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User Experience – 2013-02-28

Balancing fun

For as long as I can remember I have always loved board games. As a child my aunt used to bring a new one each Christmas and we would all, young and old, come together and play for hours on end. We settled Catan, built hotels on boardwalk and found treasures in Tikals jungles. Sometimes we argued over rules, at times it got boring but mostly I remember having fun.

At some point in my teens I got the notion to build my own board game. I still have a few of those ideas rummaging around my head but nothing near a complete playable game. As luck would have it I recently got the chance to make something similar. It is not a board game per se but a card game with dice. During the development I felt I learned a few things worth sharing.

This winter we got the chance to create supporting material around the yearly Christmas theater show for children on Swedish Radios website.

Setting out we had a very limited time frame and budget. Sadly this ment some really great ideas got axed in the ideation phase. When we finally shortlisted some viable options I was surprised that one of my ideas, a collectible card game based on the characters and fauna from the show made the cut.

The basic idea was a card game where animals and key characters from the fictional drama met to to do battle. Each player would have a set number of cards with different strengths and weaknesses, dice would add some randomness and separate function cards would make the gameplay more diverse and enjoyable. The game it self is not directly connected to the radio shows story but the environments and characters from the show lent them self beautifully to capture the players imagination. This was mostly due to the great work of the projects talented illustrator and designer.

Challenges

Keeping 32 + 8 points of data in your head at any given moment is way past any normal humans capacity. I´m no genius, the only way to make this work was by getting all the cards up on a whiteboard to allow overview and enabling grouping and sorting them by type, strength etc.

Early iteration

Having them on the wall also allowed for easier collaboration and having people outside of the project comment on and contribute to the cards on post-its. It also made it easier to go through them one by one marking errors and adding or striking ideas for the next iteration.

Play testing

Having more than a 100k combinations to try out was a bit daunting not to say impossible given the time constraints for this project. This ment actual play testing focused on finding what aspects of the game where enjoyable and where the rules where flawed. Some of the balancing was solved using a rock paper scissors system. Making sure each card type had a countermove. If you think that sounds a bit simplistic you should watch Sheldon Cooper describe the rules of a slightly updated version:


http://www.youtube.com/embed/x5Q6-wMx-K8

Learning from others failures also turned this game around at an early stage. Following the advice from http://www.sirlin.net/ the game went from having few rare and very powerful cards to making them more or less equally powerful but instead making their properties specialized. For example the weakest card, the bread worm given its special property automatically defeats the polar bear (one of the strongest cards). This also ads a bit of strategy as the player needs to figure out when to hold, play or sacrifice weaker cards.

Ultimately the game does not need to be perfectly balanced. It needs to be fair. Fair in that both or all players have the same chance to select the same cards. Fair in the sense that players have a chance to affect the outcome by applying lessons learned from earlier games. If you can achieve this people are more likely not to get bored as quickly.

We had a lot of fun creating this game. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to test it through it´s various stages of development. If you understand Swedish you can download, print and play this game for free. Please let me know what you think of it. Any suggestions for improvements are appreciated.



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