One thing board game designers have in common is that we all have many different ideas floating around in our heads. We have all these great ideas that we want to add into our game, like a novice chef throwing in all the spices in their disposal.
Though some of those themes, game mechanics, components, etc, could enhance the game, there is also a chance that they may hinder and take away from it. We have to step back and think if the idea will enhance the core idea of the game or distract from it. Just like how the saying goes, sometimes less is more.
I spoke to Nate, designer of Landstorm, who wanted to share his thoughts on trimming the fat off of his games. In this article, he gives his thought process of cutting gameplay components from his game and his play testing strategies.
Landstorm is a medium weight tabletop game currently in development.
Two to five players compete to expand their humble village into the most renowned kingdom across the land through agricultural, military and cultural superiority! Gather rare resources, build great structures and tame wild creatures to strengthen your territory before your rivals invade… or perhaps you’ll have to make the first move!
From your experience how do you trim the fat from your board game design? How do you determine what to keep and what to leave out?
As I’ve been designing a 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) which tend to be expansive and time-consuming games. I have had a goal of keeping the barrier to entry low and making it accessible to both casual and serious gamers. Hoping to capture the epic empire building experience in a streamlined way in under two hours has definitely meant trimming fat and condensing as much as possible. Adding to a game is always easy and there’s a temptation to keep adding new features but refining the game down to it’s essentials is often the better choice. Knowing what those essentials are for your goal is what’s important. First, you have to understand what you want the game experience to be so you can filter decisions through that. If I don’t want it to be overwhelming to newer players, I have to avoid extra systems and rules to learn. Make sure you’re keeping the parts that hold true to the core experience and be willing to cut anything that isn’t essential or that delays the experience.
What did you have to cut out? Any game mechanics or gameplay elements?
I definitely had to cut content which can be painful but telling yourself you’re saving material for a potential expansion can help take away the sting of scrapping something you love. I have tons of ideas and components to build into an empire but providing a simpler, solid foundation for intuitive gameplay with tons of room to grow, is much better than an intimidating book of rules and a steep learning curve.
What are you looking for during playtests?
What are you testing for?
Some testing has been to see how the game works after cutting something; to see if it runs smoother or where the game breaks. Also, playtesting is for watching behavior and seeing what is apparent to new players. When you play your own game, you’ll see everything way clearer than anyone else will. Because of that, a first-time player’s perspective is so valuable. Make sure the most fun parts of your game are things players will run into accidentally.
Do you make a hypothesis?
I do a lot of game design and problem solving in my mind. I don’t have as many opportunities to playtest, so I’ll think through problems, create a hypothesis, run through variables and consider the side effects to connected aspects. That way when I have a chance to playtest, it’s normally pretty smooth and will confirm thoughts I had or reveal things I hadn’t anticipated.
Do you isolate variables?
I try to test bigger changes one at a time to get an accurate sense of the difference made. With certain ideas, less related to each other, I’ve playtested different variables simultaneously to save time.
How do you use the feedback provided? How to use feedback correctly?
What feedback do you take and ignore?
I wouldn’t suggest ignoring any feedback. What you have to do is properly evaluate it. Feedback I receive from a close friend, that has played the game many times and understands the vision of the game, is processed much differently than feedback from a first-time player at a convention. They are both super valuable and necessary.
You have to remember that you’re the designer and it’s your job to solve problems. People will give their ideas and solutions and you should thank them and take notes but try to see the issue they’re raising at the root of their suggestion. It’s easy to get defensive but remember that people are giving you their valuable thoughts and time. Even if they’re wrong, the more feedback you receive the easier it will be to see trends, common confusions.
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Article published on www.fourtato.com