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Subject: Playtesting and Balance Advice rss

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Patrick Terry
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Hello Everyone, Im designing an engine building game and have been prototyping for a while with the base mechanics. Throughout the process I habe trird to keep all the rules ans mechanisms simplr and straightforward and am happy to say that they work, are fun, and I'm ready to move onto testing a more fleshed out prototype. This will providr new challanges, namely balancing the card's effects and costs in the engine and balancing the economy.

I've been reading a lot about prototyping but have not read a lot on how to 1. Identify what doesn't work and 2. Make changes the correct these problems.

Please any advice people can offer or resources they can share are welcomed! Thank you!
 
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Kevin Clement
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I don't quite understand what you mean. You said you have a prototype copy but now want to flesh it out in order to balance it better? Sounds to me like you want your prototype copy to look nicer and if so I suggest against this. If you don't think things are balanced you should stick with your current (presumably cheap) prototype and just continue revising it until you're absolutely certain it is balanced.

When playtesting my game we created a prototype copy using self-printed cards, toothpicks, and pieces stolen from incomplete copies of other games. As I playtested we found issues which required tweaking so we changed cards or adding/removing pieces as necessary.

If you invest in graphics and making it look nice then start trying to balance. You're going to pay more making revisions. However if you stick with the prototype copy and keep it as cheap as possible (we've been using toothpicks as direction indicators for example) then it won't cost hardly anything when you make revisions.

Now if I've misunderstood what you mean by fleshing out your prototype then some more clarification would help.
 
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Patrick Terry
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Hey! You have misunderstood. My prototype is very similar to the one you described.

I have been testing the base mechanics individually and am ready to balance them together.

Individually everything works great but now I want to put them together into a cohesive unit.
 
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Kevin Clement
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Pterry0404 wrote:
Hey! You have misunderstood. My prototype is very similar to the one you described.

I have been testing the base mechanics individually and am ready to balance them together.

Individually everything works great but now I want to put them together into a cohesive unit.



Ok, that makes more sense. My advice though would still be to recommend that you make the "prototype version 2" copy of your game as cheaply as you can but still be playable. With the game I'm designing I tested mechanics by themselves but when I was ready I simply took what I used to test the mechanics and stuck them together in box. My game has continued to change with further playtesting and while I'm at the point where I rarely feel the need to make changes (and those minor) it's still little more then a random collection of pieces and self-printed cards.


Remember that things are going to change drastically as you find the right balance with how the mechanics interact with each other, as well as effects and costs. Self print your cards with minimal ink (and no color), use common stuff around the house or cheap pieces from other games as components. Remember that the more you spend on making it look nice now, that's money that can't be spent on making it look nice later when you need to make changes, and you WILL need to make changes.


Only after you have playtested your game to death with as many different people that you can do you want to look at making something even half-way pretty.
 
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Pepijn van Loon
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Just keep testing and testing and testing. If something feels a little too powerful, make it weaker and test again and again. You know your game best, so you'll probably get a feel for how to balance it all.
 
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Michael Love
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It sounds like you have performed modular testing and are ready to move onto playing complete games, which is how we're handling our testing.

Our playtest regimen consists of five phases. Phase 2 is a modular approach in which we test individual components and rules of the game. There is necessarily some interaction with other game elements, though we're still treating it as a modular approach. For this phase we created a long checklist of tasks we wanted to test, regardless of how mundane they are. Even if we thought the rule(s) worked, we still added it to the list. Each rule is tested multiple times until we feel happy with it. And each rule is tested over the course of multiple sessions rather than a single session.

The third phase is testing the game as a whole. So we're more-or-less playing complete games as a typical player would. Though even in this phase we're still making sure to include the use of specific rules, equipment, abilities, etc.

I would keep your prototype the same as you'll encounter more items that need changed. No point in moving away from what works until you are absolutely certain your rules are complete.

 
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Andrew Lowen
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amichaell wrote:
It sounds like you have performed modular testing and are ready to move onto playing complete games, which is how we're handling our testing.

Our playtest regimen consists of five phases. Phase 2 is a modular approach in which we test individual components and rules of the game. There is necessarily some interaction with other game elements, though we're still treating it as a modular approach. For this phase we created a long checklist of tasks we wanted to test, regardless of how mundane they are. Even if we thought the rule(s) worked, we still added it to the list. Each rule is tested multiple times until we feel happy with it. And each rule is tested over the course of multiple sessions rather than a single session.

