Want to playtest some upcoming Bamboozle Brother games?

We like to think we playtest the heck out of our games. We live in different cities so we have multiple groups across the country already playtesting our games, but we’d like even more!

We are always looking for more people to playtest our games, but realize that not everyone that wants to playtests live close to either Sen or I! So now we’ve set up a quick survey for those that are interested in playtesting with your own group. You can sign up for Print and Play playtests – which means you’re comfortable printing your own set of components and cards, and testing, or you can sign up to have prototypes mailed to you.

If you are interested, please complete this quick survey! Thanks for taking an interest in making our games better!!

Current games that we’d like some playtesters for:

Godzilla – a 2 player card battling game

Powers (based on the hit comic by Brian Michael Bendis) – a 2-5 player 1 vs. many game in which 1 super powered villain moves around the city committing crimes while the others play as detectives trying to capture the super villain

Skirmishes – a 2 player combat game with very Euro mechanics. This game is designed by Jay and another designer, Shad!

But Wait There’s Even More – a completely new set of features and products for this party game that’s good for 3-12 players

Law of the Jungle – a 2-5 player family game about getting more animals than the other players, while avoiding the animal that will be removed at the end of the game

9 Thieves – a 2-5 player game about betting on which thief will avoid the guards and steal the most money by the end of the night.

-More top secret games that are in the works – some with licenses.

-Jay Cormier

 

Stop Playtesting!

If you’re a game designer, then you know playtesting is important. We talk about the importance of platesters in Step 11. Today I want to tell everyone how important it is to STOP playtesting!

Ok, Ok – it’s a bit click-baity, but here’s what I mean: when you’re playtesting it’s important to know when to stop and move to feedback.

powers-testI’ve seen (and been a part of) too many playtests where the game is broken but there is an unspoken need to play until the end. I believe this is because we’re all gamers and we all still want to win the game! It’s important to remember when playtesting, that while your actions should lead you towards a winning strategy, whether you win or lose should not matter at all.

I assume we’ve all been there before – we’re making our way through a playtest and find that there’s an obvious strategy, or that one player has an insurmountable lead, or that one choice is never used and therefore a whole aspect of the game isn’t explored. In these situations the designer should recognize that they will not get any more valuable feedback if the game were to continue. Stop the game right there and move to feedback.

If you have enough information on what you need to do next with your game, then there’s no need to keep playing. I’ve found myself asking this out loud to some designers when I feel like I’ve explored as much of the game as I can – “Do you have enough information from this test?” Gently implying that I am done and ready to move onto providing feedback.

And you shouldn’t stop playtests only for games that are broken! If the entire group has playtested the game before and you’re testing one new idea or concept – you can play long enough to see if that idea or concept works. Sometimes you only need to play 1/4 or 1/2 of the game to determine if the new idea works or not.

That said, there are times where you need to playtest the game end condition of course – so those games do need to be played until the end. Players might need to experience the end game scoring to see how their decisions impacted their score before they’re able to give feedback. Even if you start the game with the intention of testing the end game condition, and the game breaks down midway – then you should stop playtesting and move to feedback. You can even let people know that this is the last round before scoring – so they can see how they were doing so far.

The bottom line is that when you have playtesters ready to test your game, then cherish that time and use it as wisely as you can! It’s much better to get 2-3 tests in one sitting rather than one long test. If your game is broken and it can be tweaked with a rule amendment or by taking a pen to some of your components, then do that and set it up and play it again! That will be a much better use of your time – and of your playtesters’ time.

What do you think? Is it important to playtest to the end? How long do you spend playtesting one game before moving to feedback?

-Jay Cormier

Guest Post: Blind Playtesting by Jeff Hunt

whatsyourstoryHere’s another Guest Post for our series, What’s Your Story. This one covers his experiences with blind play testing. It’s an amazing story about taking blind play testing to the max! If you have questions for Jeff, post them below and we’ll make sure he answers them! My first question Jeff is – how did you find so many people to agree to blind play test your game?!

Shifting the Assumptions I have Made

Jeff Hunt

Jeff Hunt – Game Designer

As an introduction, I’m just going to say that I’d been working on a prototype board game called Knight’s Quest for many months now, and have play-tested it several times with my regular group of close friends and game-pals.   Recently, I had the daunting opportunity to invite people from outside my close circle of gaming friends to come out and try my game.   I won’t make excuses in this post, but this play test came at a very busy point in my work life (much weekend and evening overtime to launch a large project at work).
With much help from my friend Kyle, we rented a community hall for part of the afternoon and the evening of our blind play-test.   We invited a total of 28 people to come join us in trying out the board game, with a session of 10 players in the afternoon and 14 players in the evening.  Kyle, Corey (my design co-pilot) and I were there to facilitate, answer questions and referee.
At this point I want to digress briefly.   I’ve played a lot of games.  I’ve liked board games and gaming since my teen years.   I have played a long list of games (that I won’t go into here) but I’ve never had someone from outside my close circle of friends playing a game I worked on or designed.  This was brand new territory for me, and to be honest, prior to the actual day of the event, I was quite nervous about the whole experience. Stage-fright shouldn’t have been a big issue, and the results of this play test session proved that.

