Archive for the ‘Board Games’ Category

A Strategy for Abstract Strategy Game Reviews

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Today I posted over on Board Game Geek asking for help defining a review system for abstract strategy games. For posterity, here’s the contents of that post:

I’ve been thinking about criteria for reviewing abstract strategy games. In particular, I’d like to end up with a list of ratings, (not just one) that give the reader a sense of how the game plays in comparison to other abstract strategy games.

As an aside, I’m not using the term combinatorial, although I do prefer those games, both because I don’t want to limit the scope of games reviewed to those criteria, and also because I feel the term is hard to understand and explain to someone not already familiar with the nuances of game rules (and abstract strategy game rules in particular). I will certainly indicate the presence of any non-combinatorial elements in the review, and maybe even “at a glance” as part of the rating section. Maybe something like this:
– Number of players: 2
– Luck: Yes/No (If yes, maybe with some details.)
– Randomization: Yes/No (With an indication how.)
– Hidden Information: Yes/No (Again, indicating where.)
– (More needed?)

My goal, to be up-front about it, is eventually to start a new game review site, focused on abstract strategy games. That site’s mission will be: To promote and evangelize the beauty of abstract strategy games.

Here are the criteria I’ve come up with so far:

Strategic complexity – How strategically complex? I.e., how far ahead can I think about my turns with any real expectation of implementing a specific strategy?

Tactical Complexity – How individually complex are each of my decisions in a given turn? How many factors are there influencing my decisions based solely on the game’s state in a single turn?

Rules complexity – How easy is the game to understand and begin playing? How well are the rules written?

Game Readability – How easy is the game to understand at a glance? Can an experienced player take in the game’s state and gauge whether a player’s position is superior or inferior to that of their opponent?

Game Depth – How deep is the game? This could mean a lot of things, but for my reviews, it will mean how much can experienced players be said to be playing at a “different level” from beginner players? Or in other words, how much do the game decisions made by an experienced player change versus the decisions of a beginner player?

Spacial Engagement (Geometric Engagement?) – How much does the game rely on the player visualizing the positions of game elements in relation to one another or in relation to imagined elements?

Mathematical Engagement – How much do mathematical equations or general math principles (counting, etc.) play into the tactical decisions and / or long term strategies in the game?

Originality – Have I seen games like this before? Do I feel like there are new ideas in particular that deserve calling out in this particular game?

Physical Beauty – If this is a game played with standard components, or PNP, it may get dinged here, but since I am attempting to promote abstract strategy games to the general populous, it’s actually a super important criteria.

Overall Elegance – This could be expressed dispassionately as a ratio of rules complexity to strategic depth, but I actually think of it more as an expression of my feeling of satisfaction with that ratio. Did playing the game feel like more than the sum of its parts? Did it inspire me to think about it?

Again, I’m definitely looking for feedback about these. In particular:

– Is there anything obviously missing? Are there other criteria you use when judging a new game?

– How are the names? Any you feel should change or that you feel could be articulated better?

– Is “Overall Elegance” even needed? It’s probably the most subjective, but the concept I’m attempting to capture is just how it feels to play, which is absolutely subjective. Is there a better way to say that, maybe one that doesn’t seem as subjective?

– I’m thinking about doing a scale (probably 1-5) for each of these, and giving the game a score based on the sum total, or possibly an average. Thoughts on that final score?

– Are there other game ranking schemes you particularly like? I’d appreciate pointers to any that break the review down into a list of criteria like this. (I know there are more of them out there, but I’ve only managed to “find” a few links so far.)

This entire thing essentially came about because I was thinking about the term “combinatorial game”, and whether I wanted to use it along with (or instead of) “abstract strategy game”. When thinking about a rating system for Abstract Strategy games, it’s a no brainer to indicate whether there are elements that fans of “pure” thinking games might not appreciate: randomization during gameplay, hidden information, player manipulation, and generally just anything that gets in the way of the player determining their win or loss through skill alone. Generally, this is why the combinatorial term came about. (Although some might argue that it came around the other way, from actual academic game theory, as it was definitely used there first.) But I feel like it was only co-opted by game designers because “abstract strategy” has been used too frequently in the board game industry at large to describe games that are only abstract in theme, and don’t meet the other criteria.

