Three pirate ships, two pubs, and some prehistory

This weekend I made my almost-monthly pilgrimage to London for an afternoon of playtesting thanks to Playtest UK.  For the second time I brought along Scurvy Crew, my card game about pirates, incorporating some changes to address issues identified last month.  I had two playtesters to work with this time, and I joined in to make a three.

As an aside, it is generally more effective to sit out and observe a playtest, which allows you more easily to watch what the players are doing, and make notes as you go along.  I find, however, that at this stage of a game's development, where it is changing quite rapidly, being involved can be a very effective way to get a feel for how the game plays, even at the cost of weaker in-play notes.

My usual blurry photography (not got effective shake compensation on the phone),
but going for more interesting angles this time.
My players were atypical for the Playtest UK meetups, as neither were game designers, they were just a couple of keen gamers who wanted to come along and try something new and potentially wobbly.  This meant that I could probably expect their feedback to be a little gentler and less critical than from the regulars, but getting thoughts from people I don't know at all (and watching them play) is generally useful.

As it turned out, the game ran smoothly, and these two players were really enthusiastic about it.  There were a few areas where the rules were less than perfectly clear and I had to re-explain a few times, and we cut the game off at about an hour of play, as it looked like it would run maybe another twenty minutes or so before ending.

A few really useful take-aways from this session:
  • Adding a full set of crew abilities so that every crew member had some text ability paid off, and I think most of the abilities in play were actually used at least once. Some fun combo play emerged, but I'm going to need to go through the possibilities carefully (and some of the details of card play) to ensure things don't get out of control.
  • Thinking of the details of card play, I have a couple of suggestions on how to tidy things up, and one of the players instinctively found a really efficient way of laying out their card tableau.
  • The game, as I mentioned before, was running long, which is partly because as it stands, player-versus-player combat just tends to make the game longer.  I have a couple of ideas to help here, including ways to keep the treasure and merchant decks ticking over, but also...
  • The treasure deck as it stands is just a regular deck of playing cards, which has been more or less adequate so far, but now really needs to be rethought. My feeling at the moment is to have a smaller deck, containing three "suits", with many cards providing treasure for more than one suit, to make set collection both easier and more interesting.
  • As for the p-v-p combat, this went down remarkably well, with one of the players building a crew that made it effective for them to attack other players, while I managed to build a crew that could generally evade attacks and recover quickly if that didn't work out.
Overall, while we didn't find deep problems (I always feel suspicious when that happens), this was a really positive experience, with both testers giving me a lot of encouragement to keep moving forward. I'm sure to find more problems in the coming weeks and months (I'll certainly be looking!) but it's nice to know that even in a flawed form, the game can, at least sometimes, entertain. That's a great place to be.

So my focus for the next iteration is to get the playing time down.  I would really like the game to play in less than an hour -- and if I can get it down to within 45 minutes I'll be a lot more confident about it's future.  

After the first round of testing, there was a bit of disruption due to our usual venue having a large party booked from the later part of the afternoon, leaving no space for us to stay.  During the first round of testing, our esteemed leader had taken a trip to another nearby pub and negotiated a room for us to use. So we went on a short walk to the new place and a function room that was comfortable, spacious and quiet, perfect for our needs.

Once we were relocated I only really had time to play one other prototype, but it was a fun one, inspired by Japanese hanafuda cards, and made into a game of prehistoric hunting and gathering. Very enjoyable.


Reindeer FTW!

Knock me down with a reindeer, I won the December 24 hour contest with my game, Loading the Sleigh! Thanks to Kai for running the contest and to the kind folks who voted for my entry.
Prize! (Image is Kai Schauer's)
If you go and look at the entry, you'll see that there were very few votes cast last month, as often happens.  The point of the contest really is more about participation than voting and prizes, but it would be cool if more people did vote, and I'm not sure how things can be improved. But if you have a little time and you have a BGG account, it would be really appreciated if you could go and take a look at the entries for the January contest ("Hope") and thumb the one you like the look of most. Playing the games isn't really expected, but if you do so, all the better.


Craggy Wars

A few weeks ago I stumbled across the 2018 Wargame Print and Play Contest on Board Game Geek, which is a long run-up contest with a development period running from last summer until the submission deadline in September this year.  I've not really thought much about making a wargame, but somehow ideas started churning in my head.  This year's theme (you don't have to go for it, but it basically means that there is a bonus prize category) is "sci-fi and fantasy", which added to the mental mix.

So, the concept I came up with was something loosely based on the battles for Gondor in the Lord of the Rings: Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, and the Pellenor Fields.  Mechanically, I wanted to try out action triggering in the style of the awesome Assault on Hoth (flip cards which indicate what groups of units can move or attack, making for a very dynamic battle), and combat resolution to be quick and straightforward but take account of mutual support of combat units.  The terrible working title for the game is currently Battle for Craggy City, and you can see the work in progress thread on BGG here.

I tried out a few things on my own with solo tests of a few options, and this week I finally got as far as having a reasonably full, playable prototype, with a friend to help test it.  Basically we had a map with two cities on it, one being a major fortified city and one being a port some distance away, plus a bunch of units for each side.  The defending player had control of both cities and a limited number of units, including some supply wagons that needed to be moved from the port to the main city.  The attacker had a larger army and more opportunity for reinforcements from the action deck, and a vague objective to capture the cities or wipe out the defenders.
Beautiful, huh? I also had dice that matched the unit bases.

We played the game twice, not going to a real conclusion, but going twice through the action deck on each play, which allowed for the battle to develop a reasonable distance and try out pretty much all aspects of the game as it stood.  The first game was played with the card flipping, and the second using the cards in a different way, each having a hand of cards to play, sometimes triggering an action for yourself and sometimes for your opponent.

Obviously the game has a very long way to go, but there were a few elements that worked pretty well (the basic combat system was OK, especially after tweaking the way damage was handled, for instance), and we identified a heap of elements to look at and some possible solutions to some of the problems we found. We also decided that we liked playing cards from hand a lot more than we liked the basic card flipping, so I think I will focus on that -- though the other way offers a potential other play mode that could be fun.

My immediate plans for the game are to make two main changes:
  • Modify the board to allow more space in general, but also to make the main city and the port closer together and to make a larger marshalling area for the attacking army.
  • Modify the action cards so that each activates one action for each army.  These can be used either in the order in which they are written or in the order chosen by whoever plays the card, and I will playtest this both ways to see what I like best.
A little further down the line my shopping list for changes currently includes things like:
  • Making the different unit types a little more distinct in their behaviour.
  • Enhancing the asymmetry between the armies.
  • Adding some fantasy elements like magic or special events.
  • Working on the background story for the game.
  • Figuring out more concrete and meaningful objectives for each side.
I think we're off to a decent start here though.