The feedback from my playtesting team continues to roll in. In many ways this is the first time I've done things properly (though still on a pretty small scale).
With Border Reivers, my first game, I played it a lot with friends and family, but I didn't try blind-playtesting until the game was nearly ready. I hired a pub function room in York and invited members of my local games club (Beyond Monopoly! along to try it out. I'd not been to the club yet, so it was blind in the sense that I wasn't testing it with people I knew, and though I (or The Wife) watched, taking notes, the players had to learn from the rulebook - we didn't teach them how to play. By the time I got around to blind playtesting, the game was pretty much finished - I was very happy to make changes to the rulebook to improve its clarity, but I was pretty much set on the rules. It's a weaker game as a result.
My second game, It's Alive! had been extensively tested by the designer, Yehuda Berlinger, so the game was pretty much ready to go. I tweaked the components to allow more players and changed the theme, but in essence I made very few changes. Again, there was a blind-playtesting night at a local pub, again with people from my local games club. This time I knew the people a little better, so their objectivity may have been slightly clouded.
Carpe Astra I tested mostly with hard-core gamers, and the blind playtesting was done with a group in America and a group in Germany. I didn't hold a pub night and had a relationship with both the groups abroad.
For Sumeria I opened the blind-playtesting up to people by holding a competition that was advertised here, on BoardGameGeek and Boardgame News. I had no connection with the people I selected based on my arcane criteria - I'd never met any of them (I think!), I hadn't corresponded with them previously and as far as I was aware they weren't massive fans of my games or my company. In addition to the competition winners, a couple of other groups are playtesting Sumeria, one in Wales and one in Germany.
I've been getting lots of high-quality feedback from the playtesters. They (and their friends with whom they play the game) aren't always huge fans of the game but they've been coming up with some great ideas. I see my role in this as acting as a mediator between the playtesters and the designer. I'm not going to make changes that the designer doesn't approve of, that doesn't help me at all. I've not passed all the suggestions on to Dirk, some of them don't fit with the game so I've rejected them. That's not to say they are wrong - just that they would take the game in a direction I don't want it to go. Now Dirk's back from his holiday he's started coming back to me with some changes too. It feels really positive, making last minute tweaks to further improve a great game.
One of the more major changes is to do with the 2-player game. One of my playtesters spotted that the 2-player game was very different from the 3- and 4-player game. The 2-player dynamic removed one of the most interesting things about the scoring. I'd not noticed this, nor had any of my other playtesters spotted it yet. Once he'd brought it to my attention it was obvious and I couldn't think of any way around it. Most people hadn't spotted it, but for those that did it really broke the 2-player game. So there were three choices:
- Ignore the problem - most people don't see it anyway
- Try to find a fix for the problem - probably by adding '2-player only' rules
- Ditch the 2-player game.
One was right out. That's a crap solution to the problem. Two is an option, but one of the things I really love about Sumeria is the depth of the game, coming from very simple rules. Adding more special case rules will clutter things up, make it more complicated. The archetypal Eurogame is one with depth, very simple, streamlined rules and a wafer-thin theme. Sumeria fits that bill as it stands, adding 2-player fixes could break that simplicity. The third option has strengths and weaknesses. Lots of people want to play 2-player games. Removing this option will make the game attractive to fewer people. It will however keep the rules simple and since several of the components were only needed for the 2-player game reduce the manufacturing cost.
After talking to Dirk, we've decided to go for option three.