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!

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