Another busy week for me. It started with Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday, then doing Zombology artwork while babysitting on Wednesday evening, Zombology playtesting on Thursday lunchtime, Games Night and then finally a weekend in York with Paul and his family.
The Newcastle Playtest was a really good session. We had eight people - the second highest attendance yet. We had a new designer (Graham), Olly again, my mate Dave for the first time plus the usual five of us. We started with a couple of 8-player games of Zombology (seeing as it technically goes up to eight players, but I'd not played it with eight for months and months). We lost both games, pulling the average win/loss ratio even further from my ideal 70/30, but everyone seemed to enjoy it, with Dan (fresh from having given a couple of his prototypes to a major publisher at the UK Games Expo) saying that it gets better and better each time he plays. Nice feedback, but there's still a way to go before it's awesome.
I made some changes in the version that I made available last week, including adding another card to each suit and moving the Cure from a 5 to a 10 (which is the amount of points it's worth at the end). The 5 to 10 thing was because there wasn't enough impetus to Cure a suit you weren't backing. If someone else had played the 3 and the 4 then playing the five would just hand them the victory. If the top card was a ten instead, then there's a strong impetus to Cure a suit since you'll do very well from it. Of course, once we tried it, it had gone the other way, and playing the ten was almost always a game winning move. In one of our games on Tuesday, Dan intentionally destroyed the Cure in the only suit he'd played all game because letting someone else play it would hand them the game. Clearly ten was too high.
As the week wore on I tried a couple more things out. Someone had suggested making the Cures value 8 at the Playtest session so, while babysitting for a couple of friends' sleeping kids on Wednesday, I started doing the layout for another version with 8 as the top card.
Next up was Thursday lunchtime playtesting. We played with the Cures as 8s that seemed to go ok. We played three games: a couple with six players and then another with four. We won two out of three, pulling things back in the right direction. This is the first time I've had a version of the semi co-op that there's actually a chance of it going either way. The first attempt way back in February was played twice, lost twice and there was no apparent chance of winning. I made a bunch of changes, and then through the next five or ten versions we've not had a single loss. And to be honest, it never felt like there was much chance of losing with those versions.
This version is clearly in the balance. As a scientist finding a cure is possible, there's something to strive for and work towards, while you try to work out which of the available suits could potentially lead to a cure. By the same token, there's a real risk of the zombie apocalypse leading to everyone's deaths. It is, after all, an apocalypse. There's got to be some chance of everyone dying. Is the balance right? Probably not. But I'm now at the point where I've got a version I can start tweaking to get the balance where I want it.
What I really need to do now is start collecting some hard data. I've started recording the win/loss results and graphing them, but what I really need is a lot more data - loads more games. Then, finally, I might have enough information to be able to make the correct decisions rather than just flailing around changing things at random in the hope the next game goes better than the last!