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Diary of a First-Time Designer – #11 Two Town Tables and the Might of Phones

First-Time Designer Issue 11 - Two Town Tables

Join me on my continuing multi-part series as Martin and I attempt to turn our jumble of half-conceived brain sparks into our first fully functioning board game.

Part 11 – Two Town Tables and the Might of Phones

I’ve been going to the thriving St. Albans Board Game Meet-Up for years. They get together for all-day sessions once a month and meet up regularly during the week. There, I enjoy game variety, large tables and nice people to hang with. I decided to bring LAST STAND with me, hoping there would be some interest in play-testing. I’d only ever seen Paul Harris play-test his game Scrumpy there so I figured it wasn’t a common occurrence. As I laid out the components, four members approached including a young lad of about 14. This was the first time I’d considered the age range and saw it as a perfect opportunity to test if our game was suitable for one so young.

Most board games have a recommended age limit that I used to think was more about cognitive ability. I’ve since been told it’s more to do with choking hazards. Although, a quick scan of my own games suggests the former; Cavern Tavern (14+), Waggle Dance (10+), Camel Up (8+), Clank in Space (12+) and This War of Mine (18+) all have roughly the same sized components so now I’m not so sure. Of course, it makes complete sense that the latter would be 18+ with its adult content and bleak setting.

My four enthusiastic punters took their seats, I gave them a quick overview of the game and off we went.

The game took just under two hours and the players appeared to enjoy themselves. Martin and I have been working on ways to bring the game length down from the initial three hours, so that suggested progress. We’d still like to reach the magic number of 90 minutes though.

Feedback centred on the game being quite easy. After the initial rush that put the players on the back foot, things normalised before becoming a little repetitive towards the end; further supporting the idea that the game needed to be shorter.

Following this, Martin and I worked on making the Kaiju more challenging and interesting. They had previously had a simple target number to reach and if players came up short, the Titans would take ‘damage’. We decided to vary this up considerably and formed a system of target numbers that all had different outcomes. For example, smashing a Kaiju to bits would mean gaining Popularity (VPs), a kicker for the continent you ‘saved’ and an additional bonus. If you barely killed it, the rewards would be less forthcoming. A Titan being defeated would likely mean taking damage, losing Popularity or advancing the enemies at a faster rate.

For ease, I decided to apply the use of symbols to the cards and spent hours looking through the fonts on Microsoft Word. Finally I had found a use for Wingdings (1, 2 and 3!) but you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find a ‘bin’ symbol!

Lastly, the play-test had revealed a difficulty for players late in the turn order gaining money to build their Titan. I spoke to Martin about this and the concept of starter cards arose (a la Chimera Station), each with a different set of starting resources. An idea formed around the cards being named after a doctrine or ideology (called Regime cards) for example ‘Egalitarian’ would be the all-rounder and the ‘Oligarchy’ would have a strong financial start. Not being an expert in these things I hit Wikipedia and educated myself, along with running potential titles through a political expert on a Facebook group called the Card & Board Game Designers Guild (thanks, whoever you are!). By the way, it’s a really useful community for anyone out there looking to create a game.

First-Time Designer Issue 11 - Artwork by Hayley
Artwork designed by Hayley

With the new changes implemented, it was time to give it another play-test. Fortunately that weekend was the Bedford all-day session that runs every two months through Meet-Up. It was a great opportunity to iron out any creases before our UK Games Expo play-test spot next week.

Again, I observed four people playing the game. The thinking behind this is to see how the game works with four, then explore how it scales for less players. The regime cards worked great and the rewards for defeating Kaiju introduced variety. The game lasted about 100 minutes too so it was getting there.

Some common feedback came back with game length, having too much or too little money and it being a bit easy and repetitive towards the end. However one participant, Steven, had the following to say:

“Overall you have a really good game. If I was in a shop and I saw it for sale I’d buy it as it has two things I like: dice manipulation and worker placement”.

It had me wonder, are there any worker placement games with combat dice manipulation out there?

Despite the feedback that suggested the game was easy, this was the first play-test we’d had in-which the players lost the game. In the last couple of rounds, one or two players chose not to commit to attacking the Kaiju which cost them the game. This was in the face of an obvious threat and, personally, I don’t think the game was to blame. Players are competing to win the game with the most points but there is still a strong incentive to work together to ensure victory.

After the game, one of the players, Jools, offered to design a board for us in preparation for the UK Games Expo next week in Birmingham. It was a nice of him but we didn’t feel there was enough time. I still took his number for when we would be ready for the next stage, though.

I also got talking to Hayley who offered to draw up some designs of what the Kaiju might look like. I took her number and a mere two days later, she had drawn up an amphibious water Kaiju and a heavy-set land one to fit with our land/sea/air theme (see image above). It made me wonder if we were getting near to the process of art and design as the regular play-testing continued to funnel our little project into a workable game.

This also got me thinking about the logistics of self-publishing. I mean, we had a potential artist, someone who could design a board for us, someone to write the rule book (me), sourced various suppliers of components and we’d been keeping a log of things like printer and Kickstarter fulfilment organisations. There couldn’t be THAT much to it, surely...

It felt good to feel the sense of progression. I knew we were getting there and certainly felt that LAST STAND was in a good enough shape to showcase at the UK Games Expo next week...

Next time in the First-Time Designer series – EXPOnential Growth