The Morning Session
PlaytestPrototype-ReadytoPlayKyle and I had arrived to the community hall early and started setting up the game tables so that they would be ready for the players to begin.  We had 3 rooms on 3 levels, and ended up with 1 active table on each of the three levels.   I gave a preamble speech to the players, thanking them for their time on a Saturday afternoon, and basically setting them free to experience the game with the sole help of the rulebook, quick start guide, and reference page I’d provided everyone.  Then I sat back, tied my own hands, and watched the various players attempt to decipher my rules and get their game started.
I was hit by an avalanche of learning from the minute this began.  Some rules that were very clear in my own (biased) mind were not as intuitive as I’d hoped.  Assumptions I had made (biased) about how gamers would treat game components and rules that (I thought) were explicitly laid out, were being interpreted three different ways at three different tables.   It was chaos – beautiful, beautiful, educational chaos.  I tried very hard not to jump in and advise or help until the players had had a chance to talk things over inside their groups, and only when it seemed like an insurmountable hurdle had come up to block their path toward a successful (and fun) play-test of the game.  If players came to an agreed upon solution to any fogginess in the rules, I simply sat back and watched how that interpretation played out.
I learned that even with a fair bit of technical writing experience under my belt, and years of publishing technical help guides as part of an IT career, talking about game stuff with people of different levels of gaming experience was a whole new sport.   I was going to have to go back to the beginning and re-identify all the unspoken assumptions and hidden pieces of brain-trust that hadn’t been successfully translated into my rules.  I was going to have to unpack them carefully, and then reassemble them in language that a non-gamer, non-me person could easily pick up and understand.
In short, the experience was awesome!  (I mean that.)  I know it sounds a little strange to be so excited about a moment when hard work and carefully crafted rules didn’t seem to line up into a perfectly successful play-test of the game the way I thought I had designed and described it to be played, so bear with me for a moment.
Quite a few of the people who came out to this were associates and contacts who were not really board game enthusiasts, so I was expecting a bit of a learning curve right off the bat. Some of them were avid gamers, however, and they were the most inventive in trying to find ways to make the game work for them.  I was taking notes furiously, both mental and hand-written, to capture any of the bumps, hurdles and blockages encountered by this group.
The whole time, Kyle, Corey and I were asking people if they were having fun, and trying to encourage a social fun aspect to the event.   All of the groups, with only a few gentle nudges in the right direction, managed to get several rounds of play-test under their belt, and were beginning to develop a feel for the play of the game.
About a half an hour prior to our first session ending in the community hall, we had the groups pack up the game and fill out a questionnaire about their time play testing.  Kyle and I had populated the questionnaire with some specific questions about mechanics, and room for some open ended questions and free-form comments from the players.
To my astonishment (and gratitude) two of the players from the morning session decided to come back to the evening session for a second try at the game.  To me this was a sign that I was on the right track to a fun and enjoyable gaming experience.   When the afternoon session was finished, we hurriedly packed up and vacated the community hall for another group’s use, and went off to find a way to kill the time in between the early afternoon session and the evening session.

The Evening Session

PlayTest-inprogressHaving learned a little bit from the morning session and the learning curve involved with getting the game up and running without guidance, I decided to change my preamble speech and provide a 1-turn demonstration of play so that the players could get a look at how the intended play of the first turn would look.
This seemed to get the groups up and running much quicker than the morning session, and resulted in fewer over-all questions about the game, which I believe was a win for myself, the developer.  Again, the learning started flowing in almost immediately.  There was different learning this time, as the evening crowd had more people with gaming experience in the mix.  And we had the 2 returnees from the morning session who had freshly learned how to play the game that day, and may have come in with new strategies to try, or new things they wanted out of the game.
Because about 1/3 of the evening session included some people from inside my immediate gaming circle, it seemed like a very sociable event.  People were chatting and joking around with one another, and everyone seemed to be having a ton of fun.  We had the hall booked for 3 hours again, and allowed the evening session to run for almost 4 ½ hours as there were no other clients waiting for the space.
Again, at the end of this session, we had people fill out the questionnaire, and I thanked them all for their time on a Saturday night.  When it was over, I was exhausted.   I was happy – but exhausted.  It had been a super long day, but a super fun day too.   My game had been reasonably well received by people I know, and some I didn’t, and today, two days later, I feel extremely optimistic that the feedback provided and the observations about rules interpretation will greatly help me tune this game into something totally awesome!

What would I do differently?

