The first time this game has hit the table!

OK, I’m going to tell you a secret. It’s a terrible secret. I’ve been lying to you. Well, I’ve been lying to you if you’re one of my play testers.

So yeah, maybe if you’re one of my play testers you should look away now.

When I say “this is the first time the game has hit the table.” I’m just being dishonest. (I got tired of the word lying.) The truth is, as many game designers will tell you, the game has hit the table plenty of times before you’ve ever seen it, or possibly even heard of it. The process I’m about to describe isn’t a revolution in design, and each designer will have his own spin on it, but it’s a critical step in the game design process, and one that I’ve seen some designer skip.

I can’t stress this enough. Do not skip these steps, or the steps like them when designing a game.

The first step is to play the game in your head before you even finish writing your initial notes about it. Walk through the rules in your head, as best you can, and play out a turn from top to bottom. Focus on each detail of the process, and what the player will be doing on his turn. Imagine the mechanics at first, and then later when you run things through your head, after you’ve written down the rules, imagine his experience. Is he making a choice that is interesting? Or is the game just sort of playing itself? Are there steps that are slowing him down, getting in the way, confusing to describe? Find those weak points in the player’s experience, tweak the rules, and replay them in your head again.

That first step hasn’t made me dishonest just yet. The game doesn’t even have pieces at this stage.

At some point after you’ve done this you’re on to actually prototyping some pieces. My advice is to have as few pieces made as needed to play a quick version of the game. There are tons of guides out there on prototyping, and I’ll talk about it more in greater detail in later articles. The thing to remember now is make the prototype as quickly as you can justify making it. Cut all corners you can cut while still making a playable prototype. That is to say if you can play a sample round or two with 20 cards, don’t make 50. You might find that the game needs heavy tweaking after you test it, and you’ve just wasted a lot of time, and energy if you made more than you need.

Once you have the prototype ready setup the game where you are the only player. This means you are taking on the function of player 1, player 2, and maybe 3 and 4 depending on the game’s requirements. Now start playing rounds of the game. This is easier said than done depending on the game’s nature, and mechanics. A hidden Identity game will be very tricky to test in this way, but with a bit of effort you can still get a sense of play by yourself. Meanwhile with a game like Addictive Alchemy it’s really easy to test all of the roles as one person. You can’t account for individual behavior by yourself, but you can see a lot. Whatever the game type is test as much of it as you can by yourself with actual pieces before putting in front of other people. Like I said before I’ve seen designers bring games to people, and they haven’t tested things, and it’s rarely pretty.

OK, that was it. That’s how I’ve been lying to you. I have a good reason though. I don’t want you to suffer with a game that might not even work right from the first round. I need it to be something that has a chance of functioning correctly when I’ve asked you to give your time to test it. I need it to be something that won’t waste either of our time.

So the next time I tell you this lie, just look the other way, and pretend like you don’t know, because really it’s the first time that it has hit the table and mattered.

Cooperative games that others can’t play for you

I love cooperative games. It’s just a lot of fun to work together with your friends, and see if you can beat the board game. You either all win together, or you all lose together. Usually when you lose it’s dramatic, and you still had a great time. In concept it’s the perfect game for someone like myself, and everyone I game with tends to love them as well. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few people who don’t like co-op games.

One thing I try to do with most people I game with is find out what kind of games they enjoy, and why. I think it’s a great way to help build community, and to make sure that people are pairing into groups that will help everyone get the most out of their time at the table. So when I hear someone say “I don’t like co-op games.” It really catches my attention, and I endeavour to find out why. Time, and time again I hear the same complaint from those people. I can’t blame them because it’s a pretty common, and big flaw that pops up in a lot of co-op games.

Let me tell you a story. This involves one of my favorite co-op games, actually one of my favorite games period. I sat down to play Flashpoint: Fire Rescue with a person who I sort of knew at a local game shop. I hadn’t played the game before, but he gave me a quick introduction, picked the Fire Chief, and started his turn. For those of you who haven’t played Flashpoint before the Fire Chief is best played when he gives up, most if not all, of his actions to move other players. I mention this key point because the gentleman I was playing with always used the minimum number of required actions to share each turn. In retrospect I can say, maybe he knew the rules, but not the strategy of the game, OK it’s a rough start, but moving on. After that he rolled his dice to “spread evil” (in this case fire.), and it was my turn. I moved my fireman around the board, did my thing, went to reach for the dice, and he grabbed them, rolled them, and I found that for the next half hour I was basically watching him play the game.

This is a too common experience in co-operative games, and it can be a real turn off if you get that one person at the table with a really strong personality because they’ll start playing for everyone else. Myself, I’ve learned to try to politely rein these people in, but in the process I have to be careful to not become them.

If this has been their experience, then it’s understandable why some people don’t enjoy co-ops.

The good news is I have a list, took me long enough to get to the list, that might just help you avoid these kinds of situations. Keep in mind the Fun ranking is my personal enjoyment level, and the Co-op ranking is how well the game does at stopping other players from running your turn.

10. Agents of SMERSH

Agents of SMERSH is a fun cold war James Bond style spy game that is almost a choose your own adventure book put into board game form. The goal of the game is to defeat the Bond like villain with your friends, while reading fun encounter descriptions from the novel length book that comes with the game. It’s challenging, but not too challenging, and it makes this list because even though a strong personality can try to drive for you, there are enough choices you make on your turn that they can’t interfere with that you’re still mostly safe from their influence.

Fun: B-
Co-op: C+
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Defending your game

At some point in the past, possibly recently (I’ll remain vague), I was sitting near a table of people play testing a game. I have no idea whose game it was, because I wasn’t looking at them, or even what game it was. Whoever these brave play testers were they had just finished the game. As is fairly common in play tests the designer was there to watch, or even play along with the others. It was fairly quiet, so I couldn’t help but overhear the feedback session. It was a lot like many feedback sessions I’ve heard.

Play tester 1: The game was too [something mumbled].
Game designer: Really? OK.
Play tester 2: Yeah, too [that thing again].
Game designer: Oh well, I don’t think [that thing] because [some reason].
Play tester 1: It really does need to be less [that thing].
Game designer: But when you look at [who cares], then it’s not really too [that thing].
Play tester 3: Can you do [some idea] to make it less [that thing]?
Game designer: [That thing] shouldn’t be a problem for people who play games.

First I want to say to Game designer. I hear you. Players just love to not get your game. I mean you’ve thought through every detail, did the math, and probably even did some trial runs in your head before you ever started building pieces. Not only that you’ve played it with other people who played the way you wanted them to. These play testers who have concerns are clearly missing the point. Let them know what they’re not seeing. Right?

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A little bit of Rogue

OK, I have a confession. I’ve been a bit stingy with you guys about some of the art we’ve been developing for Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan. I’ve shown you some great early art concepts of the Druidess, Illusionist, and the Necromancer.

In fact right now I’m going to even show you a very early draft of the Princess.

However, one thing I haven’t done is show you some of the final art for any of these beautiful epic heroes. With that I present to you…

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