Playtesting, Playtesting – It’s All Playtesting!

As the title of this post suggests, it’s all about playtesting for me at the moment, and it’s becoming a little frustrating!

Let me explain…

I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse, but I’ve found that I can think up a game and get it to the first draft stage within a few of hours. I’ve done this with almost all my games. For example, my last game idea came to me while walking my dog around the park. It was about one o’clock in the morning, it was warm, and a nice night for a walk.

Earlier in the evening, my son and I had discussed the possibility of creating another wizard game, but this time as a board game. We had an idea of the style we wanted but no clue how it would work or what would be involved.

Back to my dog walk – there I was, listening to the foxes making their horrible screaming noises somewhere in the railyards, and occasionally ducking from bats flying around my head. Suddenly, the basic idea for the game came to me: how it would work, what was needed, and how it would play.

When I got back indoors, I started writing the rules, the gameplay, and even managed to design a few quick examples of the game pieces. After about three hours, I had the first draft of the game. The next day, I printed out the boards and all the pieces and started playing. Everything worked as I had hoped, but the game balance was all wrong. I found that it was either too easy or too hard.

I want the game to be challenging, with a win rate of about one in four games (though I’m still unsure about this exact level). It’s a cooperative game, so everyone playing will need to work together, or they will never win.

Despite our efforts, the balance problem remains unsolved, so we continued playtesting, trying to balance the gameplay. We want the game to be difficult but not impossible. Yet, sometimes we couldn’t lose, and other times we couldn’t win! After about two weeks of playtesting, it’s still fun to play, but the game balance is just not right.

We developed different formulas to determine the number and types of creatures the wizards would face, based on the number of wizards playing. The formula was fixed for one wizard up to six wizards, and on paper, it seemed correct.

However, it wasn’t right, and we can’t figure out why! The basic mechanics of the game work perfectly, as they are based on our wizard skirmish game Crystalline Wars: Arcane Battlegrounds.

The problem lies in the number and type of creatures that the wizards face and scaling the levels from one wizard to six.

We thought that if we got one level fixed and working correctly, the others would be easy to adjust. But we encountered a problem that we can’t seem to resolve. We finally got three wizards working fairly well, which gave us the numbers needed to scale the creatures up or down to fit the number of wizards playing. However, after a few games, we found that it doesn’t work!

Even though the three wizards worked fine, when we played using two wizards, it was far too easy, and with four wizards, it was easy as well, which doesn’t make any sense. This likely means that the formula is incorrect. So, we’ve been exploring a new idea: altering the number of attackers slightly during the game.

The idea is to mix the number of creatures each turn between the easy and hard levels, hoping it will even out over the whole game. We figured that if each wizard faces off against a set number of creatures per turn and needs to kill them to survive, then multiplying this number by the number of wizards gives the formula for the easy level (which is too easy). Adding one extra creature per wizard made the game too hard. But if we mix the number of creatures during a turn randomly between the easy and hard, it might level out.

The only way to check if this will work of course is to play more games, so my next few evenings are sorted.

The one good thing about this process is that I’m getting lots of gaming in. However, I do think this game is proving to be the hardest one I’ve ever done!

It’s not the rules as they are not complicated; it’s simple to learn and play, and a lot of fun. But as I said at the beginning, it’s really frustrating trying to get the game balance right.

Every game I’ve done has basically worked straight from the first draft, but not this one. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll get it right soon. Watch out for updates over the next few weeks.


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