Playtesting in London

Yesterday was another big step for me, as I took a day trip into London for an afternoon of playtesting organised by the Playtest UK group.  These are the guys who ran the playtest zone that I went to at UK Games Expo last year, but the difference with these more regular meets is that everyone (more or less) is a fellow game designer, so you probably get a different style of feedback to when you are testing with either friends or members of the gaming public.
I neglected to take a photo while at the meet, so here's a recreation of the scene. The actual players on the day might have been a little larger and, you know, not made of Lego.

I will admit to being very nervous on the way down, but I found the pub venue easily and the one guy who was there before me was very welcoming, and very enthusiastically discussed my game with me until everyone else turned up a few minutes later.  The everyone else was just as friendly and comprised a good mix of people ranging from seasoned veterans with several published games to rookies like myself, and the atmosphere was very relaxed throughout.

The afternoon was divided into ninety minute sessions, during each of which there were two or three tables running, and organised so that each designer who wanted to run something had the opportunity to do so, though to make time, some tables ran a couple of shorter games, one after the other.  Boogie Knights, being a short game, got to share a slot with another game (a chaotic dungeon crawl), but benefited from having a five-player game where I could just sit by and watch.

Pleasingly, once I had explained the game, everything flowed along quickly and I only needed to clarify things on a couple of occasions.  The game was played with good humour and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves (despite one player grumbling comically about the dice).  I've come to the opinion that one of the most useless questions you can ask playtesters is "did you enjoy the game?" as, certainly if you are present for the game, it should be pretty obvious just by watching who is engaged and who is drifting.

What is really encouraging was that once the game finished, we were instantly into some very interesting (to me) discussion about various points about the game.  The magic still seems to need work and the difficulty-to-reward relationship for challenges may be off, for example.  We even got into some really interesting suggestions that I really like and will see if I can work them into the game, like that these players would like to see reactive cards that you can play off your turn, possibly to give yourself a temporary bonus in a challenge.  This thought developed into having special moves like, for instance, having a special dance moment where you moonwalk and gain +2 disco.

All this has resulted in me having a sizable list of comments and ideas which I will have to think about.  I think I would like to have another test or two with this set of cards (maybe with slightly tweaked rules) before I do another iteration of the card set.

So this was a great experience overall and has fired me up about the whole game design process.  Getting to sit in with some far more experienced designers was also really instructive as everyone seems to have their own way of going about playtesting, so just observing the way some of these guys work is helping me to figure out how to improve my own methods.

I'm certainly hoping to get along to another of these meetups in the not too distant future, and I am even more determined to take more opportunities to test locally.


Looking Forward

Last time I talked about last year, so this time I'll have a think about what I'm planning to do this year from a game design perspective.
Cheesy stock art time.  Yoinked from Pixabay where they say this is public domain.

I think that probably my biggest hope is to do more playtesting.  A lot more playtesting.  And developing some of the games I already have in the pipeline some more.  This means that I might have to back off on rattling out new games for the 24 hour contests and the like, though I'd still like to take part in some of them, but I think the focus for 2016 should be getting at least a couple of games into a much more developed condition.

I am starting off the year as I hope to continue, as this weekend I will be heading into London for a Playtest UK meet; I can't make these very often as most are on weekday evenings nowhere near me, but I can occasionally get into The Smoke for a Sunday afternoon, so here goes.  I'll also try to convene a local playtesting group a little more often and be a little more forward in asking people to play prototypes.

In particular, as I have made a fair bit of progress (albeit slowly) with Boogie Knights, I would really like to get the rest of the rough edges knocked off.  Then I can decide if I will try pitching it to a publisher or just leave it as a print and play game.  I'm not sure which other game or games will benefit from the extra attention, but I'm sure I will be posting here about how things go.

Which brings us to the big one, getting published, which friends do ask me about from time to time...