If I hadn’t been so incredibly busy with my work leading up to this play-test, I would like to have taken one more very close pass on the rules prior to the event.  I would probably re-order the questionnaire so that the specific mechanics questions came first, and the general impressions questions were last – just so the most immediate feedback might cover some of the specifically complex or troubling mechanics that needed addressing.   I would have the play test in one continuous session over the course of an afternoon, rather than breaking it into two separate and time-limited blocks, and would probably do it in a residence rather than a public building – just to save a couple of dollars.
Other than those notes, I think that, for me, the play test was extremely successful.  I couldn’t wait to start crunching the data and tuning up the rules to make a fun game even more fun and accessible to everyone.

The Feedback

The feedback I received from the players was instrumental in helping me tune my design further.  In my work-life we operate under an iterative methodology.  In my school career, my work was subject to many critiques and subsequent iterations to improve the end product.   Applying this methodology to my game design seemed like a no-brainer.
Probably the most important parts of this feedback was understanding when rules I’d carefully written out in the rulebook were not being interpreted as I understood them.  Also important was finding out some unasked questions that I hadn’t considered or answered because I was so close to the project that they weren’t questions for me.  Aside from some minor mechanics tweaks that came out of various feedback, the biggest change to the game after this was to really take a long close look at the rules and ensure that there were plenty of diagrams accompanying explanations of how the game was supposed to function.
Blind Play-testing sounds a bit imposing, but I now consider it a primary and integral part of any other design I’m working on.
I also received some general feedback about the game being fun, or the theme being nice and that sort of thing, but I try to focus most on the comments that surround making the game play better, and making it easier to understand.  I fully expect that if a Publisher accepts the game into their portfolio that there will be artistic changes and tweaking – particularly since my prototypes generally have clip-art or basic diagrams for many of the printed components.

Conclusion

Blind Play-testing can be tough for a designer – and especially tough for a designer who has never experienced a critique or iterative project.   To set one up on the scale that we did for Knight’s Quest, you have to have some organizational skill, a budget of some kind (if you’re using public facilities), a way to find and invite people to your play-test sessions, and a way to solicit feedback that is meaningful.    Then you have to have the patience and forbearance to either let the play-test take place without you, or to keep yourself from influencing it by interfering with the play-test groups.  Finally, you have to do something with the feedback.
The first few parts can be pretty straightforward.  Invite a bunch of people you know peripherally, or don’t know at all to your event.   Bribe them with Pizza and soft-drinks if you like.  Let them play your game and fill out preplanned comment cards or questionnaires about it.
The best part comes afterwards, when you analyze and react to the feedback.   You can play-test all you like, but if you never evaluate feedback and use it to inspire positive change to your game, you’re probably just wasting your time.
It took me several weeks to go through all the feedback and determine what was useful feedback, what was “fluff” and what feedback could be discarded – and I did discard some suggestions.  Overall the experience was positive for me.  And I think it strengthened both my rule-writing skills and the game design itself.  I would do this again for all of my game designs. However I would caution any designer who is planning a blind play test that the comments are going to range from friendly to not, and treating them critically is going to require some critique-management skills.   Good luck if you organize something like this, and I hope all of your feedback is constructive!

-Jeff Hunt

I also want to thank my good friend Kyle (a co-owner of www.willworkforgames.com) for his work and dedication in helping to arrange and organize this event.  Without his encouragement (and pushing) it may have taken much longer for me to get a play test off the ground.

We want your board game design stories!

whatsyourstoryWelcome to 2014! We’ve been working at designing board games for over 6 years now, and we’ve been writing about how to get published on this site for over 3 years. The goal of this site was to be very transparent and show people how we came to get our board games published. At the time we only had Belfort and Train of Thought being published but now we have six more games coming out this year! While we still have stories and lessons left to tell as we continue to learn new things about getting published, what we’d love to do now is to hear from other designers.

We’re introducing a new segment on our blog called: What’s Your Story?

We’ve already had one guest blogger, Patrick Lysaght, tell us a couple stories about following some of the steps outlined on this site (Pitching at Origins Part 1 and Part 2), and now we’d like to hear from you! Have you used any of the steps outlined in this blog? Have you found success – or even met up with some challenges? Do you have:

  • a story about how you pitched your game to a publisher, or
  • a story about how you make prototypes, or
  • a story about how you play test your games, or
  • a story about contract negotiation, or
  • a story about how you self-published, or
  • a story about how you used Kickstarter, or
  • any story about the design process?

