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[ Powers ] - First three solo playtests

Started by HeTeleports, August 27, 2009, 10:11:02 AM

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Well, this will be my first major contribution to the Forge forums.
Let me preface this entry to playtesting with a disclaimer: what will be discussed is more of a board game than a roleplaying game. While a few entries on the Forge have mentioned that board games with heavy RPG elements are welcome to be discussed, I realize I might be stretching it. 
So, here goes.

"Powers" is a game about exactly that: learning to use your powers. Every player sits down and decides which single superpower they will get. Players really don't come up with "superhero" characters because we're all not wearing tights. The flavor of the game is similar to the film Push (2009) (though I actually designed everything this past winter before I saw the film.)
There's the color.

For the first play-test, I picked up a 30-minute timer, printed all of the cards necessary (more about those later), and sat down with my dice. The game system can handle a solo player, and I figured I'd learn to swim when the pool wasn't crowded.
There are two resources in this game: Old-fashioned money and Experience Points. Players start with no money, but to try and "skip ahead" of the slow parts, I gave my self 1,000 XP to spread around.
My chosen power - teleportation (You could have guessed.) - has about 31 different "feats" or actions I can spend XP to purchase (thereby allowing me to use it in the game). With 1,000 XP, I was able to buy about 5 basic feats. But I ran out of XP before I could improve things much. That's fine, I figured.
Each time I used a feat, I'd gain more experience -- to the tune of 1-3 XP per successful feat.
The timer read 19m57s when I finished making my character, meaning only 10 minutes had passed. Not bad.
I took my paper model, had my wife choose a location card at random, and started to really play. The locations were all real world places (a successful attempt at realism. You'll see later why I say "successful.")
The location card indicates I must draw 2 characters - and every time I return here, I draw one more. I can't remember who the other character was, but the first character was a motorcycle cop. He's one of the signified characters that prevents players from leaving their location. If you want to leave, you have to beat this guy up.
I crack my knuckles, excited. I've got teleportation. This normal mook should be a piece of cake.

Let me take a moment here to explain something. The entire game is built out of cards. Teleportation is one 32 card deck, Locations another deck, characters another deck, items, objects, missions. My superpower deck aside, the other decks are left face-down and randomly drawn as face-up cards dictate. Move to a new location? That location has cards to draw, which may require other cards to draw. (Sounds like a novel idea, right? Well, I pulled out a lot of hair over this post in First Thoughts.)
Often, things are pretty non-sequitor. In one of my later playtests, I had a movie theatre in a part of town that I know has zero theatres. It's entirely possible to have a sword show up in the middle of an airport (look for that later). While the system largely sounds random, it's organized in a way to test the Gestalt effect's ability to 'create' a story for players. We all see patterns, trying to make sense of the dots. The motorcycle cop preventing me from leaving -- as a player, it struck me that he must have found me suspicious and some sort of pursuit is implied. Is there an "emergent story," meaning a narrative *I* had not planned but could see? Random events with my brain filling in the gaps? ... In a few places, I experienced a few moments of "Oh, well that makes sense." 
(This is *not* roleplaying. I have no shared imaginary space. Even if I did have other players, there are no reasons for me to justify the cop stopping me from moving. He's an aggressive character card, and that's "all ye ever need know.")

Back to the fight. I have a board where I lay my actions (teleporting in front of him to trip him, teleporting behind to hit, teleporting the guy to confuse him)... and then I have the actions available on his card (fire shots, wrestle). I take my first action's accuracy (I check to see that his character has no evasion, and he doesn't), and define a target number for my 2d10s (percentage dice) to roll. His character automatically uses his actions to temper my attack (his accuracy is used in place of his evasion, dropping my target -- making it harder for me to roll.)
And I fail.
That's fine, I'll try again. The math's working; the dice aren't. After a few long minutes figuring out that math [Target die roll < ( (Attacker accuracy - Defender type evasion)+(100% - [Defender action accuracy-Attacker type evasion]) /2) ... I succeed in knocking 17 health off of his character.
When my timer goes off (a total play time of 30 minutes), I have only been able to hurt the motorcop by about 60 health points... and he started with 200.
Something didn't work right. I close up shop for the night, to ponder.
The next morning, I drive by the location (in real life), and there's a motorcop parked nearby, giving someone a ticket. No joke.

