Wednesday, August 15

Back Again

Another long hiatus! I actually wrote this blog post a couple of weeks ago, before I lost my home internet connection, now that's back up here it is!

It's been several months since I last posted here. In the meantime, We've bought a new house and moved into it and moved ever closer towards the due date of The Mini Pope.

With all the distractions I've done nothing on any games designs since the end of February - five months ago! Recently, now that most of the baby preparations are pretty much done and we're just waiting around for the big occasion my mind has started to wander back towards Codename: Vacuum, my steampunk/sci-fi deck building and tableau game.

I'd only played Vacuum once, with my regular games group back in February. The game didn't go well, not just because the game was a disaster (though as you might expect for a first play it was pretty bad!), but also because of the test. There was lots of discussion about things that could be changed and other ideas on every move, which dragged the game out over two and a half or three hours. I was hoping for a game that could play in 30 minutes with players who know it well, so two and a half hours felt disastrous, and the wealth of other ideas and suggestions (most of which would have changed the style of game dramatically) sapped me of my enthusiasm.

In the early stages of a game's design, you've an idea in your head of an awesome game, and scribbled on paper in pencil you have your first stab at that awesome game. Sadly, it's not awesome. It doesn't work like it did in your head. It's slow. Very unbalanced. Bits of it are clearly broken.

What you want to do, is play the game, find out which bits are broken, which are unbalanced and what is too complicated or too simplistic, and fix them. Then play it again. And again. And again. Each time making a few small changes. Some of your ideas will improve things, others will make things worse. It's an iterative process, culling the bits that don't work and thinking of some new ones that might. But, by the same token, you want to make incremental changes, not sweeping ones. Change something. Is it better? Worse? Change it again, or change something else. Slowly, over time it will get better. Then, strip it down to minimise the unnecessary clutter in the rules.

Now that things have settled down with the new house and we're nearly ready for the baby, my mind has wandered back to games design, and Codename: Vacuum in particular. After the first playtest I made some notes about things to improve, and printed a new set of cards that I thought addressed some of the problems that first game had. Last weekend, my friend Paul came up for the weekend and we played games late into the night on Saturday. Paul had been one of my key playtesters for Reiver Games, so I offered him a chance to play Vacuum.

The game went much better. We played the game in less than an hour and it went much smoother than the previous test. Most things worked. Several of the cards were unbalanced, but you only find that out by playing with them, so that's not a problem.

Paul enjoyed the game, and so did I, so now I'm enthused again :). I've spent the week since Paul's visit writing the rules up properly for Vacuum, so I don't forget things when my brain becomes addled due to new baby-related sleep deprivation. Next step is to print some more cards to fix the worst of the balance issues, then it's ready to go again.

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