Game Design: Delayed Play Testing

Setup

It has been over 8 months since I “completed” design work on Picky Packrats and discontinued regular playtesting. However, my friend Mike and I continued to play it fairly regularly during lunch at work for the entertainment value alone; that is, until late October when his FMLA for a newborn and then the holidays and then the early-year work pressures all got in the way. We finally played Picky Packrats again this week after a 3 month hiatus. Was the game as fun as we remembered? Did we discover anything new about the game or validate any previous conclusions? Let’s see.

Round 1: Was it still fun?

The game can be played as a single round or more if desired. We usually play three rounds and tally the score to determine a winner. We only had time to play two rounds, but Mike did not want to stop (even though he was winning) so we pushed our schedules a bit so we could play a third. The game was fun and challenging, so I felt validated on those aspects of the design.

Round 2: Did we learn anything new?

Coming back to the game after enough time to forget some habits and assumptions was good to open our eyes to some aspects of the game.

One of the changes that I made to the game late in the design process was to allow (by trimming out a rule) the player to use a card’s action on itself. This was primarily to open up the possibilities for moving cards within the grid, to not get stuck, but in this session I realized (either for the first time or, at least, that I remembered) that this permission also worked well for the “Reveal 2 Cards” action. If you use the action to reveal a different card, you then have a more informed decision on whether you want to you use the second half of the action to reveal another card or regenerate your “Reveal 2 Cards” action.

We also noted that we did not use the “Reveal Any Card” action in these games, confirming our prior notion that this just wasn’t a very valuable action, but in the process discussed a great use of it that we expect to use later. If a player moves an unrevealed card to the Trade Row, the “Reveal Any Card” action would allow a player to peek at it and determine if it is a good card to get. This came about when we revealed all the cards at the end of the games and in two of the three games there was a concealed card in the Trade Row that would have been excellent for one or both of us (a Wild in one case and a 6 in another that could have been used to compete a set.

While we were both still sound on scoring the game quickly, I was reminded that I really want to simplify the scoring. The method is simple and quick enough and a score sheet would make it a snap, I still would like the scoring for such a short game to be simpler; a matter of looking at the two grids and saying, “I win.”

Round 3: Did we validate the design?

One immediate discovery was that we did not play well. Mike was concerned about how poorly he played and I admit that playing poorly at my own game was a bit disconcerting, but this goes in the “silver lining” category. The fact that we play better when we play regularly is a sign that a player can get better at the game, that it is not totally random (like the predecessor to the game), that there are strategies and tactics that are not immediately obvious. Though the game is intended to be approachable to a large audience (we did not have any trouble remembering how to play), it does have some weight to it.

End Game

While I think most designers would love to publish a game in less time, it can be really helpful to put one on the shelf for a long enough time for its details of play to slip from your mind. Then pick it back up to see what new discoveries arise.

Your Turn

Does your design process include a hiatus from play to allow the dust to settle? Have you ever come back to an old design and had a good experience; it wasn’t bad, but you now see something you didn’t before?

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Comments

We played again 2 weeks later and were already back to our normal scores and proficiency, so it would seem that the game does take practice, but strategies are basic enough to be easily recalled after a few plays.