Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Across the Endless Sea: Second Playtest (#5)

So, the initial playtest with my housemates had proved that the game, at the most basic level, worked.

The resolution mechanism was functional; the game produced interesting play; and the flavor of it was interesting to a group of people broader than just me.

I took away the feedback from people and made several changes: some major, some minor.

Being able to ask too many questions when investigating encounters was breaking the game a little - allowing players to work out a plan that would certainly succeed rather than having to take chances – so I revised the number down. The wording of some of the moves was confusing; as was the layout of the moves on the sheet.

There was also a request for more substantial information about the People, which was coupled with an observation I made during the game: not having all the choices made about the People centrally listed was slowing play.

So, I also created a playbook for the People as a whole, intended to be printed A3 to everything else’s A4.

It has space to record choices made about the People; a list of evocative names (drawn in equal parts from proto-Indo-European syllables and Pacific Islander cultures); some basic details about the technology levels and beliefs of the People; and a listing of the twelve months of the People’s journey and their traditional names (for flavor).

Thus armed, I was ready for a second playtest.

I was lucky enough to get in contact with EricVulgaris of Once Upon a Game, a Twitch show that streams storygames and indie RPGs, who kindly agreed to host a playtest.

Eric was a phenomenal to play alongside, as was our third player, and if you’d like to see the tragedy we unfolded you can watch it here.

Some really useful feedback came out of the session, as did a deepening confidence in the game seeing how enthused two experienced storygamers were by what we created as a group and the way that the system facilitated that.

Unsurprisingly, one major piece of advice was that the game needed to include mapping.

Storygamers seem to really love their maps. I think the craze might have started with Avery’s The Quiet Year, but I don’t know the scene well enough to be sure. Regardless, they were right about the coolness of mapping the People’s voyage and so that advice is now in the game.

The session also highlighted the importance of reincorporation to the game, and so I’m now slowly building a “player advice” document to help ensure groups have the best experience.

What really became clear during the session, though, was the issue of timing.

I’d written the game originally to assume 12 – 24 encounters per game, but what both playtests had made clear was that encounters take far too long for that to be viable. Even playing with just 3 players, we only made it through about 6 encounters over the course of 3 hours. Of course, that includes a bunch of extra time costs unique to doing a Twitch show, but still.

Something had to give.

So the year-long journey is now a half-year, meaning there are five standard encounters (one each for the first five months, which also allows every player to take a turn as the Endless Sea) plus an extra three: one for the Voice’s choice of what has changed since the People last made the voyage; one for the Eyes’ choice of what sign reveals that the People are coming close to their destination; and one for the Hands’ choice of the final challenge that awaits the People.

Eight encounters seems like a much more manageable number, and the option to play an extra encounter per month is still preserved if a group really wants to settle in for a long game.

Of course, this was all theory. It needed testing, to check that the game could fit into 3 hours.

Luckily, my workmates and I had a PD trip coming up and an evening set aside to play a game of some kind that they agreed I could commandeer…

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