The River Ancient: Beta Test

I'm developing a Mononoke/Nausicaa-inspired game for a debut at UnPub4. (You've seen previous posts about this here, here, and here.) For now, I'm calling the game The River Ancient. Here's where it stands at the moment.

Overview of Play
Players are guardian spirits guiding their adopted culture towards a balanced and virtuous existence on an ever-changing river. At the start of the game, each player rolls four dice, each pip representing a village. On your turn, you can place your die on...

  • A NODE, where the corners of the river-squares meet. This is a long-term bid to claim the virtues or powers offered by that card: Health, Peace, Love, or Work.
    • Placing on a HILL gives you a +1 bonus.
    • Placing on a Mountain gives you a +2 bonus.
  • A RIVER SPIRIT, in the center of a river-square. There are four river spirits who will each bestow a special action upon your culture: Give a Virtue to another player, Steal a Virtue from another player, Change one of your own Virtues to another, Reduce one of your own Virtues. 
    • Placing a 1-3 lets you do the spirit's action once.
    • A 4 or 5 lets you do it twice.
    • A 6 lets you do it three times.
  • THE HEAD OF THE RIVER, gives you the first-player token for the next round.
  • THE END OF THE RIVER, gives you an extra die in the next round.
  • AN ANCIENT, where the river branches off into nothingness. Here, your culture can get a new Philosophy.

Once everyone has placed their dice, whoever has the greater sum of pips surrounding a square will get its Virtues. However, the larger the sum, the fewer virtues the winner will receive.

  • For a winning bid of 1 or higher, the winner gets all the Virtues of the card.
  • For a winning bid of 7 or higher, the winner only gets the last two Virtues of the card.
  • For a winning bid of 10 or higher, the winner only gets the last Virtue of the card.
  • If winning bids are tied, the card is ignored.

For a Power Cards at either end of the river are special in that they offer no Virtues of their own, they add a descriptor to your culture and grant a special power.

  • If you have the winning bid for a power card, take it and add it to your tableau. Your first Power card is assigned to your "1" die face. Thereafter, any "1" has that power when placed on the board.

After totaling all the Virtues earned this round, check to see if any have been raised to 6 or higher. If so, you score points equal to your current lowest Virtue. Any virtues that ticked over 6 are then moved back to the zero space of the score tracker.

In addition to all of this, there are also Philosophies. These are ribbons given which list the four Virtues in a unique hierarchy. For example, "Work > Health > Love > Peace" means this philosophy prioritizes those Virtues in that order.
  • At the end of the round, if your Virtues' are arranged in accordance with your Philosophy, you score extra points.
This is where things got fuzzy during playtesting. There was already so much going on that figuring out how to arrange out your Virtues according to your Philosophy was just one layer of cognitive overload too many.

Normally, I'd strip away mechanics until what was left was a very thin, but easily accessed game. This time, I'm actually trying to make a heavier game, which allows me the option of using components besides my tried-and-true standard poker cards.

For example, I'm using wooden discs to represent the cumulative bonuses from mountains and hills. In the photo above, the large tower of discs you see came from a combination of hills, mountains, and a special power for that die face.

Still, I think I can clean up some elements of the game a bit. I might end up abandoning the poker cards and rely on standard square tiles. Each tile would begin with a base value of 10 for only one virtue per tile. When you win a tile's virtues, reduce the base value by your winning bid to determine your total earned virtue, to a minimum of 1.

  • So if a tile offers Peace, and you won it with a bid of 7, you'd only earn 3 Peace. 

If I do that I might expand the Virtue tracker to 10 instead of 5, allowing for more flexibility to accomplish Philosophies before scoring standard points. Or heck, I might just make Philosophy the only way to score points. If you meet the first priority, you get 1 point. The first and second, you get 3 points. First, second, and third, get 6 points. All four, get 10 points.

In this manner, getting more philosophies is a really valuable commodity, since you might be able to synergize like-minded philosophies or hedge your bets with two opposed philosophies. I think I like this! Less math, more strategy, and skirts the issue of completely lifting Reiner Knizia's scoring method.


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