Before making Zombology available to the PIP-hunting masses I wanted to play it at least once first to give me a chance to iron out the worst of the problems.
I'd worked hard over the weekend to get the first prototype's graphic design done on the computer, then get it printed and cut out ready for the first of two Newcastle Playtest sessions in November, last night. I was excited to see how it plays, but a little concerned about the complexity of the scoring.
As people started to arrive it was easy to sell them on a ten minute game that we could all play, so we sat down to a six-player game. After a quick run through of the rules that made it clear that the scoring was too complex (lots of questions along the lines of 'run that by me again', 'so which cures score?' And 'hoojamawhatnow?'), we set off. The game played as quickly as I had hoped and was as chaotic and vicious as I had intended. People seemed to get their heads round the rules pretty quickly.
I had first had the idea for this game nearly two years ago, it was going to be themed around the science of proteomics and would be something that we could possibly have as a scientific conference giveaway for my employer. The initial idea was played once and really didn't work so it died a death and stayed that way.
However, I've been toying with how I could transform it into a working game and on my weekend walks taking The Daughter for a nap in her buggy I've occasionally considered Proteome as well as Vacuum. In the last couple of weeks I've thought that card drafting à la 7 Wonders might be a good fit for the science theme. As the game progresses you'll get to hear on the grapevine/at conferences what sort of things people are interested in and build up an idea of what's hot and likely to be successful. I ditched the proteomics theme and instead though of curing a disease. And that led to Zombology - curing zombyism.
I created a game with 12 different possible cures, each containing the same range of evidence (positive valued cards) and attacks (negative valued cards). Seeing as you'd never play with the full deck, even with the posited maximum of ten players, some of the cures would end up more powerful than others. The more powerful ones would change every game and at the beginning of the game you wouldn't know what would be best - it would be a journey of discovery that you could shape as you choose cards to play. Much like science.
I wanted players to score points for backing the most successful cures, and I thought it would make things interesting if they lost points for backing the least successful cures. So my initial scoring idea was that at the end of the game you would add up the total of each cure across all players and the ones with the highest totals earnt their players positive points and the ones with the lowest totals earnt their players negative points. The attacking cards earnt you negative points so if you attack the winning cures you lose points and attacking the losing cures won you points. In addition, the attacking cards cancelled a positive card in the same suit.
Before I went to the playtest session I was concerned the scoring was over complicated, and my fears were realised - it took almost as long to score the game as it did to play it! Afterwards I asked for feedback, and in addition to a load of interesting ideas, the main complaints were the complicated scoring and that twelve suits was too many, making it hard to keep track of how the game was progressing.
So we took out five of the suits and played again, and it went much better. The scoring was still too complicated, so I need to think on that. What that reminds me of is prototype decay, the idea that prototype components have a lifetime that changes rapidly at the beginning, so it's not worth investing too much effort in them. I've now got to make a new prototype with all new cards in six rather than twelve suits, and re-think the scoring.
I've only got a month though, so I'll need to move quickly...