#24: If It Ain’t Broke

This was a fun lesson to learn and falls right into the most common question I’ve seen asked of experienced game designers / publishers. “How do I know when my game is ready / done?” Many people shy away from answering because we don’t want to give you bad advice. I don’t have the “right” answer, either. From personal experience, though, I can tell you that if it ain’t broke, fix it anyway!

“Fix it anyway” because recognizing a broken game is easy. Improving a not quite awesome game can be really hard. Remember when I said that better does not mean right? Hold that advice to heart because it can make all the difference.

Way back when, I had a really scary situation arise with Top-Deck. I’ll go into more detail elsewhere, but, for the sake of this post, I’ll say it experienced a couple of big changes. Originally, the game was just the Play cards and Bonus cards. Then, Gamer-Friend recommended some kind of Role. The idea sounded thematically fun and gave additional player interaction. Thus, the Roles were born. A lot of effort went into creating a slew of Roles with unique passive abilities and cool, theme appropriate Bonus cards. Months of development, balance, and polish followed. It was fun, but felt a little flat and excessively chaotic. After the “flat” feeling had time to ferment, I realized that it WAS too random because I was putting all of the unique Role effort into the fat Bonus card deck which had to be sifted through to reach YOUR cards. The most common request (and what the game really needed) was stability. What I needed to do was move those thematic abilities onto the Role cards, instead. Which meant I had to completely redo the Bonus deck, rebuild all of the Roles, figure out some-kind of cost for the new abilities, and re-balance the whole game. I was mad, broken-hearted, and scared. It took about 2 weeks just to start the process. But, Top-Deck is so much better for that extra effort.

More recently, I’ve been working on The King’s Highway. I felt confident enough with the work I had put into it to declare it as done to Peter Vaughn and plop down money for art. HOWEVER, it always felt a little flat to me. Not broken or wrong, just a nagging doubt in the back of my mind. It just seemed like it could be better – even though I couldn’t find anything to actually change. I almost ruined my interview with Chris Handy in order to ask him if my game was okay. One week, I played it with a new friend at my FLGS’s game night. He listened to my concerns and started throwing out ideas. Most of them I had already considered. There was no way I was adding even more dice or extra complicated rules to what I was trying to make as a micro game. Then, he suggested something pretty special: marked faces which MUST be played. Brilliant!

You see, that flat feeling I had, the root of my concern, was because the game had NO conflict. Sure, through timing and selfishness you can put another player in a tough spot of sub-optimal plays, but it’s a pretty minor inconvenience at best. Plus, I was usually the only person at the table taking advantage of the special rule allowing for a re-roll. This new mechanic makes the game harder by removing some of the flexibility, making your multiple dice and re-roll option more vital and leading into more player vs. player conflict. Players are now forced into that semi-cooperative environment that I originally wanted. Even if this change doesn’t completely fix the game, it has, at the very least, reinvigorated my excitement for getting this game published – and that’s pretty important.

So, the point I am trying to make today is that, if you are not completely confident in your game’s readiness, you probably need to work on something somewhere. My 2 favorite games (right now) from Lagniappe were drastically altered and improved by a very small suggestion. Maybe all your game needs is a little tweek, too 😀 What do say?

Let me know what you think