Sunday, December 25, 2011

My project for the holidays: learn to edit by editing Monster of the Week

Mike's hired me to edit his game, Monster of the Week. It's exciting (because I've had a lot of fun editing and giving unsolicited feedback on games before).

It's also a completely new work process for me. I've peer reviewed and edited 10 page briefings and given overviews of novels before. However, it feels a little different to actually be working 'on the clock'. I'm being paid for about 10-12 hours of editing time, and I want to give Mike value for money.

At the moment, I think the best approach is to treat this in the same way I treated all the feedback I've received for Left Coast: I've read through the rules for Monster of the Week, making notes as I go. Now I'm going to create a mind-map of those notes and choose which of the issues I've identified are the most fundamental ones - the ones that'll make the biggest differences to the book. That's where I'll focus my efforts to start with - not on a line-by-line proof-read, but on a 'how could we present this information so that it feels like it's in the right place'.

I think my feedback (at this level) is going to feel more like the starting point for a conversation than a list of instructions to follow.

Collapse! A game about transitioning through peak oil

Writing games to help us imagine what life may be like after a massive social change is a design space I'm interested in exploring. Dave Pollard is designing a boardgame at the moment that looks interesting:

via Energy Bulletin - by kristinsponsler on 12/22/11

Some of you are aware that I have been working on a cooperative board game called Collapse! designed to help people learn and practice grassroots community-building and preparing locally for the various crises that may precede civilization's collapse. I've finally got a first outline draft of the game, and decided to share it with the world before I go any further. Here are the rules and some images of the game equipment that I have developed thus far, along with a list of what I still have to do to complete the game's development.

You can read more and give feedback to Dave directly on his blog: here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 has been a good year for gaming for me. What's it been like for you?

Reflecting on what I've achieved in 2011 in game design and playing - here's what's been going on for me:

  • Reading Steven Pressfield's The War of Art and feeding its insights about overcoming creative blocks into every area of my creative life, including gaming.
  • Participating in the second Festival of Flawless Victory, re-kickstarting my design of Left Coast.
  • Overcoming my fears of playtesting and getting feedback on my own games.
  • Working with Paul Czege, Jonathan Walton, Luke Walker, and Alasdair Sinclair on a convention scenario for My Life with Master.
  • Playing and giving feedback on McDaldno's Monsterhearts (the game of twisted supernatural romance).
  • Running and getting my first professional RPG editing gig on Mike Sands' Monster of the Week (the game of kick-ass monster hunting).
  • Finishing an epic Apocalypse World game and feeling like I'd learn three years worth of lessons about playing a protagonist.
  • Becoming better friends with the people I play with.
  • Being part of informally developing a supportive group of playtesters and game designers in Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Working hard on a honed, simplified, and signficantly revised version of Left Coast - to publish early next year.
What about you?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What would happen if there was a by-election in Epsom and National won?

Let's say, for some reason, John Banks was unable to serve a full term as MP for Epsom. A by-election is held and a National candidate, rather than an ACT candidate wins.

According to my calculations at (and using these results) this creates a Parliament of 121 seats, and the following blocs of parties:

National + United = 60
Green + Labour + Mana = 50
Maori = 3
New Zealand First = 8

That immediately creates some exciting options for coalitions and re-negotiation of confidence and supply agreements.

It would also take rhetorically take off the table everything that National and ACT agreed to in their confidence and supply agreement.

Is that right? Am I missing anything in my workings-out?

EDITED TO ADD: Graeme Edgeler posts about an even more intricate version of this type of scenario, here. Extrapolating from his post, it seems that ACT would not disappear from Parliament after this result:
[A] policy decision was taken that finality was more important than proportionality, and the possibility that an election petition (or by-election) could change multiple seats (e.g. by removing a party from Parliament because it no longer passed the one seat threshold) months after an election was thought to be the greater evil.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Should you tell the people playtesting your game what you're looking for (before you start playing)?

@drbunnyhops said (in my previous post) she was thinking about having some questions for people to consider while they play - but she wondered if that'd be too distracting.

I don't have enough experience with this to know for sure. The act of playtesting is almost always a sign that you're not sure how the game will play or if it works yet. It's pretty useful to admit that to everyone who's playing, right up front. Given that, it probably can't hurt to focus your playtesters' minds - perhaps by telling them about a couple of areas you’re interested in or that you think are weak

But there's another school of thought, which Ben Lehman articulated in his post: 'Playtesting: Stop

Decide what you need playtested. Think small. Start with the absolute bare minimum rules your game needs to achieve its goals. Identify the top 1-3 things you need tested. Ignore everything else. Create scenarios that will allow playtesters to focus and test these top priorities.  
Design your scenarios so what you’re testing isn’t obvious to the playtesters. Your scenario might be, “create a character” but what you’re specifically testing is “how long does it take”, “is stat allocation frustrating”, “does character creation give the GM enough information to design an adventure.” Don’t tell your playtesters what you are actually playtesting.  
Take caution that your scenario doesn’t influence your playtesters actions. Don’t ask leading questions or make leading statements. If you want to test “how long does this take”, in your scenario, don’t say “character creation is super fast”. Don’t influence!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Recording my latest Left Coast playtest could be the best game-writing decision I ever made

Mike, Simon and I played Left Coast last Sunday, and I decided to record it all on my cellphone. I'd taken a crack at simplifying the rules after the Scottish playtest (conducted by Gregor, Malcolm and Per) identified that the game had a lot of over-complicated and potentially unfun or game-breaking procedures in it.

Last Sunday's game was fun, and we all pointed out even more places where simplification was needed. In Simon's words, it's got an inspired setting and a functional core, but its overly-fussy mechanics are working against the laid-back vibe I want the game to help create. So: edits! However, reviewing the audio file has revealed a whole bunch of stuff that we didn't articulate and that I'm working on now. I think this next draft of the game is going to be far cleaner and simpler, with two radical changes that I'm looking forward to testing out.

Anyway, for my own future reference, here's what I'm doing with the audio recording:

  • listen to the whole thing, logging the conversation by recording the timecode where interesting comments occur 
  • identify moments that (in hindsight) are unacknowledged examples of procedural clunkiness and clunky procedures
  • review this log and create a mind-map of the comments that seem to obviously group together (into categories like 'Simple Edits', 'Playtester Questions', 'Radical Ideas')
  • listen to the logged points that don't seem obvious, and put them on the mind-map too
  • use the recording to adjust the rules to reflect how I explain them in person
  • identify examples of play