Cram @ Gen Con: Takeaways Between One Year

 

Hi!

Phil, Cindy, and I are still here, I promise you. We’ve been working on the game as best we can. What really helped us came from Phil’s two trips to the table-top gaming con Mecca known as Gen Con. And they have been very important trips to the game’s development.

Truth Bombs at Gen Con 2015

When Phil took the game to Gen Con 2015, it was very different.  The 2015 version of the game had Influence cards, which players could use to draw cards, gain points, etc.  At that point, Phil considered the game completed. There was some complexity to it, but it had solid mechanics that let you do interesting things once you figured it out.

He presented the game to some designers at the Game Crafter Community Game Night (they’re the ones that print our game). It was there where fellow designer Andrew Voigt – designer of Perspective – delivered the strongest criticism about the game it had ever received.

“If I went over to a friends house and they asked me to play this game, and after we were done they asked “do you want to play again?”, I would say “no thank you”.

Phil said it hit him so hard that he still remembers it.

 Andrew explained it further.There was too much decision space in the game. All the choices and different directions that find the best way to win were mentally draining. The game was overloaded with effects, most of it coming from the Influence cards.

 Scrapping, Stripping, and Simplifying

After the criticism, the options were to either accept the game as is or do some major fixing. That very night at the hotel Phil started working (with Emma‘s help) on making the game a simpler one. The focus was finding what were the key interactions of the game – and cutting out the ones that weren’t.

After feedback with the different Gen Con crowd, this was how the game changed:

  • We cut Influence and Cultures as cards from the game.We are now using the word “Influence” to mean victory point. Cultures are now just a flavorful aesthetic for your cult.
  • Shrines are now part of a player’s starting setup and are the focal points for interactions.
  • Followers are now the main currency of the game. You work to attract and use them to “power” your actions.
  • Relics are the only way you can score points now, so you need to interact with them to win.  They are now center stage in terms of the game theme as well.

The game now now has a much more simple core gameplay loop Now that the heart of the game centers on three types of cards instead of five, it’s more accessible.

What Happened One Year Later?

This year at Gen Con 2016 Phil had playtests with this leaner version of our game, and the reports are that it went well. Two of the groups managed to get through two full games. One three-player group got it done under 30 minutes, which is awesome.
There was still room for improvement, of course. Here’s a few of the major points of feedback that Phil collected:
  • There is some confusion and/or loopholes on some of the cards. They aren’t major but they need to be fixed for clarity and to plug any exploits.
  • We’ve still had issues with a tiebreaker option. Phil asked the groups that played for good ideas on a tiebreaker, and he thinks he has figured it out.
  • One game had a problem where a player was essentially eliminated from play because they did not attract enough followers. This might turn off new players, so Phil has a potential fix for that as well.
  • Everyone loves the art and the flavor.
  • The game description was appealing and drew people to come play it.

The most important aspect of this feedback is that it’s coming from regular players. The help of other designers has been essential to getting the game this far. However, game designers are always looking to give you feedback and they aren’t always interested in the kind of game you’re making. This event was nice because the people who played chose to play it. In the end, you can’t beat the satisfaction of watching people enjoy your game and have fun.

Boston FIG!

We’ve been quiet here for a while, but at last we have some exciting news to share. We’ve been selected to show off our game at the Boston FIG Tabletop Games Showcase!

boston_fig_logo

This will be our first public showing of the game and we’re really looking forward to seeing what people have to say. This could be a big opportunity for us to gain some exposure and get people interested in what we’re doing. It also means we have a lot of work to do!

Right now, our main focus is getting a few copies of our game professionally printed on real card stock. This is something we’ve wanted to do for a while and this event is the perfect excuse to finally make it happen. Once that’s ready, we’ll be shifting our focus to putting together some promotion materials and sprucing up our social media.

The Boston FIG curators also sent us back some amazing feedback, and I thank them for their thorough and thoughtful comments. Blind playtests are very scary, but I’m happy to say that the feedback was largely positive. There were also some valid criticisms leveled and I’m going to be racking my brain trying to come up some solutions to these pain points that don’t involve increasing the complexity of the game. I think we have something clever and unique and we’re all going to be working hard to make it the best it can be.

I hope you can come out to Boston on September 14th to see us (it’s free!). And if you can’t, wish us luck!

Online Playtesting

We have been especially productive these past few weeks and have been getting a lot of playtests in. I’m really happy with how the game has been playing. It feels like we’ve reached an important development milestone. Most of the feedback from our recent playtests has been about individual card balance and improving the way our cards communicate information. It’s a pleasant change and I’m excited about shifting my focus to address these challenges.

The main reason we’ve been able to get in so many playtests lately is that we figured out an effective way to play the game online. Having in person meetups has been great, but I had been searching for an easy way to play with remote friends and teammates. I learned about a really cool tool called Roll20 that was often used to play pen and paper role-playing games online. However, it is flexible enough to allow the creation of all kinds of games, including ours.

roll20_prototype

The above picture is a zoomed out subsection of a game the team played over the weekend. It took quite a bit of effort to put the prototype together, but it actually took less time than printing out a physical copy of the game. Roll20 isn’t perfect and often requires a bit of fiddling, but the ability to play with people on the opposite coast is well worth the effort. I definitely see myself using this tool as a supplement to physical playtests for the duration of this project and for future projects.