The First Play Test

I have written a blog post detailing the excellent inaugural Wessex Guild of Game Designers Play test Day here. This post is a more detailed discussion of the Spaceship 47 play test.

I started putting the standees together and quickly realised a flaw in their design.

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Unassmbled Draydun Sniper standee
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Assembled Draydun Sniper standee

Because I hadn’t left any space at the bottom of the printed out card, the stand actually covers the numbers you need from the mini! A school boy error. We decided to just put the standees upside down and make them Australian aliens (Austra-aliens). It mattered far less on the player standees as the players have the numbers they need on the player boards.

The characters were: A Stishak Engineer, a Human Security Officer and a Chimpanzee Scout.

The most immediate problem was that I had wanted this to be a quick to set up game and while the map and minis set-up was lightning fast, the fact that I just gave the players a big stack of weapons to choose from with no steer as to what they should be looking for, made it longer than I would’ve liked to get into the action.

First Modification: As this is the introductory mission, I will not give the players a choice as to what weapons they will use for the first mission. The weapon they have will be determined by their profession. They can switch weapons after the first mission (when Spaceship 47 has found a cache of new weapons) as they will know what to look for. Everyone will start with the same armour, which will be written on their player board as it requires an action to use. The armours that I allowed the players to select from will be the first deck of technology that the players can access when the tech level of Spaceship 47 increases.

We got into the game. I hadn’t had a chance to even play through once myself, so I was convinced that I’d forgotten something fundamental and the game would break down very quickly. It didn’t and actually went on for too long. I want each mission to take ~90 minutes – i.e. the length of a film (or the length that films SHOULD be!), which means the three maps that make up a mission should each take roughly 30 minutes. This session took waaay longer than that.

General thoughts from the session:

Switching between wanting the black dice to be higher (when you are attacking) and wanting the red dice to be higher (when you are defending) was annoying.

Second modification: The black dice will be used for all player rolls and the red dice will be used for all obstacle rolls. Therefore you will always want the black dice to be the highest. This does mean I need to source a fourth colour of blank 12-sided dice for the alien critical hits. Last time I looked I could only find 3 dice!

The cardboard AI seems like it will work (at least for the two simplest types of alien in the game). Although the actual implementation was slightly off. While the three of us were focusing fire on the big brutish blocker and trying to get to the first sniper, the other two aliens would not move as they would only move to a better position if they missed an attack. But as they weren’t making attacks the AI did not move them. I have tweaked the words on this so it shouldn’t happen.

There was no time pressure apart from we-wanted-to-kill-the-aliens-before-they-reduced-us-to-0-morale. I need to add a time pressure in.

The initiative tokens are a good idea, but with the numbers being spread out among the players and also the AI sheet, it wasn’t as quick to work out whose turn it was as it should’ve been.

Third modification: I have added an initiative tracker to the mission map which shows you whose turn it is. This will also keep track of how many rounds have elapsed and will be used to put the time pressure on the players. This might be events going off on certain rounds or some other way.

Mission 1 Level 1

The fact you locked in when you were going to do things, meant that you got the problem that all action programming board games have which is that there is always the possibility of actions becoming redundant. This isn’t what I am after for Spaceship 47.

Fourth modification: The initiative tokens no longer have numbers on them. You just put the tokens on what you want to do and then when it comes to your turn, you discard the token of the action you want to do. I think there will still be redundant actions in the game, but it will be far fewer. The security officer will also have a power to allow a player to move their action token.

We didn’t finish the map. Dave’s character was at minus morale, I was 1 off of complete morale loss and Kevin’s character had about 3/4 of his morale left. We had only killed one alien.

The swapping out one black dice for the white special die was not intuitive.

Fifth modification: The number of dice rolled when attacking is the white die plus the number of black dice denoted by your stat. This may make it too easy to hit, but I will obviously play test this.

Sixth modification: The white special die will no longer have a star on it. You score a critical hit if the white dice is the highest number out of the dice pool. This means that if you use a worse stat you are more likely to get a critical hit, BUT you are less likely to actually hit. That is a nice trade off.

It was pointed out that there is design space I am not exploiting, for example, the number of dice you rolled higher than the highest defence die could determine your damage; the lower the highest number is, the better the effect. I must admit I was struggling to put a variety in the weapons I was designing so this will be useful in future.

Character progression. One part of the game I have been neglecting is character progression. I want each character to go on an individual story arc. It was suggested that any morale loss that the character suffers beyond dropping to 0 should affect the progression of the character which would make the desire to not get to 0 morale even greater. On that note,  I hadn’t actually had a concrete idea of what would happen to a character when they got to 0 morale apart from “not die” and just be reduced in effectiveness – so in the game we reduced Dave’s offensive stats by 1 each (minimum 1). I didn’t want to decrease the defence stats as that would cause a death spiral. Other ideas:

  • The white special die is unavailable to you
  • lose 1 action token

It was suggested that you regain morale every time you do something successful, which is a rule I had in the Spaceship 47 RPG.

Seventh modification: You regain 2 morale each time you kill an enemy or for other small story based stipulations for levels.

Eight modification: I am now putting three hourglass icons for the move action to allow characters to move multiple times during their turn. Each weapon can only be used once still though.

Ninth modification: I’m going back to the D&D 4th edition well! I will add in a “Second Wind” action that gives you back morale. It can only be used once per mission though.

So there we have it. The very first play test of Spaceship 47. I was very happy with how it went – I know this is a long journey, and all I wanted to know is whether I was heading in the right direction, which I think I am.

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