Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Recent Gaming and a Ramble about Playtesting

Overall gaming has been different for me lately. I like portions of how that has gone while I do feel like there are parts of my gaming experience that are missing. I have been able to get more gaming in with my family, which is a very cool thing, but is not the same as gaming with my "regular gaming group".


First up on the roster was a great game with my daughter. She has been playing Malifaux off and off since earlier this year and has really been getting a good handle on her Colette crew. She has discovered through a series of games that she really likes Colette's swapping ability and looks to Cassandra and the Corypheee Duet to do her heavy lifting on the strategies and schemes. I found it interesting to hear her tell me on multiple occasions that the performers were pretty much useless and the mannequins were just there to take damage for Colette. I knew there were a couple combo's that she was missing so we decided to have me play Colette and she would grab and start to learn a different crew. Her choice was Lady Justice and I helped her put together a fairly well rounded 35ss crew to play. We had the Gaining Ground Shared Treasure Hunt as our strategy, and Bianca brought the following to the table:
  • Justice, Miss Terious, 2 Stalkers, Santana, Guardian, 2 Guild Hounds, 8 stone pool
I brought:
  • Colette, 2 Performers & Mannequin, 2 Coryphee, Cassandra, 3 stone pool
There were a couple things I noticed Bianca prefers to use and not use when she plays Colette, and I wanted to show her some differences in how she plays. Bianca really like to use the 12 inch ranged Discharge Soulstone, while I prefer Magicians Duel (to not burn so many stones). Bianca does not often discard cards for soulstones, while I do. Bianca also does not hold onto tomes for her defense trigger, while I rely on it heavily. By the same token, Bianca relies on her soulstone healing with her Slow to Die more than I do.

So, when we got into the game I helped her understand how the Guardian's protect spell works and how to use it to boost Santana. I then showed her the trick of using the Mannequin to bash Colette to help Collette move without burning her own 1ap to do so. I also held several tomes (often mid or low tomes) to use with Colette's defense trigger and Bianca gained a much better understanding of how hard Colette is to pin down. The game was really close, and Bianca got to see two major turning points (against me and for her) when she was able to run Justice into both the Coryphee Duet and into Cassandra and cheat in a Red Joker on a damage flip, deleting both models from the game. She also had some eye opening moments when my performers were far from useless. Between the two performers I was able to shoot down a witchling stalker and Miss Terious with their pistols, Lure a dog out of position to make the other dog insignificant (so it could not pick up the treasure), and steal one of Justice's soulstones with expensive gift.  Bianca came out of the game with a better appreciation for the performers, although she still sees the Mannequins as damage sponges. Surprisingly she did not enjoy playing Justice at all, and wants to go back to playing Colette more.


My wife and I have been playing Netrunner, and she is enjoying it as much as I am. I have had a couple chances to head out to the store on my normal Tuesday night to get games against the wider community, but we are also enjoying just playing against each other. We have a single core set, 3 expansions (What Lies Ahead, Cyber Exodous, Humanities Shadow), and the Command and Control new expansion. This has been good and bad, as I am trying to keep 2 corp and 2 runner decks built at the same time without swapping cards between decks. We have it down but I think my runner deck is not as strong as it should be, while my corp deck could probably use some help as well.

Julie is playing Chaos Theory with what she calls her "Dinosaur Deck". This is a fun shaper deck to play and is tweaked to be pretty damn efficient. I am very happy to find her enjoying playing the corp and runner sides of the game equally, as it lets me also switch up between my corp and runner deck. On the runner side I am playing one of the Criminals (Gabe). Julie's deck is built heavily focused on getting her 3 Ice Breaker's out and then making repeated runs against R&D (the draw deck). My deck is based on generating a lot of money then making repeated runs on HQ (opponents hand). There are a couple cards that could be swapped between the decks to make them run a bit smoother, but overall they do fairly well.

On the Corporation side of the game we have a Jinteki deck and a HB Next Design deck built. Julie is exclusively playing the Jinteki deck which works pretty damn well. It's based around "flat lining" the runner by trying to simply do enough net damage to take them out of the game. The term "Jinteki Shell Game" has been tossed around at the store when others see the deck. My corp deck (Next Design) has been a lot of fun to play and was built primarily out of cards from the C&C set that just released. Next Design lets me install up to 3 pieces of ice from my hand before the game begins, then draw back up to a full hand to start the game. This can be a real benefit by giving me a 1 turn jump start to the game. I am also building it around getting out some really monster sized ICE that do a fair amount of brain damage to the runner and then Rezzing (activating) them for cheaper than thier normal cost. I am still tweaking the deck but it has been run to play overall.

