Your best friend was bitten by a werewolf. Each month, under the full moon, he’ll kill at least one member of your sleepy rural town. Work together to scrounge the town for supplies and find a cure before the curse becomes permanent.
That was the original idea behind a my tabletop card game that I recently brought to the NYC Board Game Developers meetup.
There were about twelve people scheduled to show up for the meetup, and one copy of my two player game. In a frantic two day affair, I used a hacky card maker I found in a dark corner of the internet to digitize my cards, managed to print them out, cut, and sleeve three copies of the game at the buzzer. I also furiously wrote up the instructions at 2:00 AM the night before because I realized last minute the original instructions I typed up were inaccurate after a few self playtests.
Lycanthropy (working title) is a cooperative two player asymmetrical card game – that is to say both players, one assuming the role of the werewolf and the other their human friend, have different attributes (health, hand size, abilities, etc). They work together to find a cure, but end-game rules leave room for player vs player conflict in the event that doesn’t happen.
What I learned About My Game
Point players to their goal
The biggest takeaway/feedback I received from the game was how to guide players towards completing the objective. To win, players need to obtain five cure tokens by the end of the twelfth turn.
As it stands, players can do this by trading item cards with townsfolk cards or triggering their abilities, however nothing within the game points players to that goal. A lot of times players were sitting with full hands unsure of what action to take next to bring them closer to winning. This is most likely because unless they drew a townsfolk card that explicitly mentioned cure tokens, there was hardly any mention of them, what they were, or how to obtain them otherwise.
Based on some feedback, there’s a few ways I can rectify this:
- Make a clear craftable path towards cure tokens, which gives players something to “build” towards the entire time
- Have more cards like Mysterious Code which explicitly states This card can be traded at any pawn shop owner for a Cure Token. This is a good example of a card that points players in the right direction.
The Townsfolk System Is Good
People seemed to really engage with the townsfolk mechanic. Drawing a townsfolk at the beginning of each turn and then having the wolf kill one of them seemed to be a solid starting point.
Some players encouraged exploring this further, like building out the town as they play in a more robust way, putting more emphasis on interacting with them, or even shifting the end-game condition to when there are no more townsfolk remaining.
This was largely expected based on one other previous playtest, but it’s good to see that reinforced here.
Players will break your game
Breaking the game is to be expected and is a large part of playtesting, but it’s still hilarious to see it go down in action.
To rectify the way this particular game was broken, I could create a system where townsfolk cards are “exhausted” after being interacted with, so they can only be used once a turn. I initially disbanded this idea because I was afraid there was already too much to keep track of, but maybe this one’s a necessity.
Still, watching the players figure out the loophole and expending some great mental energy on how to utilize the cards on the table to their advantage was great fun. I think there’s room for that level of critical thinking that doesn’t break the game.
There’s a lot to keep track of
I suspected this one, but it was hard to tell during solo-playtesting because I’m already managing cards for me and my imaginary friend.
There’s just too much to keep track of.
Turn orders, sanity, health, the way things resolve, and perhaps most importantly, the amount of actions a player can take on their turn (right now, six distinct actions).
The rule of thumb seems to be giving the players no more than three plates to keep spinning at once. I don’t have a solid direction on this yet, but some initial ideas:
- Pool player actions, instead of three actions each, sacrificing player autonomy.
- Combine health and sanity into one meter (the lower or higher your health, the more abilities you get, etc)
- Streamline the amount of actions players can take, like moving the ability to draw cards a townsfolk action instead of something they can do.
Odds and Ends
- Gain cure token on killing a kind of townsfolk – a good gamble especially if the game might end when there are no more townsfolk
- Some sort of token/tapping/exhausting method to keep track of utilized cards.
- Place event cards in the draw deck instead of townsfolk deck. Increase risk vs reward with regards to drawing cards.
- Rewrite how passive/active townsfolk abilities are displayed on the card.
- Pawn Shop Owner Ted is the same guy as Father Ted.
What I Learned About Playtesting (and the NYC Board Game Developers)
Practice explaining your game
One of the things I wish I did was practice explaining how the game works out loud. I know how the game works and how the different parts fit together, but having to find out which order to explain concepts and how to walk people through the game was a bit of a challenge. Especially when explaining to three different groups of people all playing independent copies of the game.
There’s a concept in coding called rubber duck debugging. The idea is that you work things out and see problems you previously missed when you explain your lines of code out loud to another person. Or, if no one is around, explain it to the titular inert rubber duck that’s sitting on your desk.
The same concept can be applied to explaining your game rules. As I was explaining the rules, I realized as the words were coming out of my mouth that something I hadn’t anticipated was broken or didn’t work.
Have multiple copies of your game, if appropriate
I had one copy of my two player card game and initially about twelve people were supposed to show up. Two nights before the meetup, I realized this was a problem. Taking the time to make multiple copies (and in nicer quality) absolutely helped make this a smoother experience. I got triple the data and it gave everyone something to do.
The right amount of people helps, and don’t play yourself if you can help it
We ended up with six people, including myself. With three copies of my two player game, that gave everyone a set. This was great because we had three simultaneous games going at once, but I felt bad for my partner, who I had to constantly stop playing with to explain rules, answer questions, take notes, etc. If we had one more person than necessary it would have freed me up and my game partner could focus on playing the game.
I honestly have no idea how the meetup would have gone with the original twelve people. I suspect we had a large drop-off because the original meetup date was moved, but had they all shown up, I’m unsure if pairing people off (so four players per game, two on each side) would have been as effective as allowing two people to focus on the game without interference.
Meetup groups inherently run the risk of having high drop off rates because they’re free events, so overbooking can alleviate that. However for this particular kind of meetup, it might be better to get a more solid commitment from people so the game designer can prep for the room.
Bread and Butter has no cell service
The basement of Bread and Butter has no cell service, which can make communicating among the group, relying on Google docs, or allowing someone to do research on the fly a challenge. It might be worth reverting back to a more controlled space, like WeWork, for playtest specific meetups in the future.
Overall, the playtest was a success. People genuinely seemed to have fun (both playing the game and breaking it), and people were really honest, providing constructive, actionable feedback at the end of the session and throughout the evening.
As the game designer, playtesting in a large group environment is such a weird feeling. Usually when I show things off to a group of strangers, it’s a way more finished, polished product. By its nature playtesting means you’re showing something that needs some more time in the oven, at a minimum. A good playtest session can feel like a lukewarm presentation – at least initial ones for games this early in development – and that’s okay!
At the end, all I was looking for was some sort of affirmation that there was a nugget of something that could be a good game buried underneath all those cards. That question was met with a resounding yes.
Hey, do you make games, are thinking about making games, like talking about games, or just hanging out with cool people in the basement of Bread and Butter? Check out the NYC Board Game Developer’s meetup page!