Tag Archives: playtest

Argh, Who am I?! – Playtests & Hiatus

I’ve had chance to playtest Argh, Who am I?! a couple more times and have decided to put it on hold for now, however it may come back in another form. Here are some of my reflections on the last two playtests.

Playtest with my MA students

The first of the two most recent playtests I learnt that players were quickly identifying who was telling the truth/lying and then narrowed down on who it was. I noticed that players were more likely to ask someone who was telling the truth, in order to avoid the mental anguish of dealing with untwisting lies.

ARGH1b

I decided to up the complexity and allow players both a chance to lie and tell the truth. To do this the players turn their cards upside down each time they’ve asked a question. This difference had an additional benefit of allowing for a mechanism for telling who had and had not being asked a question, meaning no player was left out from asking or answering a question.

Thanks to Hadeel, Tom, Sun, & Jai for playtesting.

Playtest with the Board Game Studies Colloquium

In the second of the two most recent playtests the upped complexity didn’t really add anything other than further confusion, which in this case isn’t really an interesting solution.

Players had fun, but I think the amusement came from coping with the mechanics rather than playing the game. This can be good in certain situations, like the weird mental block that occurs when matching pairs in Dobble, or racing against time trying to roll dice in Escape: Curse of the Temple. However, the connection did not feel right in this instance.

Thanks to Ralf, Jacob, Tom & Tiago for playtesting.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall the game had two parts that didn’t connect very well. First was working out who was telling the truth or lying and the second narrowing down to the card you’re holding. Players would start the game, in brain twisted confusion, then clarity, then finish with systematic logic. I think there perhaps needed to be a less linear relation between these two parts.

For some reason lying as an answer was difficult to do. First the question had to be assessed, then check for a yes/no answer and then potentially reversed. This process just seemed more tasking than it aught to be. There was a few times where players got confused and gave the wrong answer (including myself).

In the end the game play had very little interesting choice, much possibility for strategy or fun inherent in the game play. The players were told whether to lie or tell the truth. On reflection I think lying is more likely to be amusing when you can be caught out, and there’s a risk/reward tied to this.

An Observation

The most interesting thing that arose from the games was the possibility for ambiguous answers and questions, and the possibility of players disagreeing with each other about the answers.

For example:

  • Someone asked if they were alive or dead, when they were holding a robot card.
  • Someone asked if they were magical, when they were holding a zombie card.

Both these questions gained different responses within the groups. Perhaps there is something in this, an idea for another game. For now at least the game where you don’t know your own identify is on hold.

 

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Argh, who am I?! – Revision and Playtest 2

I made some revisions to both the cards and rules for Argh, who am I?!

Previous Posts: Argh, who am I?! v1 rulesMaking of, Playtest 1.

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Changing the Card List

The card list has been expanded and changed from all Hollywood monsters:

  • Frankenstein’s Monster
  • Mummy
  • Skeleton
  • Vampire
  • Werewolf
  • Fish Person
  • Zombie
  • Ghost

To a range of people/things:

  • Alien
  • Robot
  • Pirate
  • Ninja
  • Cowboy
  • Demon
  • Angel
  • Zombie
  • Vampire
  • Werewolf
  • Santa Clause
  • Tooth Fairy
  • Easter Bunny

This should now allow the players to narrow down their potential character card in a larger range of ways, similar to 20 Questions.

Changing the Rules

The first set of rules I wanted to change from version 1 of the game, was the question and statement section. The answering back and forth was messy.

The main issue I was trying to avoid with the original rules was that as soon as the players realise that one player is telling the truth (or lies) they become the most reliable source and there is no reason to ever ask anyone else a question. By giving the player who is asked a question some power, it reduces the chance of this happening. In changing this aspect I did not want to lose the freedom of the players to ask whoever they wanted a question.

