Thematic Solitaires for the Spare Time Challenged

A blog about solitaire games and how to design them. I'm your host, Morten, co-designer of solo modes for Scythe, Gaia Project, Wingspan, Glen More II, and others.
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What goes into making an Automa?

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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Our 16th Automa project is being wrapped up right now and we’re applying the final polish.

I’m sometimes asked how much work that goes into making an Automa and today I’ll give a very brief recap of the current one to answer that question. Before getting started, though, I should note that this one has been among the largest projects.

Timeline based on date stamps for my files

First, I’ve checked date stamps of my files for the project and here are some of them:

• 30th of October: File with questions for the designer after I had gone through the files for the then current version of the game.
• 4th of December: My early Automa notes.
• 17th of December: The first more or less complete Automa rulebook.
• 27th of February: First rulebook for the playtesters.
• 29th of March: Last Automa rulebook sent to the playtesters.
• 9th of April: Final editing of the Automa rulebook and extraction of the final playtest data (the final playtesting for balance continues until the very end of the process where we might tiny balance tweaks).
• Sometime within the next few days: Final sanity check of the Automa rulebook.

Going back to the development period, we can see from the date stamps above that the project was ongoing for close to half a year with some periods having no work being done and others being intense. I’m estimating that I spent in the ballpark of 300 hours total, but it’s tough to estimate for me, because I took a much more active role in helping to polish the game itself than I normally do.

Change log

During development I make a change log. Here’s an almost complete one from this project (I’ve obfuscated it, since it would otherwise reveal stuff I’m not yet allowed to talk about).

From gallery of mortenmdk

This is almost all changes made since the project got stable enough that a change log made sense. Multiple non-rule changing textual updates are rolled into a single line of something like “Multiple text tweaks” - unless it’s an important clarification.

I do this so that the team and the playtesters don’t have to comb through the files to look for changes when I send out a new revision and so that I can compare playtest data to the change log to see which changes had which results in actual play.

The people involved

I of course wasn’t alone. I had 3 people working in the development team; Lieve Teugels and Nick Shaw with David J. Studley dropping by every once in a while.

This team is only the tip of the iceberg, since we had a total of about 50 people, roughly 40 of which were external playtesters putting in a total of 201 playtests in addition to those performed by our team, which probably makes us approach 300 playtests total.

All of this is of course in addition to the playtests of the multi-player game itself and we also used some of the data from that.

This was a big one

I hope that this has given you an idea about what goes into an Automa, with this project being one of the largest ones - up there with Scythe and Gaia Project.

On the other end of the scale a project like the My Little Scythe Automa probably took me less than 100 hours and the playtester team was much smaller than this one.

Team Automa

Here’s the team that helped bring the Automa to life.

Morten Monrad Pedersen
Lieve Teugels
Nick Shaw.

Design assistance and lead playtesting
Ben L. Montgomery
Joe Pilkus
David J. Studley
Colin Taylor
Israel Waldrom

Lead playtesters
Tyler McKinnon
Franziska Steiner

Jay Atkinson
Casey Bayer
Mirko Biagi
Marco Boschetto
Philip Caccamo
Jean-François Collumeau
Chris Dettmar
Rodney Eberly
Evan Hilberg
Chris Ingold
Sean Jorrey
Matt Kiser
Yong Hoon Lee
Josh Liss
Gwendolyn Martindale
William Martindale
Teel McClanahan
Michael McDonald
Roberto Miquel
Tammy Montgomery
Matthew Munger
Levi Olander
Martin Pobuda
Andrea Prampolini
Ilaria Saetti
Eric Sanson
Jerry Santos
Alan Shapiro
Fredrik Stahre
John Walker
Sean Wilson
Frank Wolf

Top secret for now

Graphics design
Christine Santana

Rick Scholes

Stonemaier Games editing and proofreading team
Stephen Barber
Charles Dionne
Justin Dwyer
Inga Keutmann
Andy Limkeman
Josh Ward

So, please remember that Morten didn’t do it
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