As I write this, the prototype for A Druid’s Duel is sitting at version 1.1. It contains the game’s core rules, resources, and costs. It includes all four base units, each with one power-up or upgrade, and can support two to four players in a hot-seat (pass and play) match. There are very few animations but the art carries some of the whimsy and cartoony feel the final will have. Sound effects are free sounds gleaned from the usual sources. The music is a catchy tune composed for the game’s Summer tile set, one of many planned tracks for the final release.
It’s been a long time coming. I have lived with the game’s idea for many years (can you name the inspiration?) and the game itself has been simplified over time. I was able to piece the prototype together over two years of sporadic artwork and about a month of focused programming and testing. Needless to say, I know the game rather well. It was finally time to get some new eyes on it.
Wanted: Fresh Perspectives
The prototype has now undergone four organized sessions of public playtesting, where volunteers new to the game were given the opportunity to play it for the first time. The sessions were pretty straight-forward: I explained the game’s objective, ruleset, and then demonstrated the different units in-game. Then, armed with a one page rule cheat sheet, the players got to play the game.
The playtesters did an amazing job. A total of 21 players joined in and each one participated fully, offering their thoughts and opinions. Group play was loud and rowdy, with taunts, quips, co-strategizing and plenty of trash talk. It was a fun and dynamic social gaming session that told me I was on the right track. Or at least it played well in a physical group setting – one of the things to strive for over networked play.
After about 75 minutes of playing various games and maps, I asked each player to fill out a short questionnaire, ranking each statement or answering a direct question. First and foremost was the meat-and-potatoes statement at the heart of it all: A Druid’s Duel is fun to play. Responses fell like this:
Not too shabby.
This is statistically questionable in a strict sense of course, but all in all, nobody disliked the game. I think the players would all play again given the opportunity, and I take it as an indicator that the game has a strong design at its core. To be fair, the players had very limited exposure to the gameplay and spent much of that time getting used to it (learning) and then forming strategies that worked against both their opponents and the board itself (adapting). It’s a tough thing to evaluate a strategy game given so little exposure to it. It will take a ton more play to form lasting opinions about how enjoyable it is. But as first impressions go, you could do worse.
The detailed feedback and verbal discussions we had during the sessions broke down roughly as such:
- 50% Usability gripes, issues, druthers, bugs, or opinion (all accurate, in fact)
- 5% off-the wall ideas I’ll never use (expected and welcomed)
- 30% stellar ideas for rule improvement or revision (good stuff)
- 75% strategy talk and discussion on whether or not the Archer/Eagle druid is OP. Also very good stuff. (OP = “over-powered”, and I have my opinion on that, see below).
- 100% necessary
There is nothing like being given someone else’s perspective on something that is so close to yourself. It throws into sharp relief that which works, and that, even if you wished it otherwise, clearly does not.
The Mirror doesn’t lie, you just get used to its words.
Regardless of my usage of the adjective “prototype,” the game is complete enough to fully play. And the two main takeaways for improvement were that firstly, the game required a lot of clicking. Like, a ton. And yes, it did. In testing it myself, I became numb to the sheer amount of clicks it took to select, move, re-select to put a druid to work on the board. This, combined with some visual quirks I was too lazy to fix, added to issues in usability that seemed to interfere with evaluating the gameplay. These are all fixed up as of yesterday and the play is a far smoother experience.
Secondly, and more challenging (and exciting), is that the Waywalker proved to be not so much finished, as an alluring work-in-progress that could be oh-so-cool if I could only figure out how to use it, or what it should do. By the time playtesting began, this unit, the latest to be added, was an amalgamation of many ideas, MacGuyver’d together with second-hand pixels and some rather embarrassing code. I knew this going in and was looking for feedback on this unit above all else. Completing the Waywalker is my primary focus before the GenCon Sessions.
In spite of these two faults, I felt the sessions were very good and very important. The vast majority of players enjoyed the game and being a part of its evolution. Many asked if they could play it some more, given that they only got about an hour of actual play time. I’m working up a timeline and plans to help turn some of these players into experienced players that can help evaluate the game at a deeper level later this summer.
In general, players stated that A Druid’s Duel is fun, “easy to learn, hard to master,” offers strategic challenges, appeals to many types of players, that “every turn is important,” and promises many characteristics enjoyed in other games, and even delivers on some of those promises. Oh, and the Eagle is OP, but really fun to use. And crushing druids with the Bear is highly satisfying. And, and, and…I walk away greatly encouraged and tremendously excited to continue.
(Eagle is not OP)