Iterating the Game

June 18, 2018

It’s been a few months since my last blog post but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy iterating the game. Initially I made most of the changes I outlined in my last post. I recreated the entire board about 20% smaller which took quite a while. But it helped since now the board more easily fits on tables, especially the ones at Snakes & Lattes which are fairly narrow. I completely revamped the end game. I took away victory points and made it so the win conditions were constructing the 5 buildings of your base and storing a certain amount of meat and ore to survive an impending asteroid collision with earth. Dinosaurs just can’t catch a break. I eliminated energy as a resource and removed the ore deck. Now support units will just passively acquire a certain amount of resources when landing on a mine space or next to the herd. Air units could now pillage resources from a player if they could reach an opponent’s’ buildings. I decided to keep these passive resource abilities on the character sheet but I put the support offensive abilities on cards and into the starting hand. I put using ordnance onto cards that you add to your deck when purchasing that type of ordnance. I also created prey cards that you could use attacks on to gain meat for that turn. The most time consuming change was completely redesigning the deck using a program called Multideck. It takes all the card info from a spreadsheet and fills in templates you create with all the information and pictures. Here’s an example of an old card that I drew by hand, and a new card printed from Multideck. Making card changes would now be much quicker than always drawing new ones.

After all these changes I went ahead and tested version 2.0 at Snakes & Lattes. I ended up playing it with a group of 3 guys named Yuri, Brad, and Will. (I definitely need to make it a point to get last names from now on so if this game ever gets published, I can include a list of my play testers).

They really seemed to enjoy the game and gave me a lot of great feedback. I ended the playtest after about 2 hours in which we still only made it through about 3 rounds. Each turn and round was still too long, not enough cards were being bought, and overall there was still too much downtime between turns. This is a recurring problem. On the upside Yuri said he would have kept playing the game and they all really loved the attacking and defending mechanism. Seeing as this is the most unique game mechanic in Primal Ordnance, it’s very encouraging that every playtest group so far has enjoyed that part the most.

At a panel back at Fan Expo, designer Sen Foong Lim said something that has stuck with me which I’ll paraphrase, “Find the fun in your game, and build the game around that”. The attacking and defending is definitely the most fun so I needed to find ways to get players to do that more. For myself, I also still wanted to make the deck building more important as well.

After that test, my next goal was to get the game ready for Breakout Con about a month later. I knew there would be open tables to playtest games so I wanted to spend the weekend there playtesting with attendees. But not long after designer night I ended up signing up to a new Mentorship Program that was announced for the con. I would get the opportunity to have 4 published designers play my game and give me feedback for 3 hours. That was exciting and I worked many late nights to make the changes I felt the game needed. The first priority was to incentivise players to attack each other with ordnance more. I removed about 80 - 100 cards from the deck. Any ability cards that didn’t have a direct impact on attacking or defending were removed. One card type I did add was one that allowed you to trash cards from your hand. I made it so each building you bought let you choose one of two stat upgrades rather than just giving you one by default. That way players could choose what stat they wanted to upgrade most. I made a rule that the further away a mine was the more ore you would get from it. Same with pillaging from bases. Battle Class units could also pillage from bases. All of these changes would hopefully make the game play faster and encourage more movement around the board.

I initially planned on simply carrying these changes into the Mentorship Program playtest to see how it went but the week prior to the event I found out who my playtesters would be: game designer Jason Anarchy, RPG designer Hamish Cameron, Snakes and Lattes game curator and designer Steve Tassie, and game designer Jon Gilmour. I didn’t know Jason and Hamish then, but when I read Steve and Jon’s names I got both excited and nervous. And I’m not one that gets nervous easily. Steve is the curator for the game cafe I go to a lot so I know he’s played thousands of board games and would have a lot of insight into what makes a great game. And Jon of course is the designer of Dead of Winter, and more recently Dinosaur Island. So the guy who designed a hugely successful dinosaur game was going to be playtesting my dinosaur game! I don’t get stressed very easily but knowing this definitely added some fun pressure to the playtest.

With this knowledge I recruited my wife and two members of my game group Adam and Graham to do a quick playthrough 2 nights before Breakout Con. I’m so glad I did because it still brought up a lot of the same problems that the previous iteration had. Turns were way too long making downtime way too long. Too much micromanaging of the support units. It took too long to save enough resources to buy better weapons and not enough cards were being bought. The positive was that they loved the fighting mechanic. I see a pattern emerging.

The two biggest problems I wanted to address before the con were the slow accumulation of resources and player downtime. After some quick pondering the next day, I found one solution that would hopefully address both issues. Players would no longer do all their possible actions on their own turn. Instead, at the start of each turn, each inactive player would roll 2 movement dice that had 1, 2, or 3 on them, and assign each value to 2 different support units. They would move them accordingly and collect any resources if they landed on a mine space or next to the herd. After this the active player would play their cards, move, and attack with their Battle Class dinosaur. This way every player would be doing something each turn and doing less when they were the active player. I felt good about this change and was looking forward to testing it at Breakout Con the next day…

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