Play Testing

That brings me to the last thing I have been doing lately. I am going to write in more general terms about this since it's still fairly hush-hush at the moment. I am involved in play testing a series new games for a game company that will remain nameless for now. I really enjoy play testing games and have been involved in doing so for a longer time than I had realized. I touched on some of why play testing and game development interested me in an earlier post but figured I would ramble a bit about it here in a more focused area.

I had my first experience play testing a game when I was in high school, something like 25 years ago (or so). I had been sneaking out to play D&D with a group of friends for years (throughout late elementary school and early highschool) and had met a new group of players through my group of friends. The new group invited me to try out a game they were in the final playtest of, a game called Shadowrun. I loved playing the game and the GM for the group sent all our feedback back to the writers and then we kept playing once the game was published. I have to admit that Shadowrun was one of my favorite RP settings and games to play, and I imagine part of that was being involved in the playtest for it with a good group. Overall the playtesting was not too intense as only the GM was really taking notes and providing feedback.

Years passed and I went on to graduate high school and join the US Army. During my time in the military I did a lot of gaming but no real testing overall. I did get involved in developing my own online MUD, fully customizing the available DIKU MUD software available through both the in game world and by teaching myself to code. I had a lot of fun running Towers MUD, and had a pretty solid set of players who logged in and enjoyed the world. This was a very different experience since instead of "play testing and providing feedback", when I saw something I wanted changed I would just change it, test it, and then fix what didn't work. There was as much to look at in the actual "how it works" on the code side as there was looking at balance of the components in the game.

As Towers MUD started to wind down a military friend of mine got invited to play test a new type of online game, an MMORPG.  He was able to get me invited to the beta play testing for Asherons Call and it was a blast. The Beta Test was a fairly late beta and was focused on balance testing the classes and monsters in the game, along with doing everything possible to try and "power level" through the classes to see if they were unbalanced or leveled too quickly. This was a great deal of fun and I was able to bring some of my MUD development experience to providing feedback for the game. This testing was very different from the other two areas of playtest as most of the interactions were monitored by the server so there was very little requirement for written feedback. We both logged into forums and provided our thoughts but most of the feedback was tracked through the debug code the developers had access to.

Asherons Call beta testing led me to become involved in a series of MMORPG testing including Asherons Call 2, Eve Online, Anarchy Online, and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. All of these were very similar while having distinct elements of the individual games that worked differently. The longer time went on with my involvement with new games, and the advancement of the underlying architectures meant that less and less interaction with the actual developers was required from the testers. This culminated in a point in time when I was testing W:AR and found that while there was a forum available, much of the testing was really refining the code throught he debug information as the game vision and overall direction was well in hand and the developers were looking for a massive "bug scrub" more than anything else. This is not a bad thing, but it really created a situation where the play testers were primarily getting advanced play experience with the game instead of helping guide the direction through testing feedback.

As more time went on I moved from computer gaming to table top gaming as my primary hobby. I became more involved in Mini-Wargaming and moved through a variety of games as has been somewhat documented on the Gamers Lounge podcast. After playing Malifaux for a while I was invited to become involved in play testing with Wyrd. I have talked about this a bit on the podcast, with an entire episode dedicated to the play testing experience for Twisting Fates and Storm of Shadows. I was involved in other play tests for Wyrd as well (for varying lengths of time) including Puppet Wars, PW Unstitched, Showdown, and Malifaux 2E.

So, why is all this rambling so new in my mind and why do I want to write about it? As mentioned above, I am involved in a new set of play testing for a set of games for a new gaming company. Getting to sit down and play some new games, especially as the games are in early development stages. I have found that game development for both the new group and for Wyrd are run in a very similar style, which I have come to understand if similar for other Board/Tabletop/Card games. Basically there is a mechanism (form/email list/etc) to provide feedback and interact with the game developers very directly. This is helpful in not only refining how the game is played but also helping to test and provide insight/input into the game mechanics along with the "balance" of the individual game components. I am really enjoying getting a glimpse at the development and growth of new games while still bringing some of my experience to bear in helping refine how those games come together.

So I am sure at this point at least some of you want to know what I am testing currently. I will leave you with these couple snippets. First, it is a game that I have been able to play with my wife and daughters and we are all really enjoying it. Second, think euro-style board game. And lastly, Ants.

I will share more when I am able to.
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