I had the privilege of attending my first Protospiel this past weekend in Milwaukee. Protospiel is a convention for game designers to bring prototypes and get feedback from other designers. So I took my game Scoville along and got some awesome feedback! I think that I’ll focus this recap on my game rather than provide opinions of the games I played that are unpublished. That would not be fair to the designers even if I really enjoyed their games since all the games I played are still in progress. So rather than posting a drawn out chronological recap of the weekend I will just post the drawn out highlights for the play tests of Scoville.
I was fortunate to have Scoville played five times and was pleased to play 8 other games by other designers. Protospiel is an awesome thing for a designer to attend!
Here’s a little background about my Protospiel expectations and goals…
Protospiel: First Contact
Coming to Protospiel I had two goals: 1) validate whether or not Scoville is any good and 2) connect with people who know what they’re talking about. A secondary goal was to leave a copy of the game with Grant Rodiek for inclusion in the Prototype Penpal Program. That was something I could always do later on, but I thought it could be cool to send a copy off with him.
I also had some expectations about the feedback I might receive. I knew that I wanted to adjust the auction phase of the game. So I to see the same feedback about it that I had seen from my prior play tests. I was also a little uncertain about the quality of my prototype (that thought was quickly vanquished!). Thanks to everyone for the kind words about the quality of my prototype. I’ll post an article sometime about how I make prototypes.
So if I received validation and made some connections then I would have considered this weekend a success. Let’s see how it went.
Scoville Play Test #1
Getting to the convention at 8:15am on Saturday allowed me to get my game set up right away since few people were there. I got four people to give it a go and they seemed to really enjoy it. I won’t explain the game much here since I’ll be writing a post all about the game itself. Here are the suggestions that I received after the game:
- Beware of color blindness (Cool apps: Color Blind Vision (Android: FREE) and Colorblind Vision (iOS: $2.99)).
- Stage II orders seem to provide too many points.
- If everyone bids zero in the auction, flop the player order.
- Put endgame trigger scenario onto the guidesheet.
- Tiebreaker should go to the player with the most coins.
- The game was described as a “Euro with luck but no dice.”
- There should be no randomly chosen player order at the start of the game.
- During fulfillment there should be the option to pay for becoming the first player.
That’s a lot of great feedback. The game uses 10 differently colored cubes so I have been aware of the color blindness issue. There are several solutions for this. The biggest takeaway from play test #1 was that I received the auction feedback I was expecting. My plan would be to test a new auction mechanic on Sunday.
One player, who happened to be the winner by a lot, wanted to try a strategy that I am aware of but have not yet seen attempted. Since peppers can be sold for coins based on how many of that color are planted in the fields there is a strategy that you can plant a pepper of a certain color in each round and harvest that same color each round without doing anything else. I have done the math in my head and I do not believe that this would be a winning strategy (at least I hoped not because that would make the game broken). More on this below.
Scoville Play Test #2
After working on Protospiel goal #2 of making connections and meeting some awesome people, they were willing to give Scoville a try. During this second play test there was more bidding and jostling of player order. I think that was the reason that the auction was not mentioned in the post-game discussion. This play also resulted in much closer scores than the first play. Here are the suggestions I received:
- Peppers should be worth something at the end (that are currently worth nothing in the endgame: Use Them or Lose Them!)
- The artwork on the fields should somehow better illustrate where the player pawns can be placed.
- The game was described as a “medium to heavy Euro.”
So I received quite a bit less feedback from play #2. But the fact that I still didn’t receive any feedback about how anything seemed broken meant that perhaps Protospiel goal #1 (validation) was starting to become apparent.
Scoville Play Test #3
Later Saturday night a prominent figure in the board game reviewing business was able to play Scoville. So with three other players I got play test #3 going. In terms of rounds this was the shortest game I have seen. The game lasted 6 rounds. The players again seemed to enjoy the game and nothing seemed broken to them. They did mention the auction as the weak point of the game, so I received good feedback about that that I could implement on Sunday. Here’s the suggestions:
- Possible Trademark issue with the names of peppers used on the recipe tiles.
- Turn order needs adjusting. Option 1: Flop the order. Option 2: Purchase your spot.
