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Subject: Breaking Your Game: How Do You Go About It? rss

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Cole Munro-Chitty
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Let's face it, no initial design is perfect. There are reasons it takes years to play test and develop a polished game that is fresh, engaging, and fun to play. People talk about breaking the game, or if a game was rushed in development that the game might be "broken". But there are ways to make sure your game is not broken and works well with what it is intended to do.

Testing, testing, testing. There is likely not a specific rule set or path to breaking your own designs. To make the perfect game takes time and diligence, and more time, and the ability to change your initial vision into something that flows better than it started.

But how do we go about breaking a game down? Is there a certain process that works? We know that people need to play the game and decide what they like and what they don't like, but a game cannot please everyone. I have been wondering how other people begin in refining their games to be the best game that IT can be. Where to start, what things to focus on, when in the design process to start breaking the game.

I have been having a little trouble deciding where to focus in breaking my own design and have mostly been playing it and getting feedback and noticing things that work and don't work. I've decided that as long as I understand the core engagement (what makes the game fun and engaging) I can keep redesigning the game functions around that concept. What do you think? It would be nice to hear other designers talk about their process and what they go through to break the design and make it more fluid while keeping the initial fun idea in place.
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Mario Lanza
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Create board game personas -- short write ups of a hypothetical player with his own characteristic play style. Create also a list of extreme strategies available within the parameters of your game. Mix and match the personas against the extreme strategies and play out your game dozens upon dozens of times.

One thing I've learned from Rahdo is that it's possible to playtest a game from a 2-player perspective. And since he can feign a 2 player game, I don't see why someone couldn't feign 3 or more.

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Carl Nyberg
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If the game has many different things to buy, say a sword for 2 gold or a healing mushroom for 1 gold, etc., try buying the same thing as much as you can and see what happens. I'm thinking of overemphasizing one aspect of the game. For example, in a civ game I'm working on, you can win fast by only building farms. I worked this out on paper and it's fine, but if someone else has been developing technology you are vulnerable.

In summary, I try to find one aspect of the game and overuse it and see if it breaks the game.
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Wes Erni
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Most game designers are not great at spotting weaknesses in their own games. It's like proofreading a paper, better to get fresh eyes on the subject to spot typos. Also, designers tend to love their own creation too much -- they admire the theme, the mechanics, everything that inspired them to design in the first place. This is not conducive to digging for defects. I do a lot of "beta" playtesting, and it is amazing how "broke" most games are after alpha testing -- too often the first playtesters are friends of the designer, and are unwilling to be ruthless. And don't get me started on the hundreds of games that were published "broke" in my 40+ years of boardgaming.

If you want to try do-it-yourself playtesting (and I recently did just that) -- you have to remove all positive emotion towards your game. Remove from your brain all thoughts of theme and realism, and concentrate on one thing -- winning. Don't concentrate on winning the way you've anticipated (that is the least likely problem), concentrate on winning "ugly". Use every dirty trick that your rules set will allow -- literally -- don't go by the "spirit" of the design. Study "combinations" in particular -- finding that magic formula that breeds results "greater than the sum of its parts" is prime grist for winning boardgames -- it also is the heart of gamebreaking. Players will try to twist, manipulate, and trample on your beautiful game -- anything for that decisive edge.

DON'T try to have "fun" -- the problem with some playtest groups is that they are looking for the fun part. The game ends up looking like a great success -- right up until the moment some wise-ass breaks the game. There are far more games broken than people realize -- many "breaks" go unreported (they get cast aside, but not "spoilered"). It is nice to have a fun, interesting starting point, but just realize making a good game is a long process -- be prepared to constantly tweak(and occasionally shred).

My advice has so far been very general, I would need a clearer view of what kind of game you are designing for something more specific. Solitaire, two-player, and multi-player games have different vulnerabilities. My playtesting, designing (and gamebreaking) recently have been entirely solitaire in nature, and I have written a great deal on that subject of late. I am very much a neophyte in computers (no idea how to "link"), so I can only refer you to Morten Monrad Pederson's blog "Thematic Solitaires for the Spare Time Challenged". Most of my recent writings on balancing solitaire games are there (I do reference other game types as well). Morten has also written on game design in his column, and referred me to a great series of articles on the art of balancing by Alex Harkey (one of which is called "Internal balance in game design"). Again, I'm sorry I can't directly link you to anything.

No matter how skilled a game player you are, I can't emphasize enough the value in getting alternative viewpoints. And those people should be as cold-blooded as possible -- if any emotion at all appears it should be hate. These people should come in wanting to destroy the game , as if their life depended on it. Of course passing muster isn't the only problem -- your design vision still has to provide a fun, interesting game (as well as something "different" in today's oversaturated gaming environment).



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Paolo G
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GameBreaker wrote:
(...) My playtesting, designing (and gamebreaking) recently have been entirely solitaire in nature, and I have written a great deal on that subject of late. I am very much a neophyte in computers (no idea how to "link"), so I can only refer you to Morten Monrad Pederson's blog "Thematic Solitaires for the Spare Time Challenged". Most of my recent writings on balancing solitaire games are there (I do reference other game types as well). Morten has also written on game design in his column, and referred me to a great series of articles on the art of balancing by Alex Harkey (one of which is called "Internal balance in game design"). Again, I'm sorry I can't directly link you to anything.

Here is Morten's blog.
Here is Alex Harkey's blog.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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GameBreaker wrote:
Most game designers are not great at spotting weaknesses in their own games. It's like proofreading a paper, better to get fresh eyes on the subject to spot typos. Also, designers tend to love their own creation too much -- they admire the theme, the mechanics, everything that inspired them to design in the first place. This is not conducive to digging for defects. I do a lot of "beta" playtesting, and it is amazing how "broke" most games are after alpha testing -- too often the first playtesters are friends of the designer, and are unwilling to be ruthless.




Yup. Every game designer needs access to ruthless playtesters.

You rarely break your own game.
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Cole Munro-Chitty
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This is all really great advice! Thank you all for the links and the knowledge
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Mark Bauer
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A famous example of "breaking a game" occurred in Dominion, as one player completely ignored ALL the beautiful cards you could add to your game and simply started buying only money cards until a certain trigger occurred and then he started buying victory points. This was an algorithm, so it could be reproduced easily and it won... almost everytime.

This is something that you have to have on your list when you playtest your game. Strategies that use your mechanics in a weird way or completely ignore huge aspects in your game in order to maximize certain resources.
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A Wong
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Along with "Play test the crap out of your game", and "Get alpha, win at all costs gamers to play test the crap or of your game", I'd say also " Make sure to take breaks between tests".

Brains need time to both stew on aspects of the design, and reset to come with fresh eyes and open minds.

If you are stuck, or see nothing that could be improved, take a long break from the design - a day or week or more.

When I do this, I'm always surprised at what I see when I come back.
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