If you visit the wikipedia page for abstract strategy, you’ll see the description carefully adds qualifiers like “almost all…” and “most…” or “many…” when describing the no luck and no hidden information qualities. It’s a controversial term.

I’m partial to the term “abstract strategy” though, partly because I just like its connotations. Abstract thought is one of the things that sets us apart from other species of life on this planet, and has far-reaching implications for humanity and civilization. Not to mention that games essentially wouldn’t be possible without it. In addition to the reasoning I gave in my original post, I also feel that the term “combinatorial” hasn’t reached critical mass yet, and not enough folks know what it means for it to be super useful. (Thus, I went with Abstract Meeple rather than Combinatorial Meeple, though both have a ring to them.)

Back to my thought-process: Indicating the presence of any of those non-combinatorial elements in a review will be easy, but some games that contain one or more of those elements still feel like abstract strategy games to a greater or lesser extent to me. I want to be free to review those games, and also want to communicate that feeling and quantify it somehow in my rating system.

But simply telling my readers that a game “feels abstract” seems too subjective, and also, it won’t give them enough information about whether they might also share that feeling. So I realized I’d need to break it down. Which led to the question: Why do games feel like abstract strategy? This led to my list of rating criteria.

And somewhere in making the list, it occurred to me: All the issues of combinatorial (or not) being equal, I have the same problem when comparing two completely combinatorial games. Other than my personal feelings about them, how would Chess rate any differently from Go? I thought about it some, and that also influenced the list. (In particular, the addition of Spacial and Mathematical engagement.) As it says in the post, I’m definitely looking for feedback on all of this. Feel free to post a comment, or head over to BGG and join the discussion.

New Chess Variant Videos

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Tonight, a chess variant is sitting at the top of r/gaming. That itself is probably newsworthy, but watch the video below of Speed Chess (apparently unveiled at the Tokyo Game Show 2015) to see why I’m now dying to play this real-time chess played on a touchscreen.

??? -SPEED CHESS- demonstration from trust tower on Vimeo.

Oh, and don’t worry, I’ve mined a ton of other good videos from the reddit thread so you don’t have to!

  • In this one, the new chess (no, not that one) is about to be released. (This was a little slow at first, but gets pretty good, I felt.)
  • This Chess reviewer had me laughing out loud.
  • I’ve definitely seen this BBC skit about how to play chess properly before, but it was worth a re-watch.
  • Finally, this scene is apparently from a UK sitcom called Bottom.

And while I’m at it, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Chesh for at least a couple of weeks now. I’ve been waiting to say anything about it here until I played it, but the since I wanted to post the Speed Chess video above, I felt it deserved inclusion in this post. Here’s the trailer:

From what I’ve gleaned from the internet, it’s a random chess variant with hundreds of possible pieces. I like the glitch-tank aesthetic. Remains to be seen whether I’ll also like the randomized gameplay.

Notes from pyramid games playtesting

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

My good friend Nate was kind enough to playtest 3 out of four of the pyramid games I posted yesterday (we didn’t play the party game), and the results shouldn’t be terribly surprising, but they were generally disastrous. In short, none are ready for prime time. (But on the upside, none were complete throw-aways either, and all have potential!) Here are my notes:

Action / Movement Programming — This suffered from the problem where the player has the advantage, so nobody wants to make themselves the second-to-last player. This meant there was little incentive to try and make the target shape. We did play with a pretty cool variant / modification where there are 9 “goal cards” (in a 3×3 grid), and any 4 cards in that group can be the goal. The rule about “modifying” the programmed cards was very confusing to Nate, and I had to clarify / re-explain it several times. There was also confusion about being able to modify pieces on the gameboard, and I think adding an action that would allow you to modify (swap?) existing pieces would probably help. None of this fixes the disincentivization to make the goal shapes. We talked about maybe not replacing the cards. Also, I just had the idea to maybe only take one of the cards instead of all of them, so most of the shape would still be there, but it would obviously need modifying. Maybe then you also get points at the end of the game for collecting “sets” of a single color card. We also played on a very large gameboard (not quite a full chess board, but it was with the triangular chess boards that are sometimes used for looney Pyramids), and I think we could have just played on a 4×4 grid, and it would have been a tighter and better game.

