Project:Orbits long track with 9 planets, designed by my first-time playtester.

Project:Orbits long track with 9 planets, designed by my first-time playtester.

Had another good playtest of Project:Orbits this week, here’s my notes:

Playtesters consisted of myself, Jenn, who’d played the game before, but not with the latest version of the rules, and Rachel, who was new to the game. We started with a single-lap short game of only two planets, and a three-track triangle. This was done just to introduce Rachel to the gameplay and the order of things. Of course, still not being completely used to the new rules myself, we forgot to use the Last Place rules for the first few rounds. We brought them in for the remainder of the game, though, and everyone agreed they helped the game move more quickly. It was suggested that the Last Place rules be made optional, or that it might be better to find a way to limit the first place racer’s speed rather than helping push the last place racer just a little bit forward. This game took about 30 minutes, and was a pretty quickly-moving game.

After this race, everyone wanted to try the game with Homeworld rules, so we pulled out the four homeworlds and Rachel designed the largest track I’ve played yet – nine planets, and 26 pieces of track (out of the possible 17 planets and 36 track cards)! Click the image above for a better look. We agreed to just play a single lap on this one, too, since based on my experiences testing so far, I knew it would take a couple hours just to finish one lap. I was about right, this game clocked in at about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Jenn and Rachel both commented how they didn’t ever find themselves frustrated with their progress in the game, they didn’t notice the time passing (though the alcohol might have helped with that). As the saying goes, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, so I’m going to take that as a positive.

There are a few things I need to clarify in the rules:

  • You may only spend more than one Speed card when breaking orbit – not just at any time
  • Equipping your ship counts as the Play phase of your turn, you can still take your drift
  • Need some diagrams to show the different types of breaking orbit. In the circumstances when you arrive at a planet with enough speed to break orbit, for example, it’s confusing to new players. Need to illustrate what happens when you arrive at a planet with not enough speed to break orbit, and when you DO have enough speed.
  • Also, need to be clearer about how the speed boosts work on Homeworlds, and also that rivals can’t get any repairs. This should be spelled out on the Homeworld card itself somehow.
  • When you’re in Last Place, and you’re given two turns, can you use one of those turns to sell your hand? I don’t see why not, but still need to describe that process.
  • It was also suggested that the Draw phase of your turn be moved to the end, so you start with X cards, you use/play/discard one of them during your Play, then you draw back up to X at the end of your turn. This will simplify the process of deciding whether to buy a new hand or take a regular turn. Also, increase the number of dealt cards by 1.
  • Need to include the details about the size of players’s hands when using the 5-8 player expansion.
  • The Action cards should have some room for flavor text – just one or two short sentences describing their effects and any limits on their use.
  • The combination of moving one space when breaking orbit, and then taking one drift, seems somewhat redundant. It was recommended to remove the drift when breaking orbit, but keeping it at all other times.

And more than a few suggestions were made of things to add to the game to enhance it:

  • A token of some sort to remind everyone who’s in Last Place. Some kind of space-turtle, I imagine. This could be moved from player to player at the beginning of each round. In this playtest we used a generic yellow pawn.
  • There should be some consequences to the player who chooses to break someone else’s equipment. Currently they essentially spend three cards (which they then get to re-draw in their next turn), allowing them to clear out cards they might not otherwise be able to use (which is a benefit to the player who’s attacking). But with no cost to them, it’s almost an unfair move. More testing is in order, I think, as this was the first game where it was used.
  • Arbitrary placement of the Planets: An optional rule, where the planets are randomly placed face-down on the track, and when the first racer arrives a coin is flipped to decide whether it will be used as a planet or remain face-down as a track hub.
  • Expedited Play rules. This could be anything from limiting the size of the track to just two planets, giving each player two turns in each round, or adding some sort of ‘Hyperspace’ option. Possibly removing the speed hit of breaking orbit – if you played a high enough card to break orbit, you can treat the planet as a track hub, and just continue on counting spaces. Not sure what these final rules will look like, but I’m open to suggestions that don’t change the basic gameplay too much.
  • Other ideas for possible expansion sets included Ship’s statuses that have effects other than limiting your speed, such as taking away any homeworld benefits you might get (“Can’t Go Home Again”), limiting your ability to play statuses on other players (“Ship in a Bottle”), or possibly warping your ship to some arbitrary spot on the track. Cargo might also be introduced, with quests to take items from one planet to another for points.
  • Rachel suggested that, along with the Alpha and Gamma sets, a possible third set of cards and racers (‘Delta’), as well as a monster box set complete with all three sets and the Hyperspace expansion (The ‘Omega’ set). We can dream, can’t we? Not a big deal for the print-&-play version, but I think the real trick in selling box sets of this is going to be in finding a source for more colors of little plastic rockets.

I think that’s it for now! If you’d like to help playtest this game, leave me a message at the Project:Orbits WIP thread at BoardGameGeek.com and I’ll be in touch! I’d like to keep testing it every week or two, and am planning a private playtest at PAX Prime in August as well.