Contact me and we’ll work together to get your story told: jay <at> bamboozlebrothers.com

-Jay Cormier

Playtesting Games at ProtoSpiel North

ProtospielNorthLogoSen and I recently attended ProtoSpiel North in Hamilton, ON where we got to playtest some of our games, playtest some other designers’ games and also pitch our games to some publishers that were present. ProtoSpiel is an event that started in Ann Arbor, MI where designers would get together to playtest each others’ games – and for three years now, Hammercon – a board gaming event in Hamilton, ON – has been holding ProtoSpiel North with the same intentions.
There were many Game Artisans of Canada in attendance from all over Ontario, which is great for many reasons:
  • GAC LogoWe chat with them on our private forum all the time and it’s always great to spend some time with them in person – learning more about who they are and actually getting a chance to play the games that they’ve been talking about online
  • Playtesting with game designers is always awesome. While you always need to playtest with non-designers (and sometimes non-gamers), the feedback you get from designers is almost always awesome!
  • We continue to extend our presence and awareness in our quest for global domination…er – better board games.
I’m going to break this down into three topics:
  1. Playtesting our games
  2. Playtesting other designers’ games
  3. Pitching our games to publishers (including a video of us pitching!!)
Playtesting our games
What’s That: Sen and I partnered up with Stefan Alexander and have been working on a party game the requires an App. Stefan is a programmer and has been able to program the app, and we’ve been tweaking it over the past few months. This is the game that I actually pitched to Repos Productions at the Gathering back in April – but we still haven’t handed it over fully as we’re not happy with the App yet.
whats-that-beaverThe game involves players individually looking at the smart phone and their own unique clue, and then everyone has to make their clue out of an artisitic medium. Then players cooperatively try to guess what everything has in common.
Our latest playtest was very rewarding. We found out that it is indeed fun and that it creates a lot of laughs, and we learned that we need to do three things to make it all work:
  1. Currently players have to type in the answer using an assortment of letters that appear at the bottom – but this actually can turn the game into a bit of a word guessing game. We will revert back to what we had previously – where any player can shout out the answer and check to see if they are right.
  2. We need to more artistic mediums as people didn’t like having two of the same in the game. We brainstormed and came up with two fun ones!
  3. We need to ensure the clues are super easy by themselves to create – but not too easy that you can guess what the answer is without even knowing the other clues. Should be do-able!
simplicitySimpliCITY: Sen and I were very happy with where the game was at – but after one playtest on the Friday night, one of the other playtesters gave us an idea that sounded awesome! The idea was to remove the very fiddly tracks that kept track of what players built, and instead resolve the effect more immediately. After brainstorming we realized that we couldn’t do everything immediately, but we could do it for some of the tracks. We woke up early on Saturday morning and changed some cards and found some tokens just in time for pitching it to publishers!! I’ll get more into this crazy plan in my next post!
Rock, Paper, Wizards: Sen and I have partnered up with Belfort artist – and game designer of Wasabi and other games coming soon – Josh Cappel – to make Rock, Paper, Wizards. We had pitched this game to Z-Man games at the Gathering in April and Zev really liked it and took it back with him to assess with his playtesters. A month or so later and we get some notes from them saying that they don’t want to give the prototype back to us yet, but they also don’t want to publish it as is yet. They gave us some feedback on some things that they’d like us to fix.
Since then, the three of us have tried so many different variations that tried to fix it, but we always ended back where we started. It has been one of the most frustrating games for us – mostly because it always felt like we were so close to something really good.
We learned that a game with guessing whether someone is bluffing or not – that players need two things: motivation on who to attack and information about some of the cards so they can have some odds on whether someone is bluffing or not.
rpwIt’s rare that the three of us are in the same room, so we spent a good deal of time brainstorming ideas on how to fix this idea. One of the ideas from Josh was something as simple as “What if the spells we’re casting always hit their target?” At first it was dismissed since that would entirely remove the bluffing element altogether – but later on we thought more about it and realized that the fun part of the game is throwing hand gestures at each other – not the bluffing. We were so locked into the game being a bluffing game that we forgot our own advice: follow the fun!
So we brainstormed our new idea and quickly came up with some motivations and parameters. A quick playtest later in the week proved that we were on the right track! I’ve playtested it a few more times and am very excited with the direction the game is taking!
It was great to playtest these games with other designers. We got some great feedback and we’re excited about each of these games now more than ever!
2) Playtesting other designers’ games
I like to think I spend more time playtesting other peoples’ games rather than my own at these kinds of conventions. I got to playtest these games:
express-deliveryExpress Delivery by Yves Tourigny and Al Leduc – an interesting fed-ex kind of pick-up-and-deliver game
Tip Top Towers by Daniel Rocchi – a cool balancing block game played on a wobbly plate
Wild West Poker game by Francios Valentyne (can’t remember exact title!)- a very thematic Wild West deck building game in which all fights are done with poker hands
Superhero co-op game by Mark McKinnon – a game where superheroes are trying to save aliens from planets that are getting sucked into a vortex
topsy-towersRescue Rockets by Josh Cappel – a flicking game that should get published! You play on any table and use things on the table as obstacles in an effort to rescue astronauts from planets – very neat!
8-bit Bomber by Daniel Rocchi and Daryl Chow – a Bomberman kind of game with a cool puzzley movement mechanic that is fun and interesting
Londonderry by Daryl Andrews and Stephen Sauer – Daryl asked if I could be his wingman during the play session of this game with Mercury. It was great playing with Doc and Kevin from Mercury! Not only have I pitched games to them twice before, but I’ve even played a game of Keyflower with them at the Gathering this year. It was fun to play a game with them again! You know you’re in a publisher’s good books when you’re both smack talking each other throughout a game! It was a great play session and they expressed some serious interest in the game.
rescue rockets
It’s always interesting playtesting other designers’ games as you can see how that person thinks and how they try to balance aspects of the game, or come up with solutions to problems that Sen and I have also encountered. I’ve always said that if you are a game designer – then surround yourself with other game designers!! You learn so much – even if you just playtest their games all the time.
In our next post I’ll share how we pitched our games to the publishers that were there, including sharing a video of one of our pitch sessions!
-Jay Cormier

