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For me, Mondays are nearly always a playtest day. The only exception (currently) is the 3rd Monday of the month.
2nd, 4th and 5th Mondays are at the Jugged Hare, 5 miles away. 1st Monday is in Enfield, 15 miles north - a bit of a trek, but well worth it considering the value of the playtest experience - it's still a major bottleneck in my process and it's always good for the soul to physically interact with like-minded folk.
Sadly, whilst the meetups at the Jugged Hare have slowly grown in their attendance (usually allowing for 2-3 games at once), Enfield only generally sees 3 of us. This does have its own advantages though, as we become familiar with each others' games, styles of feedback and personalities.
We started by playing Andy's 'Towers' - this is a game I've probably played more often than most of my 'real' boardgame collection. I've seen it progress from a worker placement game, into one with a twist (your workers 'move'), into a card-playing hybrid, into a more streamlined worker placement game.
Andy expressed a sense of frustration - he's still trying to 'find the fun' - it's now a perfectly playable game but he wasn't excited to play it again and so felt it must be a lacklustre design.
Part of the lack of excitement is probably down to the design process and inevitable weariness.
Dave and I both enjoyed the current version and most of our feedback was from a development/balancing perspective. I think it'd be good for Andy to focus on this version for a while.
Andy and Dave then played the current version of Coupell a couple of times. I was glad to see that they lost the first game. I had been concerned that it may be too trivial. Even in their 2nd game, it was very close and I noticed many choices where (I think) they made a sub-optimal decision.
As usual, there were some ideas for even more games with this same deck.
Finally, we played 'Cabin Pressure' by Dave Cousins (not pictured). It was - in theory - a fun game all about blocking your opponents' paths. In reality, 60% of the game will need to be changed or stripped out, as it's getting in its own way.
Such is the usual path for a first ever outing.
At least Dave knows the direction he wants his game to take. Now he just needs to take the journey.
Fri Mar 18, 2016 11:00 pm
4-3-2016 was another worthwhile Friday Daytest (a playtest session that lasts all day).
We started by playing Lawrence's game about passing laws and legislations in the EU. David Brain was absolutely smitten with the ridiculous nature of the game: written by an MEP, it seeks to showcase the stupidities that need to be overcome.
I felt some of the cards went a step too far - too many were hard to understand. Though the theme is one of absurdity and excessive rules, most of our comments were suggestions to streamline the actual game. Though playing the most ridiculous game may be amusing one time, a game must have a solid, playable core if you want it to be replayable. Ultimately, you need to decide on your priorities - it's all well and good making something like Train if you want to impart a message. But that's an experience the audience needs to really buy into. By making a publishable game, will the artistic message be even better communicated, through the many playthroughs?
This particular rendition could have lasted many hours longer had I not found a 'combo' of cards that allowed me to win with maybe 3 pts (everyone else had 0, except Lawrence who, amusingly, had -2.
Liz, whom I know from some recent life-drawing, joined us for the 2nd session. She chose to join David Dawkins and Lawrence.
Meanwhile, I tried Coupell with David Brain and Paul. They confirmed that the simple game was of interest to them, despite being amazing wordsmiths.
I them showed them what I thought could be the 'advanced mode'. They suggested that it felt too different and should actually be something separate - Coupell 2. Whilst Coupell is a relatively simple 25-30 minute game that could be played in bed together without too much stress, Coupell 2 took them over an hour to get about half-way through. There was plenty of downtime, but Paul and David both felt that they were enjoying the mental workout - David even told me he'd love to play it again with his own prototype of the Wibbell++ deck.
Before the end of my playtest slot, I asked them to play Grabbell 2 twice. A 2-minute speed game of pattern recognition - you can grab letters one behind or 2 in front. (As you improve, you'd have to do more in front.)
David hated it but the test showed that the mechanics work well. It's now a matter of showing it to the target audience.
Finally, we played David Brain's game: Cash on Delivery.
A lovely, stressful economic game with a lot of indirect control over the other players. We built factories, trains and ports. Finally, someone could transport cubes from factories to ports, selecting either a city or port to transport from/to. The choices each player would make when taking the 'delivery' action would mean that you'd generally benefit yourself more, but would always - by necessity - give points to a few opponents.
Meanwhile, the economy was tight and money - which doubled as your VP - was scarce for the first half of the game, at which point the focus shifted from what to buy towards how to deliver goods and when to produce.
At this stage, I doubt we'll see the game again at a playtest session. The game is in a strong position and hopefully David Brain will be able to find a publisher to do this design justice.
