A Week in the Life: Going Digital and Solo Testing Deduction

The game design work of a regular guy with a full time job and a family with 3 small kids who designs games in some of his spare time

  • March 22, 2021 3:57 PM

I want to spend time most weeks talking about my design work both as an encouraging example of how someone challenged for spare time can make progress on game designs, and to offer some incidental insights into how I view the design process that could be interesting or helpful. I intend this to show how I break down my process into digestible nuggets of work that can be done between my job, family, and other responsibilities.

So here's what I worked on this week.

I'm going digital! This week was the first time I ever played a game in Tabletop Simulator. I downloaded Tabletop Simulator months ago, but never used it until just recently when I played some other designers' prototypes. I'm well behind the curve with online game design, but I'm gradually getting accustomed to the tools just in case I want to use them later. I also downloaded nanDECK, a card prototyping program. I haven't watched or read any tutorials on how to use it yet, but it's on my machine! I intend to use it for my newest game prototype since it has enough cards that I don't want to hand write them with each iteration.

Using the concrete questions I came up with last week for Poisoners' Soirée, I ran some tests to figure out some answers. In the game there are 4 colors of cubes in a bowl and each color is a different thing for each player. For example, I might have purple poison, white antidote, and green sugar, while you have green poison, white sugar, and purple antidote. Yellow is bitters for everyone. Poison is negated by antidote, sugar is negated by bitters. You want to make a poisonous cup that's not too bitter.

I ran 2 different types of tests by myself. I wanted to simulate multiple aspects of deduction games so in one test I made a dummy player and looked at their color assignments, then randomly drew 2 cubes at a time and chose which went into my cup and which went into the dummy player's cup. The other test was the same except without the dummy player, and I wrote down each choice I made and how I imagined other players might interpret my decision. While doing this I played several rounds where having the same number of antidotes and poison is favorable, and I then played a while where tied poison and antidote is unfavorable. I wanted to see which way created more space for bluffing and interesting decisions. I ended up feeling that ties need to be favorable.

Some of this solo testing was while my 5 year old was watching. She noticed I had game pieces out on the table and asked if I would "do game design" so she could watch. She picked up the 3d printed spoon that Ude made (Poisoners' Soirée uses a spoon, of course) and was demonstrating how to hold it properly. Props to Ude for designing a spoon with finger grooves that a 5 year old can intuitively demonstrate how to hold properly. All I told her was to stop bumping the table so I wouldn't spill my drink on everything. She figured out the spoon part on her own.

Another night I talked my wife into played a simplified version of the game strictly to test out the bluffing space with a real human, to see if what I felt in my solo tests was there in real life. This happened in probably 15-20 minutes between putting the kids to bed and going downstairs to watch a movie. The results seemed to validate my thoughts from before, so I'm feeling good enough about it that I'm ready to try a full game whenever I get enough people together.