National Game Design Month, taking place each November (at least each November starting last year), is a social encouragement to stop talking about that game you want to design, and actually design it. I participated last November, and talked about my experiences here. I designed a couple games, but neither of them really went anywhere after the month was over – they just didn’t seem interesting enough to be worth pursuing. I’ve been through a couple game designs since then, and I decided that instead of making a whole game from start to finish in November, that I should focus on completing projects I’m already working on. These projects, as of October 30, included a rewrite of an article for the Dungeons and Dragons website, an adventure for the Reclamation RPG (that I’ve promised the designer for a couple months now and still need to make pregenerated characters for), a dexterity co-operative game for the current contest at The GameCrafter, and some development work on Bread and Circuses.
The first week of November changed those plans pretty dramatically.
First, I got a disappointing (from my perspective) e-mail from Wizards of the Coast that they were not interested in the two previous articles I’d submitted for their website. Counting the article I’m currently revising, this makes five rejected complete drafts, although the feedback suggests that I’m closer to meeting their needs than I have been on previous attempts. I’m still planning to work on the article I’m currently revising, but I want to take some time to properly digest the feedback I just received to make sure that I’m producing content that fits better with their expectations that what I’ve been writing so far. I’m hoping that will still be in November, but I’m no longer certain.
Second, I got some very interesting news about Bread and Circuses. I posted a link to the Bread and Circuses blog post on BoardGameGeek to increase the signal and maybe get some feedback. Instead, I got a private message from a publisher, indicating that while the game needs some work, it would be the kind of game they’d be interested in developing. and got a GeekMail from a publisher indicating interest in the game. It’s not a contract offer, but it’s way more than I was expecting for an untested draft. At the very least, it’s gotten me interested in accelerating my development and playtest process. And that’s what this post is largely going to be about.
When I finished the prototype discussed in the last post (hereafter referred to as Prototype A), I had core mechanics for the Bread/Circus/Abstain play as well as mechanics for random effects when there was a Riot. I was trying to get ideas for a secret objective mechanic to motivate negotiation as well as improvements on the Riot cards. The publisher also had some ideas for me, most notably the addition of Event cards that changed every round and happened regardless of a Riot and a way to tweak the effect of Abstaining to balance it. I took the Event card idea and combined it with the “secret objective” mechanic for Motivation cards, a set of cards that gave each player a different goal to achieve (like “half the players play Bread” or “no player plays the same card as you”). With these changes, I had completed Prototype B, and took it to a friend’s board game gathering for playtesting.
The good news is that the game was received fairly well. Most players who played it wanted to play it again, and it never had a point where the game broke down or felt clunky. A number of the individual cards and mechanics needed tweaking (in particular, the Abstain mechanic needed balancing so that it wasn’t always the optimal choice and a number of the Motivations were too difficult to meet), and the suggestion for Event cards that came up every turn was suggested. We scribbled some ideas out and used them in another couple games, and they seemed to work well.
I took the feedback home that day and worked out another version of the game. Prototype C featured Event cards, more balanced Motivation and Riot cards, as well as a new Abstain mechanic (if a Bread and a Circus is played, the Abstaining players gain Gold; if not, the Abstaining players lose Gold). I got some blind playtest groups among friends and sent out prototypes; I’m hoping to get feedback sometime this week. Ideally, the feedback will give me some ideas on where rules need to be clarified, as well as identify problematic card interactions.
Since I’ve sent out Prototype C, I’ve been thinking about bloat in the game. I started out with an elegant design that’s grown considerably. Prototype C has 67 cards, and 30 of those (the Bread/Circus/Abstain cards) would probably work better as cardboard chits or tiles. In addition, I’ve been relying on playtesters to provide their own method of keeping track of Gold totals, and in a ten-player game with an endgame trigger of 40 Gold, you could need to track up to 400 Gold (not counting tiebreaking) – and that’s a lot of poker chips or cardboard chits. At this point, I’m trying to get back to the elegance of the original design while still keeping the utility of the Event and Motivation Cards.
The first change in Prototype D is getting rid of the Riot cards. The Riot cards don’t seem to be adding much to the game, and counting Riots can still be used as an endgame condition without them. This goes hand-in-hand with the second change – changing the method of tracking score. While poker chips allows bribery to work pretty well, it’s really inelegant as the scores get higher. Adding a scoring track instead serves multiple functions: it adds an easy method of scoring comparison, it allows for a scoring track for Riots, and it creates a game board to keep the Motivation and Event decks on.
I’m hoping to get feedback on both the rules and components for Prototype D after playtesting this weekend (if you’re reading this, I’d love for you to take a look and playtest this weekend), and combine the feedback from Prototypes C and D to get balanced Event and Motivation cards that create interesting and fun choices in addition to the basic choices of Bread, Circus, or Abstain.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you get a chance to download and playtest!