Periorbis – The asteroid track

Following the launch of our Kickstarter campaign, we’ve had a lot of questions and a number of suggestions about the asteroid track which makes up much of the main game board, and controls which of the asteroids is available to players on each turn of the game. It’s fantastic to have people interested in Periorbis, and we love to hear your ideas and suggestions.

Since this seems to be a common area of interest, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on why we’ve structured the game the way we have with a static asteroid field. As you can image, we’ve tried and play tested a lot of different variations before deciding on this approach. I’d actually forgotten just how many different things we’d tried until the questions and suggestions started coming in.

A game of skill

Most importantly, Periorbis is a game where strategy and skill are more important than luck.

There needs to be, and there is, some randomness (which is a topic for another blog!). This ensures that each game is different, and players don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. But, Periorbis is not about rolling the dice to see who gets a double 6 (dice hate me so I avoid them at all costs, what can I say!).

We tried using decks of cards or tiles to randomise the asteroids and only showing the next couple of turns, but we found that frustrating because it wasn’t possible to plan ahead and it became too much about luck. It also didn’t seem right because in reality you’d know when an asteroid is coming around.

So in the end, we decided that the asteroid track needed to be fully viable right from the start of the game.

Economy, orbits and shipping capacity

An important aspect to the game is the economy and how this interacts with the orbits of the asteroids.

Periorbis is pretty tight, in that players need to manage their credits (money), employees and technology carefully. I like games where you just can’t quite do everything that you want to do in a turn, and where you’re faced with choices that really matter and that are finely balanced.

One of the ways in which Periorbis achieves this is by limiting players’ ability to access their resources, by making some asteroids unavailable on each turn. The balance here is really important. If an asteroid is out of range for too long, then players start to run out of money (wages need to be paid each turn), or the ore runs out on the asteroid and your miner is stuck out there with nothing to do.

Another important aspect to the game is that shipping capacity is limited each turn and therefore a precious resource in Periorbis. Because of this, you need to make sure that you can ship some ore back on as many turns as possible.

We found in testing that the challenge of setting up your mining operations so that you can access an asteroid on each turn was much more fun than mining a lot of ore over the course of the game and then shipping it all back at the end.

For these components to work well together, we discovered that there needs to be a regular pattern to the movement and availability of the asteroids.

We didn’t want to make it too easy though, so each asteroid appears with a slightly different frequency which means that you need to make adjustments to your strategy throughout the game. It also means that in each game you need to use a different strategy depending on when you manage to hire miners. You can’t have a favourite combination and use it every game. Also, other players can interfere with your strategy by setting up mining operations on the same asteroid as you and mining your ore. Controlling player turn order and who gets to mine first matters here.

Playing against the game

The combination of these and other aspects to Periorbis, results in an experience where you feel as if you’re playing against the game as well as against the other players. For me, this results in a huge amount of satisfaction when I occasionally get it right, but it mostly leaves me thinking “I want to play again because I know I can do better next time!”.

We’ve played Periorbis a lot and we’ve never found that the static asteroid track limits the game or makes it repetitive in any way. There’s enough variety elsewhere in the game that it’s nice to have something that stays the same.

When I was thinking about this earlier, a scene from Jurassic Park came to mind. It’s where Malcolm is explaining chaos theory. He puts a drop of water on Ellie’s hand and asks which way it will run off. He then does it a second time and asks the same question. When it doesn’t run off the same way, he explains that it’s a combination of seemingly small changes that results in something completely different happening. (extract from the script below)

Periorbis is like that. It might not immediately sound like it, but the many relatively small differences in each game of Periorbis (from the employee card deck to give just one example) add up to a completely different game each time.

If you’re interested in how we came up with the exact placing of the asteroids in the orbit track you can find out in an earlier post here.

Variations and expansions

We are considering a number of possible variations and expansions to Periorbis which we don’t think would mess with the core of the game.

For example:

  • a board with fewer asteroids, but more ore on each one, to force players to compete for ore more often – this would change the balance between the importance of getting to an asteroid first and mining as much as possible as fast as possible. It would also make managing player order and getting a specialist miner early in the game relatively more important
  • different starting set ups with different amounts of ore on each asteroid – at the moment, it’s finely balanced so that there is just enough ‘easy’ (black and grey) ore on the asteroids which come around more often to get you started, combined with the all important ‘hard’ (white) ore being mostly on the asteroids which come around less often or are harder to get to

I hope that helps you get more of a sense of what Periorbis is like to play, and why we’ve designed it the way we have. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please do let us know. We love hearing from you.

Extract from the script of Jurassic Park.

MALCOLM

You see? The tyrannosaur doesn’t obey set patterns or park schedules. It’s the essence of Chaos.

ELLIE

I’m still not clear on Chaos.

MALCOLM

It simply deals with unpredictability in complex systems. It’s only principle is the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine.

Ellie

gestures with her hand to show this information has gone right over her head.

MALCOLM

I made a fly by, I go too fast. Looking out of the opposite window, Grant sees movement at the far end of a field. He sits bolt upright, trying to get a better look. Malcolm, looking for another example – –

MALCOLM

(cont’d) (points to the glass of water) Here. Give me your glass of water. He dips his hand into the glass of water. He takes Ellie’s hand in his own.

MALCOLM

(cont’d) Make like hieroglyphics. Now watch the way the drop of water falls on your hand. He flicks his fingers and a drop falls on the back of Ellie’s hand.

MALCOLM

(cont’d) Ready? Freeze your hand. Now I’m going to do the same thing from the exact same place. Which way is the drop going to roll off? (or) Which way will the drop roll? Over which finger? Or down your thumb? Or to the other side?

ELLIE

Uh – – The same way.

MALCOLM

It changed. Why? Because and here is the principle of tiny variations – – the orientations of the hairs – –

ELLIE

Alan, listen to this.

MALCOLM

– – on your hand, the amount of blood distending in your vessels, imperfections in the skin – –

ELLIE

Oh, imperfections?

MALCOLM

Microscopic – – never repeat, and vastly affect the outcome. That’s what?

ELLIE

Unpredictability….

 

 

 

 

 

 

By | 2017-01-22T19:03:14+00:00 24 April 2015|Categories: Designer Diary, Developer tip, Game Design, Perihelion News, Periorbis|Comments Off on Periorbis – The asteroid track

About the Author:

Dave
Dave has been playing games since he figured out that you're not meant to eat the pieces! He lives in London with a very understanding wife, who occasionally agrees to playtest the new ideas and models he churns out.