Protospiel Online Feedback Jan 2023
Last weekend I attended Protospiel Online (Jan 2023). I took A Taste for the King, Flip Control (Working Title) and during the weekend I came up with a new idea and gave that a very quick little first draft test. This article will be focused on the feedback for A Taste for the King.
First Test – Testing the Efficacy of the Safe mechanism
During the first test of the weekend, players felt that while Safe was a nice addition for players out of their turn, there wasn’t really an incentive for the Taster (current player) to listen to tauntings, suggestions or other comments about the contents of their hand. The reasoning for this was the other players will likely try to get you to keep things that they need and otherwise get you to discard anything else that isn’t a poison. As such, for the Taster there is no real incentive to listen to other players. They’re more likely to do better through dumb luck and using information about the courses on their cards than listening to their opponents.
One suggestion was to add a voting mechanism. This has been suggested in the past and I was a little reluctant to try it for several reasons:
- I was worried it would require increasing the card count or make the existing cards (mainly the menu cards) too condensed*
- I felt that it would slow the game down too much
- I was worried that it wouldn’t fit thematically with the core game mechanics
- I felt it would add too much complexity, especially with suggestions such as adding an honesty meter that gives people a sense of when to trust someone and/or acts as extra points at the end of the game
* The game currently consists of 54 cards which seems a good amount for most manufacturers without creating waste. Increasing the number of cards would likely require doubling the card count or introducing a lot of waste in the manufacturing process.
I try to keep in mind everyone’s suggestions and feedback unless I really don’t think it will serve the game, though I usually still take note of them. I have a general rule to only work on feedback if I receive the same complaint or suggestion multiple times, either from multiple tests or from the majority of players during a single session.
Given that voting is a repeat suggestion, I thought I’d give it a go. I also feel with the addition of “Safe” that the game lends itself a little bit more to voting, without having to add other mechanisms or cards. Safe becomes the “honesty” meter and the incentive for players to vote in the Taster’s favour.
My previous attempt to create an interaction mechanic similar to voting was Wagers. You can read about this in the “Adding Interaction Through Wagers” post. Ultimately this ended up being a little confusing, with issues around time and clarity and while it increased engagment, it didn’t add enough to the game.
Second Playtest – Voting Added (First Draft)
During the second playtest I introduced voting. Each player could vote that a card is either safe or dangerous. I wanted to keept it as a limited resource so players could only vote once per turn. I hoped this would give an incentive to interact and pay attention on other players turns by giving a strategic reason to vote but I didn’t want the other players to make too much progress outside of their own turn.
This proved to be a little confusing. Players would keep their ability to vote if the player ignored their suggestion (e.g. if the Taster discarded a card that was voted as safe or played a card that was voted as dangerous). They would lose their vote for the turn if the player agreed with them. Players score a dish that is voted safe if they voted for it.
By the end of the playtest we tried giving each player multiple tokens, thus increasing the resource but still keeping it limited. My concern with this was the number of tokens that would be needed to be produced. This turned out to be an improvement but still felt confusing and still had potential for players to switch off after all their votes were used. Luckily one suggestion was to just try a single double-sided token which I tried in the third playtest.
In order to facilitate voing while the Taster is holding their cards, I repurposed the First Diner card (which doubles as the round tracker). It bcame the round tracker with a voting section. Players place their tokesn in the appropriate slots on the card, the Taster then looks and sees which of their cards are voted safe or dangerous and can decide what to do based on that information.
Third Playtest – Endless Voting
For the third playtest I decided to really lean into voting as a core mechanism. Players get one token each, one side is a positive vote and the other is a negative. They regain their token each hand and can vote however they see fit. If they succeed in getting the Taster to discard a card (of any type), they will regain a use of Safe. If they convince a player to keep a dish, they can score that dish immediately.
It is still a little unclear to me whether I should allow players to regain use of Safe and then immediately use it to score the dish they voted to discard. This seems a little clunky and very mean but could lend itself to a very interesting strategy.
Overall this felt like a really big improvment, it supercharged interaction and people felt engaged by having the choice. The Taster also felt they had some way to tell which players were voting in their benefit based on the course information and whether players had Safe available or not and to counteract this, players could then fake-vote to hide their overall intentions, resulting in the game feeling more strategic overall.
However, it did increase the time the game took to play. One round took as long as a normal full game. Part of this was I was still trying to work out how voting should work in regards to the rewards for voters. This slowed things down a LOT but I suspect overall the game will still run longer with voting so I need to work out some way to speed this up, perhaps by going round the table and asking each player in order to QUICKLY vote or abstain. Once everyone is locked in, the player chooses their discards and then continues.
A couple of suggestions and my own thoughts on addressing the time increase are:
- Reduce the round count
- Remove the requirement to finish the menu as a win condition. At the end of round X, whoever has the most dishes wins.
- Reduce the number of times a player can push their luck through the deck (maybe 3 hands per turn) so that everyone gets a fair chance, reducing analysis paralysis on any one player’s turn.
I personally think I would be OK with any of these 3, although point 3 does somewhat reduce the player agency and reduce the strength of the push your luck nature. Perhaps if I reduce the round count to 2 or 3 for all player counts, this could work well to balance against the voting time.
Some people have suggested that forcing to play until a menu is complete is perhaps a little detremental to the experience. As players tend to only push their luck a little way each round, the game usually lasts for all of the alloted rounds, maybe one round less if someone plays especially well/gets lucky. Some players may have a mostly full menu but then struggle to complete it in the last round or two, making it feel like the game is dragging. Making the only win condition the most dishes scored at the end of the last round makes the game a little more relaxed and less likely to drag. Often people find the game is most fun mid-game and I have been constantly chipping away to make the whole game feel as good. This would likely help that a lot.
I am still a little worried that voting hinders the theme a little. The core theme is Push your Luck at a medieval feast. Taunting on visible cards has always felt a little less thematic because it requires players to see the Taster’s cards. I have hand-waved the explanation as: the dishes are being revealed from under a cover and everyone else can see under the cover before the Taster and they then egg them on to test the dishes. That said, the subtitle for the game is Diplomatic Gluttony and I think voting works really well with the subtitle. Ultimately the aim is to make the most fun game that’s as thematic as possible. If voting adds to the gameplay but weakens the theme a little, I think this is entirely reasonable. The original game had players only taunting on discarded dishes, giving the Taster some hint as to what they were losing out on but it was very much a solo game played by multiple people, it felt very strong thematically but was a little mechanical to play.
My only remaining concern is the cost of the game. Voting will require the addition of tokens. These could be a “stock” component or a custom printed punchout board. Both add a certain amount of cost to the game and consideration needs to be given towards how many are required to fulfil the game requirements without either increasing the cost significantly or creating too much waste. Really, I only need 8 tokens for voting and perhaps one token to indicate the first player now that the First Diner card has been repurposed.
One plan for on-going sale of the game past the initial crowdfunding campaign is to offer the game print-on-demand through a service like The Game Crafter. Tokens will add a significant cost to the game on these platforms, possibly pushing it past what people would consider reasonable so I need to work out if that’s a valid strategy going forward.
Thanks for making it to the end of this mammoth post! If you would like to test the game with me or your friends, feel free to reach out on Social media. You can also buy an early access print and play copy of the game on itch.io.
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