Last Friday I drove to Chicago for a play test jam with my old pals Jeph Stahl and Greg Daigle, both sharp, successful, highly-respected designers. We all had new games we were eager to get on the table and dig into. I’d brought along Dungeon of Doom, with the hopes of fitting in a fourth play test session in January, to complete the 4P challenge.
Jeph and Greg are both familiar with an earlier version of this game and were eager to see what I’d cooked up for this new iteration, so I set it up and we got right to work. Jeph quickly zeroed in on a flaw I’d missed in earlier play tests and we worked through several iterations that afternoon, looking for just the right fix.
Throughout that afternoon, there was an issue we kept dancing around. I’d changed the resolution of the original risk-reward mechanism in this new version of the game and it just didn’t feel right. It had lost the tension that made the original so much fun. We proposed and tested several changes, but at the end it was apparent they were little more than band-aids.
Most of my changes from the earlier game were good, positive gains in the system, but this one was a mistake. I further confirmed this feeling in a play test this Tuesday at my Board Games & Beer game night. It was simply lacking that spark. Fortunately, swapping back to the original risk-reward mechanism (or something closer to it) is an easy fix.
Dungeon of Doom isn’t a finished game, but there is definitely a light at the end of this tunnel. I’ve got a clear goal for my next few play tests, and I think I can wrap this game up over the next couple of months.
I designed a game and play tested it four times in January. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.
I designed a game and play tested it four times in January. I’m very proud of that accomplishment. I’m incredibly happy with the progress I made with the design and I’m excited by the possibilities I see in it. I think people will have a lot of fun with it.
Four play test sessions in, and I’ve had breakthroughs and revelations in each. I have a solid system to build on and most of the heavy lifting is done. My next step will be to write a rules outline to hang words on. Then; more play testing, more play testing, more play testing.
4P Lessons Learned
The first play test of a rough design should be with other designers. You’ll have a lot of rough edges to work around and designers are best equipped to deal with warts on a game. Additionally, play test with players in your target audience early in your game’s development. They’re the people you’re designing for. If you listen carefully, they will help you make the game you want to design into a game they want to play.
Don’t worry about making your prototype pretty, as long as it’s functional and clear. If it needs art, borrow it online from games with similar themes or settings. Don’t reinvent the wheel. You’re going to be making a lot of changes as the game progresses. Don’t make anything you’d feel bad about tearing up and throwing away. Your modus operandi in the early stages is rapid iteration. Get it built and get it on the table. Fail faster!
The Big 4P Takeaway
I had a lot of fun with the 4P challenge, but my biggest 4P takeaway? I had four play test sessions in January! That’s one play test session each week. It felt practically decadent. It was wonderful! I’d love to continue that pace. I’m going to try to make that happen.