Following our test game of Yiora, I led my stalwart testers Matthew, Nick and Jenn in the first-ever four-player game of Project:Orbits! LOTS of things were learned, and while the rules were generally clear, there were some errors in their phrasing that needs to be addressed.

First off, I’ll post a link to the pdf of the rules we were all playing by:

Click on the icon to download the Project:Orbits v0.2 rules.

We played on a short track with three planets and 13 tracks arranged in a rough trapezoid (Forgot to take photos, sorry!) The three planets increased in Speed cost (renamed Escape Velocity at Matthew’s suggestion – thanks, Matthew!) from 2 to 6 to 11. Luckily Matthew and Nick both recognized the bulk of the card-play as being derived from Mille Bornes, so that aspect of the game needed little to no explanation for them.

The real trick was in moving our rockets around the board, and there were a few modifications or questions that had to be answered as we played, things which just didn’t come up in my earlier 2-player game with Jenn:

Since players only move into the next available space on the track when they break orbit, what do you do when you’ve got four players all trying to break orbit into the same 3 spaces? We ran into a little traffic jam early on as all four racers made it to the first planet on the same turn, and three were able to break orbit immediately, leaving one player stuck waiting for traffic to clear up. It didn’t happen again at any other point in the game, and it may not be a real problem, but I can imagine someone getting frustrated waiting for the bottleneck to clear up.

Some of the rules governing Drifting were clarified – The rules state that you can drift only if you are in the ‘slow lane’, but I need to also explicitly state that you can’t drift through a track hub or the starting base – though these only count as one space, they conceptually aren’t in any of the three different tracks. Also, you can’t drift past another player – if a racer drifts out of the slow lane on one card and into the fast lane, their drift ends. If you’re drifting up behind them, you have to stop in the space behind them and either wait for them to move, or play a speed card that carries you past them. Also, if you forget to take your drift you missed your opportunity. You can’t stockpile drifts and take them all at once, either. One space per turn, and if you forget, you lose that one.

In playing a four-player game, we ran into several looooong periods where each of us were waiting for that one specific card that would allow us to continue – I was trying to get some speed cards (my hand full of remedies and status cards), and everyone else was broken down somewhere on the track looking for the remedy they needed. Several possible solutions to this involved being able to either pull from the draw pile or to discard multiple cards from your hand, but differed on the mechanism to allow it:

  • Option A: Draw the top card from the discard pile, and save it for your next turn. Discard another card, take your drift if you can.
  • Option B: Player A trades cards with another player, whatever is considered a fair trade. Players then discards their excess back to the number originally dealt, and player A continues their turn, playing whichever card they just traded for.
  • Option C: Discard multiple of the same card to pull any card out of the Discard pile. This is similar in concept to being able to trade resources with the bank in Settlers of Catan.
  • Option D: Discard any number of cards at the end of your turn, rather than playing anything. At your next turn, draw back up to the default hand, then draw one more to begin your turn.

Any of these options will allow the game to continue moving when everyone’s at a standstill, though being able to trade cards would allow alliances and partnerships to form, making for a slightly more social game. I think it would be worth implementing two of these options – allowing for trades and also allowing players to discard multiples cards. Worth doing some more testing!

It was also suggested that perhaps the balance of the cards is off, and increasing the number of available remedies might be in order. Another option might be reintroducing the extra four Equipment cards, and dealing them randomly, one to each player, before the game begins. The two players who were completely unprotected by equipment definitely had the harder time of making any progress in the game.

During our test game, I lucked into playing three of the four available equipment cards, but kept finding myself lacking in Speed cards, while the other racers were discarding high number speed cards for lack of a remedy to their situations. Having the three equipments paid off in the end, though, allowing me to catch up in lap 2 and maintain a neck-and-neck lead in the first three legs of lap 3. In the end, I came from a full lap behind to win the game by a leg. We were all glad for the game to be over – even this ‘short’ 3-lap game took the four of us well over an hour to play. Some mechanism to speed things up would definitely help, especially if I’m hoping to see people playing up to 8-player games with 6+ planet tracks!

One of these days I’ll get around to testing the bit about playing for points rather than laps. If it proves to be too cumbersome I can simplify the score-panel part of the Player Dashboard considerably.