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Seeking Play-Testers

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Rich1983
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Joined: 02/18/2015

Hey guys. I have created a zombie-themed card game I am calling "The Road." I've made my rounds with the game in my circle of friends and family and reviews were positive. However, we all know that that kind of feedback is not the most reliable. That's why I came to this site in the hopes that people who are much more experienced than me at board game development would play my game and offer me feedback (if that's not an unreasonable request!). Questions I'm hoping to have answered: Is it fun? Is it easy to learn based on the rules alone? Is the game worthy of pursuing publication or should I just be satisfied playing with friends?

The play time of this game is very short and all you truly need to play is a standard deck of cards, 6 dice, and really anything that could be used as chips. Also, paper and pencil would help to keep track of your health and scores. I have attached my instructions page that provides rules, a demo play-through, and a couple anticipated clarifications. I believe it will be pretty quick and easy to pick up and try out, but you could let me know if that's true. I'll welcome feedback on the instructions page too, though it is not designed to be a final version and has been tailored a bit for the purpose of this forum.

If you decide to help, I should let you know that I have thoroughly solo play-tested this game and it is for all intents and purposes a final version. Therefore, the purpose of requesting play-testers isn't necessarily to help with the game mechanics, but to provide input as to the quality, marketing potential, and level of fun of the current game (though I'm always open to any constructive criticism).

I'll also mention that I have created two other ways to play, including a co-op/2v2 mode to keep larger groups of friends more engaged (a 5-player game has a little too much down-time between rounds), and an RPG-style take where you can invest supply points into different areas as you advance through increasingly difficult boards, but I'd rather focus on the original format for now.

If there is anyone who would take the time to try out the game, I would really value your feedback!

Soulfinger
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Normally, I'd have more to

Normally, I'd have more to say, but seeing as how you don't want to go into the mechanics for this thoroughly tested final version, that saves me a lot of time. So, my only real question is, are you sure you want to do a zombie game? If so, why would anyone pick this game over the dozens of other zombie games? There are quality offerings with excellent components at both the high and low price point ranges, and zombie aficionados favor the components you'd see in Zombicide or Student Bodies over playing cards and poker chips. Wrong approach to entering a supersaturated market.

Rich1983
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Oof

Sorry, I didn't mean to say "my game is awesome so please don't offer me suggestions on it." As I said, any constructive criticism is appreciated. I just mean that the resources and game-play have been carefully balanced as far as win % and point averages, so I was thinking that there wouldn't really be a way to tweak it without throwing off the balance or changing the game completely. If you do have suggestions as to the game-play, I would love to hear them though. I don't mind working at it, and I put a lot of stock into what you say. From browsing around here the last couple of days I can see that you're very knowledgeable so I value your opinions. I am brand new to the pursuit of publishing and very humbled by everything I've learned about the game industry over the past few months.

That said, I know the market is very saturated, and Zombicide is awesome...but zombies are kind of my thing - have been for decades. I've created a number of games around them to this point, so that probably won't change, and the design of this game started with the zombie theme. They are my passion and my nemesis. My hope would be that The Road doesn't take a lot of time to learn or play, so it is more accessible than many other games in the genre. There is a game called "Zombie Dice." It's a quick game, fun, and uses some strategy to go with luck. I guess I am hoping that my game could have the same attributes. Of course, that one benefits from being very portable as well, so I would consider ditching my game board if it was necessary to market it as such.

It sounds like right now you would suggest dumping the dream of publishing this one. Do you envision any way of making it work?

Thanks for your response!

Soulfinger
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Rich1983 wrote:It sounds like

Rich1983 wrote:
It sounds like right now you would suggest dumping the dream of publishing this one. Do you envision any way of making it work?

No, no, don't dump it. I'm suggesting changing the theme. Really, I'm in the same boat. I love zombies, and the frustrating thing is that I started a novel about them back when it was still a fringe culture thing, thinking "There's really no point in writing this. Who the hell would want to read a book about zombies?" Then suddenly zombies were the new Beatles and before I could even think to finish it, the fad became done to death . . . and then undeath twice over, even if it still persists. I'm still toying with the idea of completing it, because it fits a relatively unexplored niche, that being a realistic model for zombie pathology and epidemiology. My goal was to do with zombies what Richard Mattheson did for vampires with I Am Legend. The vast majority of zombie media is super unrealistic fantasy that defies natural law as much as fiction about werewolves or spatula monsters, and the few attempts made to apply science have been hodgepodge and uninformed at best. My mother-in-law bought me a book about zombies written by a doctor, and I was terrified at first that he had beaten me to the punch, but damned if I don't love doctors for being overspecialized. The guy was no epidemiologist, and the book completely trope. I think I am rambling. I like zombies. Grrr.

