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Prototyping Techniques Applied to Scoville

ScovilleLogo031213While at Protospiel I heard a lot of kind words for the quality of my prototype of Scoville. So today I am sharing my prototyping process with you. I hope that it can help you make a quality prototype that you are confident about.

When I was first getting into board game design I was a little overwhelmed by what it took to make a prototype. I watched a few prototyping videos on BoardGameGeek.com. Those only made me shy away from the whole process. It can be intimidating. But today you can learn that it isn’t perhaps as daunting as you might think.

Overview of my Process

My Game Creation ProcessFirst things first: you need a game concept. Assuming you’ve got a great idea in mind it’s time to start prototyping. Early on in my board game career I was designing a heavy Euro game. I waited to make a prototype until I had worked through all the details of the game. That was a mistake. It is my recommendation to make prototype components of your game as early as possible. For example: If you have an auction in your game, test it independently from the other mechanics. Test each mechanic individually and test them early on. There is no point to design an entire game only to find out that the individual parts don’t work.

Once the individual elements seem to work then you can try to put them all together to make a full game out of them. Here is a rule of thumb I try to follow:

Never add complications unless they are absolutely necessary.

This is a difficult thing to do. It is always easier to add another rule or add another component. But if you want to make a good game, focus on the innovative mechanic rather than all the little rules about the rest of the game. Keep it simple.

So I start with a concept. I usually write about 10 pages of notes and sketches about that concept. Then I’ll go ahead and start prototyping (this is what I’m covering today). Once I have a prototype ready then I’ll play test it at least 10 times. This will give me a solid amount of feedback. Only after testing 10 times will I apply any changes. Here’s another rule of thumb:

Don’t try to change things in the game on the fly, and don’t change more than one thing at a time.

Following this rule is critical, especially the part about changing more than one thing at a time. If you change more than one thing it can be difficult to know which of the things you changed made the game better (or worse). Change one thing at a time and test it profusely. So I apply feedback and adjust things after 10 play tests. Once the game has gone through the PROTOTYPE – PLAY TEST – APPLY FEEDBACK phase several times to the point where there are only very subtle changes then I get to the point where I am confident about contacting publishers about it. There is no point in pitching a game unless you’ve gotten it to the point where you are proud of your product and confident to show it off.

Getting Started: What do I need?

When making a prototype I usually begin with a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet allows you to create custom tiles or cards very easily. You can print them out yourself and turn them into quality prototype components. Here’s a list of everything I use(d) to create a copy of Scoville:

  • Spreadsheet software
  • Graphic Design Software (I prefer Inkscape, but The Gimp is also very useful)
  • Paper (Plain paper for first prototypes, Glossy photo paper for pitch-able versions)
  • Thick card stock – As thick as you prefer, though the thicker it is the more difficult it is to cut.
  • Components: cubes/meeples/coins
  • Circle Punch
  • Paper Cutter (I have this one)
  • Bingo chips
  • Glue Stick
  • Scissors
  • Gerber Baby Food Containers – if you don’t have kids find some friends who do and beg them to save these for you!

Here is a picture of all the components that go into the game:

Scoville components fresh off the press!

Scoville components fresh off the press!

That’s everything (except a box) I need to make a copy of Scoville. Let’s walk through the prototyping (physical creation) process.

Make it Rain! Or Something Like That

Assuming you’ve taken your concept and created artwork that suits you, it’s time to actually make something real for testing. What that means to me is that it’s time to print stuff out! Scoville has 13 pages of printing required for a full copy. The next step is to adhere those pages to the thick card stock. I like to buy the stuff that is as thick as standard board game chit board. This gives me the feeling like I am playing a real game when I test it.

So I use the glue stick and cover the back of the paper and then stick it to the card stock. Once I’ve got them all glued down I can start to cut them to size. Since the large card stock boards I buy are too big for my paper cutter I run a scissors through them to separate the difference components before using the paper cutter.

Cover with glue, adhere to card stock, coarse cut to separate.

Cover with glue, adhere to card stock, coarse cut to separate.

Then I use the paper cutter to trim the fat and make them nice and clean. Shown here as an example is the first cuts done to the auction tiles:

Auction First Cuts

I then go ahead and cut each tile out individually and end up with a pile of nice thick quality components:

My precious little auction tiles!

