Scurvy London

Having revived Scurvy Crew over the Christmas and new year period, made a new version of it, tested it solo, then hastily revised the revision, I took the rather scrappy prototype to London for the first Sunday playtesting meetup of the year.

Once again the journey was not uneventful, as the skies saw fit to drop quite a lot of snow on me, starting just before I got into the car to drive to the station, making the half-hour drive far more hazardous than expected, and the wait for the train rather colder and wetter than normal, but the rest of the journey was just fine.  The snow appears to have followed me to London, where it started falling a couple of hours or so later, leaving rain behind at home, so there was no sign of snow on my return.

I'm British. We talk about weather.  Sue me.

Anyway, at the meetup, I got to play an early prototype of a worker placement game that was quite a lot of fun.  It was a bit fiddly, and had issues with the scoring, but was engaging and had a lot to think about and I was surprised when the designer said it was only the second playtest of the game, as it felt like it was a complete game that just needed a bit of tidying, streamlining and balancing.  Good stuff.

I was up in the second session and my pitch for Scurvy Crew (the routine is that everyone tapped for a slot gets a minute or so to outline their game so players can choose what they will play) was full of caveats about how wonky and untested it is, and how I had no idea of how long it would take to play.

Mid-play, with a couple of merchants being engaged, and the black ship in port to resupply.

So, we had four of us playing (thanks to Rob, Kieran and Gavin for playing and valuable feedback), and the game mostly went OK, though had some terrible balance issues (we made a couple of tweaks to the rules during play -- something that is easy to get away with when you have game designers testing) and ran long (we called it off after about an hour of play), but gave me a very good feel for how it works at the moment, and yielded some great feedback. 

Some of the main points that came up:

  • My mechanism for scoring treasure (gaining cards from a deck of regular playing cards and scoring your longest suit at game end) was very warmly received, which surprised me a little as I had pretty much just thrown the mechanism in as a place holder. This was made even better by the option to discard (an increasing number of) treasure cards to get extra actions.
  • Men o'war weren't handled quite right: they caused big problems and there was no incentive to do anything other than steer clear.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing as such, but it didn't seem much fun. Some changes introduced during play improved this, but I have a few other ideas to try.
  • There was no real incentive to attack other players, something that the players wanted to do in a pirate game.  We had some discussion about possible ways to improve this, and I think it is actually going to be my biggest challenge for the next version.
  • Overall, most of the mechanisms of the game seemed to have good thematic resonance, including the overhead of spending actions to move between port and sea, and from the general sea area to go hunting merchants, which provided a nice reward for ships that were able to stay at sea for longer.
I have a lot of work to do, but the main changes I made in the last revision (the new way to handle hunting and capturing merchants) seems to have been a real success, even if the balance is way off at the moment.  There was a lot more discussion about the game, identifying many other problems, but I am really happy with how things went.

So next up: rethink player vs player battles, take another look at men o' war (I definitely want to keep them), set up some crew cards for starter hands, a little tidying and simplification, and see how we go from there...

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