Think of it this way. The reason why there are a bazillion zombie games is that it is a lazy shortcut for encapsulating certain themes. What are zombies? Fear of death. Fear of infirmity. Fear of disease. Disease on a macrobiotic scale. A social equalizer. A wish fulfillment fantasy. A vehicle for social commentary. They are scary monsters, but any specific monster is geared to realize particular fears and desires. A vampire is scary because it drinks your blood, but it also lives forever, which makes the premise desirable. A werewolf eats your face, but becoming one frees you of social mores and inhibitions. The spatula monster cuts your throat but he also makes you pancakes. What makes monsters so compelling is that there is always a quality that makes us wish that they really did exist. That's why zombies caught on so well during a time of economic depression, while mummies can't catch a break. For most people, zombies are apocalyptic wish fulfillment, which is why watching a zombie movie is like being handed a questionnaire that reads, "What would you have done differently in the protagonist's situation."

How this applies to you is that once you realize what themes appeal to you with the zombie genre and which ones you have incorporated into your game, you can start to formulate a theme that is distinct from your competitors. The mechanic for throwing your companion out as a distraction, for example, works just as well with just about any monster as an antagonist, be it the Mangler or a Minecraft Creeper. You may be able to formulate an antagonist that captures what is so enticing for you about zombies without having to throw your hat into the zombie game ring. Yours could be the dead rising as wraiths, which possess the dead, sick, and infirm, making them very much like, but not quite, zombies.

Also, take a look at FFG's Chaos Marauders for an example of a long game board that fits into a tiny box. The original GW version came in a much larger box, but FFG did a great job of boiling it down into a small box format, which you may want to emulate. In my opinion, ditch the poker cards and chips for custom components. I feel like those components could maybe work for 45+, but most of your zombie game players are 16 to 35. It's a much more visual crowd, attracted to loud noises and shiny objects, much like . . . *gasp*.

Rich1983
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Thanks

Haha - brilliant response. As an English teacher, I've had the same discussions about zombies and the like with my colleagues. In fact, one of my mentors used to conduct a research project in which students would choose a monster, and then research and analyze its metaphorical meaning, relevance to real life, reason for popularity, etc.

And I, too, started a zombie novel about 12 years ago, failed to finish it, and now find it a little pointless to finish. I wish "zombies" wasn't a cringe-worthy word now.

But anyway, I hear what you're saying about the theme. I need to make this about spatula monsters! No - but I will consider what you've said and see what other thematic ideas I can play with. I know that in the end I would probably make it easier on myself if I avoided competing in the zombie market... sigh... at least this time since the concept of zombies is fairly abstract in the game-play anyway.

Also, thanks for the suggestion to look at Chaos Marauders - looks like a great solution to the size issue. Oh, and poker chips were always meant as a stand-in for what would later be bright, shiny, colorful custom game pieces.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Soulfinger
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Here's my pitch: Trail of

Here's my pitch: Trail of the Wendigo. A Native American gets separated from his people in winter during the Trail of Tears. Same essential game, but the protagonist is hounded by wendigo, people transformed into monsters by the consumption of human flesh -- but still not zombies. Written right, it is both a zombie game and an evocative take on a terrible event in American history. It requires a little sensitivity, since you don't want to malign the memory of people who suffered through a death march. Added to that, the stereotype of the "noble savage" still persists in U.S. culture. For example, even though Mohawk literally translates in Algonquin as "flesh-eater" on account of their fearsome reputation for cannibalizing the remains of their tortured enemies, the public perception of "Indians" tends toward the Disney-esque. So, the companion should be willing to sacrifice himself rather than being thrown under the bus.

Rich1983
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Ideas

Thanks for taking the time to assist with ideas. I am worried about the sensitivity part with that one, but the wendigo does work nicely with the game-play, and incorporating the historical event gives it a unique identity. My mind went to the fantasy realm: You are an adventurer escaping a cave/dungeon, and the enemies are monsters. The center red cards are "screamers" that attract the attention of other nearby enemies. Instead of a gun, you have a bow, instead of an ally, a companion, instead of first aids, herbs, etc. Is this idea an improvement over the zombie theme?

