A few things have changed since the last time I wrote about the first Incubator meetup back in October 2014. I’ve since stepped up my involvement and I’m now one of the three admins of the group, along with Justin and Stefan. I figure I should take up writing session reports for these events too.
It’s been really great to see the local board game design community grow over the past few months. We’ve had the Incubator meetups, board game designs at Global Game Jam, Blue Jam Micro, Gatekeeper Games starting their own game testing meet up, Board Games Up Late at the Freeplay festival, and I’ve become aware of the smaller, more regular playtesting groups that designers have set up for their own games. A lot of the growth has been in the growing awareness of other designers and communities, and building connections between them. I think the Incubator meetups have been pretty good at connecting local designers and providing a regular forum for seeking feedback and discussion. For now the Incubator events are more geared toward playtesting and feedback on prototypes, but I’ve been hearing about other people planning different styles of events as well. I think this will be a boon to the community, as different events serve different purposes and everyone can benefit from the ones that fit their needs most. With all that said, let’s see what’s been up at the latest Incubator meetup.
A few weeks before the meetup, I had a chat with Ken, Stacey and Matt about making a pact to work on our respective game designs and have something together by the time of the Incubator event. We weren’t all 100% sure whether we could make the actual event, but having a deadline would be a motivation to get some design and prototyping work done, even if we had to organize a separate time to meet up and check out the results. Fortunately, everyone managed to make it to the event and everyone (sorta) had game prototypes ready.
We added a few new organizational touches this time. The last event was our first as the new admin team, so we took that opportunity to collect some input and try to improve. I got some clear plastic stands to book out the tables we were using, and also put information on the games being playtested. I filled out the information on the stands from the game descriptions submitted by the designers. We also had name tags for everyone and had a stack of blank feedback forms available for anyone who wanted them. We posted a 6 pm start time, which was mainly for set up and catching up with each other before the main testing which was in full swing by around 6:30 pm. We had 6 tables available for testing simultaneously. The evening started with only 3 games firing off, before others started trickling in and we had about 5 tables going concurrently for most of the night.
Can You Smell What The Rock Is Cooking? Because He Can’t. He Lost His Sense Of Smell In An Incident With Some Cayenne Pepper And He Just Wants Some Help.
I playtested Ken Lee’s worker allocation/auction/resource management restaurant game, dubbed Smokehouse. Here’s how he described it:
“Game Title: Smokehouse.
Time: 60 mins (unsure, as this is a first play. I’ll probably run it no more than 60mins, and do multiple rounds if possible)
Players run their own BBQ restaurant – buy ingredients, feed customers. Along the way, players will improve their restaurants, and maybe slow the competition down a little with some good old fashioned sabotage.
Key mechanics: auction/trade, worker placement, resource management.”
Each player is running a restaurant and would plan out the rosters for their workers to head to the market to bid on ingredients, build kitchen improvements, perfect the secret sauce, organize bookings or supervise the floor service to earn tips. One major component that I thought had potential was the idea of buying ingredients in lots and they would slowly go bad as the game went on. You would have to manage the freshness of the ingredients as you collect the right ones to fulfill certain recipes for customers. It’s a similar “rotting/fading” mechanic to that used in Dungeon Petz, but could play a larger role with this theme. On the other hand, the current mix of mechanics resulted in the tension in decision-making being undercut. You’re allowed to trade ingredients after buying them, and it’s also not very difficult to get “wild” ingredients that can replace any other. This results in the auction lacking urgency as there are too many backup plans to manage not winning the right auction. This was the feedback I gave to Ken, and we had a good discussion about the game and ideas to hone the core experience. I really love restaurant and cooking themes, but right now the base of the game is still quite rough. Ken is undaunted, though, and has written his own thoughts about putting together his prototype, taking feedback and homing in on the core ideas for his game.
Stacey actually had most of his game with him, but his order of dice did not come through in time. It does sound fun though, and he did end up playtesting it the following week. True to Stacey’s esteemed skilled as a punster, it also has a pretty great name. Boring! is a game about drilling for minerals and resources. Yeah.