My precious little auction tiles!

I continue this process for all of the components in the game.

Making Player Shields

Another part that seemed a little overwhelming to me was the production of player shields. But I found a nice, easy way to make them. If you don’t want pictures on them then just cut some paper and fold it. If you want pictures or logos then follow this procedure:

  1. Easier to make than I thought.

    Easier to make than I thought.

    Print the logos.

  2. Cut the logos to a rectangular size.
  3. Glue the logo centered on a sheet of thin card stock.
  4. Angle cut each edge so that it will lean when completed.
  5. Fold gently.

For Scoville I made the artwork on the shields include the player color. Making your own player shields rather than using shields from games you own can really spice up your prototype.

Making Money

One of the more tedious things in this process is making my own coins. I don’t have to make it as hard on myself as I do, but I prefer a really professional looking prototype.

It would be much easier to simply write a money value on the plastic bingo chips with a marker. This would make them more difficult to read and they wouldn’t look as nice.

So my process for making coins is this:

  1. Create the artwork.
  2. Insert the coin images into a document file.
  3. Print the document.
  4. Punch the coins out of the paper.
  5. Adhere them to the bingo chips.

Here is a tip for punching, if you use a circle punch like mine:

Flip the punch over for better visual alignment!

Flip the punch over for better visual alignment!

If you hold the punch like it seems it should be held then you have to rely on the little plastic bump guides on the side of it. Just flip the punch over and you can visually align the punch with the coin. This makes it so much easier!

Once you’ve got them all punched you can simply glue them to the bingo chips. I recommend watching something on TV that is really attention grabbing, so that it draws your attention from the tedium of gluing little circles to bingo chips.

If you don’t like the idea of gluing circles to bingo chips then go ahead and use the same thick card stock that you’ve been using. Just be aware that the circle punch may not punch through the thick card stock. That’s why I went with the bingo chips.

The Final Product

Once you’ve got all the components glued-punched-cut-etc. then it’s time to put it all together. Here is a before and after picture showing the reduction in volume for Scoville:

What looked overwhelming turned into a nice, quality prototype.

What looked overwhelming turned into a nice, quality prototype.

To continue with the theme of a quality, pitch-able prototype I like to use a nice container to hold everything. You can buy these at Target.com or you can find different colors in the store. They are only $5. I should also note that these fit into a Medium Flat Rate Priority box from the United States Postal Service. So it is pretty easy to mail one off to a publisher!

Now you’ve got your container so throw in the components, a couple copies of the rules, a business card, and you’re ready to pitch your game! Note, you do not need to have a high quality prototype to pitch a game. I am just a firm believer in making a good first impression. Here’s what Scoville looks like in it’s full prototype form:

This is the third copy of Scoville in existence! May the other two copies in the wild prosper and flourish!

This is the third copy of Scoville in existence! May the other two copies in the wild prosper and flourish!

How Much Is It Gonna Cost Me?

I mentioned earlier that you can make an high quality prototype that is also inexpensive. Here is a rundown of the costs for a full copy of Scoville:

  • 13 sheets of glossy photo paper: $3
  • Printer Ink (I buy cheap Non-OEM ink off Amazon): ~$2
  • Glue Stick: $3.30
  • 4-Pack of Thick Card Stock: $13
  • Bingo Chips: $0.50
  • Meeples ($0.14 each): $0.84 – I live near The Game Crafter so I can pick them up and avoid paying shipping costs
  • Plastic Cubes (250): $7 – I bought a tub of 1000 cubes for $25 (shipping included) from EAI

So the total for a high quality prototype for Scoville costs me under $30. So maybe you wouldn’t characterize that as inexpensive. But when $30 can allow you to create a pitch-able high quality prototype that might catch a publisher’s eye, I don’t think $30 is too bad.

What techniques do you use? I wanted to point out that I did not write about making cards. Most people, when making prototype cards will purchase penny sleeves, insert their custom made cards, and make them thicker by dropping in a M:TG card. I don’t use cards in Scoville, so I didn’t include that.

I hope that you enjoyed this article. It has been a fun process for me to figure out some of the best ways to make a prototype. If you have any ways to make the process more efficient, please leave a comment so others can see!

