Developing the game design: Results of closed test session 1

Last week we ran a test session with @dkaplan, @ivan, @bojanbobic and two others not on the platform. Below a summary of the feedback which we take as input to continue the development of the game in time for the november event…

  • The game would benefit from interactions between the players’ decisions and the situation of the other players.

    • Explanation: The division in districts is nice because it offers character development. The cards should have an effect on everyone. This offers a choice of direction: we agree, we are in competition, we are not in the competition but there are positive/negative/short term/long term effects. A thing about public life and public decisions.
    • without the possibility to improvise on a card or to exchange them - you cannot explain the effects on the society
    • with the cards this specific - the only goal is to avoid reaching zero. This brings a player to select cards only for their face value (points) without considering the social effects of their changes
  • “International” rules should be introduced - add one effect per card that affects the other districts

    • Two aspects - interaction between players and interaction between districts:
      • It is important to introduce a cooperative moment and the interaction between the districts (players) which can be positive or negative. Otherwise it is only a single player game even when in a group
      • Example: where do the Excomunicados go once that card is played - how does this affect the world?
  • possibility #1: introduce the discussion mechanism and the imagination element

    • more people in the same state – each turn everyone proposes a card and explains what happens: if we chose together a card to be played – we discover the effect (if you have to imagine the effects is better)
    • We may want to introduce a possibility where other players can copy the card that has been played (with specific effects to their own district)
  • possibility #2: Introduce crisis that affect only one district and add a possibility of mutual interaction - districts helping each other can provide “destiny points” for erasing the effects (bad rules) usable only to help other players

  • possibility #3: Now the game stops when someone arrives at zero, change this by having 10-12 crises to go through, then the aftermath - discussion. If a player reaches zero, he needs to imagine a way to move from there - either seeking help or credits from other players or introducing a social element.

    • This adds the responsibility for consequences into play: What do you do once your society collapses, can you face the collapse?
    • Example: imagine a land where each district tries to pull the society through with a set of simple, generic “magic cards” usable by all players: pick a card, see a field of possibility – everyone discusses what is its practical use, what it does etc – inspiration/field of activity rather than gathering sets of choices
    • The reference is Tales From the Loop game - fundamental premise that changes the logic of the gameplay is that a character cannot die
  • possibility #4: Not make a limit on the cards – you can pick a card without knowing what it does and you have to find a way to use it – the game master must agree with the player. Like this, the world is open and everything is possible

  • Presentation of the district: enforce a role play element “advice to the player on the role playing” - BRINGS FUN

    • While presenting the card – add some juice – what you have to invent – storytelling connected to the real world
    • Introduce the role play in the districts – all players are three different figures in each district (i.e. a high priest, a monk, an inquisitor). Only one district is played per turn with the cards that affect the other districts too
    • Important finding an external effect: Less descriptive cards provide an invitation to interact and imagine

Ping @yudhanjaya

This is nice thinking but off the rails, and here’s why.

The game would benefit from interactions between the players’ decisions and the situation of the other players.
Explanation: The division in districts is nice because it offers character development. The cards should have an effect on everyone. This offers a choice of direction: we agree, we are in competition, we are not in the competition but there are positive/negative/short term/long term effects. A thing about public life and public decisions.

without the possibility to improvise on a card or to exchange them - you cannot explain the effects on the society

Every interaction added to the game is complexity and more information for the player to keep track of. Right now, the number of maximum possible interactions on the play space, for a player, is 45 event cards x 45 policies. If you want to have impact on other districts, this becomes, for a three-player game, [45x45] x [45x45] x [45x45]. In a word, you have cubed the amount of information in the play space, and made the game more complicated.

Recall how much effort it took, on the first playthrough, for you to understand the game rules. At this rate of [45x45] x [45x45] x [45x45] an event in November will not be possible; you will have to give people a year to familiarize themselves with the card before they’re capable of playing a tournament.

