Developing the game design: Results of closed test session 1

From an off-platform discussion with a participant in yesterday’s event:

P: That was cool, thanks! I might have a couple ideas to share as feedback. To make sure i don’t waste your time, I’d need at least a simple statement about what type of dynamic you want to promote and what would be the objective from a player perspective.

Me: (in the long run): Creating a canvas for futures proofing/ planning. You have the thing you care about, and you have a setting within which you can explore, develop and stress-test it in different systems. The dynamics we want are: people can approach issues from different angles (e.g response to a specific kind of crisis , or a specific topic they want to explore/understand/develop). And see how it connects to other issues/concerns

P: Do you want to push for collaboration, cooperation, competition, individualism, or continuous engagement?

Me: Co-Alignment, cooperation. For example it could be: Seeding and speeding up evolution of networks into clusters. What I mean by this: Long-termism in economic thinking: reflecting on the experience of the Messina advanced cluster

P: One off or on a continuous basis? The current cards based setup seems oriented towards the single session game mode. But the multiple rounds seems to invite to more complex dynamics. I’d say it can go both ways from here, but you’d still need to pick one.

Me: I would see it as a process of a series of events/game play sessions. Almost like a recurring game night.

P: I feel there are mainly two things missing or at least needing improvement in the version we played today (apart from the interface bug, which of course I won’t even consider as it’s too early).

  1. an antagonistic component. You’re given a challenge to tackle, but it’s like if in LOTR you had the company of the ring with no orcs nor Nazgul nor dark wizard. It felt like we were basically all trying to do our reasonable best with no “hostile” factor. If the game assumes that we’re all there to make things work, most players will just do that and accommodate each other, especially as the stakes are 0. This makes for a very pleasant interaction but an underwhelming game to play more than once.

  2. A clear but not too predictable action\reaction sequencing. If we are given an initial scoring, a target, and cards with specfic scoring to achieve our goal, it’s basically just a matter of running the math.

P: Do you have the gameroll or gameplay structure written somewhere? With scores and steps? I also might have some suggestions but first I’d need to know how the system is designed in detail.

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Anyone listen to ‘The men from the Ministry’? Hilarious stuff… Just had to share https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b009smq5/broadcasts/upcoming

Agree. But if I have to rely on my experience and intuition to make such decisions I would need to be involved deeply with the story of the district (and share the core values of the community). This can not be done by dropping me randomly in a district and pushing me to make decisions. Actually I would refuse to join such a decision board until I am familiar enough with the community which will be affected by the decisions of the board.

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Where we seem to be going is this: Witness wants to be narrative, I think they are called world-building games (@IvanV told me about them, and even played The Quiet Year with me), but world-building games are played with small groups (3-5 people), and take time.

In yesterday’s session we tried to combine the narrative elements of a world-building game with a hit-points based game mechanics, a large group and a short time. Maybe we should drop the hit points altogether, and just go full narrative.

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yup. We underestimated the level of interest both in terms of how many people might show up, as well as how much time those who did would be willing to put in.

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Some question for the hosts of the other rooms (@ivan and @alberto,@nadia I got some notes for Hygge) :

  1. how many people introduced themselves in the chat (%)?
  2. how many people talked in the first, second and third round respectively?
  3. how many people voted in the different rounds?
  4. how was the general mood in the conversation? (playful, optimistic/engaged, whateveristic, frustrated)

In Hygge @nadia tell me if you had the same feeling

  1. I’ll say 60% of the participants did that (we had a spectrum of introduction from in the world to realistic to funny ones)
  2. 3/4 every session, some like 7/8 people spoke in total (30%), plus some random comment that was picked up and facilitated into the conversation (Hey I saw this comment, what do you mean by that @name? )
  3. 7/8
  4. playful, engaged (with one comment that expressed frustration), but I will not say that it was a RPG style of conversation (with element of worldbuilding in it or people being characters).

Overall it seemed to me a good play-test for the game, the small RPG elements worked well, if I have to highlight the best moment I will say that the audio-tracks (the train :hearts:) were very powerful, everybody with their camera on was closing their eyes and enjoy the vision. I know that is not inherent with the game mechanics, but :man_shrugging: maybe it’s worth focusing on these things?

Funny that you mention the quiet year @alberto I’ve used it a lot in class (a tweaked version of 60 minutes), using it to explore topics like slavery, capitalism and colonization (we are in the US after all :slight_smile: and it was able to create great in and off game conversations, I think it’s such a wonderful and accessible RPG.

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That’s called the Good Problem, right?