Wed Mar 16, 2016 11:00 pm
On Monday 29th Feb, a small crowd gathered for a 'bonus 5th Monday'. A small crowd - only 4 of us. Since the previous gathering had 10 and the next looks likely to have 8-11, I guess the lower turnout was due to it being outside of the regular scheduling of the 2nd and 4th Mondays.
Shaun's game was the first to be playtested. A game of using your resources to spawn new units (up to a maximum) and using your units to deplete your opponent's resources. The first player to reach 0 resources would lose.
The rules were simple but the game was made manic by the addition of a chess clock - we each had 4 minutes over the entire course of the game!
After a few games, we massively simplified the Line Of Sight rules and decreed that units can only shoot in straight, orthogonal lines.
Shaun had an idea in his mind for how the LOS should operate and in his playtests with 2 close friends, it had always worked out. Firing only in orthogonal lines is completely unthematic but it was at least possible to explain and the simplicity seemed to work with the time limit.
Great fun and I'd have been happy to play for hours!
After 45 minutes, Fabio had an extended playtest of Pernambuco. An interesting game of card-drafting, exploration and engine building.
I found it a very focused game - the cards force you to play through a very specific story. But there's plenty of decision points and I know many things I'd do differently next time.
Finally, Fabio and I played Coupell - a 2p co-op I've devised for my forthcoming game system.
We played it twice and the rules now seem to be set. (One number I was unsure of decided.)
The only thing remaining is to lay out the rules and make sure they're intelligible. But if I hope for this to fit on one card, that's no small task. :-)
Overall, a great meetup - everyone went home happier.
HATE (the Hackney Area Tabletop Enthusiasts) run a weekly boardgame evening in London and a week ago, they hosted their first convention.
It was spread over 3 floors of an establishment that featured bars and tables.
Modiphius was showing off Achtung Cthulhu and Thunderbirds. I was showing off In A Bind and Wibbell++. My friend Leo was showing off a bunch of his Indie RPGs. There were also a large number of club regulars organising RPGs, classic Euros, painting classes, bring & buy and a miniatures tournament downstairs.
I'm guessing there were probably 75-100 folk in the building on average. It felt quiet at times, given the luxury of space we had, but I was happy to spend the day running my quicker games for folk waiting something longer. I had some opportunities to grab food out of my bag but there was nearly always someone playing something at my table. Sasha had given me a prime spot near the front, which made sense. RPGs, tournaments and 90-120 minute games will attract folk to sign up and have less turnover. My games ranged from 2 minutes to 25 minutes and I'd usually suggest something that best suited whomever wandered over.
A lot of folk had fun with In A Bind. It's always easy to teach and engage.
I soon realised one great thing about the WIbbell++ deck - the variety of playtimes and experiences let me quickly ask a few questions from folk and suggest a game suitable for them.
Only have 2 minutes? Play Grabbell. Not competitive? Play Couppell. Enjoy wordgames? Play Wibbell. Want something more abstract? Try Alphabeticell.
As I wasn't planning on selling anything, my 'setup', only involved placing 4 decks and 2 sheets of paper (the 'menu' of games) onto the table. Quick and easy.
The whole reason I make games is, ultimately, to have folk having fun because of me. There's a lot of ego involved. Probably the same reason that most folk perform or share other non-essential things with the world. You want to please the crowd and feel like you're worthwhile - like your presence in the world is actually an improvement.
I ended up selling 3 copies of In A Bind and that paid for a fun day. But the best part of the day was seeing folk engage so strongly with something I'd made. The fact that a few folk bought the game is validation, but it's all about watching folk having fun with something I made.
If I could do that forever, wandering around the world and just hosting game nights, I totally would.
After the convention officially ended, I was tired and ready to go home, but was persuaded to play a session of 'Monkey' (an RPG based on the TV show). I'm so happy I did. I played Tripitaka and whilst I inwardly laughed at the energetic antics of Piggsy, Sandy and Monkey, I relished being able to hit them over the head, playing the straight man of the comedy.
I'm going to try writing short reports every time I playtest, scheduling them to go up a week later.
This Monday, there were 10 folk in attendance. 7 folk brought games and this again goes to show that for a playtest meetup to work, you need to expect the majority of folk to be designers. It's a rare soul that will be committed to helping shape the games of the future, rather than enjoying the cream of those that have been finished and reached their full potential.
Such souls are, of course, very much cherished and we do all we can to make them feel welcome.
After a bit of banter and discussion about where we should sit (the bar would open the top floor specially for us only if there were more than 8), we started the first round around 6:30.
