It's Drafty in Victoria

After missing last month's playtesting meetup in London, I actually made it this weekend, and on a whim decided to take my hand-made and still unplayed (other than some solo plays) prototype of "Drafty Valley".  I was chatting with one of the other designers before the session started, and we agreed that the type of feedback gained from other designers at this sort of meetup can often be amazingly useful in the earlier stages of a design, but might be less productive later on. That's been my experience anyway.

I was selected for the first round of games, and quickly had three volunteers to join me for a four-player game. Pleasingly, they were all willing to go with my preferred approach of, "We'll just explain each new thing as it turns up," and the game started in what must be a record time.

A few rounds in and there haven't been any builds yet. Hmm...
I won't go into a play-by-play or anything, but will report that many aspects of the game were just horrible. For instance:

  • Several actions just didn't take place because people couldn't capitalise on the selected cards.
  • The players producing grain and sheep found that there was precious little to do with their resources.
  • It took ages before we were really interacting on the board, and even then a couple of the players were still pretty isolated.
  • The scoring cards seemed pretty random and poorly thought through (well, there may have been a reason for that...!) and not knowing what was on them at the start of the game left players with no real direction for the first couple of rounds. 
  • The benefits of buying and selling on the market were massively disproportionate compared with the other things you could do.
And so on.

However, I knew that the game was shonky when I set out.  What I was really wanting to test was the overall concept of mashing together several variants on a drafting mechanic (where players pick some sort of a resource from a pool, generally taking turns to do so), and with the activities on each turn also based on drafting from a pool of options. How did that general idea work?

Well, towards the end of the session, one of the players said something along the lines of, "I don't know why we're doing what we're doing, but what we're doing is fun." He, and the others, had a lot of criticisms about the details of the game (as above), but the consensus seemed to be that the overall shape of the game (if not its current dynamic arc) has potential.  I am more than happy to take this as a result for a playtest.

So I need to build a new prototype which fits together a little more coherently, is not as slack at the beginning, is less likely to leave players unable to act on their turn, and gives everyone a bit more of a clue about what to do early on. All this while avoiding adding extra elements as, while I have a number of ideas for more features that I would love to add, there is probably enough here already to make a decent game once it is all knocked into shape. It would be great if I could get this one to play in, say, 30 to 40 minutes, but we'll see how we go.

Aside from my own game, I got to play two prototypes from other people. One was a midweight Euro with some really interesting challenges; it was a bit fiddly, and the various subgames weren't quite in sync with each other, but I really enjoyed playing it and can't wait to see it finished. The other game was a really neat and colourful abstract game that was teetering between being a crunchy puzzle-strategy game and a semi-mass-market family game, which I also very much enjoyed playing.

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