I mean, a whole lot of the narrative content (that I grokked anyway) was interrogative as to broader concepts/tropes, the philosophical gestalt triggered mostly by the card name?

Which was curtailed by time pressure, but felt a bit rorschach potentially?

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My first impression is broadly aligned with yours. I wonder that it might have been different with a different facilitator- I found it quite challenging tbh. Especially since the game was originally intended to be played offline in smaller group with physical cards, with the online interaction being limited to the post game discussions.

We cancelled the physical event in Brussels, but @mrchrisadams ran an offline version with people playing physical cards together over a longer time. It would be interesting to hear how that experience panned out. Both in terms of gaming dynamics, use of points and rpg elements…but also in terms of the quality/depth/topics in the conversations/discussions.

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Out of curiosity, I looked some numbers using the transcription software:

Assembly

Voice: 15 speakers in total. Speaker 8 (20%), Speaker 1 (18%), Speaker 2 (14%), Speaker 5 (12%), Speaker 10 (6%), Speaker 3 (5%), Speaker 12 (4%), Speaker 4 (4%), Speaker 6 (3%), Speaker 7 (3%), Speaker 13 (2%), Speaker 14 (2%), Speaker 15 (1%), Speaker 9 (1%), Speaker 11 (1%)

Covenant

Voice: 14 speakers. Speaker 1 (38%), Speaker 8 (23%), Speaker 2 (13%), Speaker 9 (4%), Speaker 14 (4%), Speaker 13 (4%), Speaker 3 (3%), Speaker 10 (2%), Speaker 4 (2%), Speaker 11 (1%), Speaker 7 (1%), Speaker 12 (1%), Speaker 5 (1%), Speaker 6 (<1%), Speaker 15 (<1%)

Hygge

(Unclear because this recording included hygge breakout room, follow up summaries by ambassadors and discussions in the post event networking …)

Voice: 21 speakers in total. Speaker 1 (48%), Speaker 2 (8%), Speaker 7 (3%), Speaker 5 (3%), Speaker 6 (3%), Speaker 15 (3%), Speaker 8 (2%), Speaker 3 (2%), Speaker 10 (2%), Speaker 19 (2%), Speaker 18 (2%),Speaker 13 (2%), Speaker 14 (2%), Speaker 4 (2%), Speaker 11 (2%), Speaker 12 (1%), Speaker 9 (1%),Speaker 20 (1%), Speaker 16 (1%), Speaker 21 (1%), Speaker 17 (<1%)

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huh? Not sure I follow the rorschach bit?

Apologies. Given the uh bounded rationality of not knowing policy effects or domains in detail, the cards were a bit like a rorschach inkblot?

Ah, interesting. Read up on Rorschach. Do you mean it is an unreliable diagnotic test for the health of different political/economic systems? or something else?

Hi everyone, I took part in the Witness event on Monday and I’ve been thinking about the experience a lot since then – I’m fascinated by the Witness world-building! So I thought I’d share some additional feedback; please note that I’m totally new to this space and probably missing a lot of relevant background, but I hope you can still find some of this useful :slight_smile:

A note on my background: I worked at various tech startups and have done a fair amount of digital UX design. I’m not a game designer but I took an introduction to game design course a couple of years ago and designing a board game was part of the course. I do enjoy playing different types of games though.

Overall user experience

  • Having what appeared to be an interactive web app was a bit confusing; I saw several people asking why nothing happens when they click on the cards in the chat.
    • Suggestion: use the static cards page until a functional interactive version is ready. Maybe use something like Trello for quick prototyping and playtesting.
  • Deciding which cards to play was awkward using chat.
    • Suggestion: use the Zoom polling feature or a third-party shared space that makes it easy for people to vote, something like a shared Miro whiteboard (a shared whiteboard could also be used to lay out the available cards.)
  • Group size: as already mentioned, the groups were probably a bit too large. As most of us were strangers, the large size and limited time made it difficult to establish trust and make more people comfortable with speaking up.
    • Suggestion: playtest in smaller groups, have more time available for discussion, and maybe try out different game mechanics with the same group.
  • @nadia: I thought you did a good job facilitating the session, I particularly liked how you invited people to speak up on the voice channel (which is often awkward to do in large groups of strangers). The intro part where you describe your background in Hygge was perhaps a bit too long (or maybe I was just eager to try the game :smiley: ), and it might be helpful to get more directions on what’s expected from us, the new council members fresh off the train :woman_mage:
    • Suggestion: set clearer expectations and roles at the beginning of the play session (see notes below).

