Thirsty Playtests

After a bit of a playtesting drought over the last couple of months, things have started to improve.  I have managed to persuade a few people to try my "Secret Satan" game, which is now known as "Giftmas with the Grimms", and is my most popular prototype with my daughter, Miss B.  And better still, I was able to get to a Playtest UK meetup in Oxford.

Oxford is a load closer to me than the London meetups I have been attending, but it is an evening meet, which has disadvantages, and the dates haven't fallen right for me previously, so it was nice to finally get along to meet a different group.  This meetup takes place at the Thirsty Meeples boardgame cafe, which unfortunately means paying a cover charge to sit at a table, and it's a little cramped, but it is also a totally awesome place with brilliant staff who bring you good coffee.

There were seven of us there last night and we were given two tables between us, and had games running on both tables for much of the evening.  I was lucky enough to get a five-player play of Boogie Knights in, getting half way through before the last couple of people turned up.
I don't have a photo to share from the meetup, so here's a picture of some modified Boogie Knight cards.

This was a big deal, as I have made a fundamental change to Boogie Knights, which had been working consistently well in playtests, but I had been bugged by a steadily flow of comments asking if it would be possible to remove the dice.  I know some people love the tension of using dice to resolve contests, but that also a good number of people feel that using dice in this way is a terrible mistake that removes both fun and challenge.  Recognising that whatever I do I won't please all the people, and also taking onboard some games industry insider advice that in general it is good to reduce the number of types of component (so cards plus score markers is more attractive to some publishers than cards plus score markers plus dice), I resolved to at least experiment.  I pencilled a number (from 1 to 6) onto each card, decided that in challenges players choose a card from hand to act as in lieu of a die roll, and made a few other rule tweaks to support the change.  This was quite a while ago and I just never quite managed to get the new version of the game into a playtest.

Until last night.  The headline news is that basically it works, and the players were enthusiastic about the change (I explained the previous form of the game).  There are a few rough edges to deal with, but this looks like I could be heading in the right direction.

Following that I got to play one of someone else's games, this one being a cooperative puzzle solving game which I had actually played an earlier incarnation of at UK Games Expo.  There have been a few tweaks since I last saw the game, which I think have been for the better, and I really enjoyed this play.  It will be interesting to see how it develops.

Finally, and actually rather surprisingly to me, I got to test Giftmas with the Grimms with four players, and got some more useful insights.  It's nice to get a few playtests of a game close together as you start getting a real feel for the characteristics of the game.  And, of course, now I really need to finish writing a rulebook...

So, overall a really useful evening out and I'm sure I'll be back again if the dates fall right.  Apart from anything else, it's great to have more opportunities to chat with like-minded people.  I find it's great for morale.


Run To The Hills... Run For Your Life

I have made some progress.  After my recent post on the subject of a game focused on the struggles of peoples being invaded by a colonial power, I managed to throw together a prototype to try out some ideas and then build on that.  

The first go involved hand-written cards to try out a simple "artificial intelligence" to control the non-player colonial power.  Then when that looked OK, I turned to the trusty nanDECK to make a set of cards and plundered my Settlers of Catan box for terrain tiles and resource cards, and my general component stock for everything else.
Solo testing a Frankenproto.  The sharp-eyed may spot some components I stole from elsewhere.
Pro tip: for quick prototyping, having copies of Catan and Carcassonne lying around is really helpful.  I actually have a big stock of random meeples, cubes, other wooden shapes (in various colours), coins, dice and other tokens and the like, but those two games provide a really handy variety of components that can be insanely useful for throwing together a prototype to test a concept, and both games are relatively inexpensive, easily available, and good games that belong in just about any board game collection anyway.

Having had a couple of solo plays I discovered that (a) the game I had at that point seems to fundamentally be Not Completely Awful, which is probably the first major quality threshold to pass, and (b) I don't really have the imagination to play a game as multiple different players and actually do any useful testing.  Luckily, at this point I was able to persuade my friend, D, to have a go at playing the prototype instead of using that valuable time playing something that has already been published.  This test involved a few on-the-fly rules changes, and we didn't get through the whole thing, but it was enough to get some good insight into the state of the game.

I now have a handy list of points that I need to address, which largely breaks down to:

  • The colonial power as it stands is not aggressive enough.
  • I need to think out combat better, both between different players and between the players and the colonials.
  • I have players potentially collecting "antagonism" tokens when they annoy the colonial power, but I have not yet clearly defined how they affect game play.
  • Loads more bits that are currently not as important.

Overall, I have a really good feeling about this project.  It may develop slowly, but I definitely want to make some more progress here.