Action Point Allowance System — This game suffered from the rules allowing you to totally screw yourself. If you didn’t play a combination of either 1) two 2-pip pieces or 2) a 1-pip and a 3-pip, you were giving yourself a serious disadvantage later in the game. I think the rules should just specify you can play one of those combinations. Also, the player who played first had a huge advantage, not because they played first, but because as the rules are written, they also got to play last. I think making both players play only a 2-pip on their first turn might mitigate that problem. Another issue was that we played on a 3×3 grid, but never really used more than 4 towers. Another rule change I’m considering is to make the players fill the grid first, before playing higher levels on any tower… or possibly just to play on a 2×2 grid. (Or both.)

Area Control / Area Influence — Finally, as I’d hoped, this game seemingly has a lot of potential, but we ended up not playing it while we spent like 20 minutes discussing how the captures could work. (Rules as written do not specify capture rules, and I thought I’d just make something up quick about surrounding groups, and we’d see how it plays, but turns out there are too many different possibilities!) It would take me a long while to write all the things down that we discussed, but briefly, we talked about: Switching it to allow ONLY swaps of cards with pieces on them (then you could capture from a swap or a placement). Allowing piece movement to capture, with cards containing pieces of the opposite color “frozen” in their place, essentially “locking” neutral spaces on the gameboard as kind of a suicide move. Finally, if we allow swapping cards with pieces on them (which I think is a good idea), I think maybe it should only be allowed if they have the same (or possibly only if the opponent’s card has lesser) pip counts. Maybe that parenthetical should always be true, which would mean you could only move cards that have pieces on them, since by default all the cards start empty.

I don’t know when I’m going to get around to revising the rules as written, but hopefully in the not-too-distant future!

pyramid games for every BGG game mechanic

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

At least partially inspired by another BGG user’s lofty goal of 1 new pyramid game a month, around January 1st I had the even-more-ridiculously insane idea to make a goal of designing a new pyramid game for each game mechanic on Board Game Geek. There are 51 unique game mechanics on BGG, so that’s LESS than one a week. Totally do-able, right?!

Of course, I promptly forgot all about that idea, until I stumbled onto the first couple in my design notes earlier today. I spent some time subsequently flushing them out and writing a couple more, and so without further ado, here is a link to the in-progress results: pyramid games for every BGG mechanic.

So far (as of this blog post) there are only 4 rule-sets in a “completed” state. I have notes for two others, but they haven’t been written up yet, which means they may not even be playable. At least one of those not yet present require a custom game board (the one for Roll-and-Move).

pyramid cards backThis idea came, originally, hot on the heels of a renewed interest in pyramid games because I’d helped conceive and design these pyramid cards, a set of playing cards for icehouse/looney pyramids. (The card artwork, — ie, bulk of the work — was done by my sometimes collaborator August Brown.) At the time, I’d thought up a few different game ideas, but it turned out that none of them were really all that fun to play. A statement that may of course also be true about the ones in the link above. YMMV. Two of the designs listed below (and flushed out in the link above) use the cards. I think the ideas in the doc are better than the original pyramid card ideas, but they are still as-yet untested. Anyway, here are some brief summaries:

Acting mechanic — In this game, players take turns choosing a board game, and without revealing that game’s name, set up and play that game with looney pyramids. They cannot talk, and the other players must try and guess which game they are playing. Subsequent players cannot choose the a game that has been previously selected.

