By Derek Turner
This year’s recently announced winner of the coveted Spiel des Jahres award for the German game of the year was Azul. Azul is an instant classic abstract strategy game that is easy to learn and play and that looks great. It has been one of my favourite games over the past few months, and it is one of the few games that I can always pull off my shelf and play.
But what makes Azul so great? There are four factors that make Azul an incredible game: production value; mechanical simplicity; natural interactivity; and abstract complexity.
Continue reading “In praise of Azul”
The zero-sum game of finding and making time for game design
By Derek Turner
After I wrote my recent Design Journal about the process of beginning to recognize the emotional aspects that have affected my game design process, I had a thought that it might be interesting to see if there were any other contributing factors in my current difficulties in managing designing process. The one that came to mind most readily: the zero-sum game of dividing the time I spend on board gaming in total.
Here’s the problem as I see it: if I assume that my total time spent on board games is finite, then my game design time is even more limited as a function of the zero-sum game of managing my time spent on the hobby as a whole: I have to take away from one to accommodate the other.
Continue reading “Time Stories”
In my last design journal, I spent some time pontificating about why I had managed to be so successful in my limited experiences of running initial playtests of my two designs. Both times I have designed games they have (mostly) worked on the first playthrough, and I wondered why – but maybe I wrote too soon, as I discovered shortly thereafter.
I playtested my new game a week after its initial playtest without doing any work on the design in the interim. I made a couple of minor tweaks to set-up and to gameplay – the kind of changes that are necessary to make between plays to try to even out some of the rough edges – but otherwise, I wanted to see how a subsequent playtest with essentially the same game – and fortunately, one of the same players – would go.
I wanted to determine whether some of the issues that had been raised in my initial playtest were due to the circumstances of the game (ie. the particular players and their interpretation of the rules), or whether there were some deeper, more insidious issues that needed to be fixed. Well, I got my answer, and the result of that second playtest is that I am now “officially” back “in development”.
by Derek Turner
Playtesting is one of the most crucial points in the design process. It is where a design is truly tested and refined and the hard work of fixing problems bubbles to the surface. You would think I would be prepared for the intensity of the process, but it often catches me by surprise, as I always seem to forget just how exhausting playtesting really is until I’m in the midst of it.
I ran a blind playtest for a fellow designer’s game earlier this week. and I was bushed by the end of it. Then again, including an hour of reviewing the rules, setting up the game, playing the game, and evaluating it during and afterward, it was a fairly intensive four-hour process from start to finish, which I suppose I should have expected.
It did get me thinking, however, about the nature of playtesting as part of the design process and just why it is so tiring. Sure, it is hard work, but I wondered if there was something more to why it is so intense. Here’s what I came up with.
Evaluating the possible reasons for the success of my initial playtests
I wrote recently of my trepidation about running my first playtest of my second design, a strategic game based on the Canadian electoral system. It turns out that my anxiety was almost completely unfounded, as the game worked very well, especially considering that I had no guarantee that my basic idea would actually result in a playable game.
The game – tentatively entitled First Past the Post, after our method of electing representatives to government – had a great flow and feel; all players were fully strategically engaged, and there was only one or two pieces that seemed to be in need of revision before playing again (at least one of which was already on my shortlist of things to fix). In short, the game went way better than I ever could have expected it to, and I am really excited to start making some of the changes that need to be made before the next playtest.
But even with as excited as I am about my successful initial playtest, I find myself in a weird place thinking about my personal design style, and I am wondering when the metaphorical shoe might drop. This is the second game I have designed, and it is the second one that has essentially worked from the get-go, which seems very surreal to me. It feels like I should have had a lot more failure in my game design efforts thus far, especially since I am still relatively new at the practice.
Everything I have read about game design includes tidbits of advice like “don’t be afraid to fail” and “don’t worry if your first few prototypes don’t work” and “don’t be afraid to throw something out when it doesn’t work”. The general expectation is that 90-95% of what you do will not work, so just focus on the 5-10% that does work and build on that. But my (limited) experience has been almost completely opposite, with most of the core mechanics of my games working straight away and not seeming to need significant alteration, which is why I’m a little weirded out and wondering why this might be the case.
Continue reading “Designer Genes?”