- Perhaps just get rid of the reverse order for the harvest action.
- Brown peppers seem too valuable.
I want to point out that the brown peppers are somewhat of an enigma in the game. They don’t breed with anything except the best peppers. They take up space on the map. But they are used quite a bit in the recipes. I had not received feedback that browns were too valuable before this. The normal feedback on the brown peppers is that they seem pointless. So this was interesting feedback from a fresh perspective.
I was also pleased, in a bittersweet way, to hear the same feedback on the auction mechanic. I now knew that I could incorporate a revised auction mechanic on Sunday and expect good things.
I was intrigued by the suggestion to remove the reverse player order for the harvest. My first thought was “absolutely not.” What that would lead to is either huge bids during the auction or rounds of the game where one player can make a huge jump in points. I’ll have to examine this further.
Scoville Play Test #4
Sunday morning I was able to play Scoville for the first time during the weekend. I had not played in the previous play tests. And this time it was just a two player game. I have tried to design the game such that it scales well from 2 to 6 players. There are no AI players necessary and the game feels nearly exactly the same with 6 players as it does with 2.
Since it was now Sunday I was going to implement the new auction mechanic: Bid for Player Order. Now during the auction phase players would be bidding for turn order. Whoever bids the most gets to choose their spot in the turn order. The next highest bidder gets to choose the next spot, and so on. This way, if a player wanted to become the first harvester they could bid high and then choose the last spot, which would allow them to harvest first.
The new auction in the two player game seemed to work, but I suppose that this new auction mechanic would work even better with more players. What the new auction mechanic provided was a way to earn the first harvester spot. That is critical to strategy in the game.
Here are the suggestions I received:
- Are points balanced on the Order tiles?
- Change the artwork on the Cross-Breeding table for the cross-breeds that result in two peppers.
The points on the Order tiles may be slightly unbalanced, but not to the point of brokenness. These can be easily revised, which I may do depending on analysis of the scoring for the first 25 play tests. The artwork suggestion is an excellent one that I will definitely change.
Scoville Play Test #5
The final play of Scoville included the big winner from play #1. He wanted to test the coin building theory and see if it could potentially provide a winning strategy. I welcomed him to try it but made sure that the other players were initially unaware of his proposed gameplay. It was a great final play and I was happy to see that the new auction mechanic really worked well with four players. Here are the suggestions:
- Don’t call it “harvesting, call it “breed-vesting.”
- Check out the game Santiago since there is a similar “fields” mechanic (uh oh… worried about this!)
- The different parts of the game were described by one player as Resources (Auction), Tactics (Orders), and Strategy (Recipes).
The first thing to discuss was the auction. Of note is that this game had the highest average bidding per round of all 5 play tests during the weekend. I think this is due to players now having two things to bid for (first player spot or last player spot) rather than for just moving up in player order. The thing of note was the compliment someone gave to the auction saying that the auction was a good mechanic for the game. This brought the game full circle over the weekend. Previously the auction was described as the weak point of the game. Now it was “good.” I’ll take that!
The other thing that was validated from this final play test was that the game was not broken in that attempting to get coins by planting and harvesting the same color did not result in a winning strategy. The player was going full steam ahead from the get-go with that strategy and came in last place (though could have finished in third place). I was pleased that the game wasn’t close to being won by that strategy. Overall it was a great play test.
Overall Scoville Analysis
Perhaps the best part of the analysis is that people really seemed to enjoy the game. While my goal was to validate whether or not it was any good, I came away from Protospiel very humbled by all the kind words people had for the game. Let’s dig in a little bit and check out the scoring breakdown:
Some further analysis revealed that the number of coins bid during the game varied quite a bit. In terms of coins bid per round the numbers were 2, 6.14, 7.66, 1.38 (2-player), and 7.85 per game. The highest average was the 4-player game with the new auction, though this wasn’t unexpected.
Overall it was apparent that people had fun when playing the game. That’s the most important thing to me as a designer. There are some things that I would like to continue to develop leading up to Gen Con that I mentioned to the players. But I want to avoid the situation where I am needlessly adding complexity. That would steal from the simple elegance of the mechanics currently in the game.