The following night, I decide that my failure was due to the system. I'd taken about 5 turns in 20 minutes. That means four minutes per turn -- a glacial pace for a boardgame. Further, I didn't have enough XP resources to start. Playtest No. 2 begins with giving me 2,000 XP to work with.
(It's worth noting: the smallest denomination to use XP on my powers is 10s, (meaning 10, 20, 30, 40, etc.) 2,000 sounds like a lot, but it's really not.)
With 2,000 XP, I finished building a new character when the timer read: 23m18s.
I draw the first location card (my wife's re-reading the Twilight books while I'm working) and I shout "yes!" when all the resulting cards depict an area that I can freely leave. There's a tree, an apartment fire, a gypsy dude, and I can pick up a gun.
What I'm looking for is a Mission. The game ends when a player receives an announced number of Mission Points. (I'm testing to find out how long it takes me to get one. Notice how last time I couldn't even leave?) I should find a mission, do a mission (with the world as its depicted on the board), and get the mission points.
I'm able to spend stamina points walking to new locations (drawing a fistful of cards with each new one) and blowing energy points to get to the next one. I gained some money by doing some gruntwork (the objects reward $ if I perform certain feats for them: like teleporting crates for the dockworker, moving heavy items for the road construction, etc.)
But nothing on the missions.
At 4 minutes, I found my first mission: I traded a certain item to a character on the board, which allowed me to draw my first mission card.
The pacing is all wrong, I think, but I continue playing. At least, I wasn't stuck. When the timer runs out, I restart it for another 30 minutes. At 15m22 (about 45 minutes from the time I started), a mugger tried to prevent me from moving on (like the motorcop) and I was able to defeat him. I got my first "blue" point. My mission? Gain 10 blue points. The reward would be 1 mission point.
In the rules printout, I had envisioned games of 10-30 mission points. If you do the math, we're looking at my completing this mission in another two hours.

Speaking of math... Remember that disembowelingly long formula I had for combat? With this playtest, I wrote out a new formula, to speed up the turns.
Target die roll = Attacker action accuracy - Defender's type evasion.
However, the defender would also get his own attack: Target die roll = 100% - (Defender action accuracy - Attacker's type evasion).
[What I mean by "type evasion": Each action, whether the swinging of a baseball bat or the telekinetic movement of dirt, has a "type." Characters with superpowers have evasions to those particular types. Telepaths can dodge mental attacks easier than gunfire; the inverse for people with super strength.]
The new formula means both attacker and defender can do damage to each other, making the fights a little faster. Not a bad call... (until my third play test finds a flaw with the formula).

My notes on the second playtest show that after 56 minutes of play " = got really exciting." I'm not sure what I was thinking at the time, but I was really watching how the world was working. A government agent character card held a mission "assassinate actress", with some conditions. I had been using the actress for stamina and health boosts while scouring for missions. I could KO the government agent, take the card, meet the conditions, then assassinate the girl for two mission points. ... But that would require KOing the government agent. He wasn't the attacking sort (like that motorcop... Geez, he rubbed me the wrong way.) and he definitely would be a heavy piece of work. I wound up picking on some other character.
The kids had gone to bed, my wife was watching me move cards around on the ottoman and roll dice, and I got my 2nd blue point. The time was 12m21s... almost an hour and 45 minutes into the game.

The pacing is definitely off. My issue this time was getting missions into the players' hands. They're an integral part of interacting with the world. Otherwise, very quickly, people are left wondering, "What am I supposed to do?" I, the almighty designer of the game, had this thought at 5 minutes after character creation ... using my teleportation to explore ghetto parts of Spokane.
So, new rules were introduced for the third play test. (Congratulations, everyone, for reading this far!)
1. After char.creation, draw 3 missions and discard one.
2. Any time a character card requires drawing a mission card, the mission card goes to the player that drew the character card. It's an option to leave the mission with the character (face-down, away from other players.)
I thought that would cut off the first half-hour of play time...
... and I need more XP...

Tonight was the third playtest. I seriously debated cutting 10% off of XP costs to everything (which would require a reprinting of all these cards I just made out of heavy printer paper and contact plastic.) I just raised my starting XP to 3,000.
Again with the 30 minute timer.
This time, it takes me 17 minutes to make a character... However, I also don't decide to use any weaknesses until the last moment. (Teleportation makes you lazy, dontcha'know? -2 max Stamina = +50 XP). There may have been some child-related distractions (How many times could you stand listening to The Backyardigans?).
I draw a pair of missions: "Acquire the Locked Briefcase" for 1 mission point and "Assassinate" that poor actress for 2 mission points.
Immediately, I draw the Spokane Airport. ... And there's a government agent there. This one's attacking me (meaning I can't leave). He's got 270 health... and I start to feel like I did on my first playtest.
Ultimately, I did not get stuck.
I did defeat him, but I had to restart the timer (+ 30 minutes) before finally KOing him with a sword (yes, it was just laying around the airport. Non sequitor. Maybe I started with it... And the TSA stopped me, noticing said sword... resulting in the buff Mr. Smith.)
And the agent's the one who showed me the first flaw I had in the simpler fighting formula.
He has an attack... "Take Down"... It's about 90 damage (severe, considering I had 100 HP), but only 45% accuracy.
So, what happens if he uses that as a defensive move?

