Launch of Fail Faster: Playtesting Journal

Jay Cormier here to let you know that I’ve got a solo project that I’m proud to announce! It’s the launch of a new venture for me: the Fail Faster Playtesting Journal. It’s coming to Kickstarter on March 5th, 2019.

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This journal has been developed to help game designers take better notes during their playtests. I’ll unveil more as we get closer, but for now, head on over to www.failfaster.ca to sign up to the newsletter to stay informed!

-Jay Cormier

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The Gathering of Friends 2016 – Bamboozle Brother Summary

The Gathering of Friends is always my favourite week of the year (ok, with the exception of the week I got married this year!), and this year was as fun and productive as usual. Here’s a summary of the shenanigans that the Bamboozle Brothers got up to over the last 10 days.

Pitching new games

We pitched fewer games than usual this year, mostly because we’ve been busy working on licensed games. We still managed to meet with a bunch of publishers.

Filosofia: We showed them 9 Thieves and a set of three games set in the Arabian Nights stories, each designed by different designers. They liked 9 Thieves and gave us an idea to improve it, which we did for our next pitch.

Wizkids: Right before the Gathering a contract expired for Rock, Paper, Wizards, a game that another publisher had of ours, which meant that it was back on the market. Zev from Wizkids remembered liking it last year, so after a round of playing the game again Zev wanted the game! He had an idea that seemed like it would break the game, but the underlining issue he was trying to solve was a valid issue. This was a game we co-designed with Josh Cappel (yes, THAT Josh Cappel – the artist for Belfort!) and Josh had a brainstorm that solved the issue even better and made everyone happy! Huzzah!

I also pitched to Zev a game I designed with non-Sen designer, Shad Miller, called Skirmishes. He really liked that one and asked to have a copy to evaluate.

Zev from Wizkids examines Skirmishes

Zev from Wizkids examines Skirmishes!

Stronghold: I showed Stephen Skirmishes because I thought it was something he’d be interested in – and he liked it and said it was very clever, but he already had a battle game coming out this year.

USA-opoly: I wouldn’t have thought to pitch anything to him based on the games that they’ve made. I had the fortune of sitting beside Tony from USA-opoly on a 2 hour bus ride to Toronto to visit Snakes and Lattes and see the Blue Jays game. Seems like they are trying to publish their own games and the timing is perfect! I showed him some games and he seemed intrigued, but none of our current games seemed to match what he was looking for. 

Huch & Friends: I always enjoy pitching to Britta and Benjamin as they are very nice, fun and professional. They are also the fastest publishers to respond to an email in my experience so far! We showed them our games and she ended up liking two of the Arabian Nights games, one of them being our Aladdin game. Yay! They have also had our Herdables game for a coulee years and think they might want to publish that one too…so fingers crossed!

North Star: it was more of a lengthy conversation than a pitch as we chatted about where they’re at and where they want to go with their business. It was great to learn where they’re going and what they’re looking for in the near future. Could turn Into something exciting!

Pretzel Games: Well this is a first – we pitched a game to a publisher that we never play tested. Not only that, but we didn’t even have a prototype! Whaaa? We were told by Martin that he was looking for some outdoor games, so Sen and I came up with an idea for an outdoor game, but we didn’t want to put time and resources into making the game if the concept wasn’t even interesting to Martin. After our pitch we brainstormed some more on some production challenges and he ended up liking it and wanted us to proceed to the prototype stage! Sweet.

Matagot: Stefan is pretty new with Matagot so he is still trying to understand what they’re looking for, but he liked Skirmishes and wants me to take a picture of the game fully set up so he can show it to his team.

Indie Card and Board: This was an impromptu pitch when I saw Travis walking around, not looking busy. He had seen me playing/pitching our word game, Chainables in a restaurant with Tony from USA-opoly and had commented that it looked cool. I figured that it wasn’t the kind of game that Indie would publish but thought he’d like to play a game. He did, and enjoyed the game (not to publish it tho!), and then I transitioned that into a pitch for 9 Thieves. He seemed to like it and gave us a couple of great ideas to tweak it. So yay for improvements at least.