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Scoville Protospiel Recap

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

This game is hot!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 attempt to break the game. He ended up red-faced!

The attempt to break the game. He ended up red-faced!

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:

Protospiel Score 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!

Gearing Up for Protospiel-Milwaukee

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?

Scoville - Can you breed the hottest peppers?

Scoville – Can you breed the hottest peppers?

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:

A guide for how each round works in Scoville.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Designer Diary: Dam It!

Origins of Dam It

Current Reverse Art

Current Reverse Art

Two summers ago I came up with a goofy game design.  Last week I wrote about the game being rejected, and what I learned from that.  I called the game “Dam It!”  The goal of the game is to build a dam across the river before any of the other beavers build their dam.  Since the game was recently rejected by a publisher it is now back in my hands.  So today I bring you my “designer diary” about the game from concept to its current state.

When I came up with the game I had the idea that it would be really cool to play a card game where you stacked transparent cards so that an image was built up after a few cards were piled on.  This fit with a dam theme since you could stack cards to complete a dam (logs, sticks, mud, etc.).  The problem with that is that when using transparent cards you can always tell what the other players are holding unless the outlines are the same image. And if the outlines are the same, then there’s no point in stacking them.  The only way to make transparent cards work is to have separate decks; one for playing and one for building.  So I threw the transparent card idea out right away.  But for some reason I still made a game about building dams.

So I came up with the idea to build a dam using Big Logs, Twig Filler, and Mud.  Oh, you can also hire helpful beavers to build more efficiently.  And you can damage your opponents dams by sending stones or weeds down the river.

Now I had a bunch of cards to make and I had what I thought was a good system for how those cards would be used.  Big Logs, Twig Filler, and Mud would be the building materials.  Weeds and Stone would be damage cards.  And Angry Beavers, Eager Beavers, Mildly Eager Beavers, and Busy Beavers would be the hired help.

The First Play Test

I made a board for up to six players.  I printed and cut out about 160 cards. And I got my friends to try it out at a board game day.  Here is a hastily made reproduction of what the original board looked like:

Each player has a column stretching across the river, composed of 5 dam sections.

Each player has a column stretching across the river, composed of 5 dam sections.

On your turn you would draw two cards and then play any or all cards that you wanted to play.  When you played sets of cards onto your dam you would remove the appropriate number of cubes from that dam section.  When your turn was done you would draw back to five cards.

The first play did not work so well.  We were able to play the game, but it was like driving a Yugo down the road with two flat tires.  The first problem was that the game took forever.  Early on players would have to gather a set of 4 Big Log cards just to get a dam section started.  Those Big Log cards each had a percentage on them.  When the set of four was played, the percentages were added together and that is how much the flow in that dam section would go down.  But players would have to get sets of four for Big Logs, Twig Filler, and Mud.  And they would have to do that for each of the 5 dam sections.  Changes ensued!

Making it (Marginally) Better

To make the game better and to speed the game up I made the following changes:

  1. Decrease from 5 dam sections to 4.
  2. Remove the percentages of the flow decrease on the cards and standardize each set. (i.e., all Big Log sets would be worth a 30% flow decrease).
  3. Increase the number of cards in a player’s hand from 5 to 7.  This would allow for better probability of getting the required building sets.

So with those changes the game played better.  But there were still problems.  The downtime was too great.  The interaction was minimal.  And the greatest problem was that the game depended too heavily on getting the right cards.  Often there would be one or two players who would just never draw the Big Log cards.  And you can’t start building until you get them.  So they just sat there at the table unable to do anything fun in the game.  That’s boring.  So I made more changes.

One of the best ways to illustrate the changes in the game is to show the evolution of the Big Log cards.  Note: the log artwork on these cards is from Microsoft (here) and another source that I must not have documented.  For future prototypes I plan on using only original artwork or artwork from sites like Game Icons.

How the art, and characteristics, of the Bog Log card changed over time.

How the art, and characteristics, of the Big Log card changed over time.

In that image you can get an idea of the evolution of the game overall.  One of the biggest changes was going from removing blue cubes which represented flow to adding brown cubes which represent the actual dam you are building. Another key change was to allow the Big Log cards to either be used individually or two at a time.  Using them individually could help get you started faster.  Using two at a time could help you build one section more quickly.  But…

People Still Weren’t Having Fun

Can these beavers save my game?

