Game School: Gaido play test update – things change

If you were ever looking for a reason to do more play tests than you were expecting to do, this is it.

I was pretty convinced that Gaido was getting on just fine and nearing it’s version 1.0 – a version I’d have no problem selling or showing to publishers. Why just last night I played a quick 2 player game with my Father-in-law, who’s a very analytical kind of guy. We stumbled on not one, but two things that need to be changed with the game, that I didn’t see (or didn’t focus on) in all the previous umpteen play tests. Boy am I glad I played that game last night!

DTC-Journeys End 4

To understand how I arrived at these problems, you’ll need to understand how the game works. If you’re familiar with it, skip this section. If you’re not, here’s the basics.

How Gaido plays

Medieval Japan has so much to offer in the way of scenery! Vast mountains, quaint villages, hidden shrines and much more. The real treasures however are those that jump and fly – the rare brown squirrels, cranes, egrets and eagles who make their homes in remote locations. These hard to find creatures are the ultimate destination of any tour of the countryside.

In Gaido, players take on the role of guides and travelers journeying through the countryside of medieval Japan. Guide duties are shared, with each player taking the responsibility for one day of their journey. The guide directs the group of players through the Japanese landscape, to their journey’s end. Only the current guide can decide when a journey is over.

There are four animals the group is trying to spot, squirrels, cranes, egrets and eagles. These animals are found in four different locations and represent the end of a journey. On the play table, players will create four stacks of cards, called Journeys. These stacks represent the different paths to the four animals.

Every Journey card has a Kanji symbol on it which indicates how many points each player will receive when that stack is scored. Cards can be played facing any direction. There are sixteen Journey cards and four Journey’s End cards which, when played on one of the four journeys will immediately end that journey and score that stack of cards.

Gaido offers interesting play choices, with a strategy that’s deeper than it first appears and a simple play style. Only 20 cards and 24 counters in size, it’s played in an average of 15-20 minutes.

The problems arise

In this game, there are four journeys, represented by four different images. Each card also has four numbers (written in Kanji) on them. That’s 16 cards so far, right? Still with me? Easy. Now, here’s where the problem lies.

Each card set (4 cards) have these four numbers on them that start facing the player who played them, this would be at the bottom of the card art, and progress around clockwise. The card sets are numbered like this (Bottom, Left, Top, Right) 1,1,1,1 | 2,1,1,1 | 3,2,1,2 | 4,3,2,3. In game play, you try to get the top card laid out on any stack to score the way you want it – either the highest number facing you, or the number of cubes you want to take facing you, depending on the in-game situation.

As it turns out, I ran into a situation where I couldn’t play the 1,1,1,1 card at all, and it was my final card. The Journey stack that I wanted to play to had not be completed and my Father-in-law held also only 1 card, the last Journey’s End card. I hadn’t accounted for this situation in the rules. What do you do when you can’t play a card at all? And even more concerning, why couldn’t I play a card? In this game, I want players to always be able to do something – either play or discard and that wasn’t happening here.

It was in the cards

journey 1a
The 1,1,1,1 card

With the 1,1,1,1 card, I realized several things. First, that’s really the only reason I ran into this problem was that it was impossible to play this card as anything but the first card in a stack. Second, this problem is more likely to come up in a 2 player game than a 3 or 4 player game as you tend to have players ending journeys a lot quicker in larger games, and not holding out to the bitter end to see what their opponents will do.

The 2,1,1,1 card
The 2,1,1,1 card

What to do?

I don’t want a card in this game that can only be played as a lead off card and is otherwise dead weight for any player that draws it. There aren’t many options in this game, only 16 Journey cards in total, so I don’t really want to waste any of them, or make players feel like their hand is wasted. After giving it some thought and looking at the numbers, I decided that the 1,1,1,1 just has to go. Goodbye card.

What I will be doing is replacing it with a 2,1,1,1 card. This is still a fairly low value card, but gives players more of a chance to actually play it without trumping the other two cards in the set. Suddenly this card has a lot more value to a player. In a 2 player game, it’s going to be a fairly straight forward battle, in a 3-4 player game having 2 of these cards really changes the dynamic and makes the lower cards a viable win inducing choice. In some cases.

There’s one issue hopefully taken care of. I’ve got some more play tests scheduled very soon and am also going to be receiving another physical prototype in the next few days, so I can substitute this card out for easy testing.

The other issue is the ‘I cannot play,nor discard’ issue which still may come up from time to time. This I’m going to handle on the rules side, not the physical cards side. If you ever find yourself in this situation, that’s the end of the road for you in that round. Since the game is played in at least 3 rounds, and this situation comes up rarely now that I’ve made the card switch, it shouldn’t be too bad. In keeping with the game’s theme, if you can no longer travel (play your card(s)) then you’ve failed as a guide and must return from when you came to mull over your mistakes until the next round.

Even if a player is knocked out (and it won’t happen until relatively late in the round) they’d only be not-playing for a minute, perhaps two. In a game where each round lasts 5 minutes or less, I don’t see it as that much of an issue for a rare player knock out.

If you’re interested in this game, I invite you to head on over to the Gaido Board Game Geek page and become a fan! Your support would mean a lot to me! You can also download a (now slightly obsolete) Print and Play file with the rules and all 20 cards.

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