The formulas again: For the attacker's Target die roll = Attacker action accuracy - Defender's type evasion.
The defender's: Target die roll = 100% - (Defender action accuracy - Attacker's type evasion).
So... 45 - 22 = 23. 100-23=77 ...uh... That would mean he'd have to roll less than 77 to "take me down." Aw, suck. Something's wrong.  Previously, his high accuracy inverted into a lesser number... and that's when I realize I've got my parenthesis in the wrong place.
It should be: Target die roll = (100% - Defender action accuracy) - Attacker's type evasion.
100-45 = 55. 55-22 = 33... That's more like it.
My wife comes over and says, what's wrong. I tell her that I'm sorta fudging the rules, explaining the math I just showed you. She said "Sounds like you're getting a lot out of playtesting."

So, I defeat the gov't agent (about 54 minutes into play). Fine, I tell myself, he *is* one of the toughest characters to fight on the board. An hour spent figuring out dice rolls and math... Pretty crunchy, but that's partly how I designed it.
I finally get to do some exploration: traveling on Division Street in Spokane, visiting the Spokane Valley Mall, and reviewing the airport again. On Division Street, one object card is a "Department Store." Supplies... why not?
The resulting items include (oh boy)... the locked briefcase. There was a laughing moment.
Mission Point completed! I had been playing for an hour and six minutes.

Now my notes turn useless. I actually play for another half an hour (I think), but I failed to remember to restart the timer after stopping it to make my note about the briefcase.
Fortunately, that game was mere hours ago.
I traveled to the mall again and found an actress. This time I already had the mission card that matched her, so it took me a little bit to meet the necessary conditions before KOing her, but I did it. A total of 3 mission points in less than 2 hours.
The late hour pressed me to stop playing at this point.

I plan to play solitare one more time before inflicting the game on my wife or close friend (a game of two.) With the previous revisions to the game, I plan to reduce all XP costs by 10% (the decimation I mentioned earlier)... and then give myself 2,000 XP to start. We'll see if that makes character creation faster (and with beefier characters, perhaps we'll see less 'getting stuck'?).
However, I am also reviewing each of the game's elements for its value.
My perspective is not different than a company manager looking for the next employee to lay off. We can see a lot of spinning, moving parts in the game's abstract. Are all of those parts necessary?
The exploration of the powers (I won't say 'character exploration') is not as often utilized as I had anticipated. Each player is able to revise their character (using the XP resource) in between turns. Only in the second play-test did I perform a revision on my character.
I'm also reviewing whether the complicated nature of each action (each action has an accuracy, a type, a damage, a possible temporary condition to inflict, a scale of points to improvements, etc.) is absolutely necessary.
To anyone with experience playing table-top games solo: do you think adding more players at the table will improve the game's pace?

In short, there's more playtesting to do.

Post-script: I have found this discussion of charitable reading incredibly informative. Just give it a quick scan before posting.
He's supposed to be finishing the art and text for his new game "Secret Identities." If you see him posting with this message, tell him to "stop playing on the Internet and get to work."

"Oh... be careful. He teleports."


I might make a longer post out of the fourth playtest, which lasted the longest of all: a whopping 5 hours.
In that time, I (Youssef) and Daniel figured out how to survive the world with our respective superpowers, teleportation and biokinesis.

Daniel - a non-roleplaying kind of guy. He was excited when he participated in his first Murder Mystery Dinner night but complained that "if he'd known more about his character," he could really have gotten into it. He's a contractor, building buildings and so on, and is a volunteer firefighter.
Biokinesis - think "Plant Girl." Batman's villain Poison Ivy has this power, and the Heroes TV series' first season villain had this power -- both minmaxed in their own way.

I'd been 'prepping' Daniel for this full-on playtest for about 2 months now. He was involved in researching some of the things that different powers could do; in fact, I might credit him for reminding me how important leverage is to a guy who has super strength. However, he was kept well away from the specific rules of the board -- especially the creation of the 'world.'
So, I had a well groomed "Guy who is interested/invested in the game but knows little-to-nothing about it."

I'm separated from my notes. As I find them later, I'll add to this post. That way, I'll prevent the "too long; didn't read" phenomenon happening in my last post.