Action / Movement Programming mechanic — This game is a combination of seeing patterns in pyramids and using your hand to manipulate pieces on the gameboard. Game play happens in rounds where a “goal pattern” is decided, and players then simultaneously try and choose actions that will manipulate the board to create the “goal pattern” there.

Action Point Allowance System mechanic — This abstract strategy game is played with 4 action points per turn. (With the first player only allowed 2 points.) Some suitable small grid is chosen for the playing field, and each player takes a “stash” of icehouse pyramids and takes turns playing pieces onto the gameboard. At the end of the game, the board is scored and players win based on number of pips that are visible in their color.

Area Control / Area Influence mechanic — This 2-player go-like game is played on a board created with pyramid cards. Cards make up the gameboard, and pieces are placed to “secure” the territory. This is the game I’m most excited about / interested in playtesting.

I’ll post again about this project after I make more progress.

Abstract Strategy Game Description Generator

Friday, August 28th, 2015

So, I made a webpage/toy to generate a pseudo-random abstract strategy game description. It’s pretty much just mad-libs style text substitution, but randomly chosen from arrays of strings I’ve brainstormed. I started with a short paragraph and now it generates three paragraphs for each game. There’s a lot more I’d like to do with it, including maybe generate actual playable games. (That would be a lot of work though.)

Entanglement – a new board game

Friday, February 13th, 2015

entanglementI had a strange idea this morning. “What if every time you moved a piece in a game, you were also moving one of your opponent’s pieces?” I don’t know of any other games that have this same mechanic. I present for you here, a very simple abstract small-grid game I’m calling Entanglement.

Entanglement Rules (1MB PDF)

BGG discussion thread

Edit: A bit more details about how this came about and playtesting (over lunch) with my friend Nate. Usually when I have an idea for a new game, I enter some minor details in a google-doc/journal I keep for that purpose. I make sure to record the date, and what I was doing when I came up with the idea. In this case, it was such a simple idea, the game came to me practically fully formed, and I went straight to a new file to write out the rules. I jotted them down in about 20 minutes, and got back to work. Then over lunch I played the game a couple of times with Nate, and immediately it felt too complicated. (Which felt weird, because it was already SO simple!) So then I revised, and we played a few more games (without the variant rules listed in the .pdf).

Overall, I don’t think this is one of my better games, it feels likely to be “solvable”, but it has some interesting decisions to make, and I was quite happy with my 10-minute prototype. If you play it, please let me know!

Asynchronous Turn Notification Thoughts

Friday, February 13th, 2015

I was recently asked by a friend my opinion about how often is too often to notify the player that it is their turn to play. I personally feel a player should not get more than two or three reminders total. I also feel like email notifications should be opt-in. (Push notifications are already, at least on iOS, but collecting an email at registration should not be license to send email turn notifications, IMO.)

I’m not sure if there are other options other than email and Push. It might be interesting to try an experiment where you make turn notifications tweets. I wonder if there are already any asynchronous games playable entirely on twitter.

So, sending a notification immediately when it becomes the player’s turn is a must. I also believe it’s a “best practice” to time out your games, and send a notification before that happens. I know I’ve seen other devs (who host their own games) post about how not having async games time-out also means there are thousands of abandoned games on their server that will essentially never go away. So when this notice is sent could be based on the time-out period, maybe when the game would auto-boot them in another 24 hours.

What Playdek has done is to allow the user who creates the game to specify a length of time for the game. This works like a chess clock, and the timer starts when you get the notification that your opponent has played their turn. (The options are 10 min, 30 min, 1 hr, 2 hrs, 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, and 28 days.) They only send one push notification when it becomes your turn. If the game times-out, you only find out after you log in again.

That solution actually feels a bit overly complicated to me, and I’ve recently started playing Star Realms, which has a similar but slightly simplified scheme where you choose a “time per turn” limit when starting a game. (The options are 3 minutes, or 48 hours.) With the 48 hour turn limit, you get a notification twice, once when it’s your turn, and another when you have 24 hours left to play. (They don’t badge the app when you’ve got pending turns though, which is just PAINFUL.)