This game is designed for a specific audience - most of whom are not players of complex card games.

with the cards this specific - the only goal is to avoid reaching zero. This brings a player to select cards only for their face value (points) without considering the social effects of their changes

Social effects are the points. That is the point of the game. If you do something stupid, people suffer. Any social effect that should be considered should be encapsulated (and encapsulable) as a point. Recall, however, that this, is the reduced version - the original design had five indicators, including separate ecology and public health, and that was deemed too complex to pick up in an hour.

[we are not in the competition but there are positive/negative/short term/long term effects]

Then you want https://civilization.com/civilization-5/, a strategy game which famously takes between 10 and 20 hours to play per session. If you want a chainsaw, there is no point developing a scalpel, and vice versa.

possibility #1: introduce the discussion mechanism and the imagination element

more people in the same state – each turn everyone proposes a card and explains what happens: if we chose together a card to be played – we discover the effect (if you have to imagine the effects is better)

Good luck. Your game will die on the first turn. See entry about game balance linked above. Read it. Then ask yourself whether everyone at that table will have the knowledge to balance all the proposed changes against all existing 45x45 interactions between the cards in the deck. If the answer is no, you’re going to get two types of cards:

  1. Cards that are so overpowered, they make the entire rest of the game meaningless. "AI SOLVES EVERYTHING. RECOVER ALL INDICATORS BECAUSE AI.
  2. Cards that are so underpowered they waste turns, people’s patience, and engagement with the game.
    "SELF DRIVING CARS. WHO CARES IF THERE’S A TSUNAMI? SELF-DRIVING CARS!"

We may want to introduce a possibility where other players can copy the card that has been played

What then is the point of districts?

(with specific effects to their own district)

So every card now must have 4x the amount of text an effects?

possibility #2: Introduce crisis that affect only one district and add a possibility of mutual interaction - districts helping each other can provide “destiny points” for erasing the effects (bad rules) usable only to help other players

See my point about complexity. Also see, again, game balance.

possibility #3: Now the game stops when someone arrives at zero, change this by having 10-12 crises to go through, then the aftermath - discussion. If a player reaches zero, he needs to imagine a way to move from there - either seeking help or credits from other players or introducing a social element.

This adds the responsibility for consequences into play: What do you do once your society collapses, can you face the collapse?
Example: imagine a land where each district tries to pull the society through with a set of simple, generic “magic cards” usable by all players: pick a card, see a field of possibility – everyone discusses what is its practical use, what it does etc – inspiration/field of activity rather than gathering sets of choices
The reference is Tales From the Loop game - fundamental premise that changes the logic of the gameplay is that a character cannot die

I have no idea what inspiration/field of activity means, or how this works in the setting without designing an entirely different post-game for when the game ends. Please explain further how the mechanics work.

possibility #4: Not make a limit on the cards – you can pick a card without knowing what it does and you have to find a way to use it – the game master must agree with the player. Like this, the world is open and everything is possible

We tried this. To make this viable, you need 3x the amount of cards per distrikt. Or get rid of distrikts altogether, which is a fundamental problem: things that work in some societies do not work in others. A pope-style leader does not work in a minarchist market-led state, or an anti-authoritarian commune. What you get is wishful fantasy, not a discussion on the art of the possible.

There is a simple solution that meets some of this need for cooperation, one we have already discussed. A distrikt in trouble, once per game, can ‘call a meeting’ and ask other distrikts to donate the effects of one of their cards to the distrikt in trouble. So now there is the element of co-operation.

But this completely destroys the metagame of a tournament, because now the outcome is not just dependent on your cards or your play: it is dependent on whether the next guy is an asshole, or not. So pick one. I am +1 for co-op play; I prefer it to zero-sum games. But the tournament becomes meaningless; so you will need to change the language around what is being planned.

  • While presenting the card – add some juice – what you have to invent – storytelling connected to the real world
  • Introduce the role play in the districts – all players are three different figures in each district (i.e. a high priest, a monk, an inquisitor). Only one district is played per turn with the cards that affect the other districts too

LMFAO good luck. How is someone going to create a story without knowing more about the world, and thus taking more time and effort? What’ll happen is exactly what happened when we asked people to contribute to Witness: a smattering of one-liner ideas, and then near-zero follow-through on the content.