Promoting Games

Sen and I had 2 games that we were asked to help promote while at the Gathering this year, Junk Art and Godfather: A New Don. 

Junk Art is the second game from Pretzel Games, with the first being the hit from last year, Flick ‘Em Up. Junk Art involves 15 wooden pieces in 4 different colours for a total of 60 wooden pieces. There’s a deck of cards with each piece having its own card. There are many ways to play the game, but mostly you’re challenging players with cards to place those pieces onto their own base, trying to get points for placement or for having the tallest structure. 

Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Island) is amazed by his own creation!

Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Island) is amazed by his own creation!

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Willaim Attia (designer of Callus and Spyrium) trying Junk Art!

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Josh Cappel (designer of Wasabi and artist for Belfort) trying some outlandish moves.

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Some great reactions after a piece is added to a structure! They’re playing the Montreal variant which has players inheriting the structure that they were just passing cards to in the previous round. This mode causes the most insane structures!

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Travis from Indie Card & Board calling to order his own copy of Junk Art (I can only assume that’s what he was doing). This mode was called Gujarat where each player takes all the pieces of one colour.

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Eric Lang staring contemplatively at his winning structure while playing the Monaco variant.

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Phil Walker-Harding is trying to compete for tallest structure in the Home Town variant. This is considered to be the main game and has a lot of strategy!

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Mike Gray – the man who brought Bausack to America and called it Bandu, plays Junk Art!

The game seemed like a big hit at the Gathering this year with the game being played multiple times per day by different game groups. I heard Tom Vasel and Zee Garcia played it for about an hour one day too! Junk art is being released at GenCon. You can check out a trailer for the game here:

Godfather: A New Don is published by IDW Games and was air shipped to the Gathering. It was a final art prototype, meaning that the quality of the components were not final (and some pieces were hijacked from other games!). I got to get this game played at least 4 times during the con and everyone seemed to really like how streamlined the game is. If you like dice rolling and area majority, then we have a game for you! Add to the mix that players have to offer dice to the Godfather every round, the ability to muscle other players out of your neighbourhood and the fact that you can invest in Vegas and you’ll find it pretty difficult to not talk like mafia and quote the movie while you play it!

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Meetings with publishers

We spent some time not pitching – but business stuff!

We spent a couple hours at least with Martin from Pretzel Games discussing and brainstorming the first expansion to Junk Art. The game isn’t out yet but they believe in it so much that they want to have an expansion ready ASAP. It was maybe my favourite part of the whole week as 2 designers and a publisher brainstormed through game play and publishing challenges to figure out how to make our cool ideas come to life. Needless to say, we’re pretty excited about it!

We had a lunch meeting with Mercury Games and talked about the two games of ours that they have in the pipeline, Zombie Slam and What’s That. Both require an app to play the game, and they have recently hired an app developer (another Game Artisan of Canada!). So we talked through the timing as well as the future of Mercury.

Playtesting 

We wanted to get a lot of play testing of our games with other people done at the Gathering – and we did!

Powers (a game based on the comic, coming out later this year form IDW Games) was played twice. The first game had Matt Leacock as a player but the game broke down and made us realize the importance of the set up. We got some great feedback though and we tweaked it for another playtest later in the week. The second test was better but still messy. We have ideas on how to clean it up and continue simplifying while still ensuring there’s a challenge for players who’ve played it a bunch.

Godzilla (a game coming out from Toy Vault) was played numerous times, and three times by me. All the games were great, but it’s obvious that the Godzilla deck is not well constructed, so we have to change which cards are in the deck. Easy fix!

Skirmishes (by Shad and me) got played by Sen and me before we left for the Gathering and it made me change one big thing in the game that makes the game easier to comprehend the first time playing. 

But Wait There’s Even More (a game from Toy Vault). The first print run has sold out, but instead of just reprinting, we’re thinking of printing a new box, full of 100% new content. This way, existing fans can buy it – but newcomers can buy it as well! We tested all the new phrases and got to tweak a few of them as well as a new rule for this edition!

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Phil Walker-Harding (designer of Sushi Go and Cacao) pitches some crazy product to the rest of us!