For Catchup, I’m using the simplest possible implementation of GameCenter, which is not to have timers at all. (Timers were only introduced in a later version of the API anyway, and I wanted to support versions of iOS farther back than that.) The way their push notifications for async games work is super opaque, (and they come from the GameCenter app, not your app, which is also annoying), and one of the biggest limitations of using GameCenter, in my opinion.

One other thing I have seen, (but don’t necessarily endorse), is the ability for the user to nag the player whose turn it is. I can’t remember what app it was that did this, (maybe Trivia Crack?), but there was essentially a button that you could press in the app to send a notification to the other player.

I certainly don’t know what the best choices are, but I do know that there are different categories of asynchronous player with very strong opinions about how to play. For instance, vocal proponents of short timers who only want to play games that last less than an hour or so. Whereas I personally prefer to play games with the maximum timer limit, because, for me at least, I tend to batch all my asynchronous game play in one or two sessions a day. (And some days I skip entirely!) So player choice seems important.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to play with Parse for the first time. (Essentially migrated a project from using Google Analytics to Parse objects in a day.) I never knew it was so easy, and I have to admit that now I sort of want to use it for an asynchronous game. We’ll see.

Q&A – Porting Board Games to Digital

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

I recently answered a short barrage of questions by some non-technical folks researching the business feasibility of board game conversion. Since I gave them these answers freely, I thought I would also post them here. This is all based on my own personal experience, so feel free to exercise skepticism and I absolutely welcome your thoughts or differing opinions in the comments below.

1. What resources estimates and how much time do you feel is needed to do a strategy board game conversion to digital?

The answers for this question are as varied as the answers to the question “how much time is needed to do a mobile game?” In my experience, if you’re paying your programmer(s) what they’re worth (which is not a given in the gaming industry), you’re probably looking at a budget somewhere between 30k and 120k. Less is certainly possible with an experienced team, maybe with a code base they’re reusing, but it would raise a red flag for me. (I get a lot of potential clients who come to me with 2-5k, and I politely tell them that we can possibly make a prototype without graphics for that much.)

2. If using Unity as a gaming language, what do you think is involved in porting to another platform say from iOS to Android or vice-versa?

I am familiar with unity, but no expert. (So take this with a grain of salt.) My feeling is that android is more work, what with supporting all the different screen sizes and hardware/processor idiosyncrasies, so if you’ve already done that work, porting to iOS should not be that much more difficult. (Depending on the project, of course.) Going from iOS to android on the other hand could take longer, especially for complex games. (It’s going to depend on how many screens or “scenes” you’ve got to prepare in unity.)

3. Are you aware of what the maintenance/support costs would/could be, if so what do you believe is involved?

This is a great question! Not something a lot of clients think to ask. It’s easy to throw something in the App Store and forget about it, which is exactly what everyone else will do too.

There are obviously diminishing returns though, so I recommend planning a release with at least one maintenance update about a week or so after the initial lunch, and maybe evaluate then whether it’s worth doing another “feature” update a couple of weeks to a month later, also with a follow up maintenance update if your budget can stand it. If the game is still doing well at that point, it’s a good idea to plan to spend some time and push out littler updates as frequently as you can, more for marketing purposes than for any development related reason. All of this will require developer involvement, but it’s the person crafting marketing and messaging that should be spending the most time after launch. I generally think this is underestimated, and can easily be a full-time task.

4. Do you have an idea of hosting (storage/bandwidth) costs?

This is only relevant if you are hosting your own server for some reason. The game should have a website, which is another often overlooked marketing piece, but it will cost far more to create that than to maintain/host it. (Hosting fees shouldn’t run more than $20/ month, or you’re probably getting ripped off somewhere. I pay $5/month + $10/domain, but that comes with doing mostly my own support.)