The third phase is testing the game as a whole. So we're more-or-less playing complete games as a typical player would. Though even in this phase we're still making sure to include the use of specific rules, equipment, abilities, etc.

I would keep your prototype the same as you'll encounter more items that need changed. No point in moving away from what works until you are absolutely certain your rules are complete.



This is interesting - I develop in a totally different manner, because I start with my theme/story first and add mechanics as they make sense. I’ll share the process for my Heaven vs Hell dungeon crawler (www.deliverancethegame.com):

I considered the story and decided how Angels ca Demons combat worked, what they were fighting for (liberation of humans in a town), and how damage and stats would work. I ended up coming up with one ecosystem of mechanics that are blended together by the time I get to my hand-drawn first (mostly incomplete) prototype. This stage I knew a rough outline of what wins/loses the game, what phases/order make up a round, how much HP a minor demon could have, how much damage characters should deal to remain balanced, how I would make the game about more than just move/attacking, and how to calculate hit/miss/crit etc.

The first phase took me a long time of thinking through things. I am part-time on this project, so I probably planned for about 3-5 months before I had a working prototype on index cards and with borrowed placeholders from my other games. I played like 2 times with my wife and it was missing a lot of the intensity that you would expect from a polished product.

The next phase was to build and iterate on the mechanical parts (I.e. - add more cards, balance changes, add new enemies, etc). At the end of this phase, I let a few friends try it at the end of this phase. The game was expanded from 1 difficulty level to 3 levels, and I added special bosses with a new mechanic that allowed them to be more than just strong minions. The bosses felt unique, but the game still took 3+ hours to play through...

The next phase was basically cutting what I could to get the play time down to 60-90 mins. I realized the tracking was really godly and took a lot of time, so I refined and streamlined systems for tracking high amounts of health and multiple enemies on the board at once. A big part of the success here was starting a graphic artist on card frames and templates for enemy bosses/minions.

I am currently public playtesting a very awesome prototype. I have added multiple game modes, many characters and bosses, fixed all the “broken” skills and card interactions, and added a few tweaks to ensure your characters feel “overpowered” but the game remains tough and fun. An artist is working full-time on art, the graphic designer finished card frames and whatnot, and I am working on adding a variety of content as the game is highly repayable. Some blind playtests have been conducted and people are having fun.

Mass blind playtesting is my next step. Gotta work out the KS plans including shipping/fulfillment, printing, exact price, marketing plans, etc.

I left a lot out, but I thought I would share!
 
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Patrick Terry
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amichaell wrote:
It sounds like you have performed modular testing and are ready to move onto playing complete games, which is how we're handling our testing.

Our playtest regimen consists of five phases. Phase 2 is a modular approach in which we test individual components and rules of the game. There is necessarily some interaction with other game elements, though we're still treating it as a modular approach. For this phase we created a long checklist of tasks we wanted to test, regardless of how mundane they are. Even if we thought the rule(s) worked, we still added it to the list. Each rule is tested multiple times until we feel happy with it. And each rule is tested over the course of multiple sessions rather than a single session.

The third phase is testing the game as a whole. So we're more-or-less playing complete games as a typical player would. Though even in this phase we're still making sure to include the use of specific rules, equipment, abilities, etc.

I would keep your prototype the same as you'll encounter more items that need changed. No point in moving away from what works until you are absolutely certain your rules are complete.



Great response! What are your 4th and 5th phases?
 
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Michael Love
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Lowenhigh wrote:

This is interesting - I develop in a totally different manner, because I start with my theme/story first and add mechanics as they make sense. I’ll share the process for my Heaven vs Hell dungeon crawler (www.deliverancethegame.com):


Hi, Andrew

We did some of that also. We knew what behaviors and results we wanted our game to model and designed the rules to produce those results. I would view that as our "theme" in a way. As one of our core design goals, we keep that in mind with every rule we make.

I think your method is good as the theme should drive the rules.
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Michael Love
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Pterry0404 wrote:

Great response! What are your 4th and 5th phases?


Phase 4 is when we bring in outside testers. Until this point all testing has been internal only. We aren't yet just handing over the rules expecting the testers to have a go at the game; rather they are playing alongside us.

Phase 5 is (hopefully) the last step. Here we give a mostly completed rule book (sans art and final layout) to outside testers who have never seen the game. (They may not even be gamers.) They are asked to read the book and play the game with no guidance from us.
 
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