Pivot Points and New Bedford

Way back in February, the Game Design Round Table talked about Pivot Points. I wrote down some ideas of how pivot points contribute to New Bedford, but am only now getting around to writing something about them.

There were two main things that the podcast made me think about. The first is shifts in the game mode, where player strategies change. This can occur when the players change from one major goal to another. A basic game of Dominion is one of the prime examples, in which players spend the first half building up their decks, and then at some point the players switch to buying points. Settlers of Catan has this as players stop trading to prevent another player from claiming victory. New Bedford doesn’t exactly have this, but there is a distinct change in the feeling of the game after round 6. New players are often surprised how quickly and easily they reach the halfway point.

But after round 6, everyone starts setting up for the end. Even though the second half has the same number of actions, it usually takes more time as players take longer to consider their moves, and spend time whaling. In the current prototype, the round track literally turns around and starts moving the other direction at that point, which sort of signals the change. Yet, the basic game play doesn’t really change that much. You aren’t suddenly changing from engine building to point earning. Not only can you spend the entire game pursuing a whaling or building strategy, you can do them in either order. Besides the bonus buildings, there are no “point grab” actions, and the bonus buildings are available from the start and very limited.

The second thought I had coming out of that podcast is related. They pointed out games like Agricola, where the game ends just when you feel like you’ve got your farm where you want it. This is more of a complaint about a lack of a pivot point. The game goes directly from build mode to ending, when you’d actually like to keep playing. New Bedford avoids this because you actually get a chance to see your engine in action and have fun with it. Having that experience in the game was very important to me. You avoid the feeling of getting cut short, but you have enough to worry about that you rarely feel like the game goes too long by the last turn.

If New Bedford has a pivot point, it is a change from engine building to engine running. But you have enough options for strategy that it doesn’t feel like an abrupt change. At the same time, you can completely skip building an engine by taking advantage of other players’ buildings. You still get the feeling of a pivot point because the first half is easy to get into.

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