Dear Jamey – expanding the worlds of Stonemaier Games

Keeping Jamey and the community in the loop on my work on making expansions for Stonemaier Games.
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It’s a wrap (almost) – status on Scythe Automa as of the 12th of October 2015

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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Dear Jamey

After 299 playtests performed by 36 external playtesters we’re now all but done making the Scythe solo mode. The only thing we’re still tweaking is the hardest difficulty level, which we recently created, since a few of the playtesters were getting results that were quite a bit better than the rest of us.

Just like with the previously hardest difficulty level (Automaszyna), Jakub helped me with naming it and we baptized it Ultimaszyna as a merger of the word “ultimate” and the Polish word for automaton/machine, “maszyna”.

Running the playtests has been a joy. The playtest team has been awesome, giving tons of useful feedback and encouraging words. They’ve really helped make Scythe Automa much better than the version we used to kick off the playtests and I can’t thank them enough.

The Goals

In the last status report I revisited the goals I had set up for the playtests and as said back then, the primary remaining goal was to balance the difficulty. I think that we’ve succeeded in doing that except for the new additional difficulty level we’re still working on.

There’s still a learning curve, but the rules seem to be clear now and the playtesters generally didn’t find running the latest revisions Automa bothersome from a bookkeeping perspective and the average rating for the past 25 games is 8.2 on the BGG 1-10 scale, and it’s been great to see the rating improve from the 6.2 it was after the first 10 playtests.

So overall, I think that we’ve accomplished the six goals I defined at the beginning and that we now have a product that I’m proud to see go on Kickstarter.

Process Feedback

As you know I’ve made a feedback form, where I asked the playtesters to evaluate the playtest process and help me do it better next time.

Overall the feedback has been great with an average rating of 4.6 on the questions that were to be numerically rated from 1-5.

There were some suggestions for improvements, which I’ll take with me to the next playtest.

1) Maybe the pace of rules changes was a bit too fast. This is a difficult trade-off. If you do frequent changes you risk confusing and overwhelming for playtesters or have them play an outdated version. On the other hand waiting to make a change could mean that you have multiple players testing out a version that you know you’re going to change and it can mean that you don’t get to test out enough different ideas before the deadline.

2) The timeframe was very tight. This is spot on and it’s a result of the way we work, where I don’t start my end run until you’ve basically finalized the multiplayer version. It’s something of a conundrum. We started working with this tight time frame because David and I have previously had to do redo a lot of work because of changes to the multiplayer versions of Viticulture Essential and Between Two Cities.

So, if we start the solo work earlier we’ll be going back to the olden days of redoing work and we would definitely decrease our bandwidth, but it would make the process less tight and risky.

3) It’s been suggested that I highlight rule changes made in a revision in the text itself with another color in addition to the change log that I maintain. I can definitely see that this would help and I’ll strongly take this into consideration next time. The downside is that I’ll require more work for me and I’ve been the bottleneck more than once in this process.

4) I should be better at keeping the playtesters informed about whether changes to the multiplayer game files affect the Automa playtests. This is something the two of us should work on next time.

The Forum

This is the first playtest that I’ve been running via the forum that Barry Schmaling so kindly set up for us and I must say that I like it much better than running it via email as I’ve done on Viticulture Automa and Between Two Cities Automa. It has created a much better sense of community and has playtesters responding to each other and gives new playtesters a better way to catch up.

As you can probably tell, I recommend that we use the forum for future playtests.

The Road Ahead

Apart from tweaking Ultimaszyna we now need to do the final polishing of the rulebook. We’ll fix typos and catch any issues that might have crept in during the rapid update process we’ve been through and then hand it over to you.

It’s been a crazy ride and after two months of using every minute I could get my grubby hands on to work on Scythe Automa. I’m now stopping to catch my breath and as I’ve told you previously I’m waiting for the Kickstarter tomorrow with the same giddiness as my son when waiting for Christmas .

- Morten
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