Play-Testing Nevera Duels 2: Learning Curve
In the last official debrief I focused on rhythm and tempo, this yielded some great insights which you can read about here. Before getting into the second official debrief I will detail some of the changes for our card game Nevera Duels we made in response to these lessons.
1. Randomizing Bouncing: Last time when a card was bounced from the player's board to their hand for any reason, the game would slow down greatly or even stop, as the player decided which one to take back. In response to this I made all bouncing random (card selected blindly by the opponent).
2. New Win Condition: Last time the win condition drew the game length out too long and seemed to be disconnected from the other mechanics of the game. In response I decided that the game would end once one player hand lost 8 minion cards. This would also mean there are fewer components for the finished game which is always a positive.
Although there were more possible change I could have made, I would wait to do, as it seemed wise to only change a few elements at once to gauge their impact on the game.
In this debrief I will focus on learning curve. After playing with some friends who have never played a game of this genre, I had the chance to assess some of the learning curve issues in real detail. Also please enjoy this time-lapse video of one of our play game sessions.
Learning curve is essentially the rate at which someone can learn how to play the game, and also how long it takes them to play the game effectively. Different games aim at different learning curves; some games want to appeal to casual players and want them to be very easy to pick up and learn, some game want to appeal to players who love difficult complicated games that takes hours or days to complete.
My goal is for my game to be quick to learn mechanically, but have the potential for a lot of depth and strategy that players can spend a longer time learning and becoming an expert with. This curve is easier to implement in video games as there can be a tutorial, signposts and carefully calibrated difficulty curves. The program itself can also do a lot of the math in the background so the player can focus on the play. But with physical games there is much more responsibility on the player to engage with and absorb the mechanics and rules.
My friend felt as though I had more hampering abilities than he did, or that I was able to do more hampering in general than he. I was using some abilities which made it difficult for him to keep up, and I was using abilities which protected my minions from harm, which not only made the game feel uneven but also slowed the rhythm of the game down, which is definitely against my goals.
Reducing the effectiveness of some abilities, such as the ability to shut down opponent abilities, the ability to prevent the opponent drawing cards, and the ability to bounce cards back to the opponent's hand from the board might be either too cheap or too easy to exploit. However this might be an element of learning curve as I am more attuned to the abilities of the cards and my friend is less familiar with the possible strategies, meaning this requires more observation.
My friend also felt it was difficult to come back from being in a defensive position. Once he was on the back foot it was difficult for him to find a strategy to build his power back up again and be competitive. It is important that is it possible for a player who is behind to have a chance at catching up again, and so I need to look closer at the options a player has once they are behind. Although again, this might be due to lack of familiarity with the possible strategies.
The change to make all bouncing cards back to the players' hands random was a great step. Partly because it didn't break the pace of the game. The player did not have to scrutinize each card and decide which to return to their hand, which would be especially difficult for new players to assess their options.
The altering of the win condition, to simply trigger once a certain number of minions had been destroyed, was a huge improvement. This meant that there were fewer elements to keep track of in the game for newer players. Also, having elements of the game that are disconnected from the theme are harder to remember, making learning more cognitively intensive. So I am very satisfied with this change.
I was able to quickly teach my friend how to play even though he had not played a game of this genre before, although he does work for a video game company and is very proficient with games in general. This is an important element to notice, but the real test will be to see if two players can learn the game quickly with only a rule book and no input from me.
Although it will take more play-testing to confirm, it seems as though both changes I made the mechanics had a positive impact on the game, and helped overcome some challenges that were being experienced. In terms of learning curve I am happy how quickly new players can pick up the game with my assistance, but it will be very informative to see how two players with no familiarity with the game pick it up without me to help support them. Fortunately I do keep a close record of what questions they ask me so I can make sure I include the response in the rule-book for future players.