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Subject: How much chaos do you start with? rss

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R H
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I'm working on two brand new games where I found the theme and am slowly molding the mechanics to them. Last night I was talking over one of the games with my wife the nature of how I want some aspects of the game to work are fairly complex and has quite a few variables. She suggested that instead of starting with all these ideas at once we should start with what amounts to a very vanilla game, and work our way up to these mechanics to isolate the variables and what is potentially breaking the game.

As designers how do you feel about this approach? Do you generally start with everything you feel like you want in the game? All of the mechanics? Then work with them to try and make those work the correct ways. Or do you start smaller and work your way up to adding those mechanics in?

I'm of the mind we go all in with how I want the game from the start, but at this point, I'm second guessing myself.

Any thoughts appreciated.
 
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Jack Poon
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I think both approaches are good approaches and are effective for some designers and not effective for others. I've tried both and ended up favoring isolating variables as that made it much easier for me to determine the effects of certain changes to the balance and pacing of the game. There's nothing preventing you from trying both approaches as well. You can try the super complex game with one group and see their reaction, record their feedback and try and analyze it yourself. If it seems to complex for you to break down where the rough edges are for the game, switch to the vanilla approach but keep in mind at the same time who your playtesters are. Maybe complexity is good for the game but if you play test with groups used to straightforward games, removing complex items from the game may be doing your game a disservice.

Second guessing is rough. I've found myself double guessing myself and getting stuck. Best way for me to move forward wasn't to question what I was doing but just go ahead and play test the quickest and simplest implementation I could get fast so that'd I'd know better if I was going down a good path or not.
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R H
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I think your point about keeping in mind who you are playtesting with is a good if not great one. Having a complex game and setting it down in front of simple gamers might throw them off and thus might not go over well. I would have to take their advice with a grain of salt so as to not trash everything simply because they think it's too complex. It might not be to another set of players.

I think that might be where I'm at with my wife actually. I've got this fairly complex idea laid out in front of us with the rough draft of the rules I wrote up yesterday and since she prefers more simplicity in games that may be why she is advocating for the isolation of variables approach where I want to jump right in.
 
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Jack Poon
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Good luck to you! I'd recommend checking out your FLGS to see if anyone would be interested to play test your game. Or if there's any groups in your area that are game designers testing each other's games. One thing that helped me was asking my play testers to list a few games they enjoy before playing mine. If it sounded like they wouldn't like the particular genre mine was in, I would tailor the game design to appeal to them by focusing on certain elements that I thought they would enjoy and have them focus on that while playing. At the point where I am now though, I am usually just explaining the rules as they are now.
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R H
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If you don't mind. How far along are you in the process now and how long did it take you to get there?
 
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Daniel Newman
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I don't have a whole lot to add that Jack hasn't already said, but I find that I tend to have a pretty complete idea that I start with. I test it out, see what works, what doesn't, and figure out what to add or remove or change from there. The biggest thing is to not make too many changes at once between iterations so you can actually see what affect what you changed has on the game. Sometimes what seems to be a minor change can completely change the balance of something you hadn't even considered.
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Jack Poon
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Not at all. I've got a WIP on it here:
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1298663/wip-maze-monsters-d...

I started designing the game back in August 2014 full time. Had a small prototype in 2 weeks to test. It wasn't the full game but enough of the pieces to test the mechanic by myself. Loved it and it worked pretty close to how I imagined it so I scaled it up so that it would be playable. I had that about 2 months after I started and had my first playtest and it bombed. 15 minutes of setup and explaining the rules, the game was finished in 5. The play testers saw the potential of the game but it's execution was just ghastly poor. The online community here gave me lots of great feedback early one. One of the biggest ones was I liked roll to move as a tension builder but it hurt planning and was extremely frustrating. The game sort of grew on its own after I removed that. Things I didn't expect to add tension did. It was originally a horror/luck game and it's evolved into an adventure/strategy game. I took out a lot of the original elements and added many others. About 8 months after I started, I stopped adding every element I could think of and starting stripping out the really weak ones. The instructions took 30 minutes to explain, some parts didn't make sense to the players, others came out so infrequently and did not have a significant effect on the outcome and a few were redundant as well. Since then, I've just been adding and removing elements one by one while checking with players what they thought of the improvements. I've been testing with one solid group that has been giving solid, critical feedback who play dungeon crawlers and strategy type games frequently. about 4 months ago was quite a turning point in play testing as they started wanting to play more than once rather than wait for me to add in the newest changes. Since then I've continued to smooth out the rough edges that pop up every now and then, expanded groups I play test with to get more eyes on it and try and find broken strategies that haven't yet come out yet and added more aesthetics and flavor to the game to enhance it.
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R H
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Man I already cannot wait until I get to the point in playtesting like turning that corner. But I cannot put the horse before the cart here. I'm just now working on that small prototype to test with my wife and others. Mostly it's just pen and paper right now and I know there will be a lot of moving parts over the next few months trying to figure out different variables, how much different things are worth, etc to make it feel like it works properly or how I imagined it would.

Maybe I need to hook up with either a local game group or FLGS and see about them letting me play test both the ideas I have in my head.
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Jack Poon
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Absolutely, game designers and players at my FLGS have given me very critical and helpful feedback. A lot of my friends and coworkers have play tested it as well and given me good feed back so you can look into your friends as well but I have had friends where they said that they thought the game was good but I could tell they were likely holding back what they really thought. The ones who were really excited and critical could go on for hours about what they want to see, what they hated, and what they wanted improved. The ones who only had a few sentences to say and most of it abstract and vague also were likely just being polite when they said they thought the game was good.
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R H
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I read through your WIP post and I thought it was pretty awesome what you're coming up with! Can I ask why you haven't created a boardgame listing on here for your game yet? Especially considering you won an award for it fairly recently?

What is the protocol for that anyway? I want to get mine up here as a way to track progress as well as a way to hold myself accountable and sort of place a claim on the name I want to use.
 
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