I decimated the experience point costs for everything, except improving your powers, then gave both of us 2,000 XP to start. Compared to last time, we essentially had 20,000 XP to build our powers.
Daniel, knowing nothing about Biokinesis, discovered that his 'healer-type' character was poor in fighting. Thus, he bought up all of the attack-like fighting feats -- and then a handful of others. With my 30 minute timer going, we had a handful of discussions about "What is a reflex action?" and "What's the difference between psychokinetic and projectile types?"
Other than that, he was able to buy his way through character creation -- just 2-3 minutes behind me.
It took us almost the first 30 minutes to finish buying and filling out our powers, with a variance of 2-3 minutes.
(I'll say it a third way.) Between a player on his fourth attempt and a player on his first attempt -- it took almost 30 minutes to fill out our characters.

We had some system-specific feedback after the game on why, how to improve and what *should* be attempted. However, we both agreed: the system caused that delay.

We rolled into our first turn. Aside from my normal "who goes first", I went first so I could model a basic turn for Daniel. Nothing of note. I started in the smaller city, equipped with nothing and stopped by a motorcop. I ignored him and used my powers to make money on a construction site.

Daniel's first turn was a classic example of a player looking at the random stimulus and concocting, if not a story, at least a line of reasoning on *why* such a thing happened.
He started out in the bigger city. He randomly drew a fire extinguisher and an apartment fire, as well as a host of other characters. He was 'exploring' the board and decided to do something about the apartment fire since the card required it be discarded after his turn. He discovered he doesn't have any plant-growing powers that correlate with this apartment fire.
So he uses his fire extinguisher.

I watched him play, intentionally letting him fibble-and-fudge his way through the rules as presented (the cards, his dashboard, his actions, etc.) He pointed out some of the first *major* issues in the system -- as well as providing the most sensical solution: no defined rules regarding what you can do on your turn, especially with so much happening on the board.
We played the game through without his sensible solution -- just to see how bad things could get. Not too bad... but hours of play resulted.

Although it was the longest play-test, we achieved more per hour than I did playing solo. To answer my previous post's question: playing solo can drag out.

Daniel and I got into our first skirmish because I had a mission point riding on it.
No one in "the world" has superpowers, except he and I. By this point, he'd fought a few people (including KOing an actress -- I'll get to that.) However, the fight between us was pretty severe. Neither of us had a lot of attacking actions... Sure, we had 4-5. Where he relied on more items that he'd collected (rifle, gun, knife, throwing knives, flamethrower, extinguisher, etc.), I redrafted more of my attacks to rely on evasion bonuses and a handful of attacks. Sometimes I took a beating -- other times, I delivered decisive blows.
In game, I'd come across the mission at the start. Daniel's play incidentally (read: through random circumstance) fell into line with it.
Outside the game, he and I were commenting on how each other had spent their XP... and wondering how we could get more.

Daniel did a good job interacting with the world.
He came across an actress early on. There wasn't anything specific he could do with her (no $ gains or new items), but because she traveled on her own, she often followed him. Then he came across a taxi cab object -- and began to move her around.
Before I could move into the big city (I can only teleport to places I've been), he had moved her 3-5 times. Then, he revealed his mission when he found a weak attack he could do to her: he had to KO her for a mission point. At first, he was going to ignore it -- but other missions showed up that he didn't think he'd be able to do (KO 25 other people, gain $50,000, find a gold statuette, etc.) In the end, assassinating the actress was the only thing he could do.
There was no real emergent narrative... except that she ran away from him when he failed 3 more times.

The novelty of the 'realism' didn't wear off for him. Instead, randomly drawn cards continued to make sense. (Two "Road Construction" work sites were drawn for the Division Street location; it seemed planned.)

I leave to find my notes for any other revelations.
He's supposed to be finishing the art and text for his new game "Secret Identities." If you see him posting with this message, tell him to "stop playing on the Internet and get to work."

"Oh... be careful. He teleports."


After reviewing a few more playtest articles (and several AP articles), I'm posing a question to look back on these few posts.

Is emergent situation* enough to make play compelling?
*I'm trying to use the Forge Glossary Certified version of the word.

This might be one of the few circumstances where players are looking at an almost situational void.
1) No one else on the board has superpowers - just they do. No origin stories are given, nor do we have thematic answers to those superpowered people (ie: a government division hiring them/attacking them, a rival superpowered group, etc.)

2) The board doesn't present a situation, per se. The board presents players with opportunities (places to gain $ for using their powers) and occasional obstacles (a character preventing their leaving the location).
Largely, the "situation" for those opportunities and obstacles is emergent, too. ("oh, well, of course a federal agent found me in this rural city... Look how often I made money with road construction.")

