Categories
Color Space Game Design

How I approached iterative designs for Color Space

Color Space has gone through several revisions to get to where it is now. Before it was Color Space, it was called A Colorful Game…

Imagine this folded into a double-sided card. You’d turn to reflect which color was active.

It was a 3×3 grid of cards that you shifted around to make your color, which you randomly drew at the beginning of the game. First player to make ten of their color won. It soon evolved to getting points for making combos of colors. First to score 30 points won. I designed it for one of the Button Shy Game’s 18 card game challenges. Don’t think they gave it more than a glance. They went with games that were far more visually attractive. But I knew I was on to something and I needed to take the board game design process from start to finish. From idea to a fun product that you can buy.

Then, I added hex tiles, representing primary colors, and roads, representing secondary ones. You had a hand of cards and you’d create a path of color combos, then play a card from your hand to collect points. Something wasn’t quite right, so I just removed the cards. You then just needed to create paths. Depending on the path, you could collect a certain number of roads. First player to collect five of each secondary color won. That’s when the game became Color Space.

I’ve been playtesting and working on design iterations of Color Space for a few months now. The game has progressed quite a bit in that time. I’ve changed the design aesthetic a few times, but for the most part it’s been a similar game across the board—no major changes. That’s always a good place to be.

With the trajectory I’m on, I should be able to put this game on Kickstarter this fall (2021). I’ve still got things to do. Videos to make; photos to take. I’ve got to publish ads about the game. Oh, and I’ve got to finalize the designs and make sure that I’m getting a prototype back from the manufacturer I’m working with that has the best quality.

I’ve also got to think of pledge tiers. I think the aesthetics of the logo and box art design are fantastic. I’d like to make some prints and t-shirts for higher tiers. Beyond that, I’ll likely reach out and ask what potential backers want to see.

After all this time, Color Space is almost ready to launch. I couldn’t be more excited. I hope that anyone reading this will be too, especially after seeing some of the gameplay videos.

…Speaking of which, I’m going to go work on that stuff. Until next time!

Categories
Game Design

Approaching Board Game Playtesting Pragmatically

Hello Otherworldly Beings,

As you might know, I’ve been working on a two-player tile-laying strategy game titled Color Space for the past year and some change. This game has had several iterations. It went from a card game, to a tile and road game with cards, to just a tile and road game that took too long to play, to a tile and road game that takes just the right amount of time to play. How’d I get from point A to point B, you might ask? Why, through the rigorous process of playtesting, of course!

I thought I’d share my process and key takeaways, as well as some things that I haven’t tried, but that you might try yourself. To start, I’ve got a checklist of things to think about as you playtest. Let’s get cracking.

How to get the most out of playtesting

Here are things that I’ve found valuable before or during playtest sessions.

Playtest your game before you think you’re ready to

Playtest sooner rather than later. Don’t worry about polishing your game before you get it out in front of others. It’s not perfect; people’ll understand. Create a low resolution physical or digital version of your game as soon as you possibly can and get people to play it.

Keep your game low resolution for as long as possible. If you spend all day designing fancy icons, only to find that you’ve got to throw away an entire mechanic, you’ll have wasted a lot of time.

I’m currently playtesting a new game that I’m on early development on: a two-player coop deck builder. I created the game in 45 minutes by writing everything on index cards and playtested it with my spouse. I immediately found gamebreaking issues. I also saw what could make this game a whole lot better. I likely wouldn’t have discovered so much about the game so quickly if I’d waited to playtest.

Have a feedback form ready

Your form can be paper or digital. You might have specific questions or more general ones depending on what you’re aiming to find from your playtesters. Here are some basic questions that I’d recommend adding to your form:

  • How much time do you think it took you to play this game?
  • Would you want to play this game again?
  • Do you think this game ended too early, too late, or just at the right time? (You’re aiming for “too early” here because that likely indicates they really do want to play again.)
  • How many people, including you, played?
  • Did you win?
  • Do you feel like this game was fair for all players?
  • Are there any outstanding issues that you noticed with this game?
Playtest at least ten times

I understand if it’s hard to find playtesters but to make sure you can properly detect any trends and patterns in your game, it’s good to playtest at least ten times. Any less, and you risk not being able to identify whether something is coincidence or common.

