Welbo and I actually finished our most recent playtest of the Valley of the Five Fires wargame on Sunday night. Long story short, it was a rousing success! Huzzah! (Which is to say, "I won!")
THE BIG CHANGES...
The original mechanic was based on a number of d6s rolled equal to the chit's Attack Rating (from 1d6-4d6), both sides rolled, and the difference was subtracted from the lower roller's Wound Points as damage. This was repeated until one of the two combatants was dead. While it seemed good in theory, in practice it was... well... it just wasn't fun. Weaker opponents died pretty much 100% of the time, regardless of whether the advantage was 4d6 to 3d6 or 2d6 to 1d6. The reworked mechanic was based on a 2d6 roll on an odds table (like the ones on this post, but with 2d6 instead of 3d6), and a separate damage roll (based on the result of the 2d6 roll). At first glance, it would seem that 2 rolls per "round" would be more confusing and take longer than 1 roll per "round," but not so. It was smoother, much more balanced, and makes even the 1d6-Attack-Rating Skeletons potentially deadly (but mostly "potentially").
Encounter Wound Points
Given the deadliness of even minor encounters under the new combat paradigm (yes, I used the word "paradigm," what of it?), the Wound Points (i.e., "hit points") for all the animals, monsters, and warriors (player and NPC warriors alike) had to be re-thought. In most cases, their Attack Ratings stayed the same, and only the Wound Points were adjusted (usually down by about 1/2) so that combat resolution didn't take forever.
Added Victory Condition
Originally, winning the game required only acquiring all four of the Luuzhin coins. The updated victory condition requires the player make it back to their base camp to return the acquired coins to their Khan (the player parties are searching on behalf of their respective khans). This creates a bit of a gauntlet during the last moments of play, and creates some extra tension.
TO ANSWER THE PLAYING TIME QUESTION...
Somebody asked the playing time. I think given the most recent experience, whether you're playing with 2, 3, or 4 players, I'm thinking about 2 hours. Ironically, having more players potentially shortens the game time, while fewer players means it could take longer. With a certain number of spaces on the board that have to be investigated, more players means investigating them goes more quickly. And fewer players means investigating them goes much slower (duh).
At this point, I just need to retype the rules to accommodate all the little tweaks we've made along the way, as well as the re-figured combat rules. I'm not quite ready for volunteers yet, but give me a week or so, and keep your eye on this blog. Most likely, the next post I make about the game will be the call for beta playtesters, and I'll tell you what/who we're looking for, and how we'll choose. Welbo and I will probably run a few sessions via Roll20 (with 2 recruits per session), but we'll also likely be sending out some "prototype" versions to a few others (for blind play, without our assistance with the rules).