From Alpha to Beta

Habitable Zone went from conception to prototype in an extremely short period of time. Joe and I both had a vision for what Habitable Zone would become, so it didn’t take long for us to set pen to paper. Pretty soon we had a set of rules drafted, concept art sketched, and player mats organized. A lot had changed during that gungho alpha stage, and today I’ll give you some insight into how some of Habitable Zone’s mechanics and rules were shaped into what they are today.

When I initially dreamed up the concept for Habitable Zone, the only thing I was certain of was the way I wanted planets to be terraformed. My vision involved players buying resources, venturing out to barren planets, and using their cargo to visibly change the board by adding physical rings to each planet to mark the progression of the terraforming process. As we poured more and more resources into a planet, the rings created not only a large physical presence on the board indicating a force to be reckoned with, but also symbolized the evolution of the planet from wasteland to colony. I strived to make this game as realistic as possible, and how a planet was terraformed was a key part of that challenge. Without the right support system an atmosphere will dissipate, heat will radiate into space, and life will die. This is why all three planetary modifiers must be present to secure a planet’s status as terraformed. The earliest versions of this mechanic even included a timer that would tick down each ring the longer you left it on the planet. The idea was that eventually the planet would revert back to its original state. However, in playtests it proved to be impractical and the removal of that mechanic didn’t affect the game as much as we expected it to. This also had the beneficial side effect of taking a confusing section out of the rulebook, and giving the players more freedom in their choices.

In addition to changing the terraforming mechanic, we also struggled with how to regulate income. The initial idea of automatically collecting income at the start of each turn worked, but lacked involvement and, when you think about all the other options, just didn’t hold water. We quickly adopted a new form of currency collection and we love how it is working. Because each planet you have colonized generates revenue, we have adopted currency tokens that fit on the planets and inside the rings. Every turn the planet adds more to its revenue pool and you have to send your cargo ship over to collect on your profits. This lead to the wonderful addition of having stacks of money growing on the board in different places. Between the terraforming rings and towers of money, the board was truly becoming a 3D experience that grows as the game goes on.

I am quickly reaching my character limit for today, so I would like to wrap this post up by mentioning a fellow gamer and blogger who has taken an interest in Habitable Zone. Zak Fay is currently embarking on a journey to play 100 games in 100 days, and Habitable Zone has made the list. He will be writing all about his thoughts on Habitable Zone on his blog, but until then, read up on his journey so far at 100 Games-in-100-Days.