I hear the creak of the big machine...

On Sunday of last week (once again I got distracted by other things before finishing this post) was my last major playtesting opportunity before UK Games Expo, and was the monthly trip to London. I always plan to arrive long before the start of the playtesting, so I can have a relaxed coffee and sandwich by way of preparation, and this time I bumped into Bez (of Yogi/In a Bind fame, amongst others), who was training a couple of volunteers for her stall at Expo, so I got "taught" a few short games (that I happened to already know) as part of their practice, which was good fun.

The prototype games designed by others that I played were a "Simon Says" style party game, a very nearly done game of city building, a real-time (app assisted) action, and a game about not being too good at your job.  Lots of good stuff in varying stages of development.

The game I took with me was the Steampunk Workshop game, having mutated into its "Big Machine" version and lost most of the features from its first couple of iterations and become something very different.

The machine is slowly extending, but has some way to go.

So the headline news is that most of the details of the game are broken -- the balance is all to pot and there are points where things can get gummed up -- but it looks like I have finally found something approximating a game here, so I can start working on tidying up the details.

The biggest issue here was that it took too long for players to be able to afford to buy the gadgets that act as victory points and special abilities. I did end up giving everyone some additional resources part way through the game to help this, but I think it was too late to see how the gadgets really effect the game.  Furthermore, there is one of the gadgets which shunts other players around, and this was seen to be overpowered and frustrating if you aren't the person who has it.  I rather like this particular gadget, but if it turns out to be more of a problem than a benefit (and it could dictate the flavour of the game) then it will have to go.  It will be interesting to see how it works in a game where everyone has more gadgets available to them.

There were plenty of other comments and observations, but the notable point is that they were pretty much all about details rather than the big picture, which was mostly left unscathed.  So I think I now have the basis on which I can build this game.  It actually doesn't include the mechanism that got me started down the track, but that is not a particularly unusual thing to happen. 


Let's Go Expo...

If you are in the UK and care about such things, you are probably aware that UK Games Expo is coming up at the end of this month.  I'll be heading up there once again and have been making plans, as is necessary. So, here we go (everything may change, but this is the plan so far)...

I'll be heading up to the NEC on Thursday and hopefully meeting and chilling with a few people on the eve of the event proper.  The show runs from Friday to Sunday, and I have volunteered to help out in the Playtest Zone for all three mornings, so you know where to find me (stand 1-184, apparently).
A pic stolen from the UKGE website. In a game of Where's the Wally, can you spot me?
I have meetings for a chunk of Friday afternoon, pitching some games. I'm not going all-in on pitching, but have been talking to a few publishers with the intention of slowly building up relationships.  Friday evening is the Designer-Publisher networking event from 9pm, before which I hope to have something to eat and maybe even play a game.

On Saturday afternoon I am booked in to playtest Scurvy Crew from 3 to 4:30. Hopefully that will be enough time to get a couple of play-throughs, given that the game usually takes about half an hour, and only a few minutes to explain.  If you fancy having a go, come on down! (Or you can collar me any other time you find me free.)  I may end up getting another playtest slot some time, but we'll have to see.

Looking forward to seeing lots of people in a couple of weeks -- and I may even get to play a few games!


Scurvy Guild

For the last few months I've been having once-per-month-mostly meetups with a couple of game designer friends from a town that is a little over an hour's drive away from me.  Most of the time they have been coming to my house, but this month we expanded our meet to include several other designers from the general vicinity, and one of them hosted the event. This is what we considered to be the inaugural meeting of the "Wessex Guild of Game Designers", named for the ancient Saxon kingdom we live in -- they near the middle and me near the edge.

While a group of the others played a cool sounding race game in the other room, I had a couple of designers playing Scurvy Crew with me, trying out the relatively small changes I had made since last time.

As I remember, Blackbeard was about to discover a big treasure ship which Yellowbeard used all his capabilities to swoop in and steal, but received a retaliatory broadside from Blackbeard. Redbeard sought his own quarry.

