My co-designer and I are currently calling our game "The Game". We don't have a name for it yet, which means every time we talk about it the conversation goes like this "Do you have time to work on the game tonight?" or
"We need five people to play test the game this weekend."
Somewhere along the line it got capitalized in our sentences, you could almost hear it. We need a real name, for sure, but for now here's some more about The Game.
It started out pretty simply. There's a game my game group loves, but doesn't play. We don't play it because we've all played it so many times that it is pretty much the same game every time. There's no challenge left. So I figured I'd take this idea and fix everything our group kept saying was the reasons we stopped playing.
About two months in now the game is almost indistinguishable from our source of of inspiration, except for the fundamental game mechanic. We've play tested it somewhere between 10 - 15 times (it didn't occur to me to keep track).
Most recently we had a group of people who had never played the source material and knew nothing of our game, sit down with the rules and try to figure it out. Well the first thing we quickly learned was that I had written pretty crappy rules, so we sat down with them to go over the rules. I've since re-written the rules complete with illustrations and examples.
Two other important things came out of this play test:
1. A few rounds into the game they had "gotten it". The group had a blast playing, laughing, joking, backstabbing each other. It was very rewarding to see the game I'd designed being enjoyed like that and validated all the hard work we'd put into it up to then.
2. Be open to criticism. I am very open to feedback (but I've play tested games for designers in the past who didn't want to hear that a specific part of the game design might be flawed). This group challenged us on the rules in a few places and we came to realize those rules were really only there because they were rules in the source material, and really had no place in our game. We've changed those things, and I think the game is stronger for it, but we'll have to play test some more to be sure.
3. You can't please everyone, so don't try. Games can be very subjective, and just because someone says "I didn't like X" doesn't mean you run out and remove it from the game. This idea was really driven home in this play test when at the end we went over the spells with the testers. One spell came up and a tester insisted it was too powerful, it unbalanced the game, was unnecessary and we should get rid of it. Across the table from him another tester had the exact opposite reaction to it; he loved the spell, thought it was rare enough in the deck to offset the power, that it had multiple uses, both offensive and defensive and that it added to the game and we should keep it. Both sides are valid, and we listened, but in the end the decision is up to us (the designers).
Rules are being re-written and new cards printed for another round of play testing. At some point we'll have to move this to the next step, and I think that point's coming soon. Relatively speaking.