Can these beavers save my game?

So during that playtest the night before potentially pitching to a publisher at GenCon  one friend of mine pointed out that the game just wasn’t very fun.  That’s a HUGE problem.  The whole idea of designing board games is to create an environment where the players will be having fun.  The comments were the same: minimal interaction, runaway leader, never getting the cards I want.  So I made a change that added two new beavers: Sneaky and Grumpy.

The idea of the Grumpy beaver is to increase the interaction between players.  Previously the weeds and stone could only be sent downstream.  In the late game situations this basically meant you could only attack the player to your left.  But if the player to your right is really close to winning, you’d probably rather attack them.  So the grumpy beaver, when paired with stone or weeds, allows you to attack any other player, not just downstream.

The idea of the Sneaky beaver is to help prevent a runaway winner.  When a sneaky beaver is played one player is attacked.  The person playing the Sneaky beaver will remove three cubes from one dam section of the player being attacked.  Those cubes are then given to other players and placed on three separate dam sections.  This helped with the runaway leader problem.

So I had solved two major problems with the game through one revision.  But was it any fun?  Just the other night at our board game night the person who had never enjoyed Dam It mentioned that it was never any fun until these two beavers were added.  That was music to my ears.  So I had converted the hater.  And I was now confident enough to send this game off to a publisher.

Rejection

Yep… the game was rejected.  You can read about that in last week’s post: Lessons Learned From Rejection. However, I received some excellent feedback on how to improve the game.  The two pieces of feedback I found most helpful were:

  1. Use the cubes for more than just visual notation of the current state of your dam. For example, be able to spend cubes for a special action.
  2. Mitigate the luck of the draw aspect by having several cards face up to draw from, a la Ticket to Ride.

Both of these will increase the options for your turn, and give a player more to think about.  Good stuff!

In Hindsight…

One of the things that I thought was really important was the art of the prototype.  I should mention that this was before I followed a ton of great people on Twitter, who know what they’re talking about.  I thought that the art had to be really good.  I didn’t want thin paper cards with minimal art and sketches and notes.  I wanted a product that looked complete.  I thought this was important for the publisher.  Why did I think that?  Well, it seems like an obvious thing because it’s the idea of making a good “first impression.”

This was a problem for me as a designer because I spent way too much time working on the art (in The Gimp) when I could have been play testing or designing other games.  While I enjoyed working on the art, it just wasn’t important.  What if the publisher chose to publish the game, but also chose to re-theme it?  Then all that time would have been potentially wasted unless.

Another thing that I would have done differently is to send the game off for blind play-testing.  One great program for this is Grant Rodiek’s Prototype Penpal Program.  I think blind play-testing is critical so that you can test not only the game, but also the clarity of the rules, from people who are not biased towards you.  I plan on utilizing the Prototype Penpal Program after attending Protospiel-Milwaukee in March.

In hindsight there are plenty of things to change about the process I went through with Dam It.  I’ve learned tons but only because I made the mistakes that I made.  Sometimes it’s better to learn by doing, even if the doing is filled with mistakes.

What’s in Store for Dam It?

Scoville - come play it at Protospiel-Milwaukee!

Scoville – come play it at Protospiel-Milwaukee!

I will not currently pursue this game any longer.  It is an appropriate time to shelve the project.  I am currently heavily testing and revising my game, Scoville, so that it will be ready for demonstration and play-testing at Protospiel-Milwaukee in early March.  Since Scoville has more potential than Dam It it means the beavers will have to take a back seat.  I also have other game designs that I feel are more intriguing than Dam It that are not quite at the prototype phase yet.

If I were to pursue major revisions for Dam It I would start with play-testing the face up draw cards.  That seems an obvious improvement to the game.  I would also brainstorm the potential other uses for the cubes.  I have added the face up draw to the rules, which should hopefully be up on BGG in the near future.  If you want a copy of the rules, just let me know on Twitter.

Dam It has been a fun first game to work through the whole process of invent – prototype – play test – submit. I learned a ton and had a lot of fun.  I think Scoville has definitely benefited from my experiences with Dam It!  Want to find out?  Come try it at Protospiel-Milwaukee!

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