As a young child, I loved playing with action figures. I collected everything from GI Joes to He-Man. In my world of imagination, all figures coexisted in a constant struggle with one another. There was never peace. There was always a story of one faction against another or one figure betraying another. I was Shakespeare and He-man and his fellow figures were my actors. And all this happened in the solitude of my bedroom.
I stopped playing with toys in my early teen years (yeah, I was old). I traded them in for video games, which I still played alone. Though I still play video games, my gaming energy has shifted to board games, which I play with others. I enjoy gaming with others, but there are still times I enjoy playing board games by myself. Many of my games have a “solitaire” mode which allows me to enjoy the game and enjoy the solitude.
One reason I enjoy solo gaming is that it allows me to broaden my collection somewhat. Many games that have a solo mode are more complicated games than my normal group (my family) would enjoy. With these games, I’m able to play the games I enjoy, while not having to worry about finding a group to play with. Because these games have longer play times, I can also leave them set up. This gives me the opportunity to walk away and come back. That’s something you can’t do with a normal game group.
Another reason for solo gaming is that it helps you to sharpen your rules knowledge. Playing the game in solo mode first gives you a good idea of rules and feel of the game. No one wants you to drag them through the first play with limited rules knowledge. I can spend as much time as I like playing the game and learning the nuances of the rules. Then, teaching the game to my friends becomes much easier. After that, I can better apply the rules to situations that will arise. No one like to play a game in which no one knows the rules. Solo gaming eliminates that.
The best reason to play solo games is that it keeps your mind ticking. Many folks use other devices to do this like crossword puzzles, logic problems, and sudoku. Though I like those things, board games bring color and the physical element that can’t be had on a piece of paper. The visual and tactile experiences involved in a board game can keep your mind sharp. I read a recent study that looked at the link between your internal thoughts and the physical world. These associations and connections keep your memory more intact as you grow older
Playing solo games does take some time to get used to, but the investment is worth it.
In my last post, I introduced my design project, Heartland. With any new board game design, there is a large amount of playtesting involved. Playtesting gives the designer insights that he or she can’t see on their own. As much as you may think your game works, most of the time it will fall flat during the first few playtests. After many other tests, a polished product begins to emerge. There isn’t a particular method to playtesting. I’ve adopted a sequence that has worked for many other designers in the past.
First, there needs to be a short period of testing the game for “fatal flaw.” Many designers call this the “insanity test” for the game. After initial creation, I made errors in the game that made it unplayable or “broken.” “Broken” is a term used by gamers to denote game mechanics that don’t work, or work too well. In my initial tests of Heartland, the fur-trading mechanic was too strong. It was so strong that to compete, you had to play that space every time. We adjusted mechanics and tested again. You continue with this until you have something to show to others.
The next phase is a time of playtesting among folks you know well, but aren’t invested in the game. The goal for this phase is to weed out things that may seem confusing or unnecessary. Because I’ve been so invested in the game, everything makes sense to me. Yet, during my first playtest of this nature, a friend asked a good question. He asked, “So, you explained it, but I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be going after.” That’s good info. Something needed to be clearer. I’ll continue to weed these inconsistencies out until the game is ready for a wider audience. I’m currently in the middle of this stage.
The next stage is “blind” playtesting. This stage involves giving a prototype of your game to a group of people who have shown interest in your game. They take the game, read the rules, and play it a few times, taking notes. You may even ask them to video the experience. This is the real test of a game. It mimics the experience that future game owners will have when they open their game for the first time. This is the process I look forward to the most.
Are you interested in blind testing my game? Please let me know. I’ll be looking for testers by the end of the Spring.
Decades of drought have made life hard in America’s “Heartland.” Hard times can bring opportunity. Five once-depressed cities now search for a ray of hope.
With that sentence, I embark on a new project: designing my first board game. Several things inspired my new game idea. The place I grew up – America’s Heartland – gave me the lion’s share of that inspiration. The hard-working people and the beautiful countryside were my muses. Though I’m from the Missouri’s Bootheel, all the Heartland’s people see the world in a way that has always impressed me
My board game will be about survival after a time of difficulty has come upon the land. Droughts have caused water to be scarce, so states must ration it, and sell it, to the highest bidder. The cities then decide how they will use their resources. Will they farm and feed their people? Will they gather and prepare for more hardship? Will they sell their goods to prosper? These are questions the player has to consider as they play the game.
I’m currently playtesting the game, which I plan to write about later in the week. If playtesting goes well, I’d like to have a marketable product by the end of this year. After that, I’ll test the waters among available publishers.
Publishing a board game has been a dream of mine for some time. I’ve been creating games since I was a boy, and this is an extension of that same spirit. To see this come to life, I’ll need the help of my friends from the Heartland. Would you like to see a game about the area you live? Do you know someone who would be into this? Tell them about it. Subscribe to my blog, and have others do it as well. I plan to give regular updates on the process along with my normal posts about gaming with your family.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas about this project. Please share in the comments section below.