To me the gold standard of what makes a good game is the old adage "easy to learn, difficult to master". The design decisions I made for Plotz were to do my best to embody this idea. In Plotz I think you'll find that growing some crops is easy enough to do. The true challenge of the game is to create a sustainable, profitable farm that can last for season after season. Making a large profit while keeping your soil in top condition is no easy task in Plotz! You'll be making lots of choices which have tradeoffs, and you'll have to be able to deal with uncertainty. Mastering Plotz will take observation, experimentation, and practice.
The system behind Plotz involves the balance of three major systems: the economy, the water cycle, and the nutrient cycle.
The amount of money you receive for a type of harvested crop is based on the seed cost, the cost of enough steady-blend fertilizer to restore the nutrients the fruit requires, and a small margin of profit on top. There's a larger margin for more difficult to grow crops. In the full version of the game, you'll also have to pay property taxes at the end of each growing season, which will be your biggest money sink. Without a huge increase in money, your farm has to expand slowly and naturally, and the player will have an easier time dealing with the increased metabolism of so many more crops. In Plotz, balance is more important than just doing more.
The water cycle is a vital and very visible part of Plotz gameplay. Water is one of the main metabolic agents for your farm. It will determine how many and what types of crops you can grow at a given time. The incentive to earn more profit by growing more crops is always tempered by the knowledge that if you try to grow too many crops at once, a dry spell in the weather could deplete your resources and you might lose a lot of your crops ane end up taking a big loss. The Well is your main buffer of water and acts as your main guide against the uncertainty of the weather. If your farm's well is always topped off, it's an obvious sign that you could safely grow more crops. If the water level starts to get low, it's a definite sign that you're growing too much and may even have to get rid of some before you end up running out of water for anything. Because the well is refilled each time it rains, you also have an incentive to keep the well not-quite-full, or else you'll miss out on some of the total volume of water you could have had to work with. This encourages some risk taking and creates even more incentive to find that perfect level of water usage as time rolls on.
The nutrient cycle is also an important part of Plotz. The only way to keep a farm going over the long term is to replace as many or more nutrients as your plants take up. For the demo version the only way to do this is via Fertilizers. This is one area that I have a lot more ideas for future development. The fertilizer usage is pretty straight-forward. The steady-release versions are much more cost effective, but might not get a plant in dire need of nutrients enough fast enough. The quick-release versions are not cost effective but might get you your crop finished growing faster. The general idea here is to encourage the player to pay attention to nutrient levels and to plan ahead. You'll learn which crops are hungry for which nutrients, and you can pre-load the soil with the proper nutrient type if you're really on your game.
The changing weather is a major feature that will shift your focus from one balance point to another in the game. In general a lot of sunny days will stress your water. A long string of rainy days can threaten your nutrient levels because plants will be able to take up the maximum amount each day. Also each rainy day any uncovered soil will lose some nutrients to erosion. Thus the natural cycle will always be keeping the player's attention shifting to compensate for the variety of farm needs.