Tag Archives: play test

3rd 4P upd8

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Great play test of Dungeon of Doom tonight! #doom

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On Saturday night I plied four friends with awesome homemade pan pizza in hopes of getting them to play test Dungeon of Doom. The pizza worked its magic and the play test was a smashing successes! All four ladies had a great time while playing and it inspired a stream of comments and suggestions in the postmortem I could barely keep up with. Excited, energized play testers are a wonderful thing!

Getting my ducks in a row.

After the previous play test, I made a few changes to the prototype. I simplified the scoring by rounding the gold values on Monsters to even hundreds. To improve the odds of a successful Delve, I reduced the frequency of Canardo symbols in the deck. Additionally, I took the Magic Item cards out of the main deck and added ‘item draw’ symbols; now, when a player takes a card with the symbol, she draws a card from the Magic Items deck. I figured these updates would give me plenty of data to analyze before the final 4P play test. Race and Class cards, which allow players to break the rules in small but meaningful ways, would need to wait until those rules were rock solid.

On the night of the play test.

This play test started out, as mine often do, with me fumbling my way through the explanation, hoping I remembered everything. By the time we got through the first round, though, my players had grokked the system and we were off to a rollicking start.

Dungeon of Doom has some bluffing and press your luck elements and a very silly theme which combine to generate tension, laughter and a lot of groan-inducing puns. We were on fire last night with groaners so epic I had to write some of them down so I could incorporate them into the game later on. I’d share them here, but that would spoil the fun!

After the game, we talked about what worked and what didn’t, what they wanted to see more of and how the game play compared to previous versions of the system.  More frequent access to Magic Items was big on everyone’s list, and I agree. The new system functioned, but I hadn’t added nearly enough of the ‘item draw’ symbols for it to actually work as intended and very few Magic Items entered the game.

There was one element that managed to surprise both my players and me.

There are a couple of Epic Monsters in the deck that disrupt the Delve when they appear. The first one they turned up took them completely by surprise; I’d sort of neglected to mention them when I explained the game. I could tell they were annoyed.

In the postmortem, their enthusiasm for them took me by surprise. At first, they explained, they didn’t like the Epic baddies interrupting their carefully planned Delves, but after they had a chance to reflect on it, they demanded more and various Epic Monsters! The wild unpredictability of them shot an extra thrill through the game that they really enjoyed.

What’s next?

I need to increase the frequency of the ‘item draw’ symbols. I’ll double it to start with, maybe triple, and I definitely need more Magic Items. Lots of possibilities here.

I’ll bring in a few more Epic Monsters. My play testers had some great suggestions for new Epic baddies and I’ve got some cool ideas of my own. I’m excited to get a few more in the game, but I will have to make sure they don’t become too disruptive.

Lastly, I need to finish writing and test the Race and Class cards. Simple, easy to understand and easy to use powers are called for here.

I’ve got at least one more, possibly two more play tests coming up this week, which I’ll post about here. And then? Then I’ll have won 4P.


I’m glad I didn’t get to play test Canardo’s Dungeon last Tuesday.


As I mentioned in an earlier 4P update, I lost an opportunity to play test with some casual gaming friends last week because I took too long making pretty cards.

However, on Monday night I joined more than a dozen other designers from the Madison Game Design Cabal for their monthly play test Meetup at Essen Haus. It was my first time attending this Meetup, though I’ve played with many of the designers at other events. After making introductions, our host JT Smith encouraged me to get my game on the table right away. I sat down with five enthusiastic testers, including Steven and Peter Dast, two sharp designers I’ve play tested with for years.

I warned everyone going in that, though this was a redevelopment of an earlier game, I didn’t have a solid rule set and I wasn’t really sure how it would go. There was a lot of vague hand waving as I tried to explain how to play. My play testers had questions and I was short on answers; it was going to be a bumpy ride.

There was a lot of vague hand waving as I tried to explain how to play.

We groped our way through this rough draft, pausing every round or two to assess progress and make adjustments. By the halfway mark, we’d sussed out some of the major issues and paused for a pre-mortem dissection.

