NaGaDeMon 2012: Gods & Champions Part 3: Solo playtesting
As National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon) rolls on, I’m continuing to work on my new board game idea, Gods & Champions.
Quick recap: Gods & Champions is mainly a card game. Each player represents an ancient God, and the Gods act through their Champions to claim Followers and ultimately win the game. At the end of each Age of the game, the Champions can change allegiance via a drafting mechanic. This means that the Gods want to invest cards to build up their Champions, but it’s possible that a different God may claim that Champion in a later round, thus introducing tension. This is what I want to explore via the game design process – can this tension be fun?
Trying it out
Last time, I talked about the Blessing cards that you can play to improve your Champion. I got some great feedback from readers – thank you for that! I made a few tweaks, but I realized that I had no idea how good or bad various cards would be until I actually played with them. At the same time, I didn’t feel like the game was even close to being ready to try out with another person, not even my wife.
Solution: Solo playtesting!
I printed out the cards, sleeved them with Magic cards and tried things out with just myself. I played two different Gods, each with its own Champion. Right from the start, I found myself tweaking things.
It’s hard to see how much fun a game is when you play alone, but you can see if it’s completely broken or not. Gods & Champions in its initial form was indeed completely broken. It just didn’t work. Fifteen minutes of actually playing with the cards revealed what sitting in front of my computer could not.
It can be fixed
Fortunately, solutions to the problems suggested themselves quickly.
First, the Champions were completely unbalanced in their initial forms. Some of them were great and some of them were worthless. A varying power level is okay, but I don’t ever want a situation where one of the Champions just feels terrible to have. I could adjust this easily enough.
Second, it was clear that I was going to need way more cards, and more variety in them. The big insight here came from a game that one of my friends had made up in which the available cards would change as you move through the game. In the case of Gods & Champions, there will be a First Age deck, a Second Age deck and a Third Age deck. When you move to a new Age, you shuffle in the new cards (or perhaps completely replace them; I haven’t decided yet).
Third, just drawing cards didn’t present enough interesting decisions, so I added a “pay to pick” mechanic. (Coincidentally, Daniel Solis was looking for a name for this mechanic on Twitter the day after I added it to my game.) This means that there will be three cards available to choose from when it’s time to “draw” a card. One of them is free, one of them costs 1 Power Point and one of them costs 2 Power Points. I’m also including the option to draw the top card of the deck for 1 Power Point.
Fourth, things were a little too chaotic. The rules I had in mind would have players getting power points, drawing a card, playing cards and using the cards they had on the table, in any order they wished. The problem was that it became messy to remember what I had done and what I hadn’t done if I could do them in any order. I needed an order of phases within the turn, which is currently:
- Gain Power Points
- Use the cards on the table
- Draw one new card
- Play cards from hand
I also have a rule that says you can buy a Follower for 2 Power Points at any time, but I might restrict that to phase 4 of the turn.
I learned a lot from a little bit of solo playtesting, and I used that knowledge to make a very different set of cards for my next playtest, which would come Sunday night with my wife. More on that one later!
-Michael the OnlineDM