Playtesting, playtesting, and yet more playtesting

In which we introduce ourselves properly and ask for playtesting help….

Hello again! I’m writing this wrapped in several blankets, looking out at snow fluttering gently down outside the window…all to the accompaniment of the shouts and screams of two small children. Lockdown is not exactly peaceful in our house.

More about us

I’m Jess, and I’m likely to be the narrator of most of what goes up online. I’m one-fifth of the team.

Aside from me, the team is Amy, Ella, Mill, and Sam. We finally have some short profiles of us online. We’re all in the UK. Three of us are white, two POC. Two of us have young children, which is obviously a huge impact on available time at the moment. Our experience ranges from board games to design to performance to politics to literature to history. At least one of us is currently writing a play.

Working as a team is important, because it means both that the final game will be more polished by being worked on by different hands, and that we have a wider experience to draw from. At the moment we are currently discussing how the board should fit together and whether the cards should be portrait or horizontal. Obviously we all have different ideas, but throwing them around is part of the joy of it.

Playtesting

Oh, we have been playtesting. I have a printed off copy which is getting a fair amount of solo use. Using card sleeves has really helped — we use Component Studio for the prototypes and then just print on normal paper. Many minutes with a pair of scissors later, the backs and fronts can be matched up and slipped into clear plastic sleeves…it’s actually quite relaxing.

Most of our playtests have happened using Tabletop Simulator. I discovered the easy way to rotate a card, which I then promptly forgot again.

Playtesting has also thrown up suggestions about both the overall appearance and the mechanics. We have playtested with five, and it took 20 turns. A sample two-player game took 11 turns. We have a deck of cards which could be used to limit the turns available, but at the moment we have 24 cards in that deck. One of our next moves may be to reduce the size of that deck, meaning that players would have to more more quickly through the library.

Design thoughts

Last month we shared the symbols with you — well, we are still using those symbols, but they now have colour behind them now. It’s all still prototype stuff, as none of this is final design. Basically, the skills on each card are roughly grouped into categories (athletics, knowledge, etc etc) and each category has a colour and a symbol. They are now pretty clear on the cards.

Playtesting with those symbols and colours led to a particularly good suggestion from one of our playtesters. As well as the skills, the cards are also grouped into book categories, which are subject classifications such as Children’s Fiction or Historic Leaders, and these classifications were shown by having a different colour on the back of the card. So one side of the card is the inside of the book where there are skills which have coloured symbols, while the other side of the card is the cover of the book where the general type of book is represented by a coloured book cover. (On our paper prototypes it’s a thin coloured border, while on Tabletop Simulator it’s all full colour.) I’m sure you can see where this is going…one of our playtesters asked, quite sensibly, whether the cover colour matched the skill colour — ie, if you wanted green “knowledge” skills, should you go for the books with the green covers? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately muggins here had not been quite so smart. I’ve now looked more closely at how the skills inside the books match the book categories, and have aligned them more closely. Now, if you’re looking for a wisdom skill (blue) then your best bet is to pick a Historic Leader (blue cover).

Help needed!

Could you help us playtest? Please do! We have a Facebook group here, and we are trying to move to public playtesting at least once a week.

Next steps

We’re revisiting our timetable, and trying to work out when this year we could feasibly go to Kickstarter. Lockdowns, different working arrangements, and homeschooling have all have an impact on different members of the team, and so time is a little tighter than we had thought. Project planning away!

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