Belfort Expansion Update

Well we’re elbow deep in Belfort Expansion awesomeness! We’ve completed Phase 1 of our playtesting and are now just getting into Phase 2, with the first playtest report coming back already (thanks Daniel!).

We knew that this expansion needed a lot of playtesting since it added some new dynamic content – so we enlisted the help of our fans – and our fans responded en masse! We had to stop accepting playtesters when we reached 70! We have 70 groups of gamers all over the world – from Singapore to Australia to all over North America – testing our expansion to ensure it’s as balanced as possible.

We had a lot of great input from all the playtest reports from Phase 1. We read each one, and looked at them all as a whole – which helped us identify what needed more focus or tweaking. Then we released Phase 2, but we threw everyone a curve ball by adding a completely new aspect to Phase 2! We were excited about Phase 1 and how it would change how you played, but what we’re trying to do with Phase 2 has us positively giddy! We can’t wait to show the rest of the world! And there will be even more surprises – so those of you who are playtesting Phase 2 still won’t know everything…!

So a big thanks goes out to everyone who signed up to playtest the expansion! We hope to have as many session reports in within the next 2 weeks so we can make the final tweaks and send it off to get some lovely art done by Josh Cappel!

For those that aren’t playtesting it but want to know a bit more about it, here are some hints:

  • Notice on the Calendar that it’s divided into 3 seasons?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if there was another way to score points in Belfort?
  • Belfort combines 3 core gaming mechanics (area majority, worker placement, resource management) – could we add another core mechanic?
  • Imps, Hobgoblins and Ogres?

-Jay Cormier

Belfort Expansion Playtesters Needed

Are you interested in playtesting the upcoming expansion to Belfort? Read on…

Looks like there will be a couple of Belfort expansions coming out this year! The first expansion will be a very small expansion – probably 3 new guilds. It will be super affordable and very accessible. The second one will change things up a bit and add a whole new layer – but actually make the game speed up! Crazy right?!

More good news, we’ve been given the green light to send out the prototype files to people interested in helping us playtest the prototype. There are so many permutations of how this new expansion works as it adds even more dynamic content. Add that to the fact that we have interchangeable guilds and we have a lot of testing to do!

If you are interested then you can send me an email (jay@bamboozlebrothers.com) and I will send out the files in a week or so.

The expectation if you sign up would be that you do indeed get at least one playtest session in, and that you complete a pretty simple form that will give us feedback about how it went. We couldn’t have any public reviews made about the playtest sessions until we’ve finalized all the rules of course. The file will be simple to print out and play with your existing game of Belfort.

So if you’re interested – send us an email! If you’ve yet to get your copy of Belfort and have wondered if it’s a good game or not…here’s another positive review of the game, this time from a site called Ludocracy!

-Jay Cormier

Belfort Expansion and new review!

First, a new review has popped up for Belfort! Dan Zuccarelli from Perpetual Geek Machine has posted his review – and we’re happy to report that he liked it! I especially liked this line:

Belfort is another one of those games whose genius lies in its simplicity while being tough to be good at it.

Thanks for the review PGN!

Secondly, we’ve been playtesting the Belfort expansions for awhile now, and I have to say that I’m pretty excited about it. We’re toying around with a couple of different ideas and we’ll be pitching them to the publisher soon to see which one we should focus on more. Rest assured that it probably won’t be what you’re thinking, as Sen and I prefer to mix it up a bit and be a little unconventional. We’ll be sharing a link with fans that want to get in on the playtesting once it’s approved by the publisher, so check back here in a few weeks if you’re interested in being a part of the playtest group!

If you’re excited about the expansion then you can head on over and vote for it as an anticipated expansion for 2012. Boardgamegeek is holding a poll and you have until Sunday to cast your vote on which games and expansions you’re most looking forward to this year.

