04 May Developing a Game Design Philosophy – Playtesting
Mark Rivett –
Whenever we get together, Slightly Twisted Games tries to make time to play a board or card game. We love games, and after we play a new game for the first time, we discuss the things we enjoy as well as dislike about it. This has shaped our game design philosophy, and we work to incorporate our philosophy into each game we make.
In January 2016 I printed up the first incarnation of what would eventually become Slightly Twisted Games: Space Truckin’ in Space. I explained to my business partners how to play, and anticipated a fun time of game playing with my friends. It was fun, but not for the typical reasons one sits down to play a game. The game was B.R.O.K.E.N. It had taken Tommy a mere couple turns to find himself trapped in an unintended and impossible game loop. Barney had catapulted ahead that there was no way to catch him.
We put the game down, and laughed about how hilarious the experience was. A collection of rules is not a game, but with proper feedback, rules can be honed into an enjoyable experience that serves one primary endeavor: fun.
I immediately took to integrating the feedback into the game, and printed everything up with a certainty that the game was imminently ready for publication. We play tested again. The game was still hilariously broken, and some of the solutions that we had integrated created entirely new problems of their own. By now, we had a framework that was at least workable, and we started crafting a fun and funny theme that would leave players in stitches as they explored the galaxy.
By the time we hit GenCon in 2016, there had been 15 iterations of Space Truckin’ in Space – each with numerous playtests. Between GenCon 2016, and the date of this writing, there have been 7 more. The game is narrowing in upon its final incarnation, but it didn’t get there overnight.
The same is true for Glory. Before the final rules were laid down in print, there had been 20 iterations and playtests too numerous to count. A combination of math, and good old-fashioned “feel” have resulted in a well-balanced and fun experience wrapped in a humorous theme. Occasionally I must remind my partners that I have no emotional attachment to my work outside that I want it to be as good as it can be. Talking about a bad concept or unworkable idea doesn’t hurt my feelings, it gets us to where we want to be. Likewise, when my partners take our games outside our group for play testing, they have to remind people that we aren’t looking to have our ego’s stroked. We’re looking for actionable feedback that makes our projects fun. Play testing is about a lot of things, but above all, it’s about truth.
Magic: the Gathering has an entire team devoted to playtesting each set as it is developed. Stickers are placed on cards, and directly written upon to facilitate real-time change. This, coupled with an enormous resource of online data through MTGO helps to ensure the game remains as poplar and competitive as ever.
When Fantasy Flight released Descent, my friends and I could barely get enough of that game. We played it well into early mornings. As each expansion was released we purchased them with such excitement, that Thomas Ryan helped to write the FAQ. But we also began to notice something else… with each expansion, Descent seemed to become less and less balanced. With its final couple releases, the game became almost unplayable – as if the expansions had been released with too much haste and not enough play testing.
We at Slightly Twisted Games have a large handful of games in various stages of development. Each game is play tested intensely – first within our own group, and then outside our group to ensure our intended audience both understands and enjoys the gaming experience. We hope you will enjoy each of our games, but we promise that the they will be thoroughly play tested and balanced well before you come to own our creations.