May 3 saw our usual playtest event being held in Against The Grain on Wexford Street, Dublin. We had to compete for space and decibels with some corporate parties at the start before it quietened down. The day after, May 4, was the annual State of Play, including a chance to demo some of our games to the public.
The first game I played this week was a simultaneous worker placement/dexterity game from Jack, a game design student who has come to a couple of our meet-ups before but this was the first time he brought a project of his own. In the game, each player is rushing around the kitchen trying to cook the perfect meal, but there are a limited number of stations each player is fighting to use. The worker placement/action selection mechanic is very fun, as all players have to shuffle their hand of worker cards and place them face down on the table. When a timer goes off, each player has to pick up their hand of now randomly ordered cards and try and get the right worker to the right location before the other players do. Move too slowly and you may end up forced in to less beneficial actions.
The game was easy to teach and fun to play, but we did spot a couple of fairly serious bottlenecks in the flow of resources around the table that could leave some players with no real actions to perform on their turn once the simultaneous play was over. We talked about a number of possible solutions to the issues though, so I look forward to seeing what Jack can do with it by our next meetup.
And that was all I got play at our last meet up, as I had admin and other things to take care on the night. I got to watch a couple of other games, but I’ll let Paddy discuss those as they actually played them!
State of Play
One of the things distracting me on Thursday night was getting ready for State of Play the next day. State of Play is an all day event run by the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) showcasing Irish game development. There is a free public expo during the day of about a 50/50 mix of students and indy developers demoing their latest projects, followed by industry panels and talks in the evening.
I was at the showcase demoing our mancala-based game, mostly to brush up on my pitching and teaching skills for that project. Conventions like this are a great place to practice those kinds of skills as you get a wide variety of attendees; from fellow designers to game design students to people who just wandered by and saw video games through the window and decided to see what was going on. The majority of the other designers and even design students are more focused on digital design, so you get a different kind of feedback then you get from an expressly board game design meet-up.
The main lesson I learned was that in the general audience very few people know what the word mancala is. Over the course of the day I learned to go from introducing it as a mancala game, to asking if people had heard of mancala games or mechanics, to just getting to the punch and letting people move the stacks of chips around and get a feel for the game. The goal of any pitch or demo is always to get to the punch as quickly as possible and with that handy term “mancala” I figured I could get there faster. When the audience doesn’t know the term though, it just bogs the experience down. So the term is now gone from my pitch in favor of putting the mechanic in the player’s hands as quickly as possible.
I also spent a bit of time meeting up with other designers and checking out their projects, which is always fun. My booth was next to the table for Backworlds, an indie puzzle/platformer with an absolutely fantastic art style and a real focus on solving interesting puzzles. (https://www.facebook.com/backworldsgame/) I met Juha, one half of the Backworlds team, at State of Play 2017 and then we ended up next to each other at two conventions last summer and fall as well. Juha is great to talk to, so it was a real pleasure spending another day bantering back and forth with him between demos. Jack (from above) was also there showing off his student project; a digital game of puzzle solving by transforming in to different animals with different movement options. It was a fun little demo, though when I first caught up with him at the start of the day the build was being difficult.
As an aside, I’ve actually seen that happen a lot with digital projects at these kinds of events. Some change in hardware or the network throws the whole project off and requires some panicked coding at the event. One small advantage to analogue design I suppose; my wooden cubes work regardless of the technical infrastructure at the venue (alright, with the exception of lighting).
For the first time in months, I got Agency to the table for another play. The delay was entirely my own fault. I’ve restructured the game significantly, and just never got around to making the new cards – until now! I have to say, I think this may be the best version of the game yet. We had three people who had never tried the previous versions. We played two quick rounds, and it went pretty well. There was one or two issues that immediately jumped out at all of us, and some additional feedback which I think will really add to the game. Now I just need to implement these fixes and get it to the table again.
Snakes & Snakes
Kieron, prolific designer that he is, had a new design he made. This is a weird one, because it was designed to make a friend miserable. It’s essentially snakes and ladders, but replace the ladders with more snakes. Players can even transform into snakes and chase the other players around the board. It was hard,brutal stuff, with no chance of victory. It’s the worst game I’ve ever played, but I mean that in the best possible way!
Will’s Battle Dice Game
This was Will’s second playtest event, and he brought the latest version of his dice rolling card game, which both Jen and Ethan played last time out. From what I can tell, this was a completely different take. The game was fast and furious, rolling dice to take cards from a central area or stealing them from an opponent. It had many good points, and the Yazhtee-like mechanic of deciding what to re-roll and what to keep was fun. But at times it felt a bit out of control: I literally spent 5 to 10 minutes rolling, and stole almost every card available to me. It was just a little too easy, and there was no reason to ever stop rolling. There’s a few things he could do to make it more difficult and make the decision about when to roll, when to stop and when to steal more difficult or interesting. It’s a lot of fun though, and that’s the most important part!
Thanks for reading our playtest report. Our next playtest meetup is coming soon, on Thursday, May 17, 2018. Why not pop along?