What are the benefits of offering expansions? There’s the obvious benefit that the publisher and the designer will make some money from selling the expansion. There’s the other benefit that the base game often sells more because there’s an expansion. I know I’ve picked up a game that had an expansion and think, “Hmmm…I’ve never heard of this game – but it has an expansion so it must be pretty good.”

Fortunately board games don’t suffer from the same kind of sequel-itis that Hollywood movies often do. In Hollywood, a sequel can and almost 100% of the time will get a green light based purely on the box office receipts of the first movie. In the board game world, sales are harder to come by and are often based more on word of mouth (or reputation of a designer or publisher). It leads me to think that a game has to be pretty good to warrant that many sales.

How many sales are needed before an expansion is warranted? An expansion usually sells between 25%-35% of what the base game sold. So if the base game sold 10,000 units, then you can expect the expansion to sell around 2500-3500.

But what are the down sides to an expansion? Well, if it’s released too soon then some people haven’t had enough time with the base game to fully explore and experience it. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, because there’s nothing making me buy an expansion (except for the fact that I really want to buy it!). I’ll just keep playing the base game until I’m ready to try the expansion. Some expansions can be looked at as a cash grab, if the quality isn’t there – but I find those to be few and far between in the board game world.

In the end, I love expansions. It provides longer shelf life to your games by tweaking the game just enough to provide a fresh experience. We’ll spend another article discussing what makes a great expansion and what makes a poor one. For now, I’m just excited that Belfort has warranted enough interest to even be talking about the possibility of an expansion!!

-Jay Cormier

Belfort Designer Diaries: Part 1, The Playtesters

Typically, we would wax poetic on how we came up with the idea for Belfort and slaved and slaved over it – lacking sleep, sustenance and hygiene – until it became the game it is today. At least, that’s what we think a Designer Diary usually is. Instead, we thought we’d flip the script a bit and also give you an “insider’s view “of how Belfort came to its final form from the perspectives of the Playtesters, the Developer, the Artist, and the Manufacturers. We’ll be releasing each part over the next couple of weeks, so keep checking back. By the end, you should have a pretty good sense on how a game like Belfort gets out of our heads and into your hands.

But before we tell you that story, we have to tell you this story.

From Humble Beginnings

Belfort comes from very humble beginnings. Very humble. 24 tiles humble.

June 18, 2007 was the first day we thought of this as a game. Since we live on either side of the country (Sen’s in London, Ontario and Jay’s in Vancouver, BC) we keep track of all our thoughts on a private forum. Belfort actually started out as a small 24 tile based game! Here’s the exact transcript – complete with typos and spelling mistakes – of our first couple of posts on the forum about Belfort:

OK – another idea – which is an amalgam a couple other ideas. 

Take that idea about building castles with orcs and elves…add in the paperclip idea and whammo – you have a weird idea that might not make a great game! 

Well – I’m still mashing it around in me noggin…so it might turn out to be an actual full-fledged game…but the intention is to make another pocket game. 

Ok onto my idea: 

    • each player has a card for each type of resource (not sure how many). On those cards there is a chart or grid of numbers from 1-5 or so. So the idea with this is – when you accumulate more resources – you slide your paperclip to the appropriate number. So each person would have 3-5 of these resource cards.
    • each person would have a card for each type of worker – with a grid of numbers along it as well. 

It rambled on quite a bit, but then two days later, we posted this, which looks a lot more familiar (though orcs were replaced by dwarves eventually!).

OK – so there are 3 resources and 2 types of creatures: 

    • elf 
    • orc 
    • wood 
    • stone 
    • metal 
    • 1 elf can make 1 wood 
    • 1 orc can make 1 stone
    • 1 elf and 1 orc can make 1 metal 

Each player (2 players only currently), takes their 3 resource cards – which now also has spots for their elves and orcs. The idea would be – if you collect resources or creatures – then you’d put a paper clip on the card indicating how many you had. 
There are 4 cards that make up the castle town (each one the same tho). In the town there are 6 different buildings: 

wall x2, tower, house, inn/pub and castle section 

Each structure requires different resources to complete: 

    • wall: 2 stone,
    • tower: 2 stone, 1 metal 
    • house: 3 wood 
    • inn/pub: 3 wood, 1 metal 
    • Castle: 1 wood, 3 stone, 1 metal 

Once we played this 24 tiled pocket game, we immediately knew it had to be a bigger game. We started scribbling down some ideas.  Right from the start, we knew it was going to be a pentagon shaped castle!  Why?  We don’t know!  We just found it captured our imagination.

Early notes show that there were a lot of ideas from the very beginning that made it to the final product.

Once we moved away from the 24 tile version of the game, it immediately became a pentagon board.