I got to playtest other designers’ games as well, like Matt Leacock’s new family co-op game, Mike Kolross’s G-Men, Phil Walker-Harding’s Spy Craft, Mike Gray’s Water God, Josh Cappel’s Dead Run, Al Leduc’s Dogs on the Bed, and probably a few more that I can’t recall.

Played games

I did find some time to play some games as well while I was there! 

Codenames Pictures: This was a no-brainer. Take the hit party game Codenames, but replace the words with images. The images are all kind of weird too – which makes it interesting. This will play better when you have friends that have different native languages.

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Karuba: a fun and light game that’s like Take it Easy with a theme. Played this one a couple times.IMG_4303

Team Play: a nice light partner based card game where each player has a goal of the cards they need to collect in order to score points. Players can draw cards as well as pass cards to their partner. Pretty fun and easy.

Colony: Kind of like Machi Koro but has a bit too much downtime between turns. I heard it’s great with 2 players – and it would probably get better with repeat plays.

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Ulm: I played this last year as well, and it should be coming out this year from Huch & Friends. I really like it and look forward to playing it again.

Ulm!

Tichu: I partnered up with Stefan Brunelle and we beat Zev and Ignacy’s wife, Merry. Love this game. 

Strike: Weird that this is a published game…it’s just a bunch of dice and a plastic mold inside the box that you roll them in. Super random obviously but fun for 4 minutes I guess.

Rollers: this one was a fun game but it just lasted way too long for us. We thought it was over but then we realized that it’s the player to get 5 points first…so the game continued. 

Adrenaline: A cool PvP game that emulates a first person shooter in tight quarters – but it does so with no dice rolling. It has a bit AP, but I thought it was very neat!

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Wonky: a neat idea for a small balancing game. Not sure how much replayability it would have though.

Broom Service: a neat idea about being cowardly or brave…though it can be punishing.

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Broom Service in action!

Designed

Sen and I didn’t have as much time as we thought we would, mostly because he had to leave for 4 days in the middle to go back to work. Boo! But we ironed out quite a few things in the car ride there and back at least!

Josh Cappel had an idea for a game while at the Gathering and asked me for help trying to turn it into a game. We made some good progress on it and we’ll continue working on it together.

Other shenanigans

As mentioned before, 40 of us got on a bus and rode into Toronto to hang out at Snakes and Lattes and then to the baseball game. I’m a huge Blue Jays fan so this was exciting! I was surrounded by Germans and Australians who had never seen a baseball game…ever! So I was able to help them throughout the game with some rules explanations.

The Skydome ...uh I mean, Rogers Centre!

The Skydome …uh I mean, Rogers Centre!

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Getting ready for the game to start!

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The CN Tower…obligatory photo.

All the rooms had fridges and microwaves this year so we did a grocery run when we first got there which was my breakfast and lunch every day. For dinner I had a lot of yummy Indian food as there are many options close to the hotel. We did our annual walk over to the Canadian side to have dinner at a nice wood oven pizza place. We had around 18 of us this year, with numerous designers and publishers. On another night, eight of us drove into Buffalo to eat some great meat at Dinosaur. We were well fed.

We had our largest turnout for our annual soccer game, organized every year by Richard Bethany. This year we each had a sub plus a full team of 6 on each side (half field- hey we’re old!). One of my favourite activities every year.

soccer-gathering

The final ceremony started with a humourous magic act and then quickly proceeded to the prizes! Everyone that donates something, like a game to the prize table, goes into a draw and gets to take something from the prize table. It’s not just games though…there were numerous hand made options like meeple pillows, hand painted miniatures for popular games, handmade gaming quilt – plus some super hard to find games like Indonesia and Antiquity. I managed to snag Super Motherlode because it’s from Roxley Games…and they’re just awesome (they’re doing a Kickstarter for Santorini that end soon). 

That’s it in a rather large nutshell. Even though the atmosphere is casual and relaxed it never feels like there’s enough time to do everything. Maybe it should happen twice a year? 🙂

Jay Cormier

Sent from my iPad

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

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.
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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 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