Fabio and I played Andy's "Towers". A few weeks ago, this was a worker placement game with the twist that workers moved around. Actions allow you to take materials, build floors, 'complete' your towers. After a few months of small tweaks, he'd ripped it apart to introduce a new system that straddled the gulf between worker placement and card-driven games.
Jen and Kieran helped Michal test 'Bank Job'. I've seen this game develop from an over-complicated game about programmers, into a game about robbers, until the 'board started disappearing and Michal insists that the version I played 2 months ago bears almost no resemblance to its current iteration. It certainly looks very different!
It seems that at long last, Michal has 'found the fun' - in this case, it's the negotiations that happen between 2 players under a realtime pressure.
Everything else is being stripped away to make this one aspect shine.
Ben came for his 2nd time (after attending the day before) and 2 newbies tried out his abstract war-game.
Around 8pm, we re-shuffled, with 1 new arrival and 3 departures.
Ben and Andy tried out Dimitri's 'Requiem'.
Jen, Michal, Fabio and I helped test Kieran's game. An interesting idea about push-your-luck. Vaguely reminiscent of auction games but also such chaotic social games like 6 Nimmt.
By offering a higher number, you would get better cards, but only if you hadn't been screwed over.
We played twice, with different rules and plenty of discussion. A fascinating concept and it deserves a few more plays to work out how to best execute it.
Round 2 stopped at 9:30 and most folk were ready to head home. Fabio and I still hadn't played our games, so Fabio suggested I go ahead. His game would likely take longer and he could have priority on 29th. This is the kind of flexibility that regular playtest sessions afford and I shudder at the memory of only having 2 sessions (in total) a month just 1 year ago. Now that we have 5-7 playtest sessions a month, it's far easier to keep things fair and if anyone does get skipped over on one occasion, it's not so big a deal.
I brought out my Wibbell++ deck, to test out Selectabell. A drafting/word-building game that lasted 3-7 minutes, most folk enjoyed it but found it just too short.
I used the opportunity to test out a variant where multiple games are played in a single session, the victor striving for a longer word each time until someone achieves an 8-letter word (using 9 cards).
Andy, Michal and Fabio played whilst I watched.
I found it interesting that Andy, perhaps due to sleep deprivation, got the lowest score despite being the only native English speaker. Michal has definitely improved his skills (he's played my wordgames for maybe 10 hours) and Fabio seemed to have a natural affinity.
It clocked in around 35 minutes for the longer variant and - given the reception today and yesterday - this is now the 'official' way to play.
As the monthly Sunday daytest fell shortly after Christmas, there were only 6 of us.
We started by playing Grabbell a couple of times, confirming that it works with 6 (and would probably work with more), then doing the same for Alphabeticell.
A rule was changed for the latter game - the first to get 8 cards wins the game. Original designer Andrew Dennison, when I mentioned it, expressed a slight sadness. Originally, we went through the entire deck and then the person with most cards won. There's an interesting challenge there - you don't know how many cards the winner will have exactly. The number of cards to skip is different based on what has already come out, the number of players and what will come up.
If you're holding out for the perfect cards, you will win once in a while with a stupendous score but it's very much a long-shot.
This rule change takes away some of that. However, it:
- simplifies the rules (important when they're meant to fit on one card)
- provides a more concrete objective for a first-time player
- shortens the game, keeping most of the excitement/decisions
- adds tension
- reduces (almost eliminates) time when players feel hopelessly unable to win.
The last 2 points go hand-in-hand. Players see someone grab their 7th card and are aware that person could soon win. At the same time, there will probably be fewer cards for them to grab - a slight negative feedback loop. Maybe someone else grabs their 7th and then 8th card. Either way, this is more of a 'surprise' (a better climax) than - based on the cards in front of people - being increasingly certain that one player is the winner.
Developing another designer's game for the Wibbell++ system has been very interesting. When Andrew first invented it and we tried it with 3 players, it was already fun and it's been a pleasure watching it played tens of times to squeeze out extra goodness.
I then played 3 dexterity games by Gavin Birnbaum involving a see-saw used to flip things into, onto, or near to a target. Whilst it's marvelous seeing his creations realised, it feels to me that some of the designs really deserve a wider release than the hand-crafted efforts of Cubiko.
One of the flipping games could be at home in Haba's stable.
Since they are all so limited, you should be sure to visit Gavin's stand at UKGE.
Marc had been testing his relatively heavy Euro and we gathered together again to play Marc's "Roll and Move", all about eating rolls and moving house. I won by concentrating on the roll.
As a person who bought Deck Building: The Deck Building Game and Unpub: The Unpublished Card Game, I could definitely see myself buying a copy of this when it's been streamlined.
