Test early and often!

I’ve been working on two games, and even had a chance to put them both through an early test. I got great feedback: both tests revealed some critical problems in the rules thus far. I’m thankful for this greater insight at an early stage. (It definitely helps that despite being “failures” in some sense, both instances were fun.) Let me first introduce the two games, which we may see again soon.

Governor: Rise to Power. This game is about the leaders of a young planetary colony, how they seek power, and how the world changes as a result. (Certainly influenced by Agora, as well as video games in the tradition of Alpha Centauri and Civilization.)

Wushu: Remix! Little relation to the martial arts form, actually. This is my recurring attempt to reconfigure Wushu (a game that’s good for high-action stories) into something that better suits my tastes.

How’d the Governor test go? This was actually a solo test: me playing through my own ruleset with actual dice (well, virtual dice). I found that the mechanical representation of factions gave the players a good way to interface with and care about the fiction. However, once a conflict began, the core mechanic revealed some “Death Spiral” behavior that was fun at the time, but would probably be rather frustrating the second or third time. Moreover: in play, it became more clear that the mechanics, as used, weren’t focusing on the right aspects of the story I wanted. (I’ll post more later about the mechanic I used, and some alternatives I’m looking at.)

How’d the Wushu test go? This was a full playtest I ran for some friends in a scenario and setting we pulled together ad hoc. The game itself was insane fun, in the way that Wushu tends to promote over-the-top crowd-pleasing action. My new rules worked better than expected, but not good enough. The new structures I put into place, while meaning one thing in my notes, emerged as something different when translated into actual play. Your game text can say what it likes, but attaching meaning to in-game events is something that as an emergent property of the gameplay. (The next iteration of this will probably detach from the Wushu ruleset, finally.)

So, both tests actually let me refocus on what mattered to me and the other players, and which things were ultimately not so important.