If you ARE hosting your own backend multiplayer server, you can think of it as another domain name. (It definitely cost you more up-front to develop, so make sure your dev is including that in their estimates.) And unless the game is super successful, most hosting plans should include enough bandwidth. If you get to the point where you are paying ala cart for bandwidth, it still shouldn’t be more than a handful of dollars unless you’re at an extreme end of the spectrum, which is a problem you wish you will have.

5. What’s your thoughts on the digitization of family board games, and what may happen, and when?

Well, “family board games” is a term that might mean a bunch of different things, but here are some initial off the cuff thoughts:

a) it’s already happening to some degree, see Monopoly, Scrabble, Jenga.

b) The family market is much larger than the hobby market, but much tougher to crack. Quality is going to be a very important consideration, as is ease of use and first-run experience, including tutorials and teaching.

c) It’s possible that the aforementioned digital game examples are mostly getting played by board game hobbyists, rather than the general populous you’d expect to be playing a family game, which would be hard to prove either way unless you are the publisher of one of those games.

d) In general, (this is advice I like to give to anybody thinking about physical game conversion), the advantage that board game conversions have over their fully-digital counterparts is that there is already a population that knows about that game and to a lesser extent how to play that game. So the bigger that group, the bigger your advantage. How successful your board game conversion will be is very much influenced or enhanced by how successful a game you are choosing to convert.

6. Are you familiar with Steam, and would you recommend porting or building for that platform?

If you want to target desktops (OSX, Windows, or Linux), then I would highly recommend building working with Steam. I cannot make a recommendation about whether those platforms are viable for board game conversions in particular. Steam is a bit like Apple’s App Store and Game Center rolled into one, but cross platform for desktop games. There is an API that you as a developer can write to, and implement Steam achievements and various other social offerings.

7. Do you feel the effort to port from say Android/iOS phones requires more work to port to Tablet versions as well, or not?

Generally there is a portion of every project devoted to UI work. The amount of time spent will be different for every project, but generally I think it’s a higher percentage of the project for games than other application types. Let’s say, for a game, 50% of the development effort was put toward UI work. If you had only developed for one screen size at that point, you might have to re-do or at least re-touch much of that work. If you plan from the beginning of the project for multiple screen sizes, you can save yourself a lot of pain in “porting” to a different screen size, but it is still more work, no doubt about that.

8. What about PC/Browser porting, are you noticing or see the need/demand or value in doing that, and if so are you familiar with the effort in that case let’s say after a mobile version has been completed?

I do see this happen from time to time, though not with a lot of board game conversions. My concern would be monetization, since the folks who play web-based games are used to getting their games for free, and you have to have a very large active userbase (in the hundreds of thousands, from what I understand, although I’m no expert) to make money with advertising alone.

9. How many people do you believe is needed to convert and maintain a board game digital conversion, and what roles?

For a “full featured” conversion, I see the following needs:
– Programmer/developer
– Artist/graphic designer
– Sound Effects person and Musician (often can be the same person)
– Some kind of project manager or person making feature decisions
– A person (or team!) in charge of marketing

I have worked on a lots of projects where there were a couple of developers who split duties. This includes several apps with Tysen Streib, who would expertly craft the AI and game logic, while I handled all the rest of the application, including ultimately integration of his code into the project.

Another optional role I’ve found myself filling briefly at the start of smaller projects is that of UX designer. It is always nice to have a blueprint to work from, and good wireframes can really speed up development as well as help keep your team on the same page if there are multiple developers.

The mix and makeup of all of these roles will be different on every team, no doubt. There are certainly some indie developers who tackle all of these tasks for every project! I’ve found that keeping scope small is always a good thing, work toward manageable milestones, and you’re less likely to be surprised by how long something takes you to complete.

Some Tools for Tabletop Game Design

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Below you can find my slides from the presentation I gave at last night’s IGDA Twin Cities meeting.

I think the presentation went okay, but I should have realized ahead of time how boring a topic spreadsheets can be. I saved the demos for the end of the talk, and by the time I got to them, I was really feeling the boredom radiating from all corners of the room. Anyway, I hope these slides are helpful to someone.