For remote playtest sessions, ask if players can record themselves

I’ve found that I get a different kind of useful information when watching people play my game. What someone doesn’t say after the session is over, either because they think they’re trying to spare my feelings or they just forget to tell me, might be gleaned in the recording.

Some things to look out for in a recording:

  • How long did it take players to figure out how to set the game up?
  • Did they have to reread any rules? How many times?
  • Do both players look like they’re having fun?
  • Do players ever get annoyed with an aspect of the game? (You might hear them say things like “not that card again” or “you keep doing that.”)
  • How much downtime does one player have when another player takes their turn? Do they seem bored?
  • How many times do players check their phones?
  • Do players get extra excited when doing something in the game?
  • How much time did it take for players to finish?
Give as much as you get

Thinking back on that same playtest session. I also felt like some designers wanted to playtest their games for a bit, then playtest other people’s games. That’s how we grow as designers, right? Unfortunately, it seemed like other designers were expecting to have their games playtested without playtesting other people’s games. One person stayed at their own table the entire session and didn’t even try to talk to the other designers. Not cool. Their game was mostly complete, with fantastic artwork and all, and when I spoke with them after the session ended, they stated that they were mostly there to raise awareness for their game.

I’m not against doing that but it’s unfortunate that this designer didn’t want to give other people the time of day. Especially since as I spoke with them, they raved about the playtest events and how much those helped them. Seems like they weren’t willing to return the favor.

Key takeaway here: don’t just spend an entire playtest session waiting for people to play your game. Get a playtest or two in, and pack your game up to playtest some other designer’s games.

Turn your statements into questions

A great way to get the most valuable feedback you can from someone is to try asking them a question instead of explaining to them how you intend for something to work. I’ve had a lot of playtest sessions that give me exactly what I needed to hear because I’ve phrased things as an open-ended question. Here’s a small example conversation to help illustrate this better:

  • Playtester: I didn’t really understand mechanic X. I think I used it wrong.
  • Designer: What do you think was done wrong?
  • Playtester: I used it to achieve this goal, but it ended up doing this other different thing.
  • Designer: Why do you think that happened?
  • Playtester: It’s because my opponent did Y and Z before I could finish doing X and I didn’t have a chance to stop them.

Even if your conversation doesn’t go quite like that, you’ll always get more insight out of asking questions instead of offering static statements.

Don’t expect people to know how to fix your game

You might be able to ask another designer what they’d do about a certain mechanic, but the majority of people are only able to communicate the problems they see. Solutions are up to you, friend. That doesn’t mean ignore a potential solution if someone offers it. Mainly that at the end of the day, you’re the one who knows best about your game. Own your solutions.

Most importantly, listen and don’t take things personally

I’ve been on both sides of the feedback coin, both listening to and providing feedback. I recall my most recent experience with playtesting at a local event—this was several months ago. I was playtesting a different game (not Color Space) that was in its infancy and that I eventually decided to shelve. I received great feedback all around from designers and players alike on what they found good and bad about the game. I still have that feedback recorded just in case I decide to pick the game back up again in the future, but for now…it’s all about Color Space.

During that playtest, I also provided feedback on someone else’s euro-style worker placement, resource management game. I thought it was great to play but some of the rules weren’t clear. The designer also didn’t explain some of the rules aloud, they’d just take actions and expect us to know why.

When it came time to leave feedback to this person about their game, they were barely even paying attention to me. They had quickly gone from razor-sharp focus, looking all players in the eye, talking to them, to a distracted and disinterested person as soon as they asked for feedback. They didn’t write anything down, and they had flimsy defenses for every piece of feedback I provided. Most of their rebuttals amounted to “well, the game’s still in development so…” It quickly became an awkward and unproductive experience. I got the feeling that that designer actually didn’t want feedback, they thought their game was good already and were just checking a “did you playtest this” box.

