Pocket Playtests

These are intended to be a series of short posts about playtests. They aren’t intended to be full reports, or extensive critiques of the games played. What I will attempt to do is pull out one or two things I liked about the games tested, and then one or two issues that were brought up in the feedback at the end of the game.
Ideally, I will try and draw attention to lessons of general relevance to a range of different games so designers can apply these points to their own designs. 

These are all with the permission of the designers.

a new setup for an older prototype

Sheepdogs

Date; 23/7/20
Venue; Virtual Playtesting, Tabletop Simulator
Designer; Ian Brocklebank

Sheepdogs is my own game, but I had only played previous iterations with 2 or 4 players.
I felt that having four shepherds separating four herds of sheep into four pens would be too chaotic, and I had been trying to avoid the 4-player game (with two teams) basically being the same as a 2-player game with players sharing their turns.
Limiting communication between players on the same team sort of worked, but required several clunky steps in the turn structure that I wasn’t entirely happy with.

An earlier playtest with 4 players had suggested giving each player their own herd, and before rejecting this out of hand I thought I should at least test it. I thought that a quick playtest with 3 players would confirm my concerns.

I was wrong.
Within a couple of turns I could tell that my fears were unfounded, and that the game worked – and was fun. I had removed several rules which I felt were important to give more strategic play, but without these unnecessary complications the game was more streamlined and the gameplay – despite having more shepherds, more pens and more sheep – felt smoother.

What I Liked

The game was taught more quickly, was better understood and played more smoothly without some of the additional rules I had created. For a game that looks pretty, with 40+ sheeples and sheepdogs, aimed at a family market this was definitely an improvement.

  • It is rarely the case that removing complication within the rules is for the worse. A standard part of the development process in many games is to remove as much as possible while keeping the fun.

Room for Improvement

3 player game created interesting edge case which could lead to new strategies

Having three players created some new edge cases that had to be ruled on the fly.
Players are not supposed to drive sheep into the wrong pen – either losing points, or giving the other player the opportunity to relocate the sheep that have been stolen.
What happens if player A drives Player B’s sheep into Player C’s pen?
The addition of a third player makes the immediate resolution more difficult – but also opens up the thought of some fun game moments.

  • Any rules change can create knock on effects elsewhere in the game. It can be hard to predict all the places they may occur, and it is often only during a playtest that you realise how much things have changed.

Next steps

Playtest with 4 players!

 

Cardego

components laid out for each player

Date; 23/7/20
Venue; Virtual Playtesting Tabletop Simulator

I was looking forward to playing this game as it had been missed at the end of our last virtual playtesting meeting. Cardego was described as a player vs player tactical game with elements of D & D and Hearthstone.

What I liked

Arriving in TTS, everything was laid out and accessible. The cards were not pretty but functional, and each player had separate decks of the different types of cards. An index card detailed the number of each type of card to take from each deck, making the mechanical process of building our personal decks very straightforward. Players could also create interesting combinations – an assassin/mage was interesting, if not terribly successful!

  • Player aids and separate sets of components for each player greatly helped setup.

 

some interesting choices of cards – if only we had been able to use them

Room for Improvement

One of the frustrations felt by all the playtesters was that our deck construction choices were meaningless as we knew very little about how the game would play. Looking at just some of the options available meant that this took at least a third of the time we spent playtesting.

Of the 20 or so cards in our constructed decks we only saw about half of them in the three turns that the game lasted. We made the point that having put all the effort into choosing cool cards to go in our decks then players should expect to see all of the cards that they have chosen.

  • Unless actually playtesting a specific part of the game’s setup (e.g. deckbuilding) it is often better to give players less choice at the beginning of a playtest (e.g. give them pre-constructed decks) so as to get into playing and testing the meat of game sooner.
    It is often not sensible to try and playtest all elements of the game in each and every playtest.
  • Make sure that Chekov’s gun is at least used – if not fired!

 

A Thing

a very functional prototype which didn’t get in the way of gameplay

Designer Jay Bucciarelli
Date 23/7/20
Venue; Virtual Playtesting Tabletop Simulator

The final game of the evening was a social deduction game drawing its theme from John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. 6 of us spent about 80-90 minutes trying to work out which of us was the Thing and whether any of the Human players had been assimilated. Accusations were thrown (and denied) amidst much shouting and laughing.

 

What I Liked

The fact that a game which would usually be played with close friends, face to face, could create the accusations and laughter amongst 6 ‘virtual strangers’ (do you see what I did there) clearly showed that the game fulfilled its brief.

  • TTS is a fantastic resource for playtesting. Some types of games really suffer, but apart from the fact that nearly all games take longer, others are barely impacted in other ways.

Room for Improvement

In order to allow players to become infected by the Thing, and for assimilated players to sabotage actions without revealing their identity there was a complicated system;

  1. draw cards of two types;
  2. choose one to go back into a shared deck;
  3. shuffle the deck; redistribute the shared deck;
  4. players choose to spend a resource to reveal the card;
  5. or look at it in secret but risk being assimilated.

It all added up to a multi-step process which required players to really concentrate to avoid making a mistake – revealing the wrong card or looking at it when they weren’t supposed to. There was a good bit of discussion about how the process could be made more streamlined – but without a clear solution being found. Having played The Resistance numerous times and been only too aware of the ease with which players can mess up when all they have to do is choose one card from two, I think that this process, while undoubtedly quicker in the real world, would still cause some player problems.

  • It is worth thinking about whether clunkiness or inelegance is inherent in the virtual interface or the game mechanics.