There were a number of possible work arounds which I considered:

  1. Every player must be asked at least one question before, players can be asked another question. This at first seems a fair method however it has a downside in terms of elegance. The players will require an additional token or card to remember who has and has not been asked a question. Additionally, the first player will get to ask their choice of all other players whilst the last player will not get a choice, every round. This could be solved by skipping the first player of the previous round to change the first player for the current round. Balancing out in the end. All this adds a lot of additional components and rules for a relatively small game.
  2. Players who are asked a question get to ask the next question, and must ask someone else. Players in this case have to balance asking someone who they know is telling truth/lies with giving them the power to ask another question about their own card. In this manner the game should self balance. One issue might be that players may realise the point at which someone has worked out their own card and therefore not ask them a question again, so they cannot declare. To get round this a player could declare at any point.

Of these I selected the second option.

Changing the Setup

Another issue that needed resolving was the length of the game, which for its type was possibly too long. Also there was difficulty in knowing what the cards were in the deck, so you could work out who are or are not. A problem exacerbated by the newly increased character list.

This was solved with a simple setup rule change.

  • The entire deck of cards is shuffled.
  • Cards are laid face up, one at a time, in a grid.
  • Any time a card matching an existing grid card is found it is added to the play-deck. Therefore, mixing the matching truth and lies cards between grid and play-deck randomly.
  • Once the grid and play-deck both contain one of each character type, the play-deck is shuffled again.
  • Each player takes one card from the play-deck.
  • Players help each other orientate their cards correctly.
  • The game begins.

So, although the list of characters is longer, the actual play-deck is smaller than the original version. Additionally there is no need for reference cards for the player as setting up the game creates a grid reference for all the players. There is also now no repeating of the same characters.

Playtest 2

I took the new cards and rules to my monthly board game meet-up and played a couple of games.

The first game went ok, but there was a weakness found in the system. Once someone had identified who they were once, and therefore had the most cards, they could keep randomly guessing to diminish the deck and win with their single card.

The second game we removed this issue, if you’re wrong when you declare you are removed from the game. However if you’re the first person to declare correctly you win. This added a nice layer of tension, do you risk guessing early without all the information but with good odds, or do you risk waiting and someone else guessing first. It also reduced the playtime to a nice length for the style of game.

I did however get confused with the truth and lies, and double negatives at one point, giving a player some incorrect information.I handled it in that moment with a friendly apology, however, this is something that needs consideration in the future.

We played with a relatively large group of people and at times I noticed that some were being left out more than others, so further testing is required for different group sizes.

Once the game was reduced to two/three players the game play changed. For two players it is impossible to have the don’t question back rule.

Thanks to the Playtesters: Ricky, Robin, Patrick, Jonathon, Jazz, David & Peter.

What’s next?

  • I am going to have another look at balancing the character list, so it doesn’t swing too heavy in any sub-genre’s favour.
  • I need to test it a lot more times with different group sizes, and different deck sizes.
  • I’m interested to see if I can expand the deck, but add an additional stage to the set-up which removes a number of cards depending on how many players and how difficult the players want the game to be. This might need a little bit of math to get to a nice starting point but will be ultimately balanced in playtesting.
  • Consider testing the other rules variation with the additional tokens, to see how it feels.

Can I get the new cards?

I’m going to hold off uploading the new cards for a little while until the game has settled and I have time to do some more placeholder art rather than just text titles.

Argh! Who am I? – Playtest

ArghWhoAmICardPic

Finally got round to playtesting Argh! Who am I?! this week, you can read about the making of it here. Although the general feel and mechanics of the game was good there were some issues which need improving on.

1. The playtime was a little long for the type of game it is.

This could be relatively easy to solve on it’s own, the answer would be to simply reduce the number cards in the play session. So instead of removing only 1 card at the beginning of the game, you could remove three. However, I feel there is more to this issue.

2. The fish-man was the least interesting character to talk about.

This is likely because there is less popular culture about the fish-man monster when compared to vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc. The answer is remove it, or find a replacement. Doing this would actually help neatly with issue 1.

