A Week in the Life: Human Again

A weekly summary of 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.

  • May 16, 2021 7:43 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.

The big thing this week is that I attended the first in-person Game Designers of NC meeting in my area since March 2020. I think there was at least one in Asheville earlier, but that's a 4 hour drive so I didn't attend (also they didn't tell me about it so I guess I'm allowed to hate the Asheville group now). I brought both Poisoners' Soirée and Culmination, and they are both shorter games that I was able to get to the table. I also played a snappy 6 player 4X game, an 18 card RPG, and a crunchy low-luck co-operative game that other designers brought.

Poisoners' Soirée needed a maximum player test with the latest changes, and it hit a lot of what I was hoping it would. It's got an I-pick-you-choose mechanism where a player scoops some cubes and offers them to another player. The current system has both the scooper and another player picking 1 cube each, and if the scoop had more than 2 cubes the rest are dumped back in the bowl. Usually a scoop will not have a lot of cubes, but we tried a variation where the players go back and forth until ALL the scooped cubes are selected. That ended up adding a lot of edge cases and unclear rules, made the turns more uneven for players, and was a generally worse experience. So now we know not to do that.

We talked about the deduction aspect of Poisoners' Soirée too. Deduction games have a narrow zone where they are balanced. You want players to have some information pretty early so they can make informed decisions. If you allow players to get too much information too quickly then the end of the game is solvable and not fun. And if there isn't enough information to go around then the whole game is effectively random. I've played with both extreme players counts (3 players and 6 players) and I feel like the flow of information was good. I'm going to connect with Ude (we're co-designing this game) to compare notes and see if we've got any other concerns to address.

And then there's Culmination. This was the first non-solo playtest, and it got the standard first playtest treatment (tons went wrong and people found issues with everything). A lot of my takeaways were about the structure of turns and general game flow. I found several places where people behaved in ways I was not going for, and where motivations for decisions didn't line up with my intent. I got a lot of notes and I have a decent idea about how to change the structure before the next test. There were also nuggets that I really liked. I want the game to generate stories about how the players' personas develop and accomplish things during their time playing, and even with all the mechanical and motivational shortcomings there were hints that suggest this game has a potential future where it can facilitate compelling narratives. So it was a good test and gave me lots to work on. I still believe in the game and I believe I can get it where I want it to be.