Aug 9, 2017

The Last Hour of The Nevera Wars Kickstarter Campaign

We are at the last hour of the campaign and it looks certain that Nevera Wars will not reach its funding goal this summer. Thank you all so much for contributing and helping support this project.
Despite the stress of running a campaign I had really great time, I got to know a bunch of new people and feel a huge amount of pride in what was able to be accomplished. Almost $7,000 is still definitely something to feel great about. 
I will continue to work on the project myself so that I can relaunch with a lower target or in a way that makes it even more appetizing to people. 
A huge thank you to Matheus Graef for working so hard on the illustrations, Marek Jarocki for his support in producing rewards and promoting, and Scott Nicely for the graphic design work. I recommend them highly if you have any art work you need done or if you just want someone super cool to follow on the internet. 
I teach 4th grade public school in California, so with the end of the summer looming I cannot say when I might launch another Kickstarter campaign, but if it is the wisest way to bring the game to life then I'll be letting you know when I do what the plan is!
In the mean time if you'd like to check out the comic book that we successfully Kickstarted and published last year please check out our page here and like us on Facebook for future updates. 
Thanks again, 
Daniel Bishop

Jul 19, 2017

Play-Testing Tips Part 3 of 3: With Your Audience

In this post I will be offering some advice and tips for play-testing with your audience (consumers of your final product). There are some notable differences when play-testing with your audience compared to play-testing with other designers as I wrote about previously, which is why I believe it is important to address them separately.

Once again, always show appreciation and gratitude to people who play-test your game; whether it takes ten minutes or two hours, always thank that person or persons who spent their time playing your incomplete project, as their time is valuable and they chose to spend it supporting you.

Keep The Pitch Short

Designers will generally be open to, or maybe even excited to play an unfinished game, however your audience will likely be less enthusiastic to play something incomplete. It just sounds less appetizing to spend time playing something that might be broken or not fun. So make sure you rehearse a little elevator pitch that will have a good chance of hooking someone into trying your game. Don't just focus on the mechanics, try to communicate the theme, the objective, and the best part of the game (with a smile).

Also, offering a treat will greatly improve your chances

Watch For Non-Verbal Signals

Without being weird about it, spend some of your attention noticing the non-verbal expressions of your play-testers. When are they tense, when are they disinterested, when are they confused, when are they bored, when are they enthused. Players will very unlikely say "I feel lost" or "I feel powerful", and so it is wise to spend some of your focus trying to evaluate for yourself what is being evoked in the players and when. Several times I have seen players of Nevera Wars feel down and out, resigned to losing, but then discover a new option, a new avenue to success and be re-energized, all without saying anything.

The goal is not necessarily to ensure your game is exciting all the way through (don't have a little internal freak-out if a play-tester checks their phone a few times during the game). Especially if the game is long it is often better to have the occasional simple round, quick turn, or lull in action, to make the dramatic and tense moments bigger. Even the best action movies are not full-throttle all the way through, they need time for calm between the big intense scenes. The goal is to notice when specific responses are taking place so you can designer better for them.

Nevera Wars is now on Kickstarter, click to see the game, the art, and the rewards.

Great For Finding Issues But Not Necessarily Solutions

Board game players often have strong opinions, which is great for you as a designer looking for feedback. Players will often be forthcoming about what is un-intuitive, unsatisfying, redundant, and so on.

However, when a player offers you a particular solution to an issue, remember that you are the designer, and that you have a complete vision for your game which includes elements and facets that the player may not be aware of. Players are much better at identifying issues than fixes, and so their potential fixes should not be the focus of what you take away from the session. You may end up with over ten potential fixes to an issue, and giving them all equal weight will cause a paralysis in your project.

Also, when play testing with your audience, players may offer feedback and suggestions during the game or after the game. If players offer suggestions during the game do not ask them to hold their thoughts until the end, because they may forget their ideas or might want to get up and leave immediately after the game is concluded.  

If They Make Suggestions Always Ask Why

Following on from the previous point, and similarly with the previous post, politely ask why the player is offering their suggestion. If a play-tester says that your game "should include a bidding mechanic", it is important you know if they are saying it because:

1. They want more player interaction
2. They want more ways to use their resources
3. They just really like bidding mechanics and think every game should have them

Without this information you could possibly begin designing or altering your game based on feedback that is not relevant to your game or aligned with your vision. This extra probing also lets the player know you are really listening and value their feedback.

