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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Lessons Learned from the Solitaire Contest

The 2016 Solitaire Contest is just about finished, and I'd like to reflect on my experience.

The Contest:
This was my first time entering a board game design contest and I didn't really know what to expect. It was for Print N Play, a genre I haven't touched as a gamer, and was run by the community with no real prize. I entered mainly to give myself the push I needed to actually finish a game on deadline. I learned a lot about my design process and how to improve it, so in that sense the contest was a success for me. The contest fell really flat for me in how it was run. As contestants, we were supposed to play other games and give feedback. Part of this is on me, as I only read the rules and never constructed another contestant's game. I only had 1 person give me feedback, and that was after the deadline to change rules.


Voting:
Since the contest was run by the community and not an official publisher, it missed it's own deadlines. The voting page for the contest went up about a week late. In theory, this should have given people more time to play other designers' games.

I didn't really push friends and family to vote for my game because the voting system was a little convoluted and it forced you to have an account. I also hate contests that boil down to popularity and how well someone pushed their game. Super Fighting Robot probably shouldn't win any awards in it's current state anyway.


The Game:
Super Fighting Robot started with the simple idea of simulating a robot fighting tournament through card play. The game spiraled a little out of control. I implemented changes pretty hastily without fully testing old ideas, and I hardly sought out help from anyone.  I added too  many moving parts as I kept refining. The game would have been fun as a simple Punch vs Block vs Counter-Punch system, but I added extra moves that just got in the way.
My only feedback from a player during the contest was the game was too hard. He might have been right. I added a big change with an energy management system about a week before the deadline. I did not give myself enough time to balance it correctly. I ignored my Keep It Simple, Stupid mantra and the final game suffered for it. The more I refined the game, the harder I made it. I should have erred on the easier side of things.

You can read how I arrived at these decisions here and here. Looking back, I was much more optimistic of the changes!

The game was only tested by 2 or 3 friends, and only very early on in the design process, before I made massive changes, tested it solo, and submitted it. The changes felt rushed and not fully thought through, and when the deadline passed, I didn't want to continue refining the game.


Silver Lining:
I'm proud of myself that I completed and submitted a game. I learned a lot about my design process and how to improve it. I need to focus on keeping games simple and, for solitaire, a win rate closer to 75% instead of 25%. I had read that people who like playing games solo want a bigger challenge, but I don't think that's true. People like winning. People don't like being frustrated by a hard game. I even sold Forbidden Desert after 15 straight losing sessions with friends, so I should have known better.

The most important thing that came from this contest was that I was able to get a designer page, game page, and publisher page up on BoardGameGeek. This will speed up any other game submissions in the future!

Super Fighting Robot is fixable but might need to a fresh start from the ground up. The basic concept is fun, it's just a question of balancing out the moves. I'll get to that eventually and in the meantime, the game, as it is, will remain a free Print N' Play.


Exciting Times Ahead!:
The finish line for the 2-player game that I've been working on with Mike from Coalition Game Studios is in sight! We're getting some much needed graphic design and art direction to make a prototype that looks good. While he works on that, I've been sourcing manufacturing quotes from USA, China, and India.

You and your opponent are rival scientists trying to be the first to decode an alien message. There are 4 scoring objectives, so each game will be slightly different, and it the game play uses an "I divide, you decide" mechanic that works well in 2 player games. 1 player divides 5 cards into 2 piles and the other player chooses which player gets which pile. Both players must then play their cards onto 1 of 3 personal piles, scoring points in different ways depending on the scoring objective used.

I'm increasingly confident that this will be the first published game from CheeseViking Games!

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