Saturday, February 04, 2006

First Playtesting

Our group (Lailin, Ahmed, Cheryl, Myself) held our alpha testing yesterday morning at Starbucks opposite Heeren.

We were like kinda glad that we tested it early, as many potential gameplay issues started to emerge during play. You won't realise these issues even when you are planning, designing and implementing, only when you play the game yourself.

The game board was too big. Way too many squares, and many squares seem unused. So next revision we'll reduce some columns and add some walls as obstacles.

The student unit is waaaaay too powerful. I know students are young and energetic, but giving them 50 health (the most of all units) and letting them move 3 squares per turn, is a little too much. We actually had our lecturers, deans and special units (codenamed "Alex") fall at the hands of who else but the students! (As much as I want this to happen in real life)

Health points and attack strengths of all the unis have to be revised and balanced. Students currently use a 10-sided dice, lecturers a 12-sided, special units a 20-sided, and deans a percentile dice.

And the deans are too powerful in their attacks (well I know Deans are damn influential in real life), but absolutely stupid in their defence. This is why: Deans can only move one square at a time, and attack the 4 diagonal squares around them. And they use the percentile dice to deal damage, means if you roll a 100%, then say byebye to whoever dares to oppose their dean.

And yet we want one of the objectives of winning to be to capture the deans office, which is a square located at each player's end of the board. This basically means if a player keeps his dean sitting in his office all day long, in theory he can NEVER lose the game. Conversely, if the dean leaves his office during any turn, any nearby students would occupy it immediately, since the dean can only move one square at a time but students three squares!

So it's quite likely that most games will end up being stalemates, unless we incorporate some kind of event mechanism that changes the state of the gameplay.

More on play dynamics - there is way too much negative feedback. Let's say there are 4 players. Player 1 and 2 fight to their deaths, and finally player 1 wins. But by then, he must have exhausted or lost most of his units. Won't this make him too weak to fight against the other 2 players? We tried the possibility of alliances, and will definitely incorporate them into the final game, but as to whether this will solve that problem, we'll have to see. Again, we need to implement some form of trigger, like maybe upon the demise of one dean, three of his ex-graduate students (who hated him) will come join in the game (hahaha).

We haven't used the random event element, but we'll have to use it next time - the drawing of cards when a player steps on certain squares (this time by choice, not by luck), similar to monopoly. Events like "it's International Relations Day! 2 new exchange students join your team!", or whacky ones like "all players take the place of the player to your left, and resume gameplay using his/her pieces from now on".

We also need constant events (the collect $200 on go certainly helped a great deal in balancing Monopoly). One of them is, every 5 rotations, it's the new academic year! And everyone gets new students. And perhaps every fifth rotations, only lecturers and deans move; students don't - because they are supposedly on vacation!

We tested this time round, using small flat and round playing pieces from Risk. We had no way to tell which direction each unit was facing at the end of every turn. So next time we will have to test out the multipliers of back attacks and side attacks maybe. Of course you take more damage if you are rammed in the backside right?

Regarding objectives, it was too straightforward. Everyone either attacks aggressively and find out later that they'll eventually lose when they play this way (like me), or make their dean sit in the office all day long and have all his students and lecturers serve him. Lailin did this, and in the end she only had one unit left - her dean. And yet it's theoratically impossible for her to lose. We did implement a surrender mechanism, but till now it's still completely voluntary. Seems like we need to implement a certain condition whereby surrender is mandatory.

Back to the previous point - objectives were too straightforward. We need to put in some distractions, maybe some "LTs" whereby units can enter, and actually receive attributes that will dramatically improve their game, or at least improve their chances. This will increase the variance of what role the player wants each of his/her units to do, instead of only offence and defence. Ahmed suggested that maybe if students enter the LT, they will emerged more "learned", and perhaps if they stay long enough, they graduate and become graduate students with more powers! And maybe if lecturers enter the "LT", supposedly to lecture, then all students leave immediately! (isn't this so in real life haha). Ok what if the special unit ("Alex") enters? We'll think of that, don't worry.

Yup that's about all I can remember. And yes, how many times did I say the word "unit" in this post so far? It was like lots of it during our game as well, so I suggested something rather whacky - once the game begins, all communication between players, be it talk or jokes or strategies, must be changed into the context of a university, like some of the points I said above, AND, anyone who says the word "unit", will receive a penalty. It's just too bad that many of us have played so many such games, such that even I can't stop myself from saying that word at least once every 5 minutes!

So, what does happen in the special unit ("Alex") enters? :P
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