Thank you to all 16 players who play tested my game. I really appreciate the feedback. It was an awesome weekend! And special thanks to Grant Rodiek for humbly accepting a copy for the Prototype Penpal Program. I know that I can expect some awesome, honest feedback!
Wow. This is happening! I am getting ready for my first designer convention – Protospiel-Milwaukee. This weekend I will be taking my game, Scoville, to have it played by other designers and see whether or not it actually has any potential.
Protospiel is a board game designer convention where designers bring games that are in work. Then you can have your game played by other designers and you can return the favor.
One of the best parts about this weekend’s convention is that I will get to meet a ton of great people in the board game industry. There are several designers that I follow on Twitter that I will have the privilege of meeting. What is especially nice about that is that those guys know what they’re talking about. Several of them have had games published. You can probably find them in your local game store right now. I won’t name any names so that I don’t exclude anyone, but I am definitely excited about meeting the designers face to face.
What do I have to offer?
I will be bringing Scoville. Scoville is a game about cross breeding peppers. As a player you take on the role of someone who has been hired by the town of Scoville to fulfill their recipes for the hottest peppers. To do that each round consists of an auction phase, planting phase, harvesting phase, and fulfillment phase. But the real highlight of the game is how the planting and harvesting works.
The main mechanic of the field map is what I think has the most potential in this game. Each round players have to plant one pepper in the fields. Players can plant a second pepper for $6 if they want. Over the course of the game the fields get filled in. During the harvest phase players will move their pawn up to three spots. Each spot is a location between two fields. If those two fields have peppers on them, then that player will receive whichever pepper(s) is cross-bred from the two existing peppers. For example, if you move your pawn between a field with a red pepper and a field with a yellow pepper, then the cross-breeding result would get you an orange pepper.
Part of the goal with Scoville was to create a game where players start with basic, or primary, resources (red, yellow, and blue peppers). Those basic resources can then be used to cross-breed better, or secondary, resources (green, orange, purple). Those secondary resources can then be used to cross-breed even better peppers (black and white). And finally if players can plant a black pepper next to a white pepper, the resulting cross-breed would be a gold pepper. I really enjoy the flow of this game where players are working toward getting the best resources while at the same time hesitating to plant the peppers that could give those resources since the fields are shared by all players.
Here is a guidesheet image from a previous version of the game:
I have updated guides with the latest game revision that I will be using this weekend. It is mostly the same as what is shown.
And there is already some buzz about the game. Not really. But I did fill out the game preview form on Cartrunk Entertainment’s Unpub.net website. You can read my preview for the game there: Unpub Preview – Scoville. Thanks go to John Moller for posting that!
Preparation Left To Do:
I still have some things that I need to get put together before I attend. Here’s my to-do list before the convention:
- Write the rules – Yep. I guess I’m procrastinating here. But it is surprisingly difficult to put all your thoughts into rules on paper. And it can be tricky to make the most applicable images to add clarity to those rules.
- Finish putting together a second copy of the game. In the event of a publisher wanting to take a copy with them I’d like to have one available. In the 99.99% probability that no publisher wants a copy, then I want a second copy available to leave with a fine gentlemen for inclusion in the Prototype Penpal Program.
- Pack my bags.
I’ll probably have a long night tonight working on the rules. But if I get them done today it will give me time to revise them tomorrow. A second copy of the game is almost complete. I have everything printed. I just need to stick it to card stock and make some player shields.
Making the Most of the Convention
So since this is my first designer convention I want it to be the best it can be. That means I want to make great connections and I’d like to receive excellent feedback for Scoville so I can improve the game. Last week I posted a thread on BoardGameGeek: How to Make the Most out of a Designer Convention. I got some excellent replies. One common piece of advice from the thread and other sources is to have a good open attitude. This applies to receiving feedback for my own game and also to giving feedback for other’s games.
Another good set of advice came on Twitter today from @BrettSpiel. You can read his ten tips on Cardboard Edison: Tips for Protospiel.
So I think I am all set. I’ve got my game. I’ve got a good attitude. I’ve got a notebook for documenting all the awesome suggestions I’ll be receiving. And I’ve got a good friend attending with me as a play tester. It’s gonna be an awesome weekend!