Last night wasn't so much of a "playtest" of the Valley of the Five Fires Microgame, as it was a chance to put the encounter/player stats through the ringer. It consisted mostly of rolling d6s, doing some minor math, and trying a bunch of variants.
After the first playtest, were afraid of some of the encounters being too deadly, and others being too much of a pushover. But after a discussion of potential player strategies, we came to the following conclusions:
1) Math is hard.Here's the conclusion to which we came...
Seriously... when you're rolling multiple d6s (e.g., one person is rolling 2d6, and the other is rolling 3d6), and then each side gets bonuses to the roll (e.g., 2d6+3 vs 3d6+2), and then you have to subtract the lower roll from the higher, it slows the hell things down! Not what we want in this kind of game. It's different when all of the penalties/bonuses are to a single target number on an attack roll. But when there are modifiers to two opposing rolls, and then you have find the difference, it was WAY too cumbersome.
2) Encounters should be deadly.
The worst that happens is that you "start over" from your home space with a "new" Player Party. Early on in the game, the risk for the Experience Points earned is worth the chance of losing anything you've got. Late in the game, you've hopefully earned enough XP that the encounters aren't so deadly.
3) The pushover encounters are really there as a nuisance.
They force the end of your turn, and the Experience Points earned are almost insignificant. Early on the game, they provide the chance of "safely" earning Experience Points. Late in the game, they remain a nuisance as you race to complete the quest (and win the game).
"It was fine the way it was. It needed some tweaks, but not an overhaul."
I think we Welbo and tested the game on New Year's Day, we played it too safe. We were both trying to avoid encounters and acquire the quest items as quickly as possible, and we paid for it... with our lives! (We were playing the "quick" game option where you didn't "start over" when you died, you were just out of the game. We're thinking about eliminating this play option altogether; hopefully it will change the player strategies, so they're not so concerned with dying that they're always trying to play it safe.)
The next full playtest should be interesting. We're looking at trying it through Roll20. If that goes well, we'll probably start reaching out for other virtual playtesters the last week of this month.