Recent Playtests

Spent this past week playtesting a bunch of our games.

Played RuneMasters: our 2 player card combat game.  This is quite the different game for us as it’s not even the kind of game we usually like to play, but we have a pretty cool idea for it and we are trying to see if we can make it happen.

The playtest was OK but there were some issues with not having enough cards, some slowdown in casting creatures and confusion around order of events.

Overall there’s still something very interesting about this game as was evident in a couple of the individual battles.

Played Akrotiri (previously named Santorini until I learned another game is coming out next year with the same name): This is our Tile-laying, Pick up and Deliver, Find Hidden Objects game.  I forgot a couple things I was meaning to playtest and so had the same issues I had the previous time I playtested it.  There was little tension, which would have been increased if I remembered the 2-3 things I was supposed to remember to include in this playtest.  Oh well.  Overall – it wasn’t the best time I’ve had with the game, but it was still fun and interesting.  The 2-3 minor tweaks should help out a lot.

Lost for WordsPlayed Lost for Words: This is our quick party word search/creation game.  It used to be part of our Games on the Go series, but we had thoughts on turning it into a larger complete game – and so I did!  There was a lot of fun to be had as we shouted out words.  The brainstorming session at the end lead to an even better scoring mechanic that I can’t wait to playtest soon.

I also playtested my friend, Matt’s game called Bordeaux: a game about gathering grapes from the Bordeaux region in order to make specific wines.  We played it a few times over the past couple days and each time it got a lot better.  The last time I played it was tense and interesting and very Euro-y.  It has a few more tweaks to balance out the goal cards, but it’s almost a publisher-ready game!  Good job Matt!

-Jay Cormier

One of the things Jay and I will invariably do when we’re stuck on a game is ask ourselves a few questions:

The first one is a two-parter:

a) What do we absolutely LOVE about this game and b) how can we make the rest of this game feel like that section?

We tend to focus on the positive as opposed to the negative – that way, we don’t try to fix things by…err…fixing things, if that makes sense. We fix things by highlighting the positive aspects of the game so much so that the downside seems less onerous, takes less total game time, and (in some cases) gets elimintated entirely.

In making most of our games, we have a common habit of adding on little mechanics here and there to the main game as we develop towards a final product. Usually, what happens is that the game becomes cool, but cumbersome and we have to ask ourselves the above questions. From there, it’s a process of separating the wheat from the chaff. This doesn’t mean that the so-called chaff is bad or filler or redundant. It usually means that it feels “tacked-on” and doesn’t really add anything to the game as a whole. But those sections often provide us with inspiration for possible future expansions if not whole other games. And many times, what seemed cool at one point in the design process becomes more cumbersome or limiting that it is worth. We have to prioritize what stays and what goes, but not necessarily by focusing on just the negative – by fixing only the negatives, you may end up with a working game of boring mechanics, but by highlighting the best parts of the game, you are more likely to end up with a game that not only works but shines in it’s playability.

So, for Rune Masters we asked ourselves the question above. And what the answer was is that we want the battles to be fast, furious and fun, not cumbersome, plodding, and boring. Jay and Matt had a few really exciting battles where spells were flying, stones were used to power their heroes and creatures, and the tide of battle swayed too and fro. What made it fun? The possibility of high levels of back and forth action. What is not so fun? The building up phases (the arms race, so to speak) are technical and slow, though interesting.

We therefore want to keep what see-saw battles we have and create the opportunity for more. In fact, we’d love it if every battle ran “hot” like the ones that Jay and Matt found really exciting. That’s Goal 1.

The next question we ask is:

How do we make this game go faster / run smoother?

These are some things we want out of all games

– less downtime when you’re not the active player / less analysis when you are the active player
– engagement during everyone’s turns, whether it be that you have to watch what other people are doing in order to play most effectively or that you are an active participant on another player’s turn

There’s a fine balancing point in many games where the designer must choose whether to be simple or complex. Is it a die roll or a complex algorhythm with a appendixed look up table cross? Is the player playing the game or is the game playing the player?

We try to subscribe to a Japanese term “shibumi”, which means “simple, yet complex”. We want the strategic application of a mechanic to be the crux of the decision as opposed to mechanic itself. We want enough variables in play that there are decisions to be made, that there are options to choose, that there are different paths to take, different ways to victory. There should be some “best decisions” at each point, but there should be as few “no brainers” as possible – and the “best decisions” should be based on cards in hand, the state of the gameboard at the time, etc., that the decision a player made was the best for him at that time based on the information he possessed.

Goal 2 for Rune Masters is to find a way to simplify the relatively complex mechanic we’ve created to cast spells. It’s a very unique and intriguing mechanic, but it needs to be simplified in some way to decrease the brain drain and increase the speed. And to further answer this question, Goal 3 is to maintain a flow in the game. We found in the last few playtests that players had to pass an awful lot just to get cards to play and/or clean up their workspace for casting spells. We’re hoping that a few simple fixes will increase the cycling of cards and make the casting of spells smoother.

Still on the question of smoothing out the kinks in games, Jay and I love tile laying games and that is a really fun part of Akrotiri. In the past, we’ve had feedback about the tiles in this game and how sometimes it is nearly impossible to place the single tile you get access to in a way that is beneficial to you. This is based on how the tiles connect via trade routes. We’ve redesigned the tiles now such that any tile can connect to anyother tile, but the routes may still not lead where you want. The playtesters who have tried this game in multiple iterations have told us that they like this incarnation of the tiles the best so far as there is less analysis. While it sounds like there may be more as all tiles fit together, there is actually less as, before, players would spend time trying to make things fit by rotating the tile around to see if there was a way. In accentuating the positives, we hope to make a better game!

For Lost For Words, the question always has been one that’s a bit different that the ones above:

How do we add more strategic decision making to this game?

There is a difference between a game and a puzzle. And there is a difference between a good game and a poor game. A poor game is purely mechanical without input from the player. Conversely, we want to make games where the players are making decisions as much as possible – some easy, some difficult, but constant decision making is really what gaming is all about. It’s about making decisions, executing them, and seeing how those decisions affect the outcome. Add in as much interaction with the other players to force you to decide in different ways and you’ve got the start of a good game.

Lost for Words was originally simply a race to see who could spot words within an ever-growing array of tiles. We’re trying to “gamify” it a bit, as the decisions you make are minimal, at best – the most you will have to decide is if you want to score less for a short word, but score quickly or try to find a longer word for more points risking that someone may score on the tile before you. Jay and I have wanted to add a type of score tracker to the game to try to add some other strategic elements. But Matt and Jay have thought up an even better idea that Jay and I will refine further to ensure that players aren’t always going for the quickest word using a score tracker and some goal tokens. That will help take this from a puzzle race to more of a true strategy game. We’ll have to see whether that, in fact, makes it more fun when all is said and done!

Last point – For Akrotiri, the first thing we should have done after the last playtest was written a note to ourselves on the box itself of the things we wanted to change the next time around. A simple “To Do” list could have made the playtesting much more productive! That’s a habit we need to get into!

-Sen-Foong Lim

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