Ask For Their Rules Interpretation

If a player is unsure of the meaning of a rule, or text on the card, or how to resolve an action, it is occasionally fruitful to not assist them, and to ask them to do what they believe is best or appropriate.

For example during a game of Nevera Wars, a play-tester asked if a defensive ability could possibly be activated targeting an opponent. Although I had designed the ability to be defensive, in this specific circumstance it would have been a fine tactical option to target an opponent, but the wording on the card was ambiguous about whether this was possible. I let the player do what they thought was appropriate and they went ahead and activated the ability targeting the opponent, which resulted in some interesting mechanical flaws, and so I worded the card much more specifically to not target opponents.

Try not to do this too much, as it can easily become frustrating for the player to have their questions rebuffed and to make rules decisions themselves. If this is happening a  lot definitely spend some time rewriting the rules, the card text, and try to make the game more intuitive. But once or twice a game is acceptable and can lead to interesting discoveries or possibilities which had previously been taken for granted. 

Jul 5, 2017

Nevera Wars Card Game Kickstarter July 10th Announcement

On Monday July 10th we will be launching our Kickstarter campaign to produce Nevera Wars, a deck construction card game set in the world of Nevera, where players become necromancers, summoning powerful undead minions to battle.

Backers can receive a copy of the core game for just $19 including shipping to the U.S (+$10 for international shipping). As well as many other excellent rewards at other levels.

You can see the preview page here and click to be altered to when the campaign begins. Backing early improves the chances of success for the whole campaign so we hope to see you early next week for what will be a an exciting start to our next adventure.

Jun 28, 2017

Play-Testing Tips Part 2 of 3: With Designers

In this post I'm going to write about how play-testing with other game designers is different to play-testing with consumers or your target audience. Making the most of these opportunities can advance your project greatly and take it in directions you hadn't imagined. Last time I wrote about play-testing alone or solo and you should check that out if you haven't already. 

Most importantly, always show appreciation and gratitude to people who play-test your game; whether it takes ten minutes or two hours, always thank that person or persons who spent their time playing your incomplete project, as their time is valuable and they chose to spend it supporting you.

Play-Testing a Piece of the Game

It is perfectly acceptable (and sometimes even wise) to play-test one part of the game, instead of the full game experience. Especially at the very early stages of design, rapidly playing one part of the game repeatedly can quickly highlight issues and find fixes that feel positive and ensure each part of the game is as good as it can be. It is easy to think that for example, the bidding phase is where all the interaction and excitement happens, and so the other phases don't need to be interesting or meaningful, but play-testing just those other phases in isolation can really bring out the best in them instead of neglecting them as just necessary filler.

For example, with Nevera Wars it was incredibly useful to simply ask another designer to play the first two turns with me over and over. We did this in order to evaluate what options we had in our opening hands, if the options felt overwhelming, if the pacing or rhythm was appropriate, and other elements to ensure the game began as a positive experience, even though the majority of heavy action wouldn't come until later in the game.
If you are only testing the mid game experience, or end game experience, be imaginative and open with how you set those situations up. Try them with one player far out in the lead, and with all players pretty even, and with one player already out, to try and understand the implications of your design in different states of play. Even try with set ups that might not be possible with your current design in case that reveals some new perspective or solution.

Breaking the Game

This is probably the most painful part of play-testing, but is also the most valuable. If you can find play-testers who will intentionally break the game or break the game experience (for example winning by exploiting rules, finding infinite combos, or forcing stalemates) this will force you to confront serious design issues. By playing your game in ways you had not intended, it will quickly get you outside of your own headspace early in the design process.
With Nevera Wars, this was a very difficult experience not only watching another designer purposely try to break the game, but coming to terms with the fact that I had to change so much of the design I had become attached to. In older versions of the game, the only win condition was to destroy nine of your opponent's minions cards, and a designer quickly pointed out that they could force a stalemate by simply refusing to play any minion cards, which is what they did.
I was really adverse to adding any new rules, mechanics or phases, feeling like it would take away from the simplicity and economy of design I was striving for. But after several weeks of brain-storming and play-testing different ideas (remember there is no rush to find solutions) I eventually was able to settle on a small new rule that resolved the issue, and actually enhanced the theme of the game without adding more weight to it.

You Can Defend Your Decisions

Another important difference regarding play-testing with other designers is that you can defend your design decisions. It is important that you communicate your vision for your game so that other designers can help you get closer to it, by making thematically useful suggestions or genre specific suggestions.

