Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The acid test

Last night I went out to Snakes and Lattes to show off FMB at the board game designers night.  I really had no idea if there would be any other designers there initially.   I don't know anybody else who actually tries to build real prototypes though I have collaborated on making tons of games with people.  It turns out there are a lot of people that build these things and there were all kinds of new games to play.  FMB got a real test run because I got four volunteers to play the game straight from the rules without me telling them anything.

That was HARD!

I had to sit there desperately fighting the urge to correct things, step in and clarify rules and generally be a busybody.  I know that I can teach them more quickly than they can learn by just reading but finding out whether or not they could play the game just from the rules I outlined is critical.  Thankfully I passed the test; there were a few things that really need to be written better but they played through just fine.  I got really good reactions and people seemed to enjoy the design and the gameplay a lot, though there were the usual complaints.  The first time people play through the game they complain that either the team that goes first or the team that goes second can't win (both the complaints and the winners seem unrelated to who went first) or they complain that they can't win because their opponent's Artifact is unbalanced (and then proceed to play their own Artifact and watch their opponents make the same claim).

It feels good to know that at least the complaints always follow the same pattern and that it doesn't matter who goes first or what Artifact people choose - everything is always unfair.  That is in fact the goal!  Things need to be awesome and powerful so that they change the nature of the game and make people feel like they are being effective but of course the numbers need to be balanced behind the scenes.  I want everyone to feel like the things they can do are awesome but have it be tricky to figure out exactly which awesome they want to do.

I was also intrigued by the difference in process for other game designers.  I played Stormlands which is a game that has better production quality and polish than FMB but yet doesn't have the victory conditions finalized.  The game creator built the game and is still sorting out the broad strokes of how it is played while doing some cool stuff to make it look great.  This is essentially the opposite of what I did.  I refused to do anything resembling production until I had played immense amounts of games and got the gameplay polished to my liking.  After I did make something of production quality I have continued to innovate but the ordering in my mind was completely clear:  Make the rules and numbers work, then make the physical game.  This is probably why I have more than a half dozen fantasy tabletop RPGs in some degree built and none ever really put together and why FMB idled for 8 years until it was ripe.  The numbers, they must be perfect.

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