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.

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Here’s my promised feedback for today’s game test session.

(1) On imagining the effects of cards

This part I did not understand in today’s new game test session. Indeed we had to imagine the effects and then were surprised by discovering what happens by playing a certain card.

To give an example, in the Assembly world playing the Metacoop card had not the intended effect of “fixing the economy” with a big “+3 points”, because we discovered after playing it that 5 points is the maximum score and the economy was still at 4. So we got 1/3 the effect for the same cost of –2 in public opinion.

Now, given that the goal is to survive as a society, this rather led to the impression of powerlessness. Because the cards are the only actions players can take, and the effects were usually not as imagined, it’s like pulling levers with no labels and feeling bad for the damage it does :stuck_out_tongue:

But maybe this is just a relatively simple framing issue? If this is framed as a game with the game goal to “stay alive / together as a society”, then these surprises make the players feel powerless. But if this were framed as an interactive exploration or simulation of alternative economies, then it would be interesting to experience how such an alternative society works, by trial and error. For that, it might help if the effects of cards played were storified by the gamemaster in a few improvised sentences, in line with the economics and social functioning of the society.

Connected to this, there seemed to be a tension for players between “playing to win” (trying to understand, remember and exploit the game mechanics) and “discussing real-world relevance of solutions” for the crises happening in the game. Probably, it should be clear what to focus on in this exercise: discussing and exploring solutions and social arrangements, or winning the game. Connected to what I said above, my proposal would be to focus more on the story side, not the game mechanics. So this “game” is not something to win, but to explore the mechanics of alternative economics and technology.

(2) Other points

  • Stating the goal in game terms. It was, for my taste, not clearly enough mentioned at the beginning what the goal inside the game is. Here it was “survive as many rounds as you can”, or maybe it was rather “explore this fictional world together, and if you survive 6 rounds, that’s pretty good already”.

  • Politics as a card game. It’s interesting that, from the game’s perspective, current politics also feels like “playing cards to push up this or that score”. At least that was my impression when taking part in the game test session a bit undersleeped, and looking at a news headline alongside :laughing:

  • Does it need a success endpoint? When playing until game over, the game may leave a bad taste, esp. as it is just this one session and users can’t repeat the experience in the same format. So to focus on it being an exploration, maybe say “we play for five rounds to explore the politics and mechanics of this alternative economy; but if you don’t play well (or particularly bad crises happen to your world), you might be game over before that”.

  • Connection to NGI. As this is an event for NGI Forward, could a connection made clearer by emphasizing also the IT and general technology part of these fictional societies, and how that makes an impact on the imagined crises?

  • Displaying the current state. To choose cards wisely, it would help if there were a display of current state (economy, public opinion and infrastructure scores) on the screen shared by the gamemaster, and maybe in the web interface users get. Also, a reminder of what the current crisis is (such as “Hacked, -1 on economy”).

  • Using the parallel sessions. What is the purpose of three game sessions in parallel? Does the group win that survives the longest? If it is not really a game to win, an interesting option to help people with exploring alternative realities would be to let some participants identify as “visitors” who can then switch between the breakout rooms as they like, to see and compare how the different economies “feel”. They would probably not contribute to the discussions, as they are not aware of the details of each world.

  • Proofreading the card texts. The card effect descriptions may need one more round of editing. For example, on the Assembly world’s Metacoop card there is a mention of “if played a second time, it stops the socialist cryptocurrency”, as if there is some interaction with other Witness districts (but there is not). But at the same time, it also says that the card can only be played once … we played it twice in our game session though.

(3) Ideas for the future

These are ideas not for right now, but for potential future extensions:

  • Designing cards on the fly. Can we design our own cards on the fly in the game? That would be fun. There would be some restrictions in terms of game mechanics, such as “effect max. 4 points on all metrics combined, and over all rounds combined”.

  • Adding “environment”. Would be great to have a category “Environment” in addition to Economy, Infrastructure, Public Opinion. It’s what is currently suffering the most under the economy we have now …

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thank you for this Matt, super helpful``Ping @owen @ivan @bojanbobic

Great points, Matt.

Let me try to answer some of these and say my piece on the others.

This happened because we tried to give it a go without showing the effects the policy has on the district and rather letting the players imagine it in a discussion. The simple solution is to show immediately the effects of the policy. It helps the gameplay, kills the imagination a bit, but overall could be the easisest way to go.
I would like to hear what the rest of the crew thinks here.

Generally for the game, it is better to play for the win and if the rules are limiting, we work them out. In our case, for the event it is the latter that interests us more - the discussion around focus topics and contributions from the participants in this sense (like you and Juho did, for example).

