Designer’s Corner #6 – The Eureka Moment, and Why it’s Important to Get As Many Sets of Eyes on Your Game as Possible

I was working on my 2-player resource cubes game, Fisticuffs, for the first time in a long time recently and I had the chance to put the game in front of a new set of eyes.  Brent, my daughter’s friend’s dad of previously-playtesting-Core Meltdown-fame played my latest Fisticuffs prototype with me and I made a major change.  The change helped the game focus on its strengths AND removed a whole lot of extra components (in the form of a whole deck of cards) from the design.  The change also kept the element of surprise that the game needed from that deck in tact.  It probably helped that he, in his real job, is involved with video game design, but I came to a huge breakthrough in the game that I don’t think would have happened if it hadn’t been put in front of him.

I’ll tell you the specifics a little later, but this playtest really rubbed the idea into me hard that you should try to get your game in front of as many different people from different backgrounds as possible before you even consider publishing.  Fisticuffs has seen TONS of playthroughs with Chris and Tyson, my two friends whom I do most of my playtesting with, and they are both very different types of gamers and have helped the game grow a LOT from its starting point.  I had considered it to almost be a finished draft and ready for blind playtesting because of how smoothly it was running, but I am glad I didn’t release it into the wild yet.  The game had some unnecessary bulk filling a necessary function and I didn’t even SEE that any aspect was unneeded.

The moral of the story is, to not only play the game with as many new faces as possible, but to play with a wide diversity of experience levels and backgrounds.  Try to play with AT LEAST someone from the following types of group once before you start the blind playtesting phase of development; other game designers, core gamers, casual gamers, your parents, someone that is the minimum age that the game will be listed as playing for, groups of 2, 3, 4, 5-6, and even 7+ if you think the game might support it.

In any design, the more you play it and tweak it, the more it feels like a whole to you and you may not realize that something about it is off, unnecessary, or excessive.  With Fisticuffs, I removed the “Action cards” that players had in their hands from the game entirely.  I had some effects in the game that wanted to be playable as a surprise and on other players’ turns.  There was no other mechanic or system in the game that would have been able to handle secrecy and spontaneity in the game at the time, so I added a hand of cards that gave you these abilities.

Brent asked me why we had a hand of cards at all, because he had not even felt the need for them the whole game and never played one the entire time.  I then noticed that I had barely played any myself (1 to be precise) and told him about needing them for the surprise factor of some abilities.  The next thing he suggested floored me and changed the game forever, and for the better.

“Why not let people buy abilities from the deck face down and flip them up when they want to use them?”, he asked. (or something similar, not an exact quote).  I loved the idea immediately and over the last couple of weeks re-prototyped the whole game without action cards in it.  Now, fighters have several more slick abilities and the core game focuses more on the fight and the resource cubes, my core element I have been trying to focus on all along.  The game is better for it, and if you put your game in front of some new eyes, I almost guarantee it will unlock something you’d wish you spotted yourself that will improve your game and get it ready for blind playtests.

That’s all for this week, thanks for reading,

-Shoe
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Shoe started designing games in ‘94 in the 6th grade where he drew panel by panel Sidescroller comic/games at school for his friends to play and has been designing games ever since

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