My fiance and I cobbled together a rough prototype for the game and, with our friends over for game-night, decided to playtest it. When we went into the game I made sure to express to everyone that the rules have, for the most part, not even been written. This was as early in the process as you could get. We started the game, and it was great!… for half an hour. Every sector’s planets had just been colonized and we looked at each other asking, “Okay, what now?”. The game had unceremoniously stalled, so much so that we opted to end the game right there. I don’t know about you, but to me, this is a problem. There are two reasons for why the game came to a halt that I could see.
Reason One – The Cards
Since the basis of Canine Conquest is the cards, I thought this should be explained first. There are 5 basic action cards: Move, Colonize, Upgrade, Produce, and Enter Combat. Movement works a bit like its inspiration, Twilight Imperium. Select a sector, and you may move any ships there that have enough movement to make it to that sector. Colonization uses one Population Resource per planet, but as long as nobody has colonized the planet it’s as easy as placing a colony there. Combat we will explore in another article, as it is a whole system in itself. Upgrading and Producing are where we saw a huge problem in this playtest.
Upgrading itself wasn’t a massive issue, it’s like purchasing in any other deck builder. You choose a card in the buy-row, pay its resource cost, and put the new card in your discard pile. We each happily bought one card in the half-hour we played.
“Wait… one card in half an hour?”
Yep. I didn’t see this as an issue while playing, but seldom did we have enough resources to buy new cards. The problem was that producing resources was relegated to an action card.
Meaning that production was inconsistent and unreliable. On top of that, you only produced resources in one sector! Why did I think this was an okay idea!? What’s the point of expansion if it doesn’t net you any benefit? My fix to this is having Production be its own step in the game, so every round you are guaranteed to produce resources in every sector you own. Sure, there’s an Upgraded Production card that lets you produce in TWO sectors, but the chances of that card being drawn, and you having the opportunity to buy it are very slim. And that leads me to the next problem with the cards:
THERE’S TOO MANY OF THEM
There are 27 unique cards in the Upgrade Deck from which you purchase new upgrades, but the deck itself is 75 cards deep. With some cards being more common than others, this means that the chance of you seeing the card you need to help you win is incredibly low, and this is accentuated with the shoddy produce action from before. Why would you buy cards if the ones available to you aren’t what you need? The Upgrade Deck needs to be thinned, and the buy-row needs to be able to be cleared. This means that the hours we spent cutting and sleeving cards will go to waste, but at least I’ll have extra sleeves if I need them!
Reason Two – The Map
The corgis of Earth were one of the first to leave upon seeing the downward trend society was going. Being scientists focused on exploration, they took no issue engineering tiny exploration ships to find a suitable planet to call their new home. Upon reaching this green hunk of rock orbiting a gas giant, they formed the Society for Universal Betterment.
The corgis are one of my favorite factions, they are science-based and almost entirely non-violent. Their faction-specific card is “Probe”.
This card lets them look at an adjacent unrevealed sector, if that sector contains an unpopulated planet they get a point! You might already see the problem here: Once the map is fully revealed, how do they acquire points? My thought was the Award Cards but with how often players buy cards, that’s not very likely. If you saw the map from the previous post you know that it isn’t big. The “codename” I had for this game was “Tiny 4X”, so a small map is something I want to keep, but this means that the corgis are only useable early-game, and worthless after that. So if I want to keep a small map, but allow for more exploration, what do I do?
Change the Map System
Here’s my proposal. Imagine a board with points and lines connecting them (I know, very original). Each point represents a star, and when you move to it, you draw three chits from the “Planet Bag” and place them around that star. The chits in the bag are either planets or anomalies: Planets are just like the planets on the hexes, they have one to two resources and they may or may not already be colonized. Anomalies are mostly empty sectors (So not every system has three planets,) or something very rare like a black hole or nebula. As for the corgis, instead of revealing a hex, they draw a chit from the planet bag and if they find an uncolonized planet they get a point!
Something like this!
With this new map system, the map will have more points and take up the same amount of space, the game still has randomized sectors, balancing faction placement will be easier, and best of all, setting up the game will be much simpler. Just flip out the board, place your guys, shuffle your deck, and begin!
I’ve Got Some Work to Do.
All I have to do before the next playtest is decide which multiples of cards to cut, make a new map, and draw on 50 planet chits. With school being canceled due to us living in a bad alternate universe novel, I’ll have plenty of time to work all of this out. I can’t wait to play with the new map system and see what else is utterly broken. Truly, problem-solving is one of the most rewarding parts of game design. Until next time, keep playing y’all!