I would be lying if I said that I do not hope to get a game published one day, but I think that realistically I am some way away from that.  I don't want to get a game published at all costs and I sure as hell don't want to publish myself, so I will continue to plug along and get some of my designs to a level where I can be really proud of them.  Yes, I know this is me putting off taking the risk of pitching to a publisher, but I'm happy with that for now.  And you never know what will happen along the way.

Apart from the actual testing and developing, I need to get more practice with rulebooks.  I am definitely coming to the conclusion that I would like to be known for being able to produce a really good set of rules.  I am also acutely aware that I am still a long way from that goal.  So the aim is to get practice.  I will volunteer to proofread, edit, rewrite and otherwise help with as many other people's rulebooks as I am able, and I will work hard to improve my own work too.  (So if you have a rulebook you would like an extra pair of eyes on, please let me know!)

So that's the plan.  More playtesting and development, and more work on writing rules.  We'll see how I get on over the next 12 months...


Looking Back

Allow me to be among the last to wish you a happy new year. It has taken me a while to get back on the blogging horse, but here we are, all mounted up and ready to ride forth into the future...

If I was writing this a fortnight ago it would have been very much the done thing to look back on 2015 and see what I have learned and achieved over the last twelve months. I'm a bit late for all that, but I'll do it anyway.
Nice pic yoinked from Dr Wendy Longo on Flickr.

I discussed a couple of months or so back how I was doing with the game design resolutions I set myself for the year and concluded that, while I wasn't quite doing everything as planned, I was doing OK. The only thing I haven't really done is dug into my "game hooks" list and made something tangible out of some of them, but I think I have managed something better.

So to sum up things that I am pleased with (from a game design perspective) over the year...
  • I have entered the BGG 24 hour game design contest six times through the year, each time resulting in a new game that I have shared for others to play, and I've even experimented with different styles of games as part of this.
  • I have iterated over one of the games that came out of the 24 hour contest (Boogie Knights) and even brought it to a public playtest event. The game is still a long way from finished, but it has (mostly) improved at every revision, even though there have been some missteps here and there.
  • I entered a bigger contest, the BGG Children's Print and Play Design contest with I Know An Old Woman, which has become my first entry in the BGG game database, so I'm now officially a "game designer"! I'm generally happy with the game, though I need to do a revised rulebook as I'm not at all happy with that.
  • I've been getting into rulebook writing, spurred on even more by the fact that my one "released" game desperately needs that skill applied. I have proofread a couple of rulebooks, and helped rewrite a translated rulebook from the ground up for someone else. All great practice.
  • I have the beginnings of a local playtest group who are willing to try out my prototypes and give some pleasingly frank feedback. Learning to work with playtesters is a whole area of skills to develop.
  • I have managed to post on this blog on a reasonably regular basis. While I could be using this time for actually working on games, I think that having the blog is a useful tool to aid me in reflecting on my progress. I could probably do this in a private journal, but doing it publicly means that I need to make the posts in some semblance of proper English in case somebody actually wants to read it.
  • Being more active in the Board Game Geek design forums is starting to yield contacts, mostly people in a similar boat to me, amateurs, maybe just getting started, but it is starting to feel like I am becoming a part of a community, which is really encouraging.
On the downside, all these new projects have meant that some of the games I started thinking about and working on a year or two back have languished a bit. So no progress on Space Station 7 and precious little on Scurvy Crew, for instance. But this is not all bad as I think that all the work I have been doing on other games has helped me develop my skills so that I might now have a better chance of dealing with the issues with the older games that slowed me down.

While making games has been the biggest help to learning, I've also found lots of podcasts to listen to and blogs to read which give a great deal of wonderful information on all aspects of game design. I'll post about my favourite ones some time, but for the moment I'll just say that if you just subscribe to one source, make it Cardboard Edison, who provide some of their own content, but also post links to many of the best boardgame design blogs and podcasts.

Next time I'll post on my plans for the future...