Matt had playtested his game at another event with Ken, and looked quite happy playtesting other games. I’m still keen to check it out as it sounds like a lot of fun.
Me? I cheated. You’ll find out how toward the end of this post.
Not So Secret If We Can See You
At the other tables, we had Tom Batt’s Secret Cults making a return appearance. I still don’t really know that much about how it plays, aside from it having an area control element, but the presentation looks very good. Here’s how it was described by Tom:
“Name: Secret Cults
Create a doomsday cult and race the other player’s to be the first to bring about the end of the world.
Duration: 2-3 Hours
I think the aesthetic is pretty commendable: The map isn’t abstracted out, and the components are stored in weathered boxes. Even when you’re at the prototype and playtesting stage, having a good idea of the final mood and theme and adding little aesthetic touches like that can really sell the game to potential players. Board games aren’t just the rules and the players, but also the tangible feel of “playing with” the game.
Earth, Wind, Fire and Surprise
To be honest, I haven’t really played that many of the prototypes. Not because of lack of interest, but we’ve been getting many new attendees to the events and I have not yet managed to make my way through all the new prototypes yet! A good problem, I guess. Above you can see Ben Hoban’s The Elementals being playtested. It’s a co-operative dungeon crawl style game where you control characters with elemental abilities, as described here:
“The Elementals: It’s a 4 player gateway superhero co-op dungeon crawler – now with robots.Play a kickass rock chick superhero wielding the powers of earth, air, fire or water. Be only the second team ever to take on the wonders of the Elementals. Your chance to influence the mechanics and help solve (and discover) a few key issues in the “rules”. Playtime: 45-60 mins or until I crawl under the table in the fetal position.“
Something Something Booty
And here we have Plunderrrr! from one of my co-admins, Stefan Barton-Ross. When I passed by, it looked like they were deeply engaged in discussion and feedback session, which is cool. In Stefan’s own words:
“Game Title: Plunderrrr!
Players: 3 and up, preferably 5.
Time: unsure, probably 30-45 mins
Players are pirates raiding each other for riches and glory! They must figure out who is hiding treasure and who is setting up a terrible ambush while trying to maximize their own booty from the situations they get dealt.
Key mechanics: imperfect information, bluffing, risk estimation”
One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others (But Still Shares Many Salient Similarities)
We also had a digital board game being tested. Spies and Soldiers is a two-player strategy game, and the designers set up two laptops for the playtest. We also had someone with a game in Tabletop Simulator once. Even though the main focus is on analog games, digital games with a strategy bent are also welcome. Here’s the description:
“TITLE: Spies & Soldiers PLAYERS: 2 TIME: 30-45
A fast paced turn based strategy game that plays out across the map of a procedurally generated kingdom. While your soldiers’ swords may conquer the land, it could be your network of hidden spies that wins you the game. This is a digital boardgame that focuses on simple mechanics from which complex strategies can grow, where the dual forces of military might and subterfuge must be carefully balanced“
I Hope They’re Not Aliens. I Hope Young People Don’t Think They Originated That Song.
This is Peter C. Hayward’s Ant Farm. I don’t actually know that much about it. Peter actually submitted another game, Hex Mex (which I’ve played before), but it looked like he was still cutting up pieces for it at the start of the night which is why he may have switched. We encourage people to submit a brief description of the games they intend to test (as shown above) as it can help build interest before the event, and I’ve also started displaying key information from the descriptions on the display stands to help attract players. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t just rock up with a game on the day. We try to accommodate any game that gets brought to the table, as time permits. I do think setting up a description beforehand can help designers hone their pitching and marketing skills, which is a neat bonus, so it is highly encouraged.
Gods Usually Go In For A Quick Game Of SMITE
Jonathan Calleja’s Battle of the Gods (a deckbuilding game with dice rolling and direct conflict) was also being playtested and the feedback session for this looked like it went for quite a while. Although, being the last game to be set up may have made it appear as such. Here’s his description of the game:
“Title: Battle of the Gods
You are a new God and you only have 3 followers. If you run out of followers you cease to exist! Use your godly power and compete with other new gods to cement your existence in the minds of humanity and live forever!