By the way, I always thought of the Ally card as sacrificing himself in noble fashion, though the way I wrote it in the rules page makes it seem like you're a jerk shoving your friend toward the enemy to save your own skin, a la Shane and Otis. So I'll need to clean that up.

Also, I'm still curious what you (or anyone else) thought of the game-play - either after playing it or just by looking at the demo play-through in the rules page I attached. Is it any fun? Does it have potential to make it with the right theme?

kos
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Rich1983 wrote:Is it

Rich1983 wrote:
Is it fun?

This is essentially a solo game. There is no interaction between the players, so the "multiplayer" aspect is only to see who scored the most. Solo games are a viable market segment, but I think you need to go one way or the other: either market it as a solo game, or change the rules to make it truly multiplayer. Currently it loses out on both sides.

Rich1983 wrote:
Is it easy to learn based on the rules alone?

The rules are fairly simple, although the expression of them could be cleaned up. Examples:
- The number of players and the multiplayer nature of the game is not explained until page 4 (and even then, only tangentially). This explanation should be on page 1.
- The option to shoot a red card before it spreads is not clear until you get to the next page.
- The first bullet point of the Red card explanation made it sound like the infection could chain if you turn another Red card, but then 3 bullet points later it gives the correct explanation.

Rich1983 wrote:
Is the game worthy of pursuing publication or should I just be satisfied playing with friends?

Soulfinger already addressed that point, so I won't go into detail. As a Zombie game with generic components, there's practically no chance of commercial (i.e. financial) success. However, you could use the generic components to your advantage if you want to advertise it as a free print-n-play game, because most people already have the components they need. If your definition of success is "Lots of people played my game and had fun", then you have a chance of success under a print-n-play model. Additionally, or alternatively, you could go with a POD printer like thegamecrafter if you want to make a pretty version to share with friends.

Again, depending on what you see as the strengths of this game and how you want to present it, you could reduce the component list to a single poker deck. This would increase the portability and accessibility, while reducing the visual appeal. So it's a trade off.
- 21 cards form the Road.
- Deal cards to yourself face up as health until you have XX total health. Discard health cards when you take damage (where you must discard card(s) of equal or higher value to the amount of damage that you took).
- Deal yourself 6 ammo cards face down, and flip them when you take a shot.
- Use spare cards as counters for the equipment.
Whether you wanted to go down the minimization route such as this, or going down the full prettiness route (with a game board, custom counters, custom cards, etc) is entirely up to you and where you see the game going. But mechanically, it makes little difference.

Rich1983 wrote:
The play time of this game is very short and all you truly need to play is a standard deck of cards, 6 dice, and really anything that could be used as chips. Also, paper and pencil would help to keep track of your health and scores.

Some comments on game play:

There are some game balance issues in the selection of resources. The most obvious one is that there is a best resource. I haven't done the maths to figure out which one, but a simple spreadsheet calculation would reveal it. The point is that once you know which resource is the best, there is no reason to take anything else. Thus this decision is "solvable" -- making it a non-decision.

(Edit: Text about unbalanced points removed because I misread the rules. Move along, nothing to see here.)

Finally, I want to echo Soulfinger's comment:

Soulfinger wrote:
No, no, don't dump it.

There are some issues to address, and some decisions to be made about where you see the game going, but don't dump it. Keep going!

All the best with this game and your other games.

Regards,
kos

kos
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Theme ideas

Rich1983 wrote:
Does it have potential to make it with the right theme?

If you're open to alternate themes, here are a few random ideas for totally different themes.

You are climbing up a volcano when it erupts. You have to make it to the bottom to survive while the ground ruptures (red cards) and ash falls from the sky (black cards).

You are piloting a fighter craft in an epic space battle. You have to run the gauntlet of enemy fighters and gun emplacements to destroy the enemy super-fortress. (You know, like a Death Star but not...)

You are a volunteer surgeon patching up critically injured civilian casualties from the latest civil war. You have to sew up the wounds (black cards) and remove shrapnel (red cards) in order to save the patient.

