Wider Playtest Preparations

I’ve been getting ready for more playtesting by refining a variety of things, a mix of the mechanical and the aesthetic. On the mechanical front, things are tending towards action instead of espionage. The game started as a spaceship package transport game (with hidden information), and then went into espionage for most of its life, but what I’ve realized is that every design decision that makes the game more fun is one that pushes it into the action genre. So, I’ve just been embracing it as much as possible.

Here are some decisions I’ve made in the past few weeks that reflect it, mostly relating to speeding up the game and allowing players to do what they do naturally (rather than butt up against game rules they find arbitrary):

  • Spies can now pick up items and use them in the same turn
  • Missions have easy objectives to start so that players can ramp up their spy teams quickly
  • Each spy now has an individual “turn” on your turn, rather than spies moving in group phases

Seeing that the game orients itself more towards action than espionage now, there’s a part of me that wonders if the theme should change. However, when I write mission and item content for the game, the spy theme still feels right. Plus, items are still a secret. I don’t think that will ever change – it’s been true since Day 1.

I’ve also made physical changes to the game:

  • Spy cards are now colored in addition to their plastic stands to make clearer which teams they belong to. There are many spies on the board in four player, so parsing them was becoming difficult.
  • Item names now get bent over the top of the spy when equipped to maintain secrecy amongst players that can see the spy/item from different angles (players sitting to your left and right, rather than across from you). This is still important in an action-oriented game because items begin as a secret, and even as they get revealed, they can become secret again due to dropping multiple items facedown on a single space. Players like to shuffle the items when they choose one to pick up so opponents can’t figure out what they’re choosing.
  • Spy skills are now labeled on both sides of each spy, so they are public instead of private. This was not so much a decision I made to make the game better, but rather a decision that was necessary to make to have the game work with 3 and 4 players. So far it hasn’t changed much, surprisingly. I could have maintained skill secrecy by putting the skills on the bottom of the spy’s stand, but then players would constantly have to look there and hide it from other players. That’s just a pain in the butt and it takes away from the fun of the game because it slows it down. Since you and any other player can just glance at any spy’s skills now, it speeds the game up.
  • I’m testing out different board configurations since the two player board is no longer applicable. Thus, I made new modular board tiles that can quickly change into different layouts. Once I find the design that works the best, I’ll make an actual board again.

After making these changes and tightening up the rules, I had my first from-rules playtest with three PopCappers. They sat down with the game as if I wasn’t there, learned the game from the rules alone (no input from me) and then played. The players had fun with the game and it was really neat to see them strategizing and traversing this uncharted (to them) game system. We had a few moments of big laughter which is always great to see. I took a ton of notes, which resulted in about 15 different small changes to the rules that will help grease up the learning experience. It’s things like having pictures of the components in the rules and rewording or adding clarification to sections that I didn’t expect to need it (but understand in retrospect). Thanks to Ross, Matt and Matt for playing!

I’m scheduling more playtests in the coming weeks. Let me know if you’d like to play!