I am just so very excited to be back for another Thursday edition of “Things I Recently Learned, But Should Have Known All Along!”
This week, I’ll be discussing spreadsheets and how I should’ve known better. First, let’s start with some background information. As I mentioned before, until just a couple of years ago, the only real game I ever played was Magic: The Gathering. I thoroughly enjoy the deck building process. Every time I build a deck, though, (even the 100 card Commander decks) I sort cards into piles and spread out all over a table. It helps me think to be able to hold, see, and sort. The fact that I cannot do this on Magic Online makes it pretty uncomfortable for me to play.
What does this have to do with the topic? I am currently working on a small card game for The Game Crafter’s “Time Challenge”. It involves drafting and some variable power cards. Being a small game (24 cards for 2 players, 48 for 3+, and 72 for 5+) I figured that I could just do what I was comfortable with and build my piles. You see, I was on my 3rd iteration. I had a chance to see how it operated, experience some balance issues, and was simply cleaning up the game. So, I had plenty of cards to work with – I just needed to fine tune the balance.
Unfortunately, I was very tired and kept losing track of where I thought a certain ability should be, what my cost spread was on that particular number of players, and which card I wanted to move where. It was a frustrating few hours. I was also constantly second-guessing myself. Some major changes were being made to the 2 player version and I feared that I was destroying the game balance. All the while, I was arguing against the logic of using a spreadsheet. “This has always worked before,” regularly rang through my head. The difference I refused to accept this time was that I was dealing with many more adjustable variables, and I just couldn’t keep track of it all.
I went to lunch, came back, and couldn’t remember a big chunk of my work on the 5+ portion. Screw it. I have to use a spreadsheet. So, I set the columns for card abilities grouped across game sizes and the rows for card costs versus victory point values. Then, I filled in information from the last iteration of the game (because I liked the general balance but needed to move some things and remove some redundancy). Next, I added in the changes I knew that I wanted to make. Finally, I was left with a very clear picture of the holes I needed to fill, an easy display of power distribution across the game sizes (friendlier cards for 2 players, more powerful, game-breaking cards for 5+), and a helpful print order (because I build my pages of cards to print as JPEGs).
In half the time, I was able to address a potential balance issue, finish No-Name-Game Version 1.3, and print it up. Driving home the fact that I should have done this long ago, I misprinted a card for the 2 player set. The mistake was discovered as I was prepping for a game at my FLGS. All I had to do was pull up the spreadsheet on my phone, confirm which cards were in the wrong place, and proxy replacements. Amazing!
I am quite sure this is a no-brainer for most, but, as I said, I was cocky. Please, learn from my hubris and work smarter not harder.
What are some tricks you use for organizing your thoughts?