Moral of the story: whether someone’s a designer or an enthusiast, listen to what people have to say about your game. Thank people for their feedback and write it down. It’s up to you to decide whether you’re going to incorporate their feedback or not. Don’t worry about that while receiving feedback, just be personable and respectful.


Phases of playtesting

When you playtest, it’s important to think about what you’re playtesting for. Are you just getting started? Are you trying to balance a mechanic? Are you trying to ensure that the game can be played without you being there? Hone in on that type of feedback, but don’t discourage other types.

Here are the phases of playtesting I’ve laid out for Color Space:

1. Early playtesting

This is all about figuring out the major kinks in the game. I used painted wooden hexes and Catan roads for this. I playtested it about 10 times. So many numerous discoveries were made. This is the most important phase in game development. I also playtested variants of the game, even when I had something solid. I just wanted to make sure I was on the right track.

2. Fun-factor playtesting
It’s perfectly fine if your game isn’t fun in the early stages of playtesting. Games rarely are. But after you’ve settled on a lot of the rules and have something that you think is fun, it’s time to find out if others do too. It’s a grand achievement to make something you find fun. It’s an even grander achievement to make something that others find fun, including people you’ve never met before.

If you hope to sell your game to another living soul, you need to see if there’s a market for it out there.

After they finish playing their first game, ask your playtesters this one key question: Do you want to play this game again?

It’s far more important to ask them that question over “did you have fun” or “did you like the game” questions. You’ll find people will almost always say “yes” out of politeness. If you ask them whether they’d play again and they answer YES to that, you know you’ve got something good on your hands.

The mark of a great game is not whether people will play it, it’s whether people will play it again.

3a. Balance playtesting
I’m still using the low resolution version of my game for balance playtesting. As long as you have a good version of your game, you don’t need high resolution assets to work out balance kinks. Most of your major issues should’ve been discovered in early playtesting. Use balance playtesting to make sure your game feels fair. Emphasis on feels.

The idea of balance is like a false god of game design. Balance is for weenies!

Peter Olotka, designer of Cosmic Encounter

I believe Peter said this in an episode of the Ludology podcast. I think what he meant is that we should be more concerned with what feels balanced instead of worrying so much about tweaking values. In fact, something that feels unbalanced on paper might translate to something wonderfully fun in gameplay.

Balance is about making sure that all players feel like they have equal opportunities to do what they can to win, and that one player isn’t advantaged over others. At the same time, you might find that there’s one thing you can’t balance no matter how hard you try: experience.

Someone’s skill level, based on their experience with the game, is a difficult thing to balance against new players. I personally don’t bother driving myself trying to balance for that.

3b. Layering on other mechanics & making tweaks
If you have something that feels great and balanced, you might take an opportunity to try out adding a new mechanic to see how it feels. I think of balance and layering as two halves of a single step, as you might make tweaks on a mechanic as a result of balancing.

Disclaimer: I’d recommend thinking long and hard before you add a mechanic to balance something. Everything that you add to your game creates more complexity. Ask yourself if tweaking an existing mechanic or removing something altogether can accomplish the same goal. You might be surprised at how much better your game runs by tweaking/removing something versus adding something.

4. Blind playtesting
Now it’s time to bring your full self to the table by removing yourself from the table. Blind playtesting is where you provide a copy of your game to people and have them play it through without relying on you to explain or elaborate on any aspect of your game.

You can definitely be there for blind playtesting but, if you can make it work, sometimes it’s better to not be present at all. You’ll find that people are more willing to give more critical feedback when the creative responsible for the game isn’t in the room to be offended.

You’ve got two goals with blind playtesting: 1) Make sure people can take your game out of the box, set it up, and play it through on their own without any hiccups and 2) make sure your game is easy to set up and fun for your players.