3. It is difficult to keep coming up with interestingly differences between the characters.

One issue might be the range of characters, in the first version of the game they are all classic monster tropes. This means all of them are already grouped by one sort of characterisation, removing the opportunity to explore. This could be resolved by increasing the number of groups in the set, i.e. sci-fi characters, fantasy characters, monsters, etc and reducing the number from each set.

4. Giving a true information, is very precise. Giving a false information is vague.

Once someone was found to be giving the true statements, players who had lying cards could abuse the imbalance of power between the two. There’s 8 characters, so the player eliminating the options through negative comments are at a distinct disadvantage. In short, the difference between having a truth card and a liar card are too great. By reconsidering the objects/characters on the card this could be improved. For example if instead of characters there were objects which were a set of binary choices:

  • Black / White
  • Round / Square
  • Edible / Non-edible

e.g.

  • 8 ball – black, round, non-edible
  • slice of bread – white, square, edible

If I ask am I round, and I know if you are lying or telling the truth, then I can deduce the truth relatively easily. However, this really reduces the number of questions which are usable, and the game is significantly reduced in terms of creativity and free thinking. This idea is part way to a potential solution but not the full answer. Each character card needs similarity with some of the other cards but not with all the other cards.

Other ideas for variations

Whilst thinking about these issues I came up with a few ideas for the game that I need to consider for a little bit before making the next version. Some of them should be easy to test, just by varying the rules.

  • When you ask a question everyone else answers. Removes the need for a statement.
  • Players with liar cards, can both lie and tell the truth. Add some chance for deviance, will depend on what the items are on the cards whether or not this is suitable.
  • After a player is asked a question, they cannot be asked another question until everyone else has been asked. Removes the need to give a statement. Requires a neat way of keeping track of this.
  • Have players create their own cards, i.e. the backs follow truth and lies but the characters / items are decided by the group who play. This adds another element of creativity to the game.

The big question – what or who do I put on the cards?

The main issue I need to consider is what it is that goes on the cards in the first place. Monsters was a quick idea I had and it worked well enough for the playtest, but I feel that this is the thing that needs changing, it’s also the most time consuming thing to do, both in thinking and time spent creating cards that are nice enough to play with.

Thinking about the theme of the game might help, mechanically it’s about truth, lies and deduction, which sounds a little like a murder mystery. Perhaps you’re removing suspects, finding locations and looking for specific objects. Not sure how all this ties in with not being able to see what you’re holding, but their could be an answer somewhere.

Emergent Card Game by Daniel Palmer

Whilst attending a conference on Swarm Robotics in Brussels I got a chance to play Daniel Palmer’s work in progress, Emergent.

EmergentTheGame

This is a cooperative game, where each player’s hidden objective must be met in order for the players to win the game. The only way the players have a communicating if their objective is met or not is with a two sided card; one side of the card is green representing ‘clear’ and the other red representing ‘blocked’. The player keeps this card placed in front of them and changes which side is facing up based on the current state of the game.

Additionally, the players must also have placed 12 cards down on the 4×4 grid in order to win.

The cards that are required to be placed have 16 types,  a combination of 4 colours (red, blue, green, yellow) and 4 symbols (star, square, diamonds, circle).

At the beginning of the game 4 of these cards are randomly selected and randomly placed on the grid.

Each player is also given an objective, there were around 10 categories of objective and no more than one from any single category is played in a single game (this removes the possibility that two objective cards will be in conflict with each other). Examples include:

DSCN0566

On a players turn, they suggest two options which can be a combination of:

  • Placing card(s) taken from stock piles.
  • Removing card(s) from the grid to the discard pile.

or alternatively they can suggest

  • moving a card to a new position on the grid.

The rest of the players then vote on which of the two options the prefer, majority wins with tied votes decided by the player suggesting the options. This process is helped by handy double sided cards which have ‘place’ and ‘remove’ written on them.

