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BGD Confessional

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Anonymous

Well, I got my first game published in May, and that was an unambiguously good thing from my point of view. But things didn't go, at the time of release, quite as smoothly as they could have done due to a really basic error we made.

I thought I'd share the incident here, if only as means of public confession for the most basic of mechanical oversights, or perhaps because it might help someone else who would have considered making the same mistake at some point in the future...

Without boring you by explaining the game's rules, players take actions to draw cards or perform other functions. Originally, I had used a rather tall deck of cards, and the exhaustion of the deck was the criterion for the end of the game.

Shortly before printing, the publisher suggested to me that we halve the size of the deck and play through it twice. This would lead to a shorter deck (which would fall over less) and halve the number of cards per game.

Playtesting of this showed no change in the way the game played, and I didn't forsee any problem. We therefore reacted with great surprise to comments that it ended too quickly from those players who had been sent preview copies with which to practice for the UK Spielchamps tournament. For us, it still ended when the game had matured and longer term strategies had long enough to pay their fruits.

Our mistake was not to consider that the playing style of newbies (as opposed to playtesters who knew the game well) would affect the smaller deck in a fundamental way.

People approaching the game for the first time tended to draw cards rather than make long-term investments. This had always been the case, but when playing with the single large deck of cards it had generally fallen to more nuanced strategies.

However, we had failed to consider that newbies hoarding cards in their hands would, when reshuffling a smaller deck to through it for a second time, greatly reduce the playing time, as they were denying the cards they held from the recycled deck. Thus, heavy card drawing was, when the cards were being hoarded, multiplying the rate at which the game ended.

Anyway- the end result was a game which wasn't playing as it had done as a prototype. The solution has simply been to return to the old method, and make the decks larger and return to a "once through" system. The publisher has mailed replacements to everyone who bought a copy and supplied them in all new ones. This doesn't mitigate the problems encountered by the tournament players, and I've already resolved never to work on something that is being advanced to meet a tournament deadline (as we hadn't had time to find this wrinkle in advance of the competition and correct it), but it all ended well and is restored to former functionality.

So ends a cautionary tale on the ramifications of what seem like minor production changes. I still can't quite believe I never thought through the problems that occurred, but these things happen, I guess...!

Best wishes,

Richard.

IngredientX
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Re: BGD Confessional

Very good advice, and I'm glad it seems to have resolved itself. I took the liberty of looking Media Mogul up in BoardGameGeek, and it certainly sounds like an interesting game. I hope it can make it across the Atlantic someday. Best of luck with it!

Scurra
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BGD Confessional

One unfortunate side-effect of that experience has also been that there are a number of people in the UK who will "never play Media Mogul again" as a result of this glitch (which is a little unfair on Richard, IMO.)

I must confess that this experience happened in our group too (when practising for the event) as two of our players were mich more aggressive and I think realised what the problem was at some point during the first turn of the game.
Meanwhile I had deduced that the longer-term payoffs were much more interesting, but didn't get to find out because the game ended in four turns :) This happened in our second game too, which rather depressed me and certainly made me wonder what was going on.

It's a very salutory lesson in the playtesting experience. I have a design which was deliberately engineered to make the first-time experience borderline unpleasant - however I had hoped that there were enough signs that this experience wasn't a fault in the game but a deliberate design policy. So far it hasn't worked ;) But I don't like telling people what to do, as it can lead to even worse groupthink than usual...

Anonymous
BGD Confessional

Scurra wrote:
One unfortunate side-effect of that experience has also been that there are a number of people in the UK who will "never play Media Mogul again" as a result of this glitch (which is a little unfair on Richard, IMO.)

Hopefully not too many feel like that but I know there are group in Finchley who have taken severe umbrage, apparently. It's quite difficult to change peoples' minds after a negative experience, I fear, but at least the number of people exposed to the flawed rules are fairly minimal. I was very worried we'd suffer negative word-of-mouth, but so far things are picking up; the Counter and Games Journal reviews, in the next few months, will be the real test, though.

