Saturday, March 16, 2013

March reflections

By böhringer friedrich (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

I haven't written here for a while, and I'm starting to see the difficulties of trying to balance writing and actually designing while you have a full time job! But just like the times I have to kick myself into gear and do some designing, now I'm trying to kick myself into writing this new post. I thought I would reflect on my progress towards my goal of having four games ready for pitching come October, and see how far I've gone.

The Empire Engine

This game is a co-design with Chris Marling, a regular at our Cambridge weekly designer meetups. It's an 18 card microgame (yes, we are jumping on that wagon), that hopefully will be under the Good Little Games banner once it launches in the near future. Chris had the initial idea involving personal rondels, and a few brief months later, I'm happy to say that we have a really fun little game, that is undergoing its last few tweaks. As Chris would say, he can see it in the faces of those who play the game that there are some truly agonising decisions, which is what we want! So, while the game might not be suitable to pitch to publishers (although, who knows?), this will definitely be finished in time.

Verdict: Late Beta stage - close to completion.

Before Ragnarok

This is the Viking inspired game that included the heptagonal player boards that I showed in a previous post. The first playtest went well, and I am happy with the central mechanism. Unfortunately, I am still not so happy with the actual meat of the game, and am still trying to sort out what the players are actually doing, and the sort of goals that should be present in the game. I've left it on the backburner for a few weeks, as inspiration really hasn't hit me for this one. But I am slowly working at bits and pieces, and hope to have the next prototype ready by the end of the month.

Verdict: Alpha stage - solid mechanism, but lots of work to do on the content.


This is an older design, which I was working on with the hopes of fitting into the AEG Tempest line during 2012. Its a quick light card game about simultaneous action selection and reading your opponents, and while the game functioned moderately well, there was always something bothering me about it. Again, I was very happy with the mechanism, but the scoring and goals felt a little bit uninspired to me, and I wanted to make something where the whole game felt like...well, a whole. So I shelved it for a number of months, and now I've just recently thought about it again, and had some fresh inspiration. I've made up a new prototype, and should be testing it next week.

Verdict: Beta stage - if the recent changes are in right direction, this one should be pretty close to finished.


Trinitas is what Trinity has evolved into, a collaboration with Brett Gilbert. The game has completely changed from its original premise, with the only element surviving the carnage being the dice that we had made for the original prototype. A much more Euro-style game has risen from the ashes, which we have tentatively set in the Roman Empire, and went through its first playtest about a week ago. The results were very promising, with again the mechanism working really well, but just a bit more needs to be done on the texture of the game (I see a bit of a pattern developing here...). The second prototype is almost finished and should be tested this coming week.

Verdict: Alpha stage - a promising start for what really is a very new design.

Then there are the various ideas that haven't made it to prototype stage yet, mainly because I'm trying to force myself to work on iterations of current designs (of which I have plenty to keep myself busy with!).

So, with roughly 7 months to go, it has been a good start to the year so far. Hopefully in the next month I can really push those designs in their infancy to the Beta stage, and keep tweaking the ones that are closer to finished. It's a lot to do, but I am actually quite excited to have so many pots on the stove at once - watch this space!

Monday, March 4, 2013

How hot does the playtesting furnace need to be?

By Staff Sgt. Craig Cisek, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

During my daily catch up with game design articles and threads, I was alerted via Twitter to a thread on Boardgamegeek entitled '10 Playtest Principles - Advice on how to be a good playtester'. The title certainly piqued my interest and the thread itself was filled with some excellent ideas and advice to potential playtesters about what they can do to be the most use to a game designer. It is something that is rarely discussed, but extremely important in how effective a playtest can be in furthering a design.

I'm not going to summarise all the thoughts raised in the thread, but there is one point in particular that struck a chord in me. This is the question of a playtester's gaming preferences, and how this relates to their suitability as a playtester. One post in the thread went so far as to recommend that prospective playtesters inform the designer of which gaming genres they prefer (and those that they don't) before the playtest, and if their interests didn't line up with the type of game being tested they were better off not playing the game.

I actually think that one of the most valuable experiences that you can have as a game designer is having your game be played by people whom you would not consider to be in its target audience. Generally, players who are familiar with the sort of game you are making are more predisposed to be forgiving of rough features or suboptimal design choices simply because the experience is vaguely familiar to games they know and like, and as a result their feedback is not as critical or as attentive to the nuances that are present in your design. You will be able to tell whether the game 'works' with members of your target audience, but it might be difficult to use the results to further refine your game or to innovate from the expected norm.

On the other hand, players who have little experience with the kind of game that you are making can be incredibly valuable at different stages of a game's development. Early on, they can quickly debunk the inherent assumptions you make in the way you expect players to understand the game, and force you to adjust your own views. Later on in a game's development, they can offer radically different suggestions as to how to improve the game - and while many of these may be unsuitable for a variety of reasons - you might only need one good idea to help you escape from an iteration rut (where subsequent iterations of a game fail to address core problems with the design) and really push the game towards completion.