What ever the outcome, two cards per turn are removed from the stock of coloured cards to the discard pile, which act as a timer for the game as well as resources.

The next player is the next person clockwise who is blocked. In the case that no one is blocked the next player clockwise takes a turn.

During the game you are allowed to discuss and speculate upon other player’s objectives, but not to confirm/deny/hint at your own. Your voting preferences may give some indirect hints to the objective you may have.

EmergentAtANTSImage1-m

I managed to have two games in which we beat the game the first time and lost the second time. I do not know how much our game was helped by the fact I was playing with a group of computer scientists.

Overall, I really enjoyed playing the game and it brought to my mind Hanabi by Antoine Bauza. I thought the individual hidden objectives was a really great concept, and the player turn order was well worked out. I suppose one issue could be that you never take a turn, but that does not mean that you are not taking part and speculating on other people’s objectives.

One thing that seemed to confuse a number of players, was when it came to dealing with the outcomes of specific votes. This happened especially when the player’s two suggestions were to remove one existing card and to place one new card. The players often voted to remove the card and were shocked to see the card that has ‘place’ on it also removed (as this was the option that was NOT taken). There just seemed to be some sort of mental block on this issue.

Daniel is still testing options on what to do with this. My suggestion was that when ever an option is voted upon, the alternate option’s ‘remove/place’ card is flipped. Then the players carry out the instructions on both the ‘remove/place’ cards (i.e. their voted option, and NOT the other option). Whether this would actually help or not would not be clear without testing. I think if the rule book comes with a really clear way of explaining the steps in this part of the game, after a couple of goes the players will get the hang of it.

My second suggestion was that the cards that are currently numbered 1-16, that make up the grid, could contain more useful information on them. They could show which directions are considered ‘above’, ‘below’, ‘left’ and ‘right’. Additionally they could also include which are the four random starting positions at the beginning of the game.

When I last spoke to Daniel he was looking to create a Kickstarter for this project sometime in the next year and when he does I’ll be sure to back it. Just like any game I’m not sure this is for everyone but it really pipped my interest, and I wish him all the luck for the future.

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Humanity: Playtest No. 2

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A couple of weeks ago I got to playtest the updated version of Humanity with a couple of friends in Leicester.

For our scenario we selected:

  • Cybernetics in a post nuclear apocalypse

The setting events, locations, threats and opposition were:

  • There is a rumour that there is a crashed space satellite in the Nevada Desert.
  • The nuclear fuel cells have all gone.
  • The preacher will stop at nothing in order to find the satellite.
  • Wild cybernetic monkeys live in the desert.

As a group we are trying to find the fuel cells, if we fail to do this the force shields protecting the city will drop.

Our characters were:

  • Chuck Ellis, whose goal was to understand the world. His power was the ability to hyper analyse, through being connected directly to the net. The power wanted to disconnect completely from the physical world.
  • Rho, whose goal was freedom from financial responsibility. His power was the ability to fly. The power desired to hunt living prey.
  • The Bull, whose goal was to get some money. His power was smashy metal fists. The power desired to destroy everything turning it into its simplest form.

Our story in brief:

  • Meeting with management who had decided to send us out of the safety of the city to relocate the fallen satellite, more specifically the fuel cells with in.
  • A brief encounter with suspicious security guards on the way out.
  • A trip to abandoned  outpost where we were ambushed by a sniper.
  • Capturing the sniper and interrogating him, finding out about another base.
  • A daring escape from the snipers team.
  • A trek through a wooded area filled with cybernetic monkeys that continued to throw things at us.
  • The creation of a device that would imitate certain monkey pheromones to control the monkeys.
  • Scouting a base, and finding three guards that seemed more preoccupied with racing their segways than patrolling the base. The base had a massive gun (probably shot down the satellite).
  • Storming the base, finding out about the ceremony in the dessert, and leaving the remaining guards to fight with a bunch of cybernetic monkeys.
  • Infiltrate the ceremony set-up where a giant cybernetic messiah is being built. Trick the people into believing we follow their cause and get control of the giant cybernetic messiah.
  • Destroy the Preacher, and head home with the fuel cells, in the giant cybernetic messiah.
  • Surprise the security guard that was giving us lip in the beginning of the game.

