The saga of my National Game Design Month project continues (see part I and part II if you don’t know what I’m talking about). I have now had two playtests of the game, once with some friends and another with my game group. I’ve heard that you don’t want to playtest a game with friends and family, and I’m sure that’s true – feedback is going to be more honest and helpful when you play with people you don’t know. However, for the first plays as I refine the design, I’d rather play with people I know. It’s more encouraging that way, since a complete stranger will be more apt to tell me I have no business designing games.
Playtest number one was a four-player game with friends we had over for dinner last weekend. I didn’t tell them who designed it at first, but they asked, so I told them. We played through it, and I got some good suggestions. One big change we decided on was that you get all available tokens when you win a trick rather than just one. My initial thought about having players just take one was that you want to give others a chance. However, it slows the game down, and the board clears quicker when you can take more tokens if possible.
Another big change was the ending. Initially, I was planning on having the game end when there was only a certain number of tokens left in the grid. However, as the game progressed, I realized how long that would make the game, and started soliciting suggestions as to when the game should end. The suggestion I got was to have the game end when someone got to a certain number of points. I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I said I’d consider it.
I’m really going to have to test out these treats to find out exactly how they should work. The big discussion we had was about the timing of playing the Evil Eye. Initially, I said you needed to play it on someone who was playing after you, but we altered it to be that you could play on anyone before the end of the trick (i.e. before someone claimed a token). We also talked about whether Master Trump overrode the Evil Eye (which it probably should). One good combo was pulled off when one player switched the order of two trumps to make hers better, and the other player played a ghost to get rid of her trump from the board. That was encouraging to see the potential there.
A couple of points of clarification were necessary. First, we decided that tokens should remain visible so you could see which cards were never going to be useful again. Also, we talked about the necessity of an actual grid to keep things neat – those foam tokens I use really move around.
My second playtest was with six players at game night. Most of them have playtested before (and one is a published designer – Alan Ernstein, of Inca Empire fame [yes, I’m a name dropper]). I got some good feedback out of the session, some of which changed the game quite a bit. A couple of them were not familiar with trick-taking games, and did not really understand the concept of trump, which is probably my fault for not explaining it better.
The major thing that came out of this was that they did not like the grid. One suggestion was that maybe it should just be a pool with the tokens pulled out and put in a line to indicate trump. This would make it easier to see what the order was, and it would be easier to maintain. I think it’s a really good idea, and will be putting it into the 2.0 version of the rules (which I’m aiming to post at the end of the month to close out this series). We also discussed trying to mitigate the luck when needing to draw a new token by drawing two and choosing which one to either keep or put in the trump line, depending on the type.
Another complaint about the game was that there were too many treats. This is one I disagree with – I wish there were more. However, we talked about how to make the treats more valuable – a suggestion was made to make them two points initially. Once used, they then get flipped face down and are only worth one point. I like that idea. I probably will cut out a couple of treats, like the bomb which doesn’t make any sense anymore without the grid.
As for the ending, there seemed to be a general consensus that there should be some timer tokens in the pool, and when the last one comes out, the game is over. That’s an idea, though I’m not crazy about it yet – that might make the game really short. However, if we do the drafting style of picking up tokens (draw two, choose one), you can decide when to bring out the timer. That’s not to say, though, that players won’t keep putting the timers back and make the game really long. It probably needs testing, but it’s a better idea than a target number of points.
So, that’s my playtest experience so far. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to play it again before the end of the month. If you have any other suggestions just from what you’ve seen so far, let me know. Thanks for reading!