For other points - the current state is going to be shown. Today, for some reason (@owen is still working on it) we kept getting the blank page in netlify so we played it by heart rather than on a complete interface. Same goes for the cards - we need a defined deck of the cards. If by parallel sessions you mean different breakout rooms - it is to keep all the districts open and to have easier discussions with a smaller number of participants. (Metacoop is a one time play card meaning that its effects last only in that turn, as opposed to the regen cards with the permanent effects).

@bojanbobic pointed out an important aspect, IMO, that the players should first select the district and join the breakout rooms and only then select their cards (if they did not do it prior to the event). It keeps the flow faster and avoids placing too many choices in front of the newcomers and the first time players.

Tech is a thing actually, and while the events will all be tech related, it is important to back this up during the facilitation part.

Hi,
I have not yet read this thread but I was asked to give my comments after a test game session. So I’ll just comment first and later read the thread.

  • I suppose new players will not be very knowledgeable about the Distrikts. So the game host will need to do quite lot of explanation about the background in a very short time. Will the players be given a pre-task to read up on the Distrikts? Even so, probably many will join without any knowledge about them.
  • I was afraid the game mechanics would be complicated, but it turned out to be quite simple. You add or deduct hit points. Hope I understood this correctly.
  • I felt the point is to talk about the topics and use the game as a tool to stimulate thinking, not to “win”.
  • The end of the game was a little abrupt. “Your district is now finished”, I hoped for more explanation what happens after. A storyline or discussion. Or maybe there could be another game that begins when a district fails? A post-apocalyptic version.
  • This test session did not concern very much about the future of the internet. Will that be added?
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Connection to NGI

  • We forgot to include the descriptions we prepared of the distrikts particular relationship to digital communication technologies (see images below).
  • Where the tech discussion (should have) comes in is when we ask the question of how we actually will implement the decisions we make/ select policies in response to events.
    * This requires the facilitators to guide the discussion towards reflecting on the details of how tech is used, built, introduced, financed and controlled.

Environment

It’s a tricky one adding it as an indicator, because then we need to do more work on the game balancing. The question is how to include this in the discussion in a good way…

How to solve it

Perhaps some immersive audiovisual material to get things going when:

  • people arrive at the event
  • people arrive in the breakout room

For the end of the game, let’s discuss this. Perhaps it ends with the group writing a letter containing advice/ learnings to their real life selves from their selves inside the game?

That issue has been resolved - just a heads up.

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Have to say it sounds like a really bad idea :sweat_smile:

It’s important all players have chosen their cards before the host begins the game - before the host loads the interface even - because none of their cards will be counted unless the player is in the database beforehand. Unless I misunderstood Bojan’s proposal that is.

In fact, we have to place the players in matches ourselves in Notion, before the event begins, so it would be a sort of last minute distribution of players, and potential confusion - for very little benefit - as I see it.

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Not necessarily for a couple of reasons (and a brief update for you here):

one of the assumptions (or certainties,if you wish :slight_smile:) is that only a minority of players will arrive with their cards already selected.

This means that they will have to select them once the event has started. At that point, they might want to read all of the districts before chosing, trying to go back and reload the netlify page, which can be a bit unnerving and most of all, time consuming.

If we describe the districts and make them enter the breakout room, where they see the introduction and then go to select the cards, we are good to go.

It implies that in Notion we put only the host in the match - he is sharing the screen at this point and controling the discussion - and will be playing with the preselected deck. We add the other players after the event and use their card selection as part of the data.

It would avoid the mess of sorting out the players in the last minute and produce a more fluid flow. Unless you see other downsides which make this more a problem than a solution.

What do you think?

guys (esp @owen) have a look at the script Ive developed here as I think it solves the problem elegantly

Section 3: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qSEXvFdojNDGPGrmRg3g4f7afTk-QX5AobP969Ixhds/edit#

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Okay I see - as long as this selection has been done before the game begins, it can work - just needs to be clear for each host that any new selection of cards will require a reloading of the interface. But also that every player is put in a match in Notion before the game begins.

All good points @iouxo.

  • We are working on the short introductory presentations/videos for each district to be shown in the opening of the breakout room. Hosting does require some storytelling skills though.
  • The game as a tool to stimulate thinking is the best description
  • Fair point on the end game - we should shape it better. Suggestions accepted :wink:
  • For NGI connection, see @nadia above

Another point: online participants may be motivated by the desire to get to know other people who are interested in the topic. So their main interest may not be in the game at all, but in the people who’ll be joining. And discussions which can continue when the conference call is ended by the host. So an opportunity to introduce each other and share contact info will be a good idea. This should be well planned into the program. Hybrid offline/online events sometimes overlook these issues.

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