In this edition of the design diary, I’ll dive into the earliest versions of Paleovet and how it developed from there. After the initial inspiration for Paleovet, the game has undergone several iterations to get where it is today. From the very beginning though, I knew the basic concept of what I wanted Palevet to be:
- simple, light-hearted, and easy to learn
- dice rolling with unique dice faces
- push-your-luck element with dangerous dinosaurs
- the ability to gain additional, specialized dice
The First Version
In the earliest edition of the game, each player had a playmat depicting a track with 5 slots. At the start of your turn, you’d draw a dinosaur from the deck and place it in the leftmost space on the track, sliding down any dinos in the way. If a dino fell off the edge of the track, it was lost.
In this version, there were no unique dinosaur powers, sleep counts, or sets. Dinos only varied in their treatment needs, whether they were “dangerous”, and their VP. I was keeping things simple at this stage on purpose. In fact, it took some convincing to add unique powers to the dinosaurs. But I’ll get more into that later.
Research and Wild Icons
The DNA icons that now act as a wild icon were instead “research” in the earliest versions. If you rolled DNA, you could lock it into a research track, similar to how cures are locked onto dinos. When you had enough dice locked in, you’d gain a specialty dice. The problem with this was that dice stayed locked into the research track too long. It was hard to roll DNA and not really worth it to lose your dice for more than a round or two.
I also had a specialty DNA dice that had three DNA faces at this stage. It was intended to focus on research rather than curing dinos. It quickly became apparent though that this dice was far more powerful than the others.
Ultimately, we needed a system of gaining new dice that was more balanced and less punitive. Coupling that with dinos, in general, being too hard to cure, I moved the DNA icons over to being wild and changed the way you get specialty dice.
Traqualizing Dangerous Dinos
In this version, the tranquilizer mechanic also worked very differently. Only dangerous dinos needed to be tranquilized. If you rolled a tranq dart, you could put it on a dangerous dino to put them to sleep. Each round, one tranq dart would come off until the dino woke. You could only treat dangerous dinos that were tranquilized.
Obviously this mechanic wasn’t great. Its function was redundant with the other treatments, and thematically why would you not tranquilize all the dinos? This mechanic got altered in the next version
The Second Major Version
The next major move was to add the sleep mechanic (replacing the player mats) and to switch the “research” over to a dice matching mechanic. To do this, we also altered the tranquilize mechanic, transforming it into nearly its current form. At this point, the game was starting to take the general shape of what we have today.
We started using the “field” mechanic: four dinos form the deck, laid out in a row that could be tranquilized by a player on their turn. At this point, all dinos had the same sleep value (I think it was 3). The DNA icons were now wild, though we hadn’t yet added the wild tokens. Also, dinos still didn’t have their unique abilities.
Pressing Our Luck
One of my favorite mechanics of Paleovet is the press-your-luck aspect. If a carnivore (previously just called “dangerous”) dino wakes in your hospital, it is discarded along with any other dino in your hospital. We added that mechanic at this stage as well. It really brought flavor to the game, but there was one inherent flaw in how we implemented it…
A Major Flaw
It was at this stage that we recognized one major flaw with the game: players would only tranquilize dinos that they could cure immediately. No one wanted to risk losing a dino card, especially if that dino was “dangerous”. This flaw totally undermined the press-your-luck feel of the game.
At about version 2.5 we started experimenting with delaying treatments until the following round. This change met with some pushback. We had several playtesters feel some frustration with having to wait a turn to use their dice. We experimented with several permutations of this, but ultimately delaying treatment for one round (which we worked into the phase structure of the turn) ended up being the simplest and most effective way of dealing with the issue.
After a few turns, everyone seems to pick up on the order of things and the game goes smoothly. On top of that, there is a real danger in losing dinosaurs if you over-extended or real danger of missing out on points if you don’t take a risk.
In my next design diary, I’ll go into the third version of the game. At that stage, we added the wild tokens and unique dino powers, making the game rules nearly complete in their final form. Naturally, lots of balancing was still needed, more dinos were added, powers were changed, and costs were adjusted. But I’ll get into those details next time.