At the end of the day, we tested some other Wibbell++ ideas from my recent competition, something I might talk more about next time.
MaRo recently wrote an article about an overview of the creation process.
To summarise (using much of his words),
1 - pick a starting point. Anything will do.
2 - generate ideas for a focus/broad framework
3 - test/evaluate ideas (playtest)
4 - repeat 2&3 until you know what your creation is about, broadly
5 - generate ideas that fit this framework, to create a working thing
6 - test/evaluate ideas using outside input
7 - repeat 5&6 until you work out your execution
8 - generate changes within the Components
9 - test/evaluate those changes
10 - repeat 8/9
11 - finish
At this point, MtG has been going for 22 years. Maro has been making cards for 19ish years and has been the head designer for around 12 years.
Given his experience and the history of the game, it behooves us to listen to this man of experience.
A few things jump into my mind:
- He has resources that very few others have access to.
- There are set deadlines to be met, given MtG's release schedule.
- After he is 'finished', there is still an equal amount of time spent on the game by the Development team, whilst the creative team finish the story details, card names, flavour text and get art done.
I was pondering whether these 3 iterations really apply to all I've done. Wibbell, which I'll be doing a KS for in Feb/March, had the central concept for the 'flagship' word game emerge fully-formed on a bike ride as I brainstormed for this blog a year ago.
It occurs to me that with party games, and games of a certain simplicity, you might understand the framework even before the first playtest. There may be tweaks to make, but stages 2,3,4 are passed over so rapidly.
There is an argument that my mind was iterating on the framework during my bike ride home. Wondering how to simplify my favourite word game - Prolix - a lot of it was theorycrafting. Most of the past year was spent on stages 5,6,7 and then 8,9,10 came about when I finally 'nailed' the exact frequencies and pairings of letters over the past month or two.
A heavier game would require more time to be spent on stages 2,3,4. When there is more than one system in place, more difficult decisions have to be made regarding what to include/exclude. When the entire game is just one streamlined system (perhaps with a secondary supporting mechanic), the decision is a simple yes/no.
I see many games that have gone backwards in this list. Michel's bank job was being refined at stages 5,6,7 before he went back to stage 4, in order to produce a far more enjoyable prototype that now looks like the framework is solid.
Sometimes, there is no way to tell if the framework is good enough, until you spend a bit of time refining the details.
Despite the linearity of Maro's list, I'm sure they run into dead ends and need to step back sometimes.
If Wibbell++ really takes off as a game system, I imagine myself formally adopting this procedure.
Even just for making any old game, there's a lot to be said for being aware of this. Generate with your heart, evaluate with your mind.
It might be good for me to actually go back and evaluate all those game ideas I wrote up when I started this blog.
Thu Dec 24, 2015 11:00 pm
A good playtest session with 6 designers playing 4 games.
First, David Brain, Paul Mansfield and I played the Bank Job by Michel - a game of allocating resources and negotiations.
The game had changed massively since I last saw it. Previously, there was a whole aspect of movement through a grid of banks. Now, that was all abstracted away with a small selection of banks to enter.
Michel had newly added special powers you could choose, at a cost of having a small penalty in the event of a shoot-out that round. Event cards and police cards modified the banks and 2 players were allowed to peek at these.
The whole game became far more about evaluation of the various options (indirect competition) and the negotiations (direct competition). It really reaffirms the notion of taking out as much extraneous stuff as possible. Unless you have an intricate web creating a tapestry of a world, I suppose. But even then, it's worth taking out a large chunk if it doesn't serve the whole.
Second, 5 of us played Mutiny! by Antony.
A simple party game reminiscent of Junta, a Pirate captain would divvy up some loot and then hope to not be overthrown. Players could bribe others in order to influence them.
A fun system that probably just needs a few minor tweaks. It took us far longer than it should, but that's not entirely the game's fault.
I wonder if there's a certain style of game that SHOULDN'T be tested with designers. I certainly hope that Antony got some good ideas from the 5-man brainstorm after the game ended. But I am reminded of the quantity and quality of feedback I got at Dragonmeet and UKGE in previous years. Certainly, there's a certain point at which your design is mostly done and you just want as much testing as possible, generating stats to check which player wins the most, seeing if folk want to play again, seeing general comments...
This is certainly a game that is on that point of what Maro would call 'devign'.
Finally, I played Coupell (a Wibbell++ game) with Antony whilst Carlos tested his (very pretty-looking) futuristic sports game.
We played one game with the same rules I had tried with W, discussed the end-game, then played a 2nd game with scoring.
In Coupell, the only loss state is having too many cards in your hand. In the basic game, your only objective is to survive through the deck. If you've done well enough, the last couple of turns can be irrelevant - there won't be enough cards left in the deck to make you lose.