5. Roadshow playtesting
You’ve made a complete board game! This is your victory lap. Roadshow playtesing is one of the many ways you can raise awareness for your game. You may find some people offer feedback about it still, and that’s fine. It’s still good to listen and write feedback down, even if it’s too late to make the requested change.

Your main goal here is to talk about your game, ask people if they’d play your game again, raise your brand awareness, and further connect with the board game community.

Remember, though, that you need to give as much as you get!

What are your tips for good playtesting? Let me know in the comments below…

Categories
Game Design

Quarantine, Tabletop Simulator, and Improved Prototypes

It’s been a minute, let me catch you up on what I’ve been up to. COVID-19, the Coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), whatever we’re calling it—as long as we’re not calling it something prejudiced and hateful—has absolutely delayed plans. I had weeks worth of playtesting on the schedule. All of it erased. These things happen, I know. No one could’ve predicted this, and I’m well aware that my plans to develop a tabletop game being pushed out a bit are the least of everyone’s worries. I can weather the storm.

This doesn’t mean that A Colorful Game is cancelled. Far from it. This means that I’m rearranging my plans to develop a Tabletop Simulator version of the game. My plan was to learn a bit about Lua and scripting later, after I had mostly secured the game mechanics and design and the game was more or less in manufacturing. I’m shifting gears on that.

Uh…what?

Let me reveal a hypocritical anecdote about myself: I currently work in the tech industry and love technology but I severely dislike the efforts to bring tabletop games to the digital realm. Yeah, I’m one of those. I play board games to get away from screens. I don’t judge people who enjoy playing digitalized board games, I just don’t enjoy doing it myself. The only exception to that rule was TheCodingMonkeys digital version of Carcassonne (RIP). Even that was killed off by the horrid gimmicky 3D version that Asmodee vomited all over us. Have you ever bought the perfect piece of clothing, only to have the vendor come back to you ten years later and say, “can we replace that with this designer trash bag?” It’s like that.

Digressions aside, this isn’t about me or my curmudgeon tendencies, this is about getting a game out there that I think is quick, fun and can work on a digital platform. It’s not done, but here’s a sneak peak:

Screen Shot 2020-04-29 at 9.48.04 PM.png
A Colorful Game features limited quantities of tiles that you have to strategically add or move

But what about a version for that whatcha call it…physical realm?

I’m working with someone on the material design for A Colorful Game. I’m leaning toward using wooden assets, but I’m keeping my options open. I want to make sure the game looks good and feels good, but it also needs to last. What’s great is that this game has been whittled down to a few components, so I predict that I can keep the price reasonable while seeking high quality assets.

Here’s a look at what (aside from the rules sheet) is likely to be included in the physical version.

Screen Shot 2020-04-13 at 3.05.24 PM.png
There’ll be 30 roads and 10 tiles included, along with a rules sheet—compact but fun!

What’s next for this puppy?

 

Getting the game into tabletop simulator will allow me to ramp up my playtesting schedule more. A few things that I need to focus on:

  • Rules sheet layout and design
  • Box design
  • Settling on general game design

Then I can start advertising the game more and setting up preorders. All-in-all, I’m looking at this winter or likely early next year before a kickstarter. I’m OK with that. And, hopefully, we’ll be healed enough to be able to seek some good ol’ fashioned tabletop games fun.

Sorry for taking so long to write this. I’ll try to make more frequent updates.

Until next time…

Categories
Color Space Game Design

The Many Trials of A Colorful Game

I’ve been heads-down refining the mechanics for A Colorful Game. Here are some of my discoveries from the 10 playtests that I’ve had so far:

Issue

Games were way too long. (1+ hour)

Resolution

I took care of this by minimizing the card count. Put the game at a smooth 30ish minute playtime. That’s the goal!

Issue

The game was also far more complex with decisions than I wanted it to be. You have to place AND move a tile—ugh! Too much brain juice to spend on what to do best. (I watched a player’s life flash before their eyes for more than 10 minutes, hoping to glean some forgotten wisdom to help them make a decision.)