Scurra wrote:
I must confess that this experience happened in our group too (when practising for the event) as two of our players were mich more aggressive and I think realised what the problem was at some point during the first turn of the game. Meanwhile I had deduced that the longer-term payoffs were much more interesting, but didn't get to find out because the game ended in four turns :) This happened in our second game too, which rather depressed me and certainly made me wonder what was going on.

Looking back, it now seems quite amusing to think just how perplexed I was at why groups such as yours encountered that problem. I remember Tanya, Markus and Mark were suggesting that everyone must be burning the draftable cards every round, or making some other mistake, in order to get through the deck that quickly. It took us ages to work out how it was physically possible to get through the cards that quickly, because we hadn't imagined people hoarding so many cards and never using them.

Scurra wrote:
It's a very salutory lesson in the playtesting experience.

I suspect these sorts of things will always happen from time to time. Whilst the golden rule of playtesting should always be that you don't change anything without rigorously testing it, getting "blind playtests" by people who are completely fresh to the game is always difficult when you've got a deadline. In our case, we only knew in January that we'd be required to have fully printed copies ready for 1st May, as opposed to Essen. While the game had been in a finished state for 6 to 12 months, it didn't leave very long to actually fine tune things. For example, the capacity to play with up to 6 players got scrapped, as we decided we didn't have time to smooth it out properly. The change in the way the deck and game end conditions interacted seemed so unimportant that there seemed no need to send it back to the playtesting process: Mistake no.1. ;-)

Scurra wrote:
I have a design which was deliberately engineered to make the first-time experience borderline unpleasant - however I had hoped that there were enough signs that this experience wasn't a fault in the game but a deliberate design policy. So far it hasn't worked ;) But I don't like telling people what to do, as it can lead to even worse groupthink than usual...

Yes, it can be awkward when a game goes beyond the explanation of rules to providing a strategy primer. It always feels odd if a game has to be played in a particular way to function properly. (Indeed, as I said above, there was nothing wrong with the prerelease MM rules, if you played it exactly how we'd intended ;-). There is a slightly tangental issue of whether a game should function in the face of one player acting completely irrationally, but I'll shut up on that for now.

There are plenty of games where the first experience is hopeless, but I often find this encouraging as it suggests experience is rewarded. This said, there's a difference between ending a game thinking 'right, let's play again; I know exactly what I'd do differently' and 'wow, that made me feel I was stupid'. I think Mao is the only game I've ever played where it truly was unpleasant the first time but not since, and that is for very different reasons from most German-style games.

Best wishes,

Richard.

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BGD Confessional

Richard_Huzzey wrote:

Scurra wrote:
I have a design which was deliberately engineered to make the first-time experience borderline unpleasant - however I had hoped that there were enough signs that this experience wasn't a fault in the game but a deliberate design policy. So far it hasn't worked ;) But I don't like telling people what to do, as it can lead to even worse groupthink than usual...

Yes, it can be awkward when a game goes beyond the explanation of rules to providing a strategy primer. It always feels odd if a game has to be played in a particular way to function properly. (Indeed, as I said above, there was nothing wrong with the prerelease MM rules, if you played it exactly how we'd intended ;-). There is a slightly tangental issue of whether a game should function in the face of one player acting completely irrationally, but I'll shut up on that for now.

Richard,

First let me say I'm sorry that happened to you It's one of those "Once bitten, twice shy" situations. One of my major concerns when designing games is determing the correct (and optimizied) ratio of cards, and your example has reinforced that concern.