I worry about there being an anti-climactic ending as a result.
The score-based game was far better. You are motivated to claim longer words and get points for each word claimed. Even when the last 3 cards are drawn, it matters very much what you do, to try and eke out a few extra points at the end.
If the basic game is considered 'training' for the scoring mode, then an anticlimactic ending isn't so much of an issue. But, of course, it would be good if it could be improved.
Fri Dec 18, 2015 11:00 pm
On Thursday, W came over to play some boardgames.
I had met her a few times when playing Nordic LARPs and last time, I had shown her Grabbell and Wibbell (2 games in the Wibbell++ game system). We had one of the best conversations I've experienced.
When I got a copy of ...and then, we held hands. a week later, I asked if she wanted to try it out and she expressed a strong desire for an introduction to board games.
We played ATWHH 3 times, getting significantly further on our 2nd/3rd plays than our first. Because of a delay in when we could meet up, I had tried it twice with A on her way out of the country, winning our 2nd game (without arguments, without communication). With W, we never even made it to stage 3. Part of that is down to the cards that came up, a large part of it is down to W's inexperience with boardgames.
First impressions - it is lovely. I'm not yet quite sure if the mechanics feel like a representation of the theme. I'll be interested to play it with W enough that we start to use 'arguments' before forming a firmer opinion.
We had a big discussion of whether you really need so much sadness and anger to be balanced. I guess it makes sense that a relationship is deepened if you survive each other's 'bad moments' but I'm not sure I've ever felt my life was in need of more sadness/anger.
We then played a few of my games using the Wibbell++ system. We played 'Faybell' and it ended up being a story about jewels that lure adventuring parties to their death. W threw in a horrible twisted ending.
For some reason, most times I play Faybell, it ends up in either tragedy or farce.
Then we played 'Duell'. OK, though there was a tendency for turns to take some time. Tested just adding random cards (from top of deck) anywhere onto the line. I definitely don't feel that a hand of cards is required. The key decision is whether to 'push your luck' or call and the key puzzle is finding a word that works for you (and maybe trying to work out if one works for your opponent).
Coupell was quite fun. Drawing 3 cards, then taking 2 actions/turn (claiming a word of 4+, moving a partner's card or giving a card) seemed to make survival marginally tricky. I see this as the 'training game' with folk moving on to play for points. But it may be that 5 cards drawn, 3 actions (and a higher hand limit) provides a 'hard' mode that is also fun. Definitely worth continuing to develop/test.
After playing my games, I exposed W to Carcassonne - IMO the best intro to 'alternative' board games. Then we finished with a round of Ker Plunk where 70% of the marbles fell with 1 stick removal.
W is awesome and I would happily have her over anytime I didn't have to work.
Thu Dec 17, 2015 11:00 pm
I had my 3rd - and final - pre-release party last Friday. An evening of me playing music and telling stories, folk playing In a Bind with the expansions and me demoing my next KS project.
The 3 parties were in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh - 3 cities where I have some roots, had a place to sleep and felt that folk would come.
After the Glasgow party, I went to visit my dad, who asked if it was successful. I pondered this. How do you define success?
1 - making/reaffirming a connection with backers
2 - encouraging backers to spread the word by having something to talk about
3 - selling a few early copies
4 - taking some photos for PR purposes.
5 - enjoying myself. I enjoy performing and being the centre of attention. I enjoy group situations in general, specially when I'm able to run the schedule.
6 - having the validation and reaffirmation of seeing people play the game and reassuring myself that - yes - this is an enjoyable game that's actually worth money.
The first 3 reasons are the 'business reasons' but the last 2 are probably the most important.
In Edinburgh, one lad came along who wasn't a backer and wasn't a friend of a friend of a friend. He bought a copy. I don't think it was just because of my inherent charm and the quality of my performance - though that might have helped.
It's slightly sad that in this day and age our self-esteem is tied up to money but that's the way it is.
When someone pays me £15 for my game, I see that as validation of its worth.
I'm not an artist. The games I make generally aren't meant to facilitate deeper reflection, introspection or impart a message. They're meant to entertain and hopefully bring people together.
There will probably always be a part of my brain that looks at my drawings and sees the way they're so 'amateur looking' compared to most other things. Focuses on the imperfections in every aspect of the game.
But it's done now, and I can honestly say that I'm not embarrassed by it. That's good enough for now.
I even feel a little pride.
But that validation - seeing people play for the first time, burst out laughing and then buy a copy?
I need that reassurance. I probably shouldn't, but I do.
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