Resolution

This was advice from another designer: Don’t make players have to add a new primary color tile to the play area AND have to move another tile. That’s a lot to deal with during a turn.

Note that doing this also helped to reduce the playtime to around 30 minutes.

Issue

Scoring points is just altogether difficult sometimes.

Resolution

Wild cards and bonus points! I added some cards to the game that let you fill in any blanks with a color of your choice. For example, if you have a contiguous path — orange, orange, green, purple, purple — you could play a wild with that to treat the green as a part of your path.

Also, if you scored with three or more cards, you get a bonus point; four or more and you get three bonus points!

IMG_0910
Wild card; but no bonus points for you!


This new format for the game helped shape it into the quick abstract strategy game that I was looking to make. That’s a huge milestone!

I’ve playtested this new version quite a few times and have found some new challenges to work through:

  • Games are a little too short now. It’s difficult for a player that’s behind to see a chance to come back and try to take the win.Idea to test: I’m going to add cards to the point deck or have the discard shuffle back into the deck.
  • With the introduction of wild cards, games feel like they’re not strategic enough (a little too luck of the draw).Idea to test: I’m going to add more wild cards and make them have a greater negative impact on players who use them.
  • Once you score a path, you remove all of the roads that you used to score that path with. That reduces momentum and gives too great an advantage to the first player to score.Idea to test: I think a “pick a color, remove all roads for that color” method can give the right balance of changing the play area in a fun way and not making players feel like they’ve got to start from scratch.
  • I need to work out how the game ends a little more. Right now, the game ends once the point card deck is depleted and neither player can score on their next turns…it just feels like an odd way to end the game.Idea to test: A “first player to x points” win condition should fix this. I just need to test whether this is fun and try to discover what “x points” value is best.

That’s all for now! Until next time…

Categories
Game Reviews

What I’ve Been Playing Lately

The my favorite thing about the holidays is that it brings people together…for board games. Here’s what I’ve been digging this holiday season.

Mysterium

Mysterium is a cooperative murder mystery party game. Psychics conduct a séance to divine how someone died in a mansion. One player plays a spirt that can only communicate to the other players (the psychics) through abstract, surrealist imagery. Players must work together to formulate the suspects, locations, and objects that were involved in the ghost’s demise.

The key challenge to Mysterium is that the ghost is not allowed to speak or signal through expression any indication of the correct answers to the other players. They can only hand abstract and surrealist depictions on cards to the players to help clue them in. (For example, if the school teach is a suspect, the ghost may hand me a card that depicts a mechanical, letter delivering turtle with a helicopter propeller on its shell.

La Mancha

La Mancha is a fun party game—if you were to only invite Lit majors to it. (Which sounds like a dreadful party.) It’s based on the classic Spanish novel penned in 1605, Don Quixote. In La Mancha, everyone plays a self-appointed knight errand that must woo women, gain powerful weapons, ride their trusty steed, and of course: tilt at windmills.

Where La Mancha shines is that there are different types of event cards (Romance cards, Encounter cards, etc.) and the player who draws that card becomes a judge for other players. Other players must use cards in their hand, which have excerpts from the novel, to construct a story or poem depending on the situation that convinces the judge to give them that card or an item card! This leads to an atmosphere of knowing a bit about what makes your fellow players tick. The judge also gets a slight bonus for just being a judge.

Shobu

Shobu is a two player abstract strategy game in the spirit of Go. Players control their own set of stones on four small boards, each board with a 4×4 grid. Your goal is to push all of your opponent’s stones completely off the board.

They must make two moves on their turn, in this precise order:

  1. Passive: Move your stone up to two spaces in any direction without pushing another stone.
  2. Aggressive: Make the same exact move with one of your other stones on another board. (This time you can push your opponent’s stones around.)

This game requires a lot of domino-effect style thinking. Most of the strategy revolves around positioning your opponent in a way that prevents them from making their own aggressive moves.