Jugged Valley

This weekend was time for another trip to London for playtesting, and I took with me my game which currently has the most momentum, Drafty Valley (for which I would like to find a new name!).

Now I've written that last sentence, I find myself thinking about momentum. It does seem to be that games vary in how much progress they are making at a given time, and that often, a game that has had some focus will keep moving onwards, with the occasional nudge from me to keep things going, until friction takes over and things grind to a halt. Earlier this year Craghold and Scurvy Crew were moving forward well. This time last year it was Invaded that was developing freely and quickly. Right now it is Drafty Valley.  The metaphor breaks down a little because usually a project seems to get moving on its own (specifically, I wake up one morning with an idea to try with a game, and it goes from there), but once it's moving, it keeps moving for a while. I'm not sure if my going-with-the-flow approach to game development is a particularly sensible one, but at least I do feel that I am making progress most of the time. Is that enough...?

Turns out that developing a location can get a little fiddly when there is a load of stuff on the board.

Anyway, back to the meetup. As planned, I left the prototype unchanged from the test I did at the Oxford meetup a few weeks ago (having not had a playtesting opportunity for the game in the meantime) and I played with the same rules, not changing setup, though happily I was able to get a 4-player game this time.

The first thing I noticed was that I got a lot of pushback (from one player in particular) against the idea of only explaining the parts of the game in the initial setup and allowing players to discover the game as they go. This doesn't really surprise me, as a lot of players do want to be competitive on their first play and want to know everything up front. I don't think this is really a problem: the game can be learnt in two ways: either with a short explanation and then find out the rest later, or by explaining everything up front. I think I'll keep things as they are and then I can use both approaches as fits the situation.

The game went well overall, though ran longer than I was hoping. We cut play off after an hour, with maybe ten or fifteen minutes left to go by my judgement.  Still, the players generally approved of the style of the game and the way it flowed.

That being said, there were, of course, problems.

What I think was the main issue was that the objectives didn't work right. The idea is that a pick-and-pass draft of objective cards (like in 7 Wonders or Sushi Go) takes place in fits and starts across the game and, while it worked a lot better than it did last month, it still left players waiting for information about what they should be trying to do in the game, and felt frustrating, and also (unlike the other actions) offered no advantage to the player who chooses the action card. A few ideas were thrown around, including possibly starting the game by getting everyone to draft a set of objectives, which could work but often makes for a horrible experience for inexperienced players. What I think I will try is to sacrifice a bit more table space by having a set of objectives on display, and then the "select objectives" action would involve taking cards from that display.  I may even go a little further and deal everyone a random card at the game start.

The other main issue that I want to consider this time is that the variability of which action cards are on display means that sometimes a player has first pick for that round, but there isn't really anything that they care greatly about, but other times a first choice is massively powerful.  This may be a little harder to fix, but I think that the solution is to make sure that every action is sufficiently interesting, or provides a really nice benefit to acting first with them (the actions resolve with whoever claimed the card going first). I will have to ponder on this one for a while...

So, that's what I will be doing in my spare time this week. I have decided that I will be taking Drafty Valley to test at the Playtest Zone at UK Games Expo in less than two weeks' time, so I need to deal with the biggest problems in the game so that I can make the most of the opportunity there.  Quite a bit of work to do...

Apart from my own game, I got to play a couple of others. The first was a football game (or soccer, if you are in the USA!) which isn't a theme that interests me at all, and felt a little fiddly, but had some really clever elements to it, so I suspect this will turn into something really cool for the right type of players.  The other game was a very early version of an experiment trying to make an accessible trivia-quiz game with a hidden traitor element; this wasn't really working, but led to some really interesting discussion, so it will be cool to see how things develop here.

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