First off, we’re really sorry to have such a delay between posts. That doesn’t mean we’ve been out of touch, check out our twitter feed for short, but daily, updates, thoughts, and witty banter. Seriously witty.
We will correct our tumbl’ing update schedule though. ‘Cause we want you informed.
So now, playtests. It’s been a heck of a week. We’ve done about half-a-dozen playtests and that doesn’t count the mini-tests. (mini-tests are where we take a few cards and run scenarios to quickly test for balance – we’ll have a full post on how well this process worked out for us later) Some of the topics that we specifically playtested were:
- How intuitive is our card design to players who are completely new to our game (that is, without a rulebook)?
- How intuitive is our card design to players who are completely new to trading card games and their associated mechanics?
- How quickly can a person learn the rules?
- How does ‘learning through play’ actually stack up against ‘learn by rulebook’ in terms of minutes, attention, and fun (especially during that first playthough)?
- How are our map alterations effecting the game and the play?
The first couple playtests and follow up interviews with playtesters have lead us to feel confident in our designs if and only if the player is familiar with trading card games (e.g. the player has played some, used to mechanics found in them, etc).
Specifically, we welcomed three people, without much if any experience in tabletop games and completely green to trading card games and their usual gameplay norms, test the game, review the cards, and blind-test the cards before ever seeing the game. Their reactions led us to understand that the design was hard to quickly comprehend without a rulebook/diagram. Also, we found that the layout confused new, green players and frustrated how they held their cards in their hands because they wanted to see certain information and couldn’t unless they held the cards in an uncomfortable way.
However, players who had a reasonable prior experience with trading card games (e.g. players who know how to “balance their lands”, can get around “trap cards”, and love to cast instants) picked up the cards and could communicate to us what each part meant. Granted this was more difficult for resource-costs on the card as we are using specially designed symbols for those. The best and most telling part of this test was that once introduced to a few, varied unit cards, players of all stripes could understand other cards of different types, and even understand the qualities of spells, structures and unit abilities.
In short – we do need to go back to the drawing board for a little while, but not throw out the whole design. There are elements that are intuitive, and some that are not.
As for learning through play… ZOMG it’s sooo much better than rulebooking your way through. So. Much. Better. Players not only had more fun – their words not mine – but they also could explain the rules and mechanics to others much better and with more precision. There was one large risk, however. Some of the new, green players seemed frustrated, perhaps even overwhelmed, by the rules during their first turns in the “learning through play” tests. A part of that frustration came from the mental math required (now it is simple math; damage reduction is straight subtraction; the only multiplication is due to critically-hitting a weak-point on a card). Another part may have been how rules naturally feel cumbersome when first introduced. I know I have felt that many times, most recently when I played Caylus for the first time (granted, I like the game, but for some reason, the Bailiff blew my mind as a component).
All that being said, once games hit their fifth or sixth turn of play (for new players) or their third turn (for TCG players), players demonstrated a reasonable grasp of the base mechanics, rules, and style. Some even cared about the lore behind the cards! Once the second game happened, players had a feeling that they could now play some sort of short-term strategy (e.g. a combination of a couple cards played over 2-3 turns). Then by the third or perhaps fourth game, players could build decks with pretty specific strategies in mind.
And one universal trait: homies loved commander units.
OK, tests about map size and dimensions deserves its own post (especially because this one is long!). So see you all next time!