Gameplay and immersion

  • The rules of the game weren’t clear and I feel that lack of clarity took people out of the experience. (Questions that popped up: How many cards can we play? How many rounds will there be, do we need to save the one-time actions for bigger catastrophes later? How do we win, how do we die?)

  • Story immersion: I took the time to read the materials and website a few hours before the event and that spiked my curiosity but this approach might not work for everyone. I found the intro voice-over videos set the world quite well. From the perspective of the story, I wasn’t quite sure why would new arrivals – who are obviously clueless about how things are run in the Distrikt – be asked to participate in the council? I love the idea of earning your stay with a year of public service but having people who lack context and expertise on the council makes me wonder about the quality of decisions.

    • Suggestions: Maybe prepare some sort of welcome package for new council members to help with immersion. It could include a dashboard with key Distrikt indicators (economic, well-being…), news headlines to set the scene and tone of the Distrikt better, etc. Or have players play more clearly defined characters (see next comment).
  • During introductions, it wasn’t clear whether we should introduce ourselves in the present time or create a character (which is difficult to do in a time-limited setting).

    • Suggestion: Maybe have characters with background stories that players can choose in advance to better anchor their experience?
  • Choice paralysis: I got the feeling that several in our Distrikt didn’t want to vote on cards until they were 100% clear on the rules and consequences.

    • Suggestions: On the one hand, this makes me think they took the game very seriously and were afraid of the consequences :slight_smile: but on the other hand, the point of games is to experiment and to learn new strategies from failure, so maybe think of ways the experience could be presented as more playful and experimental? And to make it clear that we can all learn from failure. I suppose the success of such games depends a lot on the group of people playing it; how much experience they have with games (incl. dying in games and trying again) and how comfortable they are with role playing, especially in a group of strangers. Again, setting clearer expectations beforehand might help.
  • The structure was pretty linear and I kept wondering how big of an effect our decisions actually have; as was discussed in the final part of the event, can we die, or is this a pretty much no-risk game, which makes it more boring? :slight_smile:

    • Suggestions: It might be interesting to introduce an element of randomness with a dice toss borrowed from role playing games to show that even the “best” choice can end up backfiring because complex systems are unpredictable. Basically, experiment a bit more with what works in other popular games.
  • General suggestion: Finding the fun, the tricky part of game design! More playtesting and experimenting with different game mechanics will be needed to find the elements that make the game fun. I got the impression that we ended up being the most engaged at the end of the event when comparing scores between Distrikts :slight_smile: but I’m not sure that’s the goal of the game?

Some additional game design resources that might come in handy:

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I suppose I mean participant policy choice as an emotional affinity or dislike of the connotations of the card titles?

So less ‘this might solve the problem’, more ‘is this a narrative I’m into’

Putting it another way, there’s two sort of trends within role-playing games generally - there are the people who like a mathsy/tactical vibe, and people who are into dressing up and pretending. They are both super-fun!

(it’s also the source of the old joke, that rpgs exist so nerds can potentially mate, hahaha)

So what I’m maybe getting at here is to do with what one wants a game to elicit more of - open-ended narrative exploration, versus simulation-type testing. The former seems more anthropologically interesting, the latter closer to wargaming scenarios.

The other bit I’d flag is the short iterations (turns=3) doesn’t give time for factionalisms to emerge - curious on the group dynamics once ‘blocs’ or tendencies within the groups emerge - I’m presuming they would?

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Super helpful, thank you!

Yes Minister should be at the core of any introduction course Public Administration :slight_smile:

But indeed there’s a piont well made here. In real life elderly men, ministers etc. make their decisions based upon advice of civil servants AND lobby-groups. So one could incorporate these dynamics into the game.

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Cool! The breakout rooms were 50 minutes so if a Speaker is 1% it means that they contributed 30 seconds (0.5 minutes)?

yes I think so

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Ok so it looks to me like we might do a fork with two different games that have different mechanics. One that is more of a strategy/mathsy/tactical as @thom_stewart puts it below. And another which is very people who like to dressing up and pretending.

The original version (printed cards) falls under the former. Here’s the gameplay guide: A5-PrintReady_Booklet_Gameplay.pdf (10.2 MB)

Need to figure out a nice way to make the cards accessible and editable/ modifiable. While ensuring they still look nice.

The “let’s dress up and pretend” version is something we started looking into before the event. I’ve posted a wiki with what is there so far: Learning from the event: A no-points RPG version?

Both versions are still in their infancy and we can develop them together then share them freely if anyone is interested.

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Thank you so much, a thoughtful post-mortem. Very generous of you. :heart: