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Developing Great Scott! – Part 4: Never Say it’s Final

A lot has happened since I last wrote about the development process of Great Scott! The short story is, we’re changing the game. If you’d like to how it’s changing, and the reasons for its new direction, read on…

A couple of weeks ago, Jon, Dave T, Carly, and I headed over to Birmingham for the UK Games Expo. We had a three hour playtesting slot booked through the lovely people at Playtest UK, and we held in our sweaty palms the first ‘final’ version of Great Scott! which had been colour printed, cut by hand, and carefully sleeved. It looked splendid. Everything went swimmingly, we arrived in the nick of time, and we played the first two games of Great Scott! ever to take place outside of my kitchen!

Now, I know what you’re thinking at this point, because I already spoiled the ending, ‘The playtesters hated it, so you had to rethink the whole thing”. Thankfully, that’s not the case. We had a good response from the people who played the game, and they were very patient with us as we struggled to explain the rules to strangers for the first time. That’s something we need to work on for our next round of playtesting.

Here’s a breakdown of all the feedback we received after the playtests. The scoring categories are the ones provided on the Playtest UK feedback forms:

Rules Clarity: 64
How clear are the rules & do they cover all eventualities?

Game Flow: 68
How streamlined is the gameplay? Is there any unnecessary fiddling?

Balance: 72
Is the game fair? Is the game too luck-orientated?

Length: 78
Is the game too long? Were you still engaged at the end?

Integration: 78
Do the mechanics work, and do they match the theme?

Theme: 82
Were you engaged by the theme? Did you enjoy the graphics?

Fun: 78
Was it fun to play? Would you play again?

Clarity: 68
How clear is the gameplay? How clear are the graphics / design?

Granted, the above results are from a very small sample size, but there’s a trend that has certainly influenced my decisions about how to move forward with the game, and that is that the rules aren’t clear enough, and the gameplay is a bit confusing. I totally agree. Both games we played, including explaining the rules, took about 90 minutes each with 3 players. That’s far too long for what we wanted to be a fairly light & breezy game. We had a sign on our table at the Expo that said the game took “5 minutes to learn, 30 minutes to play”. We were way wrong.

So, we talked in the car on the way home from the Expo, and again a few days later. We agreed that we’d try to come up with some simpler ways to play, as an easier way to introduce people to the game. The current rules were working, so the plan was to have them as ‘advanced’ rules, and see if we could work out a ‘basic’ version as well; two games in one box! I came up with a version where the card effects are ignored, and there’s a full five card invention face-up in the middle of the table. Each player was able to use the values on their cards to buy face-up cards from the table, draw blind, or flip cards off the deck on top of the revealed cards to try & block the next player from completing a set. The game played pretty fast, but it still had something missing, and it felt wrong playing such a simple game while the effect text was still there on the cards – it felt messy & visually confusing. We tried a couple of other variations that ignored the special effects, but nothing felt right. We almost ended the night on a real downer, until Jon started flipping cards & assembling random inventions. We did as we always do when we mess with the cards while we’re not competing with them: started laughing & making up tall tales about how these crazy machines might work. And that’s when it hit us – the competitive part of it was leaching the fun out of what is essentially a very silly central concept; Great Scott! might work best as a co-operative game.

As Paul said early on in the design process, the reveal of completed inventions in Great Scott! is the “money shot” of the whole game. Sure enough, during the Expo playtest, when we got to the point that everyone had a finished invention, and they had to present them to the other players, everyone’s eyes lit up and the mood completely changed to one of jokes & silliness. It was a stark contrast to the competitive strategising that had gone on for an hour before. The jokey silly part, where people laugh & smile, is the heart of the game, I believe that the  published version needs to acknowledge that & run with it. That’s the version we’re working on right now.

At the time of writing, I have a fairly complete set of rules, and basic ideas for how some of the new cards need to look. We’ll have to add maybe 50 new cards, for a total of ~200, plus some larger character cards. It shouldn’t change our projections for the final cost of the game too much, and might actually end up cheaper because we won’t need any heavy cardboard components or custom dies to cut them.

I’ll write more about where we are with the new co-op Great Scott! soon, and will leave you with my draft mockup of a new character card. This, as always, is totally subject to change:

Great Scott! Character Card

It just remains for me to thank Rob and everyone else from Playtest UK – you guys looked after us perfectly and you run a tight ship. Looking forward to seeing you all again soon!

In the next instalment of the Great Scott! developer diary, we’ll talk about our co-op rules in more detail, and co-op games in general.

Toodle-pip, chums!

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