Alright, when I left off I had gone through the spring and summer making tweaks based on feedback at Unpub 4, and at our Mini-Unpub. The fall brought two more events for me to showcase the game. First was the "World Boardgaming Championships" (WBC) - which I've been attending the last several years. In actuality, I hadn't really intended to promote Santa's Workshop here - but after our Unpub Mini, I was contacted out of the blue by a publisher, inquiring about my publishing plans for SW.
I sent him the information, and as it turns out, we were both planning on being at WBC. So, I brought the game. As it turned out, we never got it to the table, and based on the rulebook, the publisher decided it wasn't a good fit for his line. We did talk about it a bit at WBC, and there was some concern about the theme and how well it would appeal to gamers.
The next event that I did sign up for, was the Unpub room at Congress of Gamers in October. I brought the game, and got in 3 or 4 playtests. I got some great feedback from folks like Alf Shadowsong and TC Petty III. I incorporated a few more changes, such as giving elves a bonus if they became fully trained - they could use less coal in the material rooms. On the 2nd day I playtested again with John Moller his wife Katherine. They seemed to like the game...but one thing was becoming obvious...game length was an issue. An average game was running close to 2 hours...about double what I wanted.
At this point, I was sort of stuck as to where I wanted to take the game. I decided to plunk some cash down and bid in the Jack Vassel memorial fund on BoardGameGeek. For those that don't know - the fund was set up by podcasting guru Tom Vassel, in memory of his late son, Jack. The fund is used to help gamers that are in some kind of need. Literally hundreds of games - and other items - are put for auction. So...how did this help me? I decided to bid on the chance of having Geoff Englestein review my game. Geoff hosts the "GameTek" segment on the Dice Tower, as well as having his own podcast - Ludology - with Ryan Sturm. Geoff has also designed several games, inlcuding The Ares Project, Space Cadets and Space Cadets:Dice Duel (along with his children).
I was lucky enough to win the auction, and was very excited to have Geoff look at the game. True to his word, Geoff really went back and forth with me on the game, and gave me great advice. Some major changes that resulted from Geoff's advice were getting rid of dice nearly altogether (the coal mine still uses dice), and changing the reindeer area. I had heard from other folks that the reindeer track was "boring". Geoff thought it would be great to see the individual reindeer named - so I did just that. Now, each of the eight reindeer (yes, only eight - the legal issues of who "owns" Rudolph are a bit cloudy) get a point token at the start of each round (kind of like the buildings in builders hall in Lords of Waterdeep). When you go to the reindeer stable, you choose which reindeer to feed - and you get the points for that reindeer, plus a bonus - for example, Dasher may give you fabric. This really made the reindeer stable a much more interesting location.
Geoff helped point out a few other areas he thought were fiddly as well - I got rid of the requirement that on some gifts portions of the materials all had to be made out of either the "prime" material, or plastic. I also undid a lot of the "extras" that I had added after Congress of Gamers - just too fiddly. I also finally cut ties with the idea of "spells" altogether - the functions of those were largely taken over by the reindeer bonuses. For giving coal to naughty kids, I just made that an option in the Assembly Hall. One thing that Geoff mentioned is that he thought I had an idea that a publisher would be interested in - the mechanics just needed some streamlining. I think I was able to do a lot of that with Geoff's input. It took me a while to let go of all those dice - but I think it's a better game for it. We talked about maybe having one die in the game, and different modifiers depending on which room you were using...but that adds to "cognitive load" - and for a game that I want to be able to pitch towards families...the less of that, the better.
The last thing for this particular blog entry I want to touch on is the problem of game length that I mentioned earlier. It was becoming apparent that 12 game turns was too long. I was enamored with keeping the "12 Days of Christmas" theme, but it really seemed that 9 turns was pretty optimal. I also made other changes, such as giving players in a 4 or 5 player game only 3 elves vice 4. Little things can build up. One of the reindeer spots would give the player 2 untrained elves to use later that turn. In a 9 turn game, that's 18 more worker placements - so I cut that back to 1 "super trained" elf. As it stands now, the game plays in about an hour - maybe 1:15 for 4+ players - but I'm confident that if those folks played a 2nd time, it would speed up. I was also able to keep the "12 Days of Christmas" theme by making days 4, 8 and 12 just "Santa's Inspection days" - i.e. not actual rounds where players placed elves (that was another great suggestion from Geoff).
Alright...that brings us almost to the current time... The next big event was Unpub 5, and I'm going to detail that in a separate blog post. Apologies for the wall of text in this particular post...