The game was a little slow, but this was largely due to having a new player and doing quite a lot of chatting as we played.  Even so, the 45 minute playtime didn't seem unreasonable for the style of game. I usually use a playmat to keep the game in order, but didn't this time, and everything was fine. During play, there was a suggestion to use a supply of tokens to mark the sea spaces that have been cleared of merchants. We rolled this into play as we went; this actually worked really well, and for the cost of eight tokens, there was a nice, easy to track countdown to the end of the game. I'm now starting to think that these tokens could even have some sort of an effect, but that's probably unnecessary at this point.

The play didn't really identify any substantive problems, though I still have work to do on getting the cards balanced up properly  There was another suggestion that I liked: some of the merchant ships could provide you with additional crew when you capture them. We decided to have another play and implemented this by reducing the points value of some of the merchantmen, but allowing you to draw a card from the crew deck if you captured these ships.

This change didn't make a huge difference to the game, but it did seem to add a small extra decision sometimes, fit the theme of the game, and added almost nothing to the complexity. The numbers we used were probably not right, but the change seems to add nicely to the game, so I'll take a look at how to incorporate this in a more solid way.  This second play came in at bang on half an hour, despite being quite tactical and cagey at times; I am very happy with that.

Apart from my own game, I also tested a game about building up a town and trying to stop it falling down due to the ravages of time (the designer describes it as a "1X game"), a lightweight car racing game, and a game about building robots, all of which are well on their way. As is usually the case for this sort of event, I missed out on some other great looking stuff too, but them's the breaks.


Testing the Workshop

April's London playtesting trip was delayed to avoid the Easter weekend, and then disrupted largely because of the London Marathon that was on the same day, but it took place nonetheless, relocating to a coffee shop up the road from the usual pub.

Once everything had been sorted out we had a great afternoon of testing. I played a nice midweight Euro and a few plays of a small card-overlapping game, both of which were enjoyable and showed some real promise. I brought along the "Steampunk Workshop" game I posted about a couple of weeks ago; it was still very much an early-stage design, but had enough about it to be playable, and I had three volunteers to give it a go.

Using a bag of resources and discs to put them on does make the game look a little like Azul.
Feedback was generally supportive, but critical. It seems that the flow of the game is pretty good, but the players had thoughts on the three main decisions you make in the game: which resources to take, how to distribute newly arrived resources, and which gadgets to claim. All of these are OK decisions to make, but in practice they are generally trivial and obvious when it comes to it.

We had a bit of a discussion about this and agreed that one issue is due to the way that I naively derived the values of gadgets from the resources used for them. I could approach fixing this by adjusting the values of gadgets according to the usefulness of the abilities they provide, but another  possible approach (which is not mutually exclusive) would be to add a level of set collection, which could make gadgets naturally become more or less valuable to players according to what they have collected so far. An extension of this (thanks to Dean for the idea being "for free"!) is that you could arrange your acquired gadgets in a tableau, and if you can match the edges of adjacent cards, there could be a bonus -- either for scoring, or potentially some sort of bonus actions or modifiers.

This last idea about edge matching has actually given me a further idea, which is kind of a development branch from this game, and I have been toying with it over the last few days.  I expect I'll be talking about that in the not-too-distant future.

The distribution of resources to the hoppers is an interesting point too, as in the game's current state, when you put new resources out, the logical thing to do is to minimise the absolute value of the resources in any given hopper where you can.  This is possible because the resources are set up to have distinct values, both in terms of rarity and what they contribute to the victory point value of gadgets they buy.  The point above about making gadgets have different values according to circumstance could at least partially address this, but we also had some discussion about how resources get delivered to hoppers, which could be more random (no player agency in this part), or follow a set path, maybe with a "supervisor" figure circling the hoppers, indicating where the next delivery is placed. Another possibility would be to "recycle" resources as they are spent, putting them back into hoppers.  All of these could be a big improvement in available decisions, so I plan to try out some variants along these lines.

In the meantime, though, I'm temporarily diverting course to the "edge matching" tableau game to see where that goes. It is entirely possible that this could merge back in with the resources-in-hoppers game. We shall see...