Week Spring Break: Research & Playtest 3

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For this week’s session at the NYC Game Makers Meetup, I prepped my game introduction/instructions speech for two different play modes, built out three topic question categories, and incorporated a new rule. I also spoke with a PhD student in the Educational Communication and Technology program at NYU Steinhardt who gave me very helpful advice related to general game design and playtesting, as well as suggestions for structuring my game for the Meetup.

Play Mode 1 • Timed This was a refinement of last week’s impromptu iteration. The game is timed for as many minutes as there are players. For a two- to three-player game, each person gets three word cards, and for four players, each draws four cards. Players place their snuck word face down when the timer ends, and everyone guesses one word from each of their opponents. If they guess right, they take that word card and add it to their own pile. The player with the most words cards at the end wins.
? Question: How do you remember all those words that seemed suspicious? It’s already a cognitively taxing to keep up on the conversation as well as consider how you’ll insert yours. Last week it was suggested to give players paper and pencils to jot notes during the game.
? Question: How do you prevent people from monopolizing the conversation? (But then why would you want to play with someone who’s not a good sport?) But what if it’s not intentional? What if people naturally ramble and tell stories when they talk?

Play Mode 2 • Untimed Each player starts with one word card in their hand. They can only draw another word card after they have successfully snuck that word. Players can catch each other sneaking during game play by calling out the suspect word. If they are right, they get to pull another card. If they are wrong, the accused pulls another word. The first person to sneak 4 words wins…and they show this by placing their cards face upon the table.
? Question: How does card shuffling—drawing and taking from others—work exactly? Yep, this part definitely needs improvement.

Topic Question Categories I realized my questions cards from the week before were a jumble of different types, so I built out three distinct groups: hypotheticals (20), debate (15), and questions that draw on personal experience and values (25). Crafting these takes careful consideration. For discussion they need to elicit a range of possible answers, not just “yes” or “no”. For now I’m staying away from sensitive topics like religion and politics. But it might fun to drop to test those or taboo topics at some point. And/or test banal topics with filthy or uncomfortable words.

The Listing Rule Inspired by a strategy discovered in the prior week, the Listing Rule states that you cannot string two or more items together to disguise one of your words. Still working out the penalty for this…

Expert Advice

This week, I spoke with a doctoral student from the Educational Communication and Technology program at Steinhardt and researcher in the CREATE Lab (Consortium for Research and Evaluation of Advanced Technology in Education). Part of his work is understanding how deliberate research practices can guide the design and development of educational learning games.

From playtesting with international students for whom English is not their first language, I recognize the potential for this game to help others learn and practice new vocabulary. We talked about how words could be grouped by the frequency of their usage (how common they are), by parts of speech, or even created by the students or teachers themselves. One of my favorite quotes from our talk was: “match the mechanic to what you want people to learn.”

After pitching my game, he helped me work through some of the mechanics. At the time, I was preparing to test two different versions of my game—the time and untimed modes described above. Regarding unresolved question of the bulldozing monopolizer and the innocent long-winded storyteller, he suggested that I combine the two approaches. Why not try to make it timed but allow only word card per person?

Regarding the mechanics of playtesting, I asked several questions including, How many times should I playtest? As much as possible, but really, I should be defining different personas and testing at least 4-5 people for each one. For example, gamer vs. non-gamers, children vs. adults, different gender expressions, etc. and How do you know where you’re finished playtesting? A good indicator is when you, as the game designer, are not learning anything new.

He encouraged me to continue prototyping in analog form as much as possible before coding a digital version.

This Week’s Playtest
My goals for this week’s session were to test the two modes, test reactions to topic questions categories and how they might impact the game experience, introduce the new rule, prepare a list of follow up questions, and document for photographic evidence.

I spoke with the PhD student right before the playtest, so even though I quickly rewrote my introduction script to combine the two game modes, it wasn’t as polished as I would have liked—but I went for it anyway. Everyone understood the goals, but my delivery of the rules could have been smoother. When someone asked for clarification, I just responded in the affirmative to see where it would go. It was fascinating to see how the group figured out how to work within their interpretations of the rules in a cooperative way.

Five folks played in the first round, and they enjoyed it! They played again (yay!) and drew in new players for a second round. With the larger size group it naturally morphed from a timed event to an untimed event as they seemed to naturally enjoy the conversation.

In the first round, a personal-type question was drawn: “Describe your strangest dream.” I noticed that everyone was politely taking turns, and I wondered if it was related to the large group size. We discussed it, and it was thoughtfully proposed that the question prompted that particular style of interaction: you don’t necessarily want to interrupt someone’s dream story. Makes sense! I’ll need to revisit my questions to identify more personal narrative prompts.

A hypothetical question framed the second round of play: “It’s the zombie apocalypse. Where do you hold up and what supplies do you stock?” This time the discussion, with six people, was much back-and-forth. Of note, players remembered the listing rule, and suggested I revise the question to, “It’s the zombie apocalypse. What’s your plan?” Thank you! Note to self: also revisit my questions with the listing rule in mind.

I definitely need to refine the mechanics for this style of play—especially with respect to taking word cards when they are called out, but overall, I was super surprised and pleased at the positive response and the requests to follow the game’s progress. One player remarked that he felt nervous playing it, but he really liked it nonetheless, also mentioning that he had to listen very closely to others in order to play well. He suggested that it resembled a pure version of Secret Hitler in terms of how it sets up interpersonal interactions—need to check out that game!

Finally, in our wrap up, another player half jokingly suggested that the best strategy for playing was to “be as pretentious as possible.” So much fun! Thanks to all who played and contributed their insights!

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