Michael M.
United States
Bloomington-Normal
Illinois
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I'm coming up on printing out the first prototype of a highly competitive deck building game, one of the core elements of which is not seeing the cards in the other player's hand. As you might imagine, this makes it difficult to test the prototype by myself. Since I'm sure many of the people on this forum have also designed competitive games, is there any advice I should know about?

The reason I'm adamant about not testing this with a group yet is because first versions are often uber clunky and unbalanced. Since I know how the game is intended to be played, I will play it that way and note what the problems are, while others may skip inefficient strategies (that are supposed to be efficient in the final version) and use exploits (that won't be in the final version). Of course, finding these exploits is also very important, but I'd rather wait until the second version when I've at least balanced the game a bit more.

But as I alluded to in the first paragraph, one of the rules is that unless you play a card, no other player sees what is in your hand. This is because there are special abilities that force other players to show you their hand, and there are penalties if they have particular cards that get revealed. Since I will know what both hands consist of, how do I go about determining when to use these abilities?

Another question is, as far as gathering data on my prototype, should I just play through it a few times and get a general feel for what works and what doesn't, or should I write down what happens turn for turn, what my thought process was for each move I made, if the players intention matches with the game mechanics, etc... how much detail is necessary and how much detail is over kill?

Thanks!
 
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Brad Johnson
United States
Crystal Lake
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I think you really only have 2 options that I can think of:

1) Play all the hands yourself and just "pretend" that you don't know what's in each hand. Personally, I find this to be suboptimal, but it can (and should!) be used as the first pass for testing. It will at least give you the ability to step through the mechanics of the game and make sure there are no gross breakdowns. But the subtlety of playing with actual strategic decisions that rely on deduction and risk management will never truly be there.

2) Let other people play it with you in a *coached* session. (I would call this "alpha" testing - a step before true independent "beta" testing.) Go ahead and warn them about the open holes in the design that you want them to avoid in playing the game. Experienced game players should be able to understand this. Granted, it may require that you have some very patient playtesters, because you're probably going to want to come back to them again with updates and later beta testing. I think this is the better option for you, because trust me, no matter how objectively critical you are of your own design, you will not be able to break it the way other players will be able to. Until other players get at it, those "exploits" that you're sure you're going to be able to work out of the system, plus others that you haven't even thought of yet, are going to remain.
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