This month's playtesting trip to London coincided with St Patrick's Day, and realising this a week or two in advance nudged me into dragging Corlea, my game about building a trackway through a bog in Iron Age Ireland, back onto the workbench and seeing if I could get it into shape following some serious problems with it a few months ago.
A big element of the original concept of the Corlea game was that building the trackway created new action spaces that you could use, and players would progress along it in a "Tokaido" style (the player at the back can move as far forward as they wish). This never worked as I wanted it to, and I decided that this was a darling that I should kill, and so I rebuilt the game with something closer to a regular "worker placement" mechanism. And that is what I tested.
|The Corlea board could definitely do with a redesign: it gets hugely cluttered!|
When playtesting it is important to know what you want to get out of the exercise and can also be useful to let your players know what you are wanting from them. In this case, I knew that the balance of the scoring elements of the game, and the usefulness of various cards and possibly action spaces, was likely to be questionable at least. I asked my testers (who were, remember, game designers themselves) to try to ignore game balance for now and just see how the game flows and help me decide if I had something that felt like a game rather than an exercise in frustration like the previous version. If it passes this test, I can start looking at the details.
So how did we do? Well, I think the game passed the initial smell test. Quite a lot went right: turns zipped along, so downtime was not long, total playtime was just short of an hour, pretty much nailing the sweet spot I was aiming for, decisions felt reasonably interesting most of the time (though got less so later on), we saw some variety in styles of play thanks to some of the skill cards and, slightly comically and unexpectedly given that I was certain that the game had horrible balance problems, the end game scores were reasonably close.
There were plenty of problems we found. For instance the set collecting part of crafting and burying offerings just didn't hang together properly, there was no lure to get players to try collecting "King's Favour" (one-off, instant effect) cards, later in the game the positioning of workers in various tasks became rather stale, we ran out of one of the stacks of cards, and various effects felt either over or under powered. All these things are totally solvable, and I count this playtest as a huge success: the game overall mostly worked and I now have a list of things to look at next. Onward!
After playing a couple of other games from another designer, we reached the point where everyone who had brought a prototype had had at least one play, and the afternoon was getting fairly late, so people started to leave. I did, however, manage to get a quick test of my two-player Castle War card game with a designer I was chatting with.
This play of Castle War was basically a casual play-through, with only a minor tweak since my last try of it, hoping to largely get another perspective on the issues identified in other recent tests. The outcome was that the minor tweak (which was just a slight nerfing of an effect) seemed to have been positive, and the feedback I got closely aligned with feedback and observations from my last play or two. Essentially the game could do with a little more ability to manoeuvre troops, the unit types didn't seem as distinct as maybe they should (though maybe that's not actually a problem), and occasionally you can end up with a hand of cards that is just useless in your current situation, so we want a little more flexibility there.
So, all in all another really enjoyable and productive day. Thanks due to everyone who attended and made it so good, as always.