The game took around 3-4 hours to play.

Thoughts from the game:

The method for choosing the setting of the game seemed to work well. We managed to tie all the different events, locations, threats and oppositions up neatly. There is not much that needs doing to this section.

In character creation there was a little confusion about the difference between the goal of the character and the goal of the power. Also I think the character creation could be stripped back even further. Instead of having two items in most sentences that need to be completed only one is really necessary. So instead of “Most people would describe me as blank, but I consider myself to be blank.” it could just be one or the other aspects of that.

Additionally I do not think having the background of the power to be necessary on the character sheet. This is tied to the setting, perhaps this should be moved there instead, this helps link the characters together further.

In terms of play. I think the game went on a little too long. We were trying to play a one shot session, but without a structure in place or one persons guidance there was too much stuff in the middle. A solution might be to put a structure into the way the scenes work in order to make them form an arc, this however risks taking control from the players.

Being able to pass on the GM slot to someone who had an idea was really useful. This happened when I had run dry on ideas, but one of the other players had some ideas on how to continue.

However, playing a character with two opposing goals as well as being a GM and a character got kind of confusing. There is too much to consider. Something really needs to change here, either it needs to be a GM lead game or the way the scenes work need reconsidering.

At times the difficulty for doing certain tasks just seemed to easy, I don’t think we really played with the multiple checks for difficult challenges properly. Another option might be a vito to stop players doing things which are just plane silly.

Not enough humanity was lost. Our humanity scores were barely scratched, this seriously needs re-addressing especially for a one-shot scenario. Ideally the characters should change relatively drastically.

Towards the end of the session the game got very silly, still fun to play. I think I was tired after what was a relatively long roleplay session for me.

There’s lots to consider and I definitely need to go back to the drawing board and make some further improvements. I still feel like there is something there, but it is going to take more digging than I first thought.

Previous posts about humanity.

Humanity: Playtest No.1

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to playtest Humanity with some of the people at the London Indie RPG Meetup Group.

The Setting: The American Old West (cowboys etc), and our powers were demonic related.

Key locations: a saloon; a remote valley with tarpit; a cursed abandoned gold mine; stables, a sherifs office; and a railway.

Current Events: A new sherif in town; a remote frontier town; women have just started arriving; cattle had been found mutilated; and their have been rumours about the mine going round.

Obstacles: A native american tribe; outlaws; a zealous preacher; and wild animals.

Our Group Goal: To make the town bloom.

Our characters:

The Preacher Jack, whose power was flames/fire (the power wanted to see things burn).

Bob the engineer, whose power was the understanding of physical objects (the power wanted complete power over everything).

Esrah Harris the Doctor, whose power was mind control (… I can’t quite remember the powers want for Esrah).

Bill Reynold the Saloon owner, whose could sprout wings and fly (the power wanted to be free from all responsibility).

Henry Reynold the store owner, who was a lycanthrope (the power wanted to feed).

Our Story

The story revolved mainly around the local tribe who it turned out had been attacked by the outlaws and that is the reason they were threatening the town. The Preacher wanted to convert them to God, whilst Bill, Henry and Bob wanted to try to collect the bounty on their head.

There was a brief trip down the abandoned mine, where a massive bear was found, plus some gold.

In the end, Henry briefly became a spirit god to the tribe before succuming to his desire to feed on Bob who used one of his contraptions to kill him.

The Preacher and Bill ended fighting over a large nugget of gold, Bill managing to grab it and fly away at the end. The Preacher and Esrah were left with a group of outlaws who had just had their mind blanked by Esrah.

