Knowing when to park

When I started this blog I had a good idea what game of mine (apart from Newspeak) I was excited about. Something I, and everyone who played it, enjoyed. A worker placement game, but one with lots of player interaction, where you build up your tableau, but use other people’s as well! Something I wanted to be simple enough to be considered a gateway game, but with enough depth that seasoned gamers could enjoy it. Sounds great, right? And in my head it was.

However, the best laid plans never survive first contact with the playtesters, just as they shouldn’t. Despite the enjoyment there was always something which should be tweaked to make it better. Some of which I did- reducing initial randomness, increasing rewards for players whose cities are used, reducing the word count. But there existed throughout a constant thorn of ‘simplicity’ vs ‘depth’.

Streamlining and making things simpler is normally a good thing, as it allows the pure mechanics to create the interesting choices, and that happened with this, but feedback from a number of playtesters, and my gut, told me it wasn’t streamlined enough. Essentially there was too much information on the cards. Each card has a cost to build, a type, a level, some VPs, a cost to visit, a reward for the person visiting and a reward for the owner (and not a cost to purchase, which confused people by not being there). Another game designer said it was simply too much, and I agree. But as I tried to remove them, I realised I was removing something which created some of the interesting decisions, a way of balancing cards so any of them could be used depending on people’s strategies. But I had to remove something.

So I hit a bit of a brick wall, and a bit of a low. I felt so close to a fantastic game, but I knew in my heart it wasn’t at that level yet. Enjoyable, but I don’t want to ride the enoyable-if-there’s-nothing-better pony. I want to make things which are the best they can be, which don’t have a nagging ‘almost great’ feel to them. I also realised that I’d involved myself so much in the game that I was overthinking pretty much everything about it.

So, for my own sanity, I’ve parked it. The change it needs to elevate it to that level has eluded me by my being so wrapped up in it. I truly feel some distance and time will help, and it’s definitely something I want to return to. And in the meantime? Well, a certain competition has kept me sane and made me re-evaluate a game I’d been working on before, giving me a breakthrough I’m super excited about. Something which I want to talk about when it’s ready, but which has been a smash hit whenever it’s hit the table. One which knows what type of game it is and gleefully runs with that mantle. I can’t wait.

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