It's been a busy week at Pope Towers. We had a friend's wedding (Chief, one of my core Codename: Vacuum playtesters), The Wife's birthday and then a busy weekend of among other things homebrewing. Despite all that, I've managed to get a game of Vacumm in, and made some more changes.
The April version of Codename: Vacuum is proving... transient. The last couple of versions have lasted a month or so without any changes, but my attempts to simplify things (addressing a common criticism) have been fairly sweeping, and fairly bad. I've tried a couple of things and they've come out incredibly un-balanced. I've had to quickly swap them out with new versions that rein them back in. Having said all that, I'm now feeling fairly confident about this new third version of the April edition - I think this one might be the best version yet. And, I think, the simplification attempts are bearing fruit too.
So anyway, to the subject of this post.
At Chief's wedding I was having a conversation with Gav (another Codename: Vacuum playtester). I don't remember exactly what we said, but I think I can piece together enough of the conversation (corrected for drunken blathering and weak memory). Gav was chatting to me about Games Design (my hobby) and iOS app design (his). He asked me a couple of interesting questions:
Is the Games Design itself what you enjoy or is the goal of a published game what drives you?
It's an interesting question and one that I answered in a more drunken, slurred version of this: I really enjoy the design. I love spending time crafting the hand-made prototypes and doing the layout and graphic design on the computer. I loved making the hand-crafted versions of Border Reivers and the first edition of It's Alive! - it was great being able to look at those finished copies and know that I'd made them, from scratch. Having said all that, I've given myself some goals and I'm working to get Codename: Vacuum finished. I want to get a game on the shelves, an awesome game that people will sing songs about in years to come. I want to be able to look at it and know that it brings hundreds or thousands of people pleasure. Which brings me on to the second question:
Why don't you think Codename: Vacuum is an awesome game yet?
Gav has played Codename: Vacuum five or six times. He seems to enjoy it, but he's not clamouring to play it. For him it's not gaming crack. And that's true of most of the other people who've played it too. They enjoy it. But they'd not play it for forty-eight hours without sleep or food. It's alright, not awesome. I think it's getting towards a good game (which is a curse in itself), but there's still a way to go before it's awesome. That's brought us on to the subject of why Gav is not clamouring to play it. As far as my hazy memory recalls, Gav said that he enjoyed it, but it found it hard to spot where he went wrong in a game and how to improve for next time, hampered further by the fact that each time he's played the game has been different with new cards and tweaked rules. There were aspects of the game he loved (like being really excited to take his next turn after the last one finished and the way your shape your strategy by crafting your deck and play area), but even after several games he didn't feel like he knew how to play better or what he did wrong.
I'm hoping that the newer simplified versions will go some way towards alleviating this problem and that if or when Gav plays again, things will have improved to the point that he can craft a strategy and then see what could be improved next time, or how someone beat him with a better strategy (not just the un-balanced game favouring someone else's strategy). Maybe what we need to have is a dedicated playtesting night when we can play it a few times to really get a feel for it without changes in between. I'll have to try and arrange one for after our upcoming holiday.
But also, I want to introduce Gav to some other deck-building games so he can see what Vacuum is competing against and note that the bits of the game he loves are not anything original or unique, others got there first. On that note, we're going to play Thunderstone (one of my favourite games) at my next Games Night on Tuesday.
P.S. Gav: I hope my poor memory and correcting for drunkeness haven't misrepresented you!