Diary of a First-Time Designer – #17 Reindeer Games

First-Time Designer - Reindeer Games

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 17 – Reindeer Games

We got a lot of playtesting done over the Christmas period and I continue to be pleasantly surprised by how willing and enthusiastic people are to play incomplete games. I’m not really one of those people. I selfishly take the stance that, if I am going to devote two hours of my time to play a game, I would rather it be complete and fully illustrated with cool components. Luckily I have less selfish friends who are happy to play the various incarnations of LAST STAND as it moves through its developmental process.

I sporadically attend the Northampton NERDS meetup group and one of the admins mentioned they would be happy for people to bring along games for playtesting, so I did. I suggested it to two newcomers, Derrick and Tom, who I’m glad were not new to games in general.

As we set-up, in the back of my mind was a concern about how LAST STAND would be scalable for various player counts as there were going to be three of us. I figured the approach would be to play lots of four-player games until it was nearly complete and then work backwards for lower player counts. I’d recently implemented a new system around how the enemies attack the board and that was the focus of today.

It failed miserably!

The game ended with defeat after the third turn, following a fairly lengthy rules explanation. This was the first time that a playtest had gone this badly and it was a bit embarrassing, if I’m honest. However, I know these things are supposed to happen and what came out of it was one of two significant breakthroughs that occurred over the Christmas period.

The Kaiju had overwhelmed the board too quickly. Maybe in a four-player game, something could have been done to stem the tide and I did initially put it down to us not figuring out the scaling. The Kaiju had a speed rating on the back of their cards that dictated how many points of movement they made in that turn. I’d designed a system with a variety of movement combinations to add variety but it was clearly flawed.

Later, an idea popped into my head as I was doing the washing up. What if we removed the track and rolled a dice to see how many Kaiju invaded? It seemed so simple and the game already had loads of dice. D6s could be used and the probability could be adjusted depending on the number of players. We’d instantly solved our scaling issue that had been keeping me up at night!

After a re-design I conducted a playtest at my local Milton Keynes meetup group, joined by old veterans Sam and Callum, along with newcomer Simon. Callum particularly enjoys exploiting game systems and pushing mechanics to breaking point, so he is an excellent playtester. Sam had not playtested since a very early incarnation of the game so it was good to get his take on the evolution.

During this session, Callum set about exploiting the Titan build. He had discovered that if he locked in an Air Frame to counter the Air Kaiju penalty and snapped Land body parts onto it, he had a very powerful mech. However, the new Kaiju attack system worked perfectly.

After the game we talked about how it went and Simon suggested a genius idea: what if each Frame had a weight limit and each body part had a weight? The Air Frame would thematically be light while the Land body parts would be heavy; limiting how many could be attached. This was a very welcome addition and, along with the previous week’s invasion system, this felt like another giant leap towards the game being complete.

At this stage, the game seemed to be working rather well after the last couple of setbacks. As I mentioned in a previous entry, design was pretty much all problem solving and coming up with solutions. The momentary frustrations and the game design version of writers block was often followed by interesting innovation. I’d recommend it to anyone that has the time.

With the game feeling like it was really coming together, it honestly felt like we were nearly there.

Next time in the First-Time Designer series, I’ll be going into more details about some of our systems.