Tag Archives: Jeph Stahl

fourth 4P update and final thoughts

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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.

 

Play testing Dungeon of #Doom!

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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.

 


 

4P reactions

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

Play testing

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.

Prototyping

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.

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my appearance on the meeple syrup show

This week I appeared on the Meeple Syrup Show, a video series about games and game design, hosted by game designers from Canada. We talked about war games!

Sen, Dylan and Daryl were delightful hosts, but I have a suggestion for future shows: please provide a list of topics and possible questions to your guests. You guys prepared some great questions in advance, any of them worthy of extended discussion, but I stumbled a couple of times groping for answers. I’d love to engage on a deeper level, but I’d like some time to prepare, too!

Here’s the show for your viewing pleasure:

picturing a round house

I always mean to take more photos at Roundhouse, but I’m always too engrossed with whatever it is we’re doing. Here are a few moments I did manage to capture.

I drove to Roundhouse Wednesday night, with my good friend Jeph Stahl. We stopped on the way at Dark Horse Brewing Co for a late meal and a beer. The Dark Horse brew pub has a well-worn, comfortable atmosphere and the biggest collection of mug-club mugs in the country. Andrea the waitress thought Jeph might be a werewolf.

 

inappropriate ice cream cone
The local ice cream parlor is run by our generous host’s family. The flavor of the week when we’re in town is usually lemon: my favorite! James’ brother was working the counter when we arrived, and made me an extra-extra large lemon cone. It was way more than I could finish!

 

Sure, there’s plenty of nutritious food and drink, but Roundhouse Retreat is also for play testing! Here, Chris Young contemplates his next action in my game, LXIX: YEAR OF FOUR EMPERORS, while James Kyle looks on.

 

Sometimes, players in LXIX can surge ahead with big scoring leaps while others struggle to catch them, as this final scoring shows: red is 37 points ahead of black! The discussion after this game led to a really great suggestion from Greg Daigle that will help to even out these kinds of point spreads. A couple more play tests and I think this game will be ready to send off to a publisher.

 

I never pass up a chance to play test the latest game in the Birth of America series. Here, Greg Daigle and designer Beau Beckett face off as the French against the British, represented by James Kyle and me. They got an early flush of Native reinforcements, so James and I enacted a risky third-round double-Truce play to force an early end, and took three flags to make it 4 to 2. Due to my own tactical blunder in not leaving a unit to cover the back door, Greg and Beau were able sweep a massive army in and re-take a critical location, and won another location on the final roll of the die to win the game. Agony! Such a good game! Jeph and Beau had this one in heavy play test rotation all weekend, hammering out some exciting new rules not seen in the first two games.

 

You never know what kind of wild life will show up at the Roundhouse. This year, we had a juvenile hawk we nicknamed ‘Crazy Hawk’ stalking and attacking his reflection in the house windows every morning, while a momma deer and her tiny fawn browsed in the back yard. Previous years featured an angry gopher and more spiders than I care to consider.

 

We got the word that absent Roundhouse alumn Dave Chalker’s fun game HEAT had finally funded on Kickstarter and took a quick break from the dice game design challenge to send him a virtual congrats!

There’s still time to back Dave’s game HEAT on Kickstarter!

Update: Dave’s game HEAT was successfully funded!

in a round house in the woods

I’m excited and distracted today, because tomorrow I’m driving to Michigan with my buddy Jeph for the annual Roundhouse Retreat.

Roundhouse is four days of intense play testing and development, game design discussion, debate, camaraderie and a little goofing off, with a group of game designers I deeply respect and admire. It’s my favorite game event of the year.

Internet access can be spotty out in the middle of nowhere, but I hope to be able to update periodically throughout the long weekend. On Thursday, we’ll try to record an episode of Design Time with James and Kory with absent Roundhouser, Kory Heath.