The title of this post was my first foray into heavy feedback on game design. MDG, the wrestling game that was my first published title, had been largely positively received both by playtesters and the general public. So, when Duane asked that I design a game with the Honor Studios property, I went into it pretty much determined that I had this game design thing down.
Boy, was I wrong.
Initially, I used inspiration from other card games with unique dice as the combat resolution mechanic. I took it to a playtesting event and set everything up. Jonathon Gilmour (designer for Dead of Winter, Dinosaur Island & loads of other games) took one look at it and said – “This is too busy. Trim about half of it.” Specifically, he was talking about the “board”, which was 8 squares that had a graph on them to list how many cards went atop it as the angels investigated that area.
So, I adjusted. The investigation would be tiles (hex variety). Each tile would be an investigation area. So, I made 4 rings of hexes (that’s 6+12+18+24… you do the math). Given that each investigation took a few minutes with passing dice around and everyone discussing what the best course of action was, you should finish a game in about the same time it takes most people to finish reading War & Peace (speed readers not included).
I’d gathered several of my friends for some run-throughs, and we had fun. The dice mechanic was a bit cumbersome, but overall, it was well-received so I took it to my first Protospiel in Chicago. Day 1, the game itself took some time to get through, but people were engaged if not overwhelmed. With mostly layman coming to the event to just enjoy some new games, they were happy for the craziness that rolling dice can give. Day 2, some designers sat down to play it, and I was confident that my game would hold up.
It got brutalized.
Stunned, I maintained my composure, took notes, and tried to process the train wreck as one overcomplicated mechanic smashed into an overwrought system that denied the most basic part of War in Paradise: Insurrection – that the players could be part of the insurrection, a fallen angel – what’s referred to as the Traitor Mechanic (as made famous in Dead of Winter, BattleStar Galactica, Shadows of Camelot). Simply put – you couldn’t be sneaky and conniving with the unpredictability of dice. It simply didn’t work.
And they were right.
After the test, I went to dinner with Daniel Blakney (designer for Heir to the Throne). I was dumbstruck, not because the feedback was so harsh (I’d worked creatively for years and was used to heavy feedback), but because my core mechanic couldn’t be core. And so I asked Dan –
“What would you do if you were me?”
And with a quick chuckle, he offered the title for this particular blog.
Next time, drilling deep into the game to find its core.