The debate at this point was lively and I could see the wheels churning in my fellow designers’ minds. I gathered and weighed the many suggestions, key among them a novel idea from Peter and crunchy analysis from Steven. From this, I winnowed a set of rules we’d test the last half of the game against.

From there out, the game played exactly as I’d envisioned it. It was charming and fun, with enough surprises to keep the players on their toes. It’s far from a finished gem, but we ground off a lot of the rough edges and exposed some exciting new facets to polish. There’s no way I could have accomplished that much on a first play test with non-designers.

So, I’m glad I didn’t get to play test Canardo’s Dungeon last Tuesday.

It would have been a disaster.

working on a thing.

I’ve been using these last few days of holiday time to work on a new game, Canardo’s Dungeon. In the spirit of my pal Gil Hova‘s 4P, I’m hoping to play test this game four times in the month of January. I’ve got layout done for most of the cards and I should be able to print it tomorrow. My first play test will be this Tuesday at Board Games and Beer, if I can get enough interest. I’ll update here with progress throughout the month!

die, my inelegant darling, die!

Over on their Tumblr, my friends at Cardboard Edison posted a quote from game designer Darrell Hardy:

“If you need to remind players of a rule, it may not be elegant enough.”

Origins Award-winning game designer Dave Chalker calls these “Hand Slap” rules, because he has to slap someone’s hand every time they forget that rule and reach for the board in error.

I have a game with a Hand Slap rule.


When you play a card in LXIX: THE YEAR OF FOUR EMPERORS, the first thing must you do is advance the date on the calendar track, then you choose and execute an action. You earn a bonus action if you hit certain spaces on the calendar track. The bonus spaces on the calendar track add an additional decision point on your turn: do you play card A for it’s effect or card B for a possibly-lesser effect, but hit a bonus action space? It I feel it’s an interesting, if not entirely integral, piece of the game.

Everybody forgets to move the calendar.

I love LXIX. It’s one of my best designs. I’ve been steadily refining it for the last year and it really sings now, except for that darn, hand-slappy calendar move rule.

Argh! Why is that rule so frustratingly hard for people to remember?

Why can’t I just give it up?

I don’t know. Sure, yeah, it’s my darling so I’m supposed to kill it, but why can’t my play testers just get it right?

Obviously, this is a source of frustration for me. I should just get rid of the damn rule and try something different, but I’d rather people just paid better attention when playing. Then again, there’s already plenty to pay attention to in LXIX, and this one little rule probably wouldn’t be missed by anyone but me.

But it’s my darling, how can I possibly kill it?

First, a little background.

LXIX: The Year of Four Emperors has roots in CRIBBAGE. It was born as a four-player iteration of a system I designed for a two player game that borrows and adapts some of the mechanisms of Cribbage. In the conversion from two to four players, some of the cribbage mechanisms were dropped to compensate for other added complexities. The last vestiges of Cribbage in LXIX are the crib, in the form of hidden scoring regions, and the count, in the form of the calendar track. I hate to lose these last, tenuous connections to the game that inspired it.


I have an idea or two about how to fix this problem. The calendar track is just too easy for people to forget to use. The calendar probably has to go, but I’d love to keep the bonus actions in there somehow, because I think it’s an interesting decision point and it feels good when you get one. They can also be a big help for someone who drafted a less than ideal hand.

In Cribbage, you score points if you match your opponent’s played card during the counting. Perhaps you can get a bonus action if you match your opponent’s card in LXIX? There’s no calendar track to remember and you only have to pay attention to the last card played. More importantly, If you forget it, it doesn’t affect the other players turns.

Another option is to remove the bonus actions entirely. I’m not as big a fan of this idea, but it has some benefits. For one, it would allow simultaneous card play. If you don’t have to pay attention to your opponents’ card values, you don’t need a strict turn order. The order of resolution becomes more important, leading to a simplification and strengthening of another mechanism in the game: the combined turn order and tie breaker mechanism.

The next step is to play test–ideally several games in succession with the same group–to assess the impact of these various changes. Any volunteers?