While preparing for the talk, I came across an interesting article about the history (origin) of spreadsheets called A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge.

Tools for Tabletop Game Design from Martin Grider

creativity is hard — tips for playtest feedback

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

I was musing on game design this morning, and came to a conclusion that I already knew both intellectually and intuitively, but one that I’m not sure I’ve articulated to myself previously: Game design is a creative endeavor. (With all the subjectivity and painful process woes that plague all creative endeavors.)

I’ve always just made games that I myself wanted to play, avoiding the entire camp of game design that suggests your players should be influencing your design. That may sound like an arrogant position to take, but at first it was borne more out of laziness and ignorance than anything else. Until I attended my first GDC in 2012, I didn’t even really realize there were people whose job was game design, and I certainly didn’t realize there were books written on it or — more importantly — people thinking about it academically. It was that revelation, more than any other, that has kept me going back to GDC; I find immense value in immersing myself in game design topics opinions and thinking for a week, not to mention all the networking opportunities.

But anyway, aren’t I also a player? In my opinion, I’m a player whose wants and desires are seriously under-served. (That means my games are probably for a small segment of the market, and I’ve made peace with that. I’m not looking for commercial success… if it finds me, awesome.) I’m not going to cave to the pressure to make games for someone else. Because essentially I feel like that’s compromise. And I think compromise kills art. My vision is no more important than anyone else’s, but it’s also just as important as everyone else’s. And hey, I’m the one making it.

So is this all one big excuse for not accepting constructive feedback? Partly, yes. These thoughts all come in the wake of showing off a new (-ish) board game last night at a local game designer meetup. I haven’t talked about this game publicly before, and this whiny blog post is probably not the place to start, but it was not received well. (In spite of many — at least 10 — fairly successful playtests previously.) Mostly, the feedback last night consisted of ways to change the game entirely, ways to take it in some other direction. Essentially, the playtesters (game designers, but for one) didn’t enjoy the game, and spent a good fifteen minutes after their play trying to brainstorm ways to “fix” the design. Almost all the player suggestions last night involved tearing up the design and making something new out of the pieces. This is something I’ve already done with this particular design at least three, maybe four times so far, and I’m actually very happy with where it’s at right now, so that option is not really on the table.

It’s hard not to take this kind of feedback personally. (Made more difficult by at least one of the designers in question having a lot of problems keeping his feedback constructive.) The whole experience really threw me for a loop, and I spent this morning struggling against an impulse to just put the game away and not think about it for a while.

Perhaps I can salvage this piece by adding a few bullet points about giving constructive game design feedback.

  • Be thoughtful — Generally speaking, think before you speak. As best you can, it’s a good idea to form complete thoughts before you speak them. If you’re offering up specific “fixes” for a perceived issue, make sure you articulate that issue before you offer up your solutions. Think about why something is a problem before you say it’s a problem. General “impressions” are generally not that useful, better to back them up with a “why” or a “how”.
  • Be courteous — Nothing invalidates your feedback quicker (or makes it harder to hear) than an insulting statement. Make sure your feedback is about the game, and cannot be construed as a criticism of the designer. In general, if it’s not nice, try hard to think of a way to say it nicer.
  • Context is everything — Ideally the game designer has asked for specific feedback points, but even if not, it’s probably worth asking some probing questions before getting into a torrent of specific criticisms. There are several “levels” at which you can talk about any game. Is the designer looking for feedback about the overall systems used in the game, or are they looking for feedback about specific components or balance issues?
  • Be specific — “I did not like this.” is not, by itself, useful feedback. Generally speaking, the more detailed you can be about why you didn’t (or did!) like something the better. If the designer was paying attention, they probably already know whether you were enjoying the experience.
  • Stay on topic — I’ve found that “after playtest discussion” can easily veer into a speculative realm of what-ifs and imaginary games that could exist. This is especially true with game designers. Try not to be the one leading the discussion away from the current game.