3) Players discover 'win conditions' as they explore: more involved tasks that largely seem less situationally 'emergent.' I point back to Daniel's play experience. He'd saved this actress from a fire -- only to later draw a card asking him to KO her. Daniel questioned it for a few moments, but there wasn't exactly a moral standpoint for his character to reasonably discard the mission. Those 'win conditions' seem to be the place where an utter lack of stated situation may make the game uninteresting.
("What's my goal?" "Well, you wait and see. Until then, explore.")
Giving players goals at the beginning did not help the emergence; it just sped up the win conditions.
He's supposed to be finishing the art and text for his new game "Secret Identities." If you see him posting with this message, tell him to "stop playing on the Internet and get to work."

"Oh... be careful. He teleports."


I'm interested in hearing about the revisions that resulted from your fourth playtest.
Would it be game breaking to include two conditions for success for each mission? For instance you could have, "Actress in Danger" ... save her from a randomly generated bad guy, or kill her.
~*/\Matthew Miller/\*~


For MacLeod and audience,
I’m remembering without the benefit of my notes, but I think I can reasonably hit the high points of the changes. I’d played a following hour-long game solo, just to solidify those changes.
They are:
-Total decimation of XP costs (dropping that last zero).
That move comes with a bit of advice to the players that it’s best to focus on maximizing one or two feats (ie: practice your powers so that you’re at least really good at something, even if its one or two things.)
-Total positive decimation of XP gain (adding a last zero). (is there a word for that? The inverse of decimation?)
-Turn-taking rule: One interaction per object/character/item per turn. This came about because turns otherwise would be ridiculously short despite the wide array of options before them.
-Location-drawing players define the landscape (ie, which locations are adjacent to which.) Moving from one city to an unknown location on a new city requires a double expense.
-Feats (things you do with your superpower) can be purchased again for the same cost. This benefits the attack system, which is now a matter of laying a card, rolling for hit, writing damage, opponent laying a card, rolling for hit, writing damage, etc.
I think those are the substantive differences.
The changes to the way XP is spent and gained has really sped up that part of the game. Now, after each fight, I can easily go back and count how much XP I gained… and I want to, because now I can improve some evasion I lacked before the fight, buy a new attack (or max out the attack), and so on. Earlier, no one cared if you gained XP out of using a feat because the purchase costs were so high that you could only effectively define your character at the beginning of the game.

Now the two conditions for success might make sense if they were less contradictory. I'm contemplating adjusting the win conditions in a few ways.
1) Making all of them publicly available. Players no longer have their own missions; they complete a mission and then take the card off of the table. (That way, players may compete against each other to complete the same job.)
2) Revising them entirely, and making them a part of a broader scheme in the fiction of the game. I could set up a stack of characters called FBI, and create an object "FBI HQ", and then have all the missions directed at either helping or hurting the FBI.
3) Giving all players a single mission, and making the game a race to the end. When a player completes a mission, the game is called, and everyone tallies up their XP. Whoever has the most XP (gained from using their powers more) wins.

This weekend, I'm holding another play-test -- more likely with a combination of options 2 and 3.
He's supposed to be finishing the art and text for his new game "Secret Identities." If you see him posting with this message, tell him to "stop playing on the Internet and get to work."

"Oh... be careful. He teleports."


Sounds like you got a lot out of your playtesting. How were the results of the most recent playtest?

I was wondering... how do the different feats interact with one another? What I mean is, is there really a reason to have two different attack feats?
~*/\Matthew Miller/\*~


Well, the most recent play-test was with some people who weren't willing to step into the rule-crunchy side of the game. Naturally, things lagged an hour into the game when spending the XP currency became pretty laborious.

The use of different feats is that
1) each of the feats has a different accuracy percentage and damage
2) each allows players to navigate other players with defenses against any of the 9 different types of actions
3) each represents a specific use of their powers -- which relates in some way to the table (use "flamethrower" and you won't cook the meal in the kitchen. Use "heat" and you will.)
4) In a fight, the feats are laid in a series and are unrepeatable -- unless a player has purchased duplicates (indicated by a mark on the feat card).

However, the outcome was pretty bad. For a table-game, the rules governing how you fashion your person (and how you use your powers) were just too heavy. So, I"m gutting that end of the system. Now each superpower comes with a specific deck of cards, which the player cycles through in the game. More about that when I have finished making the prototype.
He's supposed to be finishing the art and text for his new game "Secret Identities." If you see him posting with this message, tell him to "stop playing on the Internet and get to work."

"Oh... be careful. He teleports."


Doesn't sound like a very dedicated group of people. -_-

Are you saying that you plan on removing the Xp spending portion of the game and just use decks instead?
~*/\Matthew Miller/\*~