If you communicate clearly that you are designing a co-op game aimed at families, the other designers will probably not make suggestions to add Take That maneuvers or interruption mechanics. If you communicate clearly that you are making a portable game that children can play on airplanes and in the back of cars, the other designers will probably not make suggestions to add a ton of counters and cubes.

This is different from being defensive, which generally means to avoid listening or avoid experiencing feedback,  conversationally maneuvering around hearing what someone has to day. More on this in the next section.

Show You Are Listening

Game designers love coming up with solutions to problems, fixes for broken mechanics, and ideas for new avenues of design. But they will stop giving suggestions and advice if they feel they aren't being listened to or that their input is not valued. The simplest way to make sure someone feels listened to is to not interrupt them, and say back to them what they said (or paraphrase).

Also make sure you understand what issue the other designer is trying to resolve when they make a suggestion. If the designer says something like "you could have some kind of bidding mechanic at the end of this phase", make sure you ask what they feel is incomplete or missing to have suggested that. If the designer says something like "you could have everyone take their actions simultaneously instead of one at time", make sure you ask if the issue is the game pacing or the lack of interaction. This will help you settle on a solution that really addresses the issue and help you understand where their ideas are coming from.

You should also have a notebook and be writing down every suggestion and idea you are given. Even ones you wholeheartedly disagree with, hate, or go completely against your theme. The idea itself might not be something you are interested in, but days or weeks down the line something about it might spark the idea for a solution, mechanic, component (or entirely new game). Also if someone sees you write down what they are saying, they really feel like you are listening and valuing what they have to say. Next time I will be focusing on play-testing with your target audience so check back in!

Jun 21, 2017

Play-Testing Tips Part 1 of 3: Solo

This is the first of three posts with play-testing advice based on my experiences designing and developing Nevera Wars. This first post addresses a topic I have not seen mentioned much on podcasts or other blogs, which is solo play-testing, or play-testing with yourself. 

Putting some significant time into play testing alone can really advance the design of a game before taking it to others to play-test, saving a lot of time in the long run. There are a lot of resources out there to take some of the heavy lifting off too before you even need to make a single component. Here are some small tips I gained along the way.

Begin at the End

After deciding on the objective of the game and what the core mechanic of the game is (what is the players' goal and how do they get it) the first action I take it to average out how many turns it might take to achieve that.

For example, if the goal is to inflict 20 damage to the opponent, and the player inflicts an average of three damage each turn (because even if my power increases each turn, likely so will my opponent's defenses), then it will take seven turns to complete the game. Even taking nothing else into account this gives an early indication of the numbers that can be manipulated to get closer to the idea finished experience. If I want the game to go longer I can increase the damage limit or decrease the average damage I expect to be inflicted.

This might sound overly simple but can be very useful when deciding what numbers to start with. Even if I expect my power to increase by one each turn (on turn one I inflict three damage, turn two I inflict four damage, and so on) the game will be over in five turns. So this gives a very clear indication about what experience I want my players to have, even if I am just speculating with averages.  

Turn Length

Another factor that can be grappled with early in development is how long a player's turn might take. A great tool was the simple combinations calculator, this tool basically shows how many different possible subsets can be made from a larger set. This is great for quickly showing how many choices a player has at any given time.

If a player can choose to do 4 actions out of a possible 10, there are 210 possible combinations they can choose, but if a player can choose to do 4 actions out of a possible 7, then there are only 35 different combinations.

This is great for getting an early indication of if your game will give the player too many choices which can really take away from the fun as they struggle to determine the best course of action. This in combination with the speculative number of turns it will take to complete a game can give a good starting point for design.

Dead Hands

One of the most useful tools I have used tools for number crunching in my development have been The Vault, which is a tool for building Magic: the Gathering decks. This tool has a huge number of secondary functions which can be useful for sculpting many games.

You can see from this image that I made a deck using Magic: the Gathering cards which are stand-ins for the cards in my game, and then I wanted to see what the likelihood is of drawing a specific card in an opening hand, which can quickly be shown using the graphs within the tool itself.

This helped me refine the deck size, opening hand size, and other elements within my game that might have otherwise taken months of play-testing to refine. Using this I crafted my components and rules so that players have an almost 0% chance of starting with a hand they cannot play with even before I began play-testing with other people.

Next time I will be writing about play-testing with other designers. Stay positive!