A deck building and dice game of luck and strategy.
Play duration: 30-60mins (average)
It also looked like Jonathan brought his own feedback forms, which is great. We provide a stack of Unpub feedback forms that anyone can use, but tailoring a feedback form will get you more targeted results and possibly better feedback specific to your game and situation.
Use Water Gun! Wait It’s Not Coming Out From The Mouth. Ew.
Finally, I also manged to get one of my prototypes to the table. I’ve actually mentioned it in the previous Incubator session report. It’s the deckbuilding tactical combat game where each character’s skills and abilities are represented by a deck of cards. The prototype is actually almost identical to the one I had at the last Incubator and that Matt had tried at one of our other gaming sessions. I cheated. I didn’t actually design a new game by our shared deadline. In my defense, I actually did design a substantial update to the game which changed many of the core mechanics and turning it into more of a hand-building game than a deckbuilding game. However, I tested it by myself on the Wednesday night before the event and it was total pants. I tried to fix it on Thursday night, and I actually have a half-built version of my next iteration but I didn’t complete it in time. Thus I brought the earlier version of the prototype to Incubator, which is still horribly unbalanced. It’s temporarily called Project Squirtle. I actually think playing again with the old version was very helpful. I had been fixated on a new direction for the game based on some feedback from earlier playtests, but the additional feedback on the old version has got me thinking of new ways to iterate on the design. Stacey and Ken gave some really great feedback on the core system, and I’m excited to continue working on it.
That’s It. I Don’t Care What These Titles Say Any More. Hey Want To Go Get A Burrito?
Overall, I think the event went pretty well. I think we were a bit more organized this time, and I liked having name tags for everyone. I don’t think the info stands were that useful in the end, but hey they’re still good for booking out the tables we needed for the event. I’m really happy with the good turnout (about 20ish people throughout the night) and I’m excited to see the group grow not just in size but in experience too.
The next Incubator event is our big Incubator Testing Day, which will be on 20 June 2015. The main testing event will be held during the day to allow for testing of longer and/or more complex games, with the evening component being a more social event with possible testing of party or casual games. One thing we want to try with this event in particular is getting more regular players (not necessarily with a design bent) to playtest games. Incubator events are always open and welcoming to any type of player, but this larger event will hopefully enable us to raise awareness of the group and get more people interested in playtesting local designs. If you’re in Melbourne in June, you’re more than welcome to join us. More information is available at the event page, and also in the Incubator Facebook group.
P.S. – After the meetup, I also put together some quick tips for newcomers looking to get their games tested and for playtesters in the Incubator group page. I’ve reproduced my post here as I think it would be helpful:
“Just some quick thoughts on playtesting: It can be quite intimidating for newcomers to present their games for the first time to other designers. It’s your design and sure you are looking for feedback, but you’re also meeting a bunch of people for the first time; people who are also going to see the fruits of your labour and judge it and comment on it. So if you’re presenting a game for the first time and you’d like some help getting started, I and the other admins (currently that’s Aaron Lim, Justin Halliday and Stefan Barton-Ross) will be more than happy to help.
If you’re overwhelmed with feedback, I think it is fine to ask playtesters to take notes, continue playing, and discuss the feedback at the end of the playtest. If you’re looking to stress test specific portions of your game, do mention that so playtesters can keep an eye out. If you think you’ve gotten good information from a playtest (even just from watching player reactions over a couple of turns) even before the game is over, it’s fine to let playtesters know to wrap up and move to feedback.
For playtesters, please respect the designer’s goals for a playtest, Respect them enough to give honest feedback, even if it is negative. If a designer or playtest moderator requests that feedback be given at the end of playtest, please respect that. Maybe take some notes as you play, so you remember your feedback for later. Maybe playing longer will reveal more about the mechanics and allow you to give better feedback later. Your body language and actions while playing may provide more valuable feedback than what you say. However, if the designer/moderator is open to taking feedback and suggestions during play, then by all means do so.
I think we all want to be able to get the most out of our playtesting time at these events, and these are just some of my suggestions. Let me know what your thoughts are.”