As for steering people in the right direction, I don't think it's too out of line to do so. I've seen strategy suggestions in several games (none come to mind right now) and I've always viewed them as helpful. It's your game world, and it will react a certain way to certain situations. If the players aren't willing to heed your advice about such interactions, then they should be willing to lose without having any complaints. Now, if the actions of a one or a few players 'break' the game system for the rest of the players, then that is a problem. I'm not sure if that was the situation for you here, if it was then that is a problem. Hopefully mechanisms could be put into place to prevent breaking a game for everyone (such as increased deck size, hand limit, etc etc), which it sounds like you did here.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, hopefully someone here can benefit from your experience!

-Darke

Anonymous
BGD Confessional

Darke,

Darkehorse wrote:
First let me say I'm sorry that happened to you It's one of those "Once bitten, twice shy" situations. One of my major concerns when designing games is determing the correct (and optimizied) ratio of cards, and your example has reinforced that concern.

Yes; this was pretty much a simple oversight that there may be lots of cards in players' hands at the point at which the half-size deck was shuffled to create a new one, thus making two half decks less than a whole.

Darkehorse wrote:
As for steering people in the right direction, I don't think it's too out of line to do so. I've seen strategy suggestions in several games (none come to mind right now) and I've always viewed them as helpful. It's your game world, and it will react a certain way to certain situations. If the players aren't willing to heed your advice about such interactions, then they should be willing to lose without having any complaints. Now, if the actions of a one or a few players 'break' the game system for the rest of the players, then that is a problem. I'm not sure if that was the situation for you here, if it was then that is a problem. Hopefully mechanisms could be put into place to prevent breaking a game for everyone (such as increased deck size, hand limit, etc etc), which it sounds like you did here.

I hadn't made it very clear in my second post, but in that paragragph I'd moved off my own "accident" and onto general thoughts when I was talking about the extent to which the rulebook should "coach" players. While I think very general hints to avoid humiliating first experiences (e.g: 'Don't forget to increase your engine speed' or 'try to make sure you have a manned production building as soon as possible') can be okay, it is always a little dissapointing not to get a feel for a game on your own. With regards to David's newbie nightmare game, I was thinking that, whilst you can advise people, it is hard to railroad people.

This said, I'm more worried about games that can be broken by a certain strategy, even if it is a sub-optimal one. An incompetent player could crash the game and, even if they don't win, they'll have changed the way it was working, and possibly schewed who wins. Even if you suggest they don't do this in the rules, it bothers me that it is still legally possible to do this. I ended up on this subject tangentally, just because it's something I've been thinking about recently...

None of these were exactly what happened in my own experience: it was more the fact that a particular strategy (of drawing cards and ignoring long-term investments) had suddenly and unexpectedly gained the ability to end the game prematurely, due to the effects of card hoarding being magnified by using a half-size deck (replenished from the discards and played through a second time) rather than a larger one, as we'd used originally. We'd dismissed the card-drawing strategy as irrelevant, earlier, in games with a large deck, but never considered they would shorten the game (when using the half-size deck) to an extent where more subtle strategies (of the kind we, and David, were going for) hadn't had a chance to get going.

Thanks for your kind words; I'm glad the experience might be useful to others. My conclusion is that you should always find unanticipated ways in which production changes suggested by publishers might affect gameplay(!). I certainly missed the fact that it altered a fundamental property of that game with such a simple tweak.

Luckily, it has been fixed by the simple expedient of returning to one large deck--- the only cost being a little more in cards for the publisher, and, more importantly from my perspective, a few riled players from amongst those who played the broken version.

Now, back to the Henry V game... ;-)

Best wishes,

Richard.

Anonymous
Re: BGD Confessional

IngredientX wrote:
Very good advice, and I'm glad it seems to have resolved itself. I took the liberty of looking Media Mogul up in BoardGameGeek, and it certainly sounds like an interesting game. I hope it can make it across the Atlantic someday. Best of luck with it!

Thanks-- I think that some copies will probably make themselves across the pond after Essen.

JKLM Games are apparently having difficulty getting any attention from Funagain at the moment, but I'd guess they'll be stocking it eventually, and re-stocking Kogge etc.

Richard.

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