Even within the first inklings of the concept, there were a lot of solid ideas that survived in some shape or form to the final game. Not all ideas made the final cut, though (thankfully!), and we have our playtesters to thank for that, primarily.

The Playtesters

We thought you might be interested to “listen in” on some of our recent discussions with a few of our Playtesters: Marc Casas-Cordero, Xavier Cousin and Michael Emond.

Sen: Thanks guys for taking the time to reminisce about Belfort’s humble beginnings from waaaaaaay back in 2007.

Jay: So, what are your earliest memories of Belfort?

Marc: As an early playtester, I remember the five wedges forming a pentagon to describe the city of Belfort from the get go. I am glad to see the concept has survived through all the development iterations.

The use of dwarves and elves as resource gatherers was also there but at the time that is all they did. There was no management of these guys – just have them produce!!!!

The main game play was much more about positioning in the city and that seemed to be the primary place for tactical choices. It still remains an important aspect of the game, but it seems better balanced now by the resource management and other aspects of the game.

Xavier: What I can remember is that it was the same game overall with buildings to build, building upgrades that needed gnomes and resources that were pretty tough to handle (you wanted more but couldn’t fr@#’in store much!)

Sen: That’s right – we had Storehouses as one of the buildings back then and that limited how much you could store. You playtesters gave us feedback that limiting how many resources you had felt too restrictive – and hence, it is not part of the game any more

Michael: I don’t know if all of my memories can be trusted but I also vaguely recall that there was a dragon that could be summoned and destroy some of your buildings. I remember it as less focused than the current version but all the key elements were there, waiting to be highlighted and tweaked so they were more playable.

Jay: Yes – the dragon! We used to have a dragon in the game but ended up removing it. And because we no longer had a dragon, we no longer needed warriors. Here’s an image of one of early player aids. You can see that you had to make Warriors! And next is a photo of an early playtest. In that one we got rid of the dragon and added an approaching Orc Horde! They’re both gone now.

An early player aid shows many differences from the final game: Gold was a resource and not currency; Buildings had abilities but there were no Gnomes; Warriors existed to battle the dragon or approaching Orc Hordes!

Sen:  Are you happy or sad that they’re gone?

Michael: So very happy they’re gone! I think the key story element to this game is getting resources and building structures. Things like the dragons and the warriors felt forced into that story and the dragon, especially, was not a fun game element. You think everything is going okay and you’ve played well … BOOM here is the dragon to mess up everything!!

Here's a picture of a playtest session. You can see in the top right we had an Orc Horde track.

Xavier: The idea was fun but I remember playing with the dragon and it didn’t really work. It was too many things I think to handle and plan ahead so I bid it adieu with no regrets.

Marc: I can’t really remember them so they must have been nuisances.

Jay: Now we know that your input has changed the game a lot…

Sen: That’s what playtesters are for!

Jay: Exactly! Which elements in the final game do you think you had some impact on based on your playtests and feedback? What would be your “claim to fame” regarding Belfort?

Michael: My feedback was along the lines of, “Too complicated -Streamline the game more!” and I think that’s what has happened. In a sense, the current game has just as many elements as before but they fit together more logically instead of feeling like they were tacked on like a Lego house.

Before there also seemed to be a lot more ways to score points that made it a headache to keep track of all the things you needed to be doing. I noted that it was hard to determine what you should be doing as a player to maximize your score – it was only in hindsight you could figure this out. While I am not sure how much this has really changed, it definitely feels less complicated in its current version.

Marc: I would like to think I said, “Wow guys, the board looks fantastic! Do not change a thing!” but I can’t honestly say how I contributed to the game except that I suffered through the early iterations! It’s like sitting through the unburned early musicals of Stephen Sondheim. Except that musicals are shorter.

Sen: Ha! We’re the first to admit that the first few iterations of any game can be challenging. That’s we’re so grateful for having playtesters like you guys!

Jay: We couldn’t do it without you!

Here are the first attempts at giving each building its own card. Still no Gnomes - but the concept of unlocking an ability was there.

Sen: In some of the original versions, you could build any building you wanted anywhere on the board without needing a specific card in your hand – what are your thoughts on what’s improved or what’s missing since that decision?

Marc: I think the move to building cards is a smart one. It definitely improves the early game as players are not overwhelmed by the choices of the entire city. Furthermore, without building restrictions it was easier to hang on to leads in area majority thus reducing the overall suspense of the game. The choice of building what you what is also limited by your resources and that is a more interesting game decision.

Xavier:  Yeah, there was way too much thinking and less fun since you always had the possibility to go anywhere you wanted.

Michael:  I think it works well for two reasons:

  1. It helps focus me on what I can be doing. Yes, it restricts your decisions but that also has the benefit of focusing your decisions and simplifying the number of things you can do at any one time.
  2. It adds some luck without it making the game too luck-based. So it adds a nice element of chance that can spice up any game and creates more variability from game to game.

