Swordcrafters Designer Diary Part 3

Swordcrafters – Sharpening the Design – Live on Kickstarter now!

See Swordcrafters Designer Diary Part 2 if you want to read about the Ideation and Iteration process.

The first time we played Swordcrafters, it was already a magical experience and I knew I had something special.  It also had its problems.  For starters, the score was completely lopsided and scoring took too long.  There was a 3rd phase beyond slicing and selecting that helped people see opponents motivations, but the thematic explanation was weak and others at the table weren’t convinced about this phase. There was a problem that a weak player sitting next to a strong player greatly benefited the strong player.   I had a game that definitely found the fun instantly, but was cluttered with too many ideas.

Where to start, where to begin?  When a first play test feels magical, it makes it psychologically difficult to make changes at risk of losing the fun.  But it’s a necessary part of the process.  So change we did.

Change #1:  Issues with Scoring (attempt #1)

The simplest thing to try to fix was the scoring.  A lopsided score is never all that fun!  Players that score well should deserve it, and there should not be a dominant strategy.  Okay so let’s play with how the scoring works.  Aaaaaand that was  absolutely a trap, but it was so tempting to fall into.  Changing scoring did not significantly improve the game. There were bigger problems.  Maybe if I fix them, the scoring fix will come more naturally.

Reminds me of youth basketball…

Change #2:  Issues #1 with Splitting

A strong player benefited sitting next to a weak player.  That was a problem!  The issue was that the player who started selecting a group of sword tiles was variable.  This variability was not a predictable outcome, but rather was at the mercy of the players decisions at the table.  If a player didn’t understand the implications of the system, then they might king make the entire game. Okay so if everybody gets to make one separation, that means the first player to select tiles is predictable.  This helps people understand the game!  It also means that the player selecting first likely does not have a giant group since everybody has made one split.   The first time we played this way we never went back. But there was still another issue with splitting.

Change #3: Issue #2 with Splitting

When players made splits, the grid became confusing.  I was instructing players to make their split lines across all the tiles regardless if they had been previously split into separate groups.  Confusing!  With the great feedback from another designer, Ryan Lambert, I changed this to only allow a split line to affect one group at a time.  Again, the first time we played this way we never went back.  Splitting complete.  What else needs fixing?

Huzzah! How does that even happen?

Change #4: Issues with unfairness of turns as the first player.

If the first player is going to be an advantage, then each player should have an equal chance at this.  Figuring out a mathematical equation comparing components and players was near impossible.  So time to make a tweak.  Again to the rescue comes a suggestion from Ryan Lambert, about the first player responsibility being a tile in the grid.  Once I heard this, I tried it and again never went back.  First player fairness complete.

It worked for Thief’s Market (pictured), so let’s try it!

Change #5:  Issues with a somewhat clunky player experience.

Setting up the grid each round was clunky mainly because tiles one-sided and players had to check each side of each tile to see if there was a gem.  It was a great fix to change tiles to two-sided.  What is next?

We tried a variable shape setup to the grid.  This was fun, but became a point of AP where players were trying to group things together intentionally.  Too much power to the player setting things up means we move to a standard grid.  Great fix.

We tried passing a box containing the sword tiles to the player setting up the grid each round.  This was slightly clunky, but the other options we tried were worse. Preset stacks of tiles had a clunky long setup time.  Stacks of tiles like carcassonne performed okay but two-sided tiles now give players a good amount of visible info when setting up.

Change #6: Revisiting the scoring.

Now that the game is a well-oiled machine, it’s much easier to revisit scoring.  Two scoring metrics that became very apparent during play testing were comparing swords for length, and building sets of gems calling this sword quality.

The third metric was about keeping people interested if they were not in the quality or length game.  But it was a challenge to find something simple and intuitive.  Enter Sword Magic.  I called this a whole host of things in the past, but a Magic Sword is something people seemed to understand.  During one play test at Protospiel Madison, the answer to the scoring riddle surfaced.  I was playing with a designer named Francois, and after our game, was inquiring about feedback.  We got to the scoring section and I was simply not satisfied with the resolution.  After swirling the topic trying to find the right answer, Francois said a word that instantly made things click.  MOST.  It was amazing how one word immediately simplified the scoring.  The player with the most gets 1st, 2nd most gets 2nd, etc.  There is no particular condition that needs to be met, light end-game counting, and no record keeping.  It’s elegant and effective!  Lock it up.

Change #7: Gutting the 3rd phase

The third phase was intended as a balancing mechanism so that the last player to select a grouping was the first player to do another thing.  However, I also saw that the intentional balancing mechanism was confusing people.  It wasn’t clear how things were interconnected.  First, let’s strip out the 3rd phase for now and streamline things into two phases and that should help players understand inter-connectivity better. The 3rd phase never came back to the table after this.

And that’s how I arrived at the version I plan to publish. Stay tuned for Part 4 to learn how I prepared the blade for manufacturing readiness (the forge).

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