The Response

I got the general feeling that the game went well, there was some confusion over bits of the rules and it seemed like the current set up would suit multiple play sessions rather than a one-shot. I think people had fun, but there was some great feedback which I need to look at more closely.

Things to Consider

High is Good, Low is Good: It completely slipped past me that when rolling Challenges high numbers are good and when rolling Humanity Checks low numbers are good.

This is a relatively simple fix, I just need to change the order of the Humanity tracker. However, this has a knock on effect that as “Humanity” decreases the number representing it decreases. Perhaps the name for this stat needs to be changed to the “Powers Influence” on the character.

Single Session, Multi-Session: When writing the game I had in mind that it would be played over a number of sessions, however the reality is that I’m most likely to test the game in single one-shots. The rules need to be adaptable to reflect the playtime available. The main problem is that in a single session, the humanity level does not drop quick enough.

There are a number of possible fixes:

  • Instead of a chance to lose humanity when using a power,  you always lose humanity when using a power.
  • Increasing the amount of humanity lost in line with how much over 20 is rolled, i,e, roll 21 lose 1 humanity, roll 22 lose 2 humanity and so on.
  • Starting with less humanity when playing a one-shot.

Loss of Control to the Power: It might be that it was a single session or that the humanity did not drop quick enough, but it seemed unlikely that the characters would lose the grip on themselves and act with the powers wants.

A slight shift in the numbers might than the probability of this happening, I think it should be definitely be happening more.

Scene Control: At the moment the scenes are very loose, there is very little control on what sort of things should be happening in each of the scenes and how they should be played.

I’m thinking it might be interesting to consider each play session an episode, and follow a guided structure for each of the scenes, where certain elements are added and twists occur. This should help with the rhythm of the story.

Who is in charge?: Not having a specific GM made some situations a little confusing, no one really had the voice of authority and it lead to people both describing what their character was doing and what was happening in the world at the same time, which is something that should be avoided.

I think the solution to this is to rotate the GM for each scene, and their character is left in the background for that moment. I still want the other players to be able to add challenges but these should be simple and quick suggestions which the GM for that scene embellishes.

Interrupting: Giving someone a challenge or humanity check was difficult, it felt rude interrupting someone whilst they are describing things. There needs to be some signal or protocol for giving someone a challenge.

The best solution is likely silently passing someone a power dice and waiting for them to come to a natural stop in their little talk. Then introducing the challenge.

Voluntary Failure?: It was suggested that it might be nice to have voluntary failure on certain checks. Which I think could work.

I think the best way for this to work would be that you can lower the result of any roll but not increase it. This allows players to sometimes choose for their powers to gain influence over their character, or to allow more negative things to happen. This needs careful consideration.

Character Background: I think there were too many things in the characters background to fill out about their humane side but perhaps not enough about the background of their power.

I’m likely to remove the status of the character I think this is implicit by the nature of the character, I’m also considering reducing the immediate goal and long-term goal into just a single goal. I think there might need to be something about where I got my power added in.

Attributes: At the moments the characters have different attributes which change how good they are at certain tasks, this change felt marginal at best.

I’m tempted to reduce this to no specific stats/attributes, but just have a results table based on the dice roll. Another thing which might be interesting is linking the current capability of the character to their humanity level in some way.

Mishaps: It is sometimes really difficult to come up with a way that a character can both succeed but at the same time have something also go wrong.

I think further guidance is required in the rules for dealing with this, some sort of guide about the types of things that could happen, hints or prompts.

Clarity: Somethings just were not clear, although this might be my explanation of the rules. The main issue that needs to be made clear is the conflict between the characters goals and the goals of the power that they are trying to control.

This can maybe be dealt with with some character sheet design, giving a really strong emphasis on this matter.

Not enough dice: Being limited to 1 power dice is not enough, they get passed around too quickly.

I need to play with these limits and see what the effects are whilst considering the relationship with other stats..

Conclusions

There is certainly a lot to consider and implement before I draw up the next version of the game, but it certainly feels like it is going in the right direction.