As I've play tested more and more, I've become more happy and secure with my design choices. So when you have a group of hardened designers tear it apart it kind of sucks.
That's what happened to me the other week and yes it was initially deflating, but my game is better and stronger because of it. It's something all designers will probably have to go through at some stage.
I think the important thing with all play testing and play testers is that everyone's opinion is valid. What you, as a designer, have to be conscious of, is what was the experience of the player giving feedback? Why do they feel like they do? Did they have the experience you wanted them to have?
For example, if someone feels frustrated, is it because they were losing and they knew there was no way for them to win?
So let me be specific about the feedback I got and what I've done about it.
I played a usual game of Nothing to Declare with 6 players. What that means is 3 blind baggage cards a hand of 5 passenger cards. The usual antics of concealing and revealing baggage cards, inspection cards.
The interactions that players had with each other was exactly what I wanted and has been happening with the game. People going tit-for-tat, having fun picking on the person with the most baggage.
What happened, which was unusual, was that one person had a hand of 3 of the same passenger card. This meant that their options were considerably limited. They didn't have a fun time, which honestly is what upset me the most.
Players wanted to know why they couldn't have cards that allowed them to inspect other people, why there weren't more variety of passengers, why there weren't baggage items worth more points.
After digesting this, rolling the thoughts and ideas around in my head I realised what they were questioning was the central conceit of the game. When I initially devised the game it was meant to be a culmination of Sheriff of Nottingham and Exploding Kittens. A simple, smuggling things through customs game with a take-that element.
Something I was always unsure about, and something that was muddled in earlier development, was around the theme of the game. Are you a smuggler? If you are why would you be smuggling utterly useless things? I wanted to keep the game family friendly and these two bits didn't hang together well.
Then it hit me, perhaps from an off-hand comment someone made. You're just coming back from your holiday trying to sneak the weirdest things through customs in order to impress your family.
It's a simple and elegant set up that makes sense and works. I've made some other amendments too. I tried adding some higher point value cards, but all this did was devalue the lower point cards. I made all the baggage items unique, this makes it fun just to see what weird things people have.
Not only that but I doubled down on the strengths of the game, it's not a party game but it's not a heavy euro either. It's a light memory game with strong take-that elements. I reduced the player count to 6, an 8 player game took too long and burned through all the cards. I tweaked the numbers of cards, reducing the overall number of cards. This helped balance the game play and help reinforce the hand-management element.
The game isn't done. I'm on version 10 and fully expect to me on version 20 by the time the game is done.
What I've learnt is that feedback and criticism always comes from a place of wanting to make the game better, whether intentionally or not. What you do with that feedback and criticism as a designer is up to you. If it makes you question the fundamentals of your game that's okay, just be sure to do it sooner rather than later. In fact do it as soon as possible, before you get locked into something that you want to protect.
Ask yourself what you want to achieve, ask yourself what your design philosophy is. Do you want to make hugely complex and ambitious games or games that focus on social interactions?
I'm really happy with how the game is turning out and think I've nailed the mechanics now. I'll keep working on it, pushing for that Kickstarter goal line. In the meantime I have more games to work on!
Until next time!