Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The First Playtest!

How's it look?  (note...NOT MY GAME!)
I have yet to talk about my board game design on this blog, mainly because I've taken my sweet time in getting around to working on it.  I've had the idea for the theme for well over a year, and in fits and spurts I'd written several pages of notes on game play, but I'd procrastinated on actually getting around and working on it!  As a married father of 2 young children, I'll blame the usual suspects - wife, kids, house work, etc.  What I really needed was a bit of a kick in the pants.  But let me back up a bit...why did I decide to throw my hat into the game design ring?  After all, it seems that at every convention, half the people there are talking about designing their own game.  And from listening to various podcasts, and hearing publishers, it's obvious that they're getting no shortage of submissions.  Add in the Kickstarter phenomenon, and I get the feeling that the market may even be a little glutted (or maybe a LOT glutted). 

So why jump in the fray?  Well, I'll blame my good friend Paul Owen a little bit.  Paul was fortunate enough to get his first game, Trains, Planes & Automobiles published in 2011.  Since I'm often hanging out with Paul at the two main board gaming conventions I attend, Prezcon and WBC, I started seeing some of the "inner circle" as Paul would socialize with other designers, throw ideas back and forth and even playtest some new games.  The enthusiasm and creativity amongst this group was contagious, and I decided that I'd like to give it a shot.  As the dad of two younger children (currently aged 6 & 9), my first inclination was to create a game that they could enjoy - but also that adults would like.  At some point, I hit upon the idea of having the players control teams of elves as they build presents in Santa's Workshop - and I tentatively titled the game just that - Santa's Workshop.  As I mentioned, I would scribble down notes to myself now and then, and eventually had a bunch of papers tacked to the corkboard by my desk.  But I was procrastinating on actually putting something together.

Earlier this year, I had the vague thought of having something ready to go by the next Unpub convention.  Again, I had heard Paul talk about his experiences at Unpub 3, and I thought that would be a great place to get good feedback.  But I hemmed and hawed, and summer turned into fall.  For some reason, I thought Unpub was in the Spring...but a few weeks ago I discovered that it was happening in the middle of January.  Cursing myself for procrastinating, I asked Paul how "finished" a game should be, and he indicated that many of the games there were roughly in the middle of the design process, still needing a few tweaks, but well on their way to completion.  I was a little dejected at this, because I didn't think I would have anything even "halfway" done by January.  I reached out on Twitter to the guys running Unpub, and the response I got from T.C. Petty III was that "notebook paper is's probably good if you've at least played it a time or two".  With that in mind, I decided I wanted to go for it, and not regret that I had to wait another year for the next full Unpub convention...and I promptly found that they had sold out their tables.  Convention director Darrell Louder gave me a ray of hope when he said that they were looking to add a few more tables.

Not the view from our seats
With that in mind, I set to the task of getting some kind of working prototype by the weekend of November 16-17.  My wife and I were traveling to Blacksburg, and my good friend Tom was going to be there, and I thought that would be a great chance for a first playtest.  So, over the course of a week or so, I put together a rough board, printed a bunch of cards, and ordered a bunch of meeples and wooden cubes.  By the time came to leave on Friday, I had a prototype!  Now, while in Blacksburg, I got the word that Darrell was opening 5 more tables, going on sale at 5:00 Saturday night.  I was at the Virginia Tech - Maryland game...and it went into overtime...causing me to stress that I wouldn't be at a computer at the 5:00 starting time.  Fortunately, the game only went one overtime - unfortunately, the Hokies lost :(.  However, we made it back to our lodgings in plenty of time.  When the time came to register, I promptly flailed as I forgot my Paypal password, and had to figure that the time I did, and tried to register, I got a "sold out" response, and my heart sunk.  Contacting Darrell via Twitter, he assured me that I had indeed registered - and apparently somewhere in the flail, I had actually registered twice.  He kindly refunded me the 2nd registration fee, and refrained from mocking me.  So, after all that, I was in for Unpub!  But...did I have anything worth bringing? 

I didn't think to take a picture until we were done!
After a quick dinner, I sat down with Becky and Tom and broke out Santa's Workshop.  A quick explanation of the rules, and we were off.  The game is essentially worker placement, as you use your elves to gather resources to build gifts.  There are a few other things the elves can do, such as feed the reindeer, and dig for coal (after all, there are the naughty kids to "deliver" to).  Although I'm a fan of euro games, sometimes I can find them wanting for player interaction.  I had long had the idea of having cards that would give players benefits, or allow them to hinder other players. However, in the week or so leading up to the playtest, I had the idea to add some "counter" cards to allow players to counter the cards of opponents.  I envisioned something along the lines of "Wiz-War", with players casting spells at other players, who in turn might deflect them back at the originator, or even other players...all while doing your worker placement actions as well.

A little closer view
As expected, the questions about rules came fast and furious...some I was prepared to answer, others not so much.  By the end of the game, I'd taken a page and a half of notes - and jotted down a bunch more on the trip home on Sunday.  I learned the importance of not having vague wording on my cards.  I got a lot of good feedback, and some interesting suggestions for rules changes.  I have a lot of ideas on how to fix some things...and some of those ideas conflict with each other...  I'm planning on getting in more playtesting prior to Unpub...but I'm at least comfortable that I have something that I won't embarrass myself with there.  Will this eventually catch a publishers eye?  I don't know...but I'm excited to finally be doing something with my idea, and I look forward to seeing what will happen!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that prototype looks great. You've got some good stuff going on there. I absolutely can't wait to try it out.