Jay: Previous incarnations of the game had gold in it, but it was just another resource used to make buildings. Alex Cann, one of our other playtesters who couldn’t be reached for this interview, brought up the fact that a common currency was needed to streamline decisions. How has the addition of gold as currency changed the economy of Belfort?

Here's Xavier enjoying the heck out of playtesting Belfort!

Xavier:  Gold is good to have since, without it, the game was a little “naked” in possible things to do. There’s only so much you can do with just the wood, stone and metal, so having a treasury to buy stuff makes it a little richer without making things too complicated.

Michael: It works because you can channel some of the different ways to get points into one common point system (gold) and allows for the addition of taxation. Overall, I think that was a smart move since it helps me, as a player, to be able to understand how one move (building a new building) relates to another move (getting more resources) in terms of overall scoring.

Jay: Oh yeah, the concept of taxation came from another playtester, Matt Musselman. He thought it would be a great idea to help those in the back make a bit of a comeback. And it was a great idea!

Sen: Well, thanks so much, guys, for sharing your early experiences of the game with us.

Jay: And thanks again for all your playtesting efforts!  They certainly helped make Belfort the game it is today.

Up next we’ll chat with the Developer, Seth Jafee.  “What does a developer do,” you ask?  Find out in our next post, fearless reader!

If you are interested in learning more about how we came up with the ideas and how the game grew from something small into what it is now you can read this interview by Jeff Temple and watch this video we recorded.

-Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim


Step 27: Getting your game in front of a publisher at a convention: Leaving the game with a publisher

Here are the three best case scenarios that could happen to you when you’re at a convention:

1)     There’s a ‘bidding war’ between multiple publishers over the rights to publish your game.  This would be amazing but usually only happens to designers with a reputation.

2)     A publisher agrees to publish your game at the convention.  There’s no contract because it’s so impromptu – but it’s usually a verbal agreement that will restrict you from showing the game to any other publisher.

3)     A publisher is interested enough to take the game back to their offices to playtest with their playtest groups.

Number 3 is the one that will happen most often as a publisher wants to see the ins and outs of the game on their own time.  After showing a game to a publisher at a convention and they say they would like to take it back with them, the acceptable thing to say is that since you only have one prototype that you’d like to keep it until the end of the convention.  Every publisher I’ve said this to immediately understands this and is 100% fine with it.  Who knows, maybe there’s another publisher at the convention who’s willing to agree to publish the game right there at the convention!

Hot Property Game Design

Hot Property: One of our Games on the Go games

Max from Out of the Box liked our Games on the Go line of games enough to want to take them back with him.  Before I could reply he said that if they were my only copies of the prototype then I could come back at the end of the show to give them to him.  Nice.

 

When you do hand off your games, make sure your games are properly labeled.  A properly labeled prototype has your name and contact information on as many things as possible: on the outside of the box, on the inside of the box, on the rules and even on any other smaller boxes or baggies.  If you have business cards made up, then just glue or tape your business cards to the box.  Label the outside of the box with the name of your game.  Make it in colour and use an appropriate font.  You don’t have to be a graphic designer to come up with an acceptable logo for your game.  The publisher fully understands that this is a prototype – but all these extra touches shows how serious you are about it.  For Akrotiri we just searched online for a Greek font and came up with dozens to choose from.  We made it blue and added a drop shadow behind it – and voila, we’ve got a logo!

You have to think about where this box is going.  It’s going back to their offices with however many more games they agreed to take a look at – and added to the pile of boxes that they already have there.  You need to ensure that your game will stand out from the others.  Something that will make one of the playtesters say, “Hey let’s play that one with the leopard print box.”  If you just pack it in a boring brown cardboard box and tape it shut – then you’re not doing yourself any favours.

So by the end of the convention, it’s time to hand off as many of your games as possible.  If you got offers from more than one publisher for the same game then you’re going to have to make some tough decisions.  At my first convention we got an offer to look at Jam Slam (back when it was called Jungle Jam) from R&R games as well as Face to Face Games.  Since Jungle Jam at the time needed electronic components we decided to show the game to R&R Games since they had experience making games with electronic pieces.  In discussing this with Face to Face Games at the end, they understood and weren’t disappointed as they got to take another one of our games back with them at the time.

So that’s it for conventions.  As you can see they are very important for game designers as is evident in the quantity of posts we devoted to the subject:

Step 19) Picking the right convention

Step 20) Preparing for the convention

Step 21) Packing!

Step 22) Now you’re at the convention

Step 23) Approaching the publisher

Step 24) Showcasing your game to a publisher

Step 25) Playing your game with a publisher

Step 26) Getting feedback from a publisher

Step 27) Leaving the game with a publisher

The next few steps will be about working with a publisher who’s agreed to publish your game.

-Jay Cormier