Shooting in London

This weekend was 2016's final Sunday playtest session in London and, having missed the last couple, I was eager to get along.  My plan was to take Invaded (the game about being attacked by a non-player colonial power) along, but over the last couple of weeks a new opportunity has come up, so I rethought things and I ended up taking along a game that is rather early in its development life but that I managed to get far enough with that I felt it was at least playable.
My basic prototypes definitely have a "look" to them.
Right now I don't feel I can go into great detail about this project for a couple of reasons, but in essence, what we have is a game of big game hunters going out to "bag" fantasy-style monsters.  I had four volunteers to try the game out, so I sat out to observe and act as the rulebook.

And then I experienced one of the most brutal take-downs of my game that I have had so far.  It quickly became apparent that there were too many rules, and many of them didn't make sense to anyone but me.


But the general consensus was that there was a lot of fun to be had with this game if I can clear the deadweight away and tidy up the bits that are left.  We identified the parts of the game that were the most fun, and which just got in the way, so now I have a lot of information to be going on as I develop the next version.

I think that this is one of the most important skills to learn as a neophyte game designer: the ability to take criticism, to avoid being defensive, and to see what the feedback is really telling you.  Here, I actually had four people telling me what they wanted to do in this game (and what they felt was fun) and letting me know what parts of the game are making that harder.  What they wanted to do mostly lines up with the main concept of the game, and most of the bits that were getting in the way were elements that I thought would add more interest to the game.  Based on this, I think most of those extra elements will be dropped for the next iteration, but some of them are ideas that I may be able to reintroduce in a modified form later, if the game needs them (and it may not).  In the meantime, though, I need to find the core of the game and make it as much fun as I can.

Before moving on, I'd like to just extend special thanks to David Turczi. All of the testers were hugely helpful, but David put a lot of effort into questioning just about every part of the game, accepting some of my responses, arguing against others, and highlighting all sorts of problems, while also giving some solid general advice and saying a few very nice things about some parts of the game.  His, and everyone else's, input left me feeling a bit bruised, but really positive about the future of the game.

Of course, this being a playtest meetup, it's not all about my projects, and I was able to play a good selection of other games varying in completeness from just about ready to publish down to very early and creaky but showing promise.  So I played a micro-wargame about the War of the Roses, a game about printing money to rescue struggling businesses, a car racing game with a really interesting "exhaust" mechanism, a game about time travel and saving the world, and a really cute game about rescuing baby dragons.    It's really inspiring to see the huge range of what is being worked on -- and these only amounted to barely a third of the games being tested on the day.

So, I now need to get back to working on that Shooting Party game.  Time is a-ticking.


Keeping Score in My Name Is...

In my recent tests of My Name Is..., one of the key elements I was trying to figure out was how to keep score.  A game of this sort probably doesn't really have to have a totally robust scoring system as playing it is mostly about the interaction between players on a social level, but it still needs a way to determine a winner that feels reasonable to the players.

The original version of the game had counters which moved around as challenges were made, and they provided a measure of success.  In the latest iteration, the counters have gone and scoring is being done with cards themselves: if you successfully challenge someone, you add the cards in their "live" stack to your score pile, and if your challenge is unsuccessful they gain your stack.
Some games look compelling when they are set up on the table. This is not one of those games.

This now opens up a question: should the winner be determined by who has been "correct" in the most challenges, or by who has accumulated the most cards in their score pile?

Luckily, it's possible to try both methods out simultaneously.  If one approach or the other is chosen, it might change how some people play the game, but I figure that those players would be in a minority, and possibly not the core target audience anyway.

So, what I have done for recent playtests is ask players to keep the cards they gain in challenges in separate piles so we can count how many "tricks" (that's technically an inappropriate term but it's what I'm thinking in my head) they win as well as how many cards they have in total.  I can record both sets of scores, along with what I call the "people's choice", where I ask everyone who they feel did best in the game and thus deserved to win.

This last point is one that I need to remember for the future.  It won't be appropriate for all games, but I think that for many it would be a really useful piece of feedback to ask for.  Where scores aren't being obviously tallied in a game, players often have a perception of who they feel is doing the best.  This is often mistaken, and surprise turnarounds can really add excitement to an endgame, but I think that seeing how well players' perceptions line up with the actual result may be very interesting.

I have so far only run a couple of test games using this game, but in both cases, all three measures lined up pretty well.  The player who everyone believed did the best amassed the most cards and either took the most "tricks" or tied for the most.  I am planning to do a few more playtests using this approach, but it is actually looking like whichever scoring scheme I settle on will probably be fine.  I'm guessing that the "just count the cards" system is probably best (pending further data) as, while there is a bit more counting, it is simpler (people do manage to get mixed up trying to track those tricks) and has the added benefit of being far less likely to result in a tie.


Meeting Dragons

I have been meaning to go to the Dragonmeet convention for many years.  It is a one-day annual event that has been held in London for decades, and has a great reputation for being fun and friendly.  The focus has traditionally been roleplaying, but these days it seems to be a general tabletop gaming event.  Finally, this weekend I managed to make the trip.
Once again I totally failed to take a usable photo, so here's this year's t-shirt design, totally yoinked from the Dragonmeet website. I hope they don't mind.
I can't tell you much about the con overall as I spent most of my time in the Playtest UK area, but I can say that there was a good trade hall, which included spaces for gaming of various types (including the "best of Essen" tables and the playtest zone), and roleplaying games, seminars and other stuff was taking place somewhere or other.  Oh, and the venue was comfortable, reasonably spacious, had good toilets, and was only about 5 minutes' walk from the nearest tube station.

Anyway, hanging around the playtest area allowed me to see a lot of great looking prototypes, and managed to play a few of them: a game about building skyscrapers, a game based on running game shows (with a modified Monty Hall mechanism), and a game about rolling dice to build gene sequences.

I had taken along "My Name Is...", which I am now usually describing as an ice-breaker game of memory and mental agility, which seems to both scare and intrigue people.  We had two plays of the game with different groups (I joined in on one of them) and had very different experiences with them.

The first group provided a constant flow of questions, suggestions, arguments and interruptions, identifying quite a lot of issues that need thinking about.  There was one player in particular, who was quite assertive in poking at the game and at me, but it was in good humour and he was genuinely being helpful (and, pleasingly, on the feedback form gave the game top marks for "fun").  This group had some roleplaying of opinions that turned up on cards, and some fairly tight policing of the rules about when turns finish and challenges are allowed.

The second group was a great contrast, just grokking the idea of the game immediately (with one or two questions after starting) and playing in a really relaxed way.  A few turns in and it looked like this group were old hands, and I could just sit back and watch as they played at their own pace, effectively house ruling an easy-going attitude to the challenges.  I have to say that while the feedback from this group was less informative in itself, it was the best feeling in the world to just watch a group chatting and laughing about the game and (to my eyes) thoroughly enjoying it.  This tells me that the game as it stands definitely has an audience, and that I am not heading up a blind alley.  Of course, I need to make the game work for more groups than this one (though it definitely worked for the other group too), but it's a good start.

Overall this was a really good experience and a helpful session, and I have a few notes for things to experiment with, including some possible alternate titles.

I should also mention that last week I started a thread on this game on Board Game Geek, asking for help for card subjects, and had a few people giving some very useful suggestions (some of which made it into the card set I was using here), plus a really interesting idea to try making the game into something other than the love/hate a subject that it is now... I will be thinking about this as it could be really cool if I can figure it out.