You are on the International Space Station when it is hit by a debris storm of old satellites. You have to make it to the escape pod while the debris punctures even more holes (red cards) and the air escapes (black cards).

Regards,
kos

Soulfinger
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Your fantasy idea got me

Your fantasy idea got me thinking that one way of retaining the zombie theme is to set it in a different time. How about a soldier trying to get back to a friendly trench during WWI while avoiding ghouls/zombies in non-man's land? Similar deal with the Crimean War. Escaping plague zombies during the black death, and so on. Ultimately, emphasize the timeframe over the undead aspect.

Rich1983
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Wow! Lots of great ideas and

Wow! Lots of great ideas and feedback, and lots to think about. It looks like I made a good decision to start here with my first public sharing of a game. Really, this has all been extremely helpful. I'll try to organize my thoughts point by point (and I apologize for the length of this).

Success:
First of all, I don't care very much if I never make two dimes from one of my games. I am aware of how difficult it is to turn a profit in the game industry. For me, success would be the pride of having something I made be on a shelf somewhere for public distribution. On that note, I probably won't go the print n play route (at least not until/unless I've failed with this goal), and even though it might be smart, the extreme minimalist approach (just cards) feels too much like... giving up. That's not to say I'm against minimizing it somewhat. It's a simple game, so I do think keeping it as simple, fast, and portable as possible will be playing to its strength.

Solo-Play:
If I had to choose, solo-play seems like the more natural route for this game since there isn't any direct interaction between players. That said, isn't it possible for multiplayer games to have players act independently of one another? I'll go back to "Zombie Dice" or another dice game, "Moose Farkel," as evidence. The game-play has to be quick enough for it to work, of course. For me, an average round of "The Road" runs about 90 seconds. It does have a few more components than those other games, however, and the deck does need to be shuffled at least every two games, and then there's the dealing time, which slows it down just a bit... maybe enough to kill it as a multiplayer game? I'm good with cards, so I can shuffle, deal, and play through a game in under 3 minutes, but I know it is a drawback for some (one of my friends was kind enough to point that out when I asked for feedback). In the meantime, I'm thinking of ways to introduce interaction between players, such as carrying over what you were able to save from a previous round to a teammate.

Rules Page:
Thanks for the tips on the rules page - I'll go back and fix those issues.

Game Balance:
Great points here, Kos. It's the reason I obsessed over balancing the resources, because I hated knowing that there might be one clear best choice. For what it's worth, I played several hundred games and kept stats in an excel document, and made tweaks until I was satisfied. After playing many more games with the final versions of each resource, average point totals in wins were all between 41-45 with one exception, and win percentages were between 76-80% with one exception. The exception was that "Map" had an average score of 49 in wins, but won only 72% of the time, which I think is an acceptable trade-off.

I should retract an earlier statement at this point. More play-testing is warranted as there was still fluctuation when I stopped. With more games, I'm sure I would find a definite winner, and that bugs me. But on the other hand, the fact that an obvious best resource is still not clear after all the games and stat-keeping makes it an easier pill to swallow. The number of variables involved makes it really difficult to calculate. For instance, First Aid chips heal 5 points, and you can heal yourself a total of 15 points. Armor, meanwhile, can almost always be used on higher value black cards to essentially heal 15 points, just like the First Aid chips. First Aid provides an advantage in that you don't depend on the cards in order to be able to use it. However, Armor can sometimes be saved up more easily because you can react to the cards rather than being forced to make the risky kinds of decisions that I demonstrated in the sample game. Ammo can save up to 24 points, but as little as 4. On average, it will save 14, which is less than First Aid and Armor, for example, but unlike Armor, its use is not dependent on the cards, and unlike First Aid, you can use it in reaction to cards. I thought Luck would be weak, but it provides a huge bonus in that it allows you to safely roll 1 die against the smaller red cards, thus conserving ammo. Anyway, point is, you're right - there must be a best and worst way to play, but it's been really, really tough to figure out, and maybe that makes the secret safe?

Theme Ideas:
Kos and Soulfinger, you guys can really rattle off the ideas! Kos, I think I am partial to your volcano idea. That's so out-of-the-box - I never would have escaped the idea of fighting. I would just have to figure how the other components of the game fit in with this theme (dice, ally, and resources). Soulfinger, I think you could be on to something there... did you just bring the zombie theme back from the dead?

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