different kind of powerhouse if he could just fetch a deed every turn. In the end, we settled on having him discard the top five. He still gets to see the cards but you can’t use him to engineer your entire turn with no consequence.
That left us with Xemo’s Turban, still the most efficient card draw effect and deck thinner in the game. That’s where the idea that a club draw could just be a failure arrived. While the original downside effect looked like it could be a hinderance, the Classic players were quick to point out that rapid deck degeneration was a very big problem in the old game.
The change to the final version still allows a repeatable draw as long as you don’t fail and no longer let’s you ace cards with abandon. In this form, pulling a club is actually a lot worse than it used to be as you can then no longer use the Turban.
In both cases, the card intent remains without any powerful after effect.
I hope this gives you some insight into how and why we make the changes that we do. Sometimes it can be a completely new ability, other times it can be as simple as changing a value or bullet rating. Everything that we change though, is always done to make sure Doomtown: Reloaded remains a fun and balanced game for you all to enjoy.
If you want to experience Arnold Stewart and Xemo’s Turban in their original form, grab yourself some friends and try them out in a couple of casual games.
This preview is for the next Saddlebag Expansion, Bad Medicine, arriving in stores February 8, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!
Into the Darkness
by Brett Satkowiak
Soon enough, however, he entered a small room and the light returned, emanating from a lantern hung on the wall. The space was new to the Sanatorium, hewn from the rock beneath its foundations to contain two items: a wooden cot and a large iron door.
Horace entered the space with his precious cargo, a frail-looking man wrapped in a white sheet. He was gaunt and pale, resting in Horace’s enormous arms, limbs dangling. Open sores and scaly calluses speckled the man’s skin; fevered sweat washed over gruesome fluids oozing from the deeper ones.
The man groaned awake as Horace gingerly laid him on the cot. “Am I dead yet?”
Horace looked down into the man’s eyes, brushing away a wisp of hair threatening to obstruct them. “No,” he sighed simply. “Death is not the end of this.”
The man seemed disappointed but was far too weak to fully express it. “Where are you … taking me?”
“To the darkness … where you can rest.”
“Rest?” he wheezed. “I’m afraid … I’ve given up … on getting better.”
“Better? No.” Horace looked up and down the man’s body with pity. “There is no ‘better’ … only the darkness.” He turned slowly to the iron door, sliding the pair of posts barring it shut. “You can wait there until it’s finished … until the master is ready.”
The man let out a grunt as he used some of his precious energy reserves to turn his head toward the door. “Who? Odett?”
“No … his master.” Horace slid the tattered cloth around his neck up over his nose and mouth. He swung open the door as a wave of cold, damp air sprung forth, releasing an unholy stench. He winced slightly, but took comfort in knowing his patient would find it soothing.
Horace returned to the cot, leaning down for one final look. The man’s eyes, the only part of him with any real life left, pleaded with Horace to end the suffering. The large man urged himself to finish the task, knowing the end of this trip would be just that. He adjusted the sheet so it wouldn’t be binding on the man as he rested, then lifted his hands and laid them gently across his chest.
Reaching down, Horace lifted the man effortlessly off the cot and carried him into the dark tunnel descending from the doorway. He could hear the shuffling of the other patients who remained nearby as he located another cot, laying the man to rest comfortably upon it.
Horace placed his large hand upon the man’s as it lay upon his chest, looking down one last time into his eyes, barely visible in the glow from the lantern. “Try to rest, friend. It will all be over soon.”