To examine this idea in more detail, pick four random people who know nothing about Witness. Tell them the game rules. Ask them to tell stories about three different characters as they as they play. Even I wouldn’t touch a game like that; that’s not a game, that’s homework.

A successful game relies on suspension of disbelief. We are already asking players to suspend their disbelief and play as someone making policy for a fictional distrikt with a social contract unlike the late-stage capitalism that they are used to.

You’re entirely free to do these changes to a copy of the game, test it with people, and see how it plays. If it works out, come back and call me a liar; I won’t mind. But until then, really, think about the player. The player is not me. The player is not even you. The player is a UNDP-type or a casual gamer who has some tangential interest but probably not the slightest idea what a theor is.

Every one of these changes increases the cognitive load on the player and takes the game from something people can pick up to a convoluted monster that people will look at once and walk away from.

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Having reflected further, I would say quite some of this comes down to facilitation/ hosting. How people are guided through the game. How discussions are opened and closed during and post game. Which FAQs arise and are addressed… etc etc

Especially in a setting like the November event because of the stated purpose. Which will be different from one game tournament or event to another. We will need put as much effort into design of how game hosting works/supporting hosts to do a good job, as on the design of the game. So far the focus has been on the latter as should be.

Part of that is my own neuro wiring. A handicap in life and also advantage for UX design empathy :slight_smile:

The next steps down to flowcharting, copy and visual design of the scorecard and cards. In that order. From two perspectives: Host and player. This on myself @owen and @ChrisFarnell.

Another question is which information we send to people ahead of the game session. And in which form. For example we can automate some of this via the signup form. Here @matteo_uguzzoni has some experience.

I have not test-played the game myself, so take this with a large pinch of salt. But there is another way to do this: bake it into the game structure. For example, imagine one Distrikt is doing well in terms of public goods, and that means it draws “bohemian” immigration from other Distrikts (life gets cheaper). That would enhance its culture scene, while at the same time affecting negatively those of other Distrikts. You can even think of second-order effects, like enhanced culture scene boosts tourism, which boosts GDP. There is something like that going on in the Assembly. Paging @yudhanjaya here… this does not require too much strategizing off the bat, because all the computation is done by the game. Players representing other Distrikts can simply treat these as exogenous shocks (“oh, shucks, my social cohesion just went down one point”). Am I wrong?

This is what works super well in Pandemic.

It is actually baked in, to a degree: you can set up chains of policy that interact to keep the Distrikt running smoothly. The problem with immigration as a mechanic is that some districts, like Hygge, take a while to get their policies sorted (politics, endless rule by committee), but these late-game juggernauts will be penalized by such a process.

Although an immigration mechanic would be fun if we could trigger it as an event. Say n cards included in the event deck, where every so often you look at which Distrikt is doing best and transfer a point of public opinion from the other Distrikts to the one that’s doing the best.

Pandemic has a design problem: quarterbacking (https://www.kotaku.com.au/2017/02/games-i-will-never-play-again-pandemic/). Essentially, one player becomes the biggest determinant in the plays involved.

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Hey all, great to see the game evolving and moving forward!
I was not present at the play-test and not familiar with the game enough to understand what is being said here (problem/solution), sorry!
One feeling that I read between the line is that the November event (tournament) seems to cause some stress on the design process, so maybe there is a way to rephrase that or organize it in a way that is instead useful for the game? I think it should simply be called an open play-test and function as a massive blind test, which if I didn’t lost any update is still the phase were the design is.
If there are multiple tables and facilitators it could be a unique opportunity to test out different interactions at the same time and see in the post play-test questionnaire which one created the interactions you think are in line with your goals?

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Yes this makes a lot of sense to me too. When we tested it different people had alot of ideas for different ways they would have liked the session facilitated… I’ll propose something in a few days.