BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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Playtest Meetup: Divinare Dice, Nova & Venice

Sunday: To Pimlico, and the monthly Playtest Meetup. There was a good mix of the usual suspects and some keen new blood, and enough game designers to have 3 or 4 concurrent playtests — all very ably directed by Rob and his trusty clipboard!

Divinare Dice

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First things first: although I’ve audaciously named my prototype Divinare Dice, no official endorsement by the good people at Asmodee is implied! Second things second: this is a very young design and every part of it is still very much for grabs. Except for the dice, I guess. Can’t really have a dice game without those, now can you?

Chris and Chris (there were a lot of them about) joined me on what was anything but a straightforward playtest of my third-generation prototype. Fortunately I’d brought my second-generation board with me, since the new ones didn’t last very long. We didn’t get through a whole game, but we had a fantastic and insightful discussion, and tried out new ideas and twists as we went along — what wasn’t working? why had I made those choices? how can we get rid of this fiddliness? where was the interesting bit, and how can we get there quickly? why not turn the game on it’s head and see what happens?

So much good stuff, and a great exercise in the process of game design. So thank you Chris (both of you) for joining me on this particularly adventurous journey! Divinare Dice will never be the same again.

Nova

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This is a simple-as-you-like domino game that I designed and first playtested in March, and I thought that this would a good opportunity to try it out with a different crowd. Chris, Chris, Chris & Phil gave it a spin and I watched — mildly dumbstruck! — as they all spun it very differently from previous playtesters. This is hardly high strategy, but it can certainly be played rather more aggressively than was done at the weekend — they all just seemed to be being far too nice to each other! And it won’t do, I tell you! It won’t do at all!

Having said that, I am absolutely in favour of games that allow for different styles of play, so the fact that the four of them played Nova in such a collegiate, we’re-all-in-this-together, big-society kinda way was objectively encouraging and nice to see. I had expected a game designer crowd to be, well, a bit more ‘gamey’ with it — and maybe they would be next time around — but on Sunday, they were all seemingly content to do their bit for the greater good.

Venice: City of Trade

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This game is the fruit of a collaboration with game designer Matt Dunstan. We’ve been working on it since February, and so much about the game has changed in that time; however, recently I think we have homed in on the core of the game, polishing it while at the same time smoothing off any remaining rough edges. Sunday’s playtest, by my reckoning, went exceptionally well, and was very encouraging.

Mo and Phil, both new to the game, joined me for a 3-player game which I won by only a narrow Margin over Mo: 106 to 101. Phil was a little ways behind at 73, but didn’t seem at all aggrieved. I am by no means an expert, and Mo could very easily have beaten me — it was a close-run thing! Both Mo and Phil were complimentary about the intuitiveness of the game, which played smoothly and has a good arc: with a beginning, middle and very definitive end.

The collaboration with Matt has been a big success; two heads really are better than one. Our gaming and game design interests certainly overlap, but are far from a perfect match. I naturally steer towards smaller, simpler, tactical fare; Matt is more drawn to heavier, more strategic games. The now-near-final Venice design has become something neither of us would have designed alone: more complex than anything I would attempt, but lighter than Matt’s design instincts would naturally produce. And I think the design is all the better for becoming something that has, somehow, elegantly resolved that tension.

Mo Holkar said...

September 18, 2012 5:10 pm

It was great to meet you, Brett, and I very much enjoyed playing Venice. Hope to be back at the playtest meetup again next month, and I'll bring one of my own games if I get organized in time!

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