Hello, and here we go!
We received gem tests from the manufacturer. Below is a picture of the tests compared to the prototype gems we've been using:
The gems feel awesome. The colors came in somewhat dull, but the manufacturer assured us we'd be able to hit a "shinier" color in the real production of them. We changed a few things after this, and we hope to get going on the actual molds since the manufacturer said they could take a while.
It's difficult to see above, but one of the pointy edges of the blue sapphire came in a bit sharp, so we're rounding it off slightly. We're also making the topaz yellower, and we found a facet on it that's too flat and needs to be "craggier." They will look and feel great.
A few nights ago I held a Meetup event to playtest a bunch of different Apotheca things. Below are the different elements we tested as well as their results.
Extra Action Token
There is a known first player advantage in Apotheca, which is why we start the first player with just one action instead of the usual two per turn. While this certainly helps balance things out, we're concerned there is still a first player advantage. It's due to being able to get a gem first, which means faster access to apothecaries. In 3-player mode, we give the third player an Extra Action Token they can use once during the game. This lets them take an extra action that is different from their first two on one turn. We're testing giving this to the last player in every game.
In our expert games, we found it does help a bit to balance things out. In beginner games during the playtest night, players almost never used it, which is totally fine - they enjoyed playing regardless, and never noticed any imbalance. The balance becomes more important once players get much better at the game. We want to make sure it stands the test of time and player skill! (We still have great expert-level games, even after playing for so long :) We'll continue looking at this as we move forward.
Also, we're seeing if we can fit the extra action token on our punchboards instead of it being on the back of a reference card (that's where it currently is). This will make it a bit nicer.
KS Exclusive Special Potions
After some initial internal testing in expert games, we decided on the set of 3 special potions to try with beginners. We put them into every deck during the playtest night. They all seemed to go over well, but we'll keep testing them. The current special potions are:
- Exploding Potion (red) - when revealed, shuffle an adjacent potion into the potion deck.
- Peeker Potion (yellow) - when revealed, turn all secret potions towards you (so you can peek at 'em!).
- Cloning Potion (blue) - when revealed, place a facedown potion.
Folks had a few questions about the Exploding Potion and Cloning Potion that we are looking into, but all in all they worked well. They are fun and add spice, but at the same time don't sway the game too much.
New Power Wording
After our initial Game Crafter prototype print run for the Kickstarter reviewers and campaign, we redid all the wording for the powers to be simpler. We tested this during Gen Con and it seems we went too simple (they needed to be more explicit), so I edited the wording for all the powers again and printed them off for the playtest night. They went over much better. On the power diagram end there is a little confusion about a few of them, so we will take another look at them.
We tested with beginners the 3 Limited Edition apothecaries as well as the KS Exclusive apothecary. All of them went over well, and seemed to be in balance! It was also great to see that the apothecaries were all great in 3- and 4-player as well (our testing always starts in 2-player). One of the apothecaries seems to have a little more power variance than the others, so we will keep an eye on that.
Master of the Market
This is the advanced game mode unlocked during the end of the campaign. We've been having a brain-burning blast with this in 2-player. We had the opportunity to try it in 3- and 4-player with beginners. It is certainly advanced! The beginners, while having had a few Apotheca games under the belts before playing, took a long time with this one. The 1-vs-everyone style gameplay caused analysis paralysis in some players, so we're going to acknowledge the expert difficulty in the rulebook ("Wait to play this until you've played the normal game at least X times!", etc.). The games were close and still finished within a reasonable amount of time, however, so we're pretty happy with where this is. I want to hold another playtest with experienced Apotheca players so we can test Master of the Market with them.
Lastly, we've continued to test and tweak the solo variant. It's very puzzly and fun. While we have many of the gameplay tweaks close to nailed down, we're still working on the end game and scoring mechanisms. These will further influence play, in addition to the overarching goal of "satisfy as many apothecaries as you can!" We have a unique once-per-space secret potion placement system, which keeps the pressure on the player and forces them to plan many turns in advance. It's cool!
That's all I've got for ya :) Have a great week!