I brought five (FIVE!!!!) games with me to Origins. I spent the vast majority of my time in the Unpub room, playtesting both my and other designers' games. Here's what I learned and where I'm headed.
Pirates of the High Teas
This is the game that feels like it made the most leaps during the convention. Similar to Knitting Circle at Unpub, this game seemed to suddenly gel. I've been doing a lot of streamlining on this game over the past few months, but the aha moment came when I realized I could get rid of the garnish cards and use the existing dish deck as the garnishes. So now if you need to make that Egg Salad sandwich have a fruit flavor, you can just blow up your Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich and smear it on top. Voila! Fruity Egg Salad.
With this major change and the addition of an action selection board, I headed into Origins. After the first playtest, I realized that players really weren't getting enough dishes to allow them to "waste" one as a garnish. So with a few quick updates, the dish cards started flowing and suddenly the core loop was solid. It's such a high moment when that happens. And then happens again at the next playtest and the next! Momentum seemed to build over the course of the weekend. I had playtesters laughing and using their best pirate voices. I even had a publisher swing by because they'd heard about my games!
There's still a way to go on Pirates, but I'm feeling really excited. I'm doing some rapid iteration over the next few weeks before GenCon to introduce more "pirate" actions back into the game, pull the game a little out of the players' hands, and lean into the whimsical direction of the game. Can't wait to share more!
This game was up next in terms of making good progress over Origins. I've been trying to tackle player downtime, streamline the game overall, and increase the difficulty/rising tension over the course of the game. I came into Origins with a new action setup that allowed players to intersperse their actions rather than play in turn order. I got in two playtests of Good Kitties with this new change at Origins.
The first one went... fine. It kind of accomplished the goal of reducing player downtime but was probably an increase in complexity rather than a reduction. And the game ended at the beginning of round 4 (in a game of 8 rounds). I'm not sure how it's been happening, but the changes I've been making have resulted in the game becoming easier and easier. It was pretty disappointing and I wasn't in a great headspace after that playtest.
BUT, out of the most cursed playtests often come the best insights. I slept on it and decided to make some drastic changes. I kept the new action setup but I just started slashing. Instead of four actions per round, players now had two actions. I cut out the Distraction deck entirely as well as a couple of actions. I ramped up the challenge on the Dog, making it move 4 times per round, increasing its speed, and increasing its difficulty in a fight. And I amped up the Mouse projects, making them speed up instead of slow down over the course of the game. With all that thrown at the wall, I put it on the table again...
And it worked!!!! The group playing lost spectacularly (due to the mouse projects) but had a great time doing it. One of the comments in feedback was that they loved "the rising tension" of the game, which has been desperately missing for months. So my goal for the coming month is to tune some of those changes to bring to GenCon.
This game was barely a game when I got to Origins, more like a component and a concept. So I had a little design jam with Rosco, Maia, and Isaac one night during open playtesting, throwing all the components on the table and giving the high-level goal. We placed tiles, tried drafting mechanics, and then suddenly, Isaac had the aha moment. He took the two different types of tiles that I'd brought and put them together. Through some trick of fate, they fit perfectly. And thus were "knots" introduced to Cross Stitch.
I've got a pretty decent idea now of how tiles get placed in this game as well as some rough scoring - I've identified what gets incentivized, just not assigned point values yet. Now I need to figure out how you get the tiles. A publisher that I met at Origins gave me the insight that a tile placement game needs to have both an interesting way to get the tiles as well as an interesting way to place the tiles. I've got a thematic inspiration for tile selection (untangling knotted embroidery thread) but haven't figured out the mechanic yet. I figure if I get the tile placement straightened out and a first pass at tile selection before GenCon, I'll be in great shape.
Knitting Circle has been a good place for a while. I've done some really rushed design work in the past few months as I've been talking to publishers and getting feedback. I found a whole lot of things that didn't work but a couple that did! Right now I'm exploring what happens if you get to choose which garment you make, rather than having a set player board. This would let you choose to go all in on socks, or something like that. This meant that each garment needed to be on its own card. Which meant a lot of cutting. Luckily, I now have a Cricut, technology to the rescue!
I didn't intend to do a lot of playtesting of Knitting Circle, but I did have a couple of folks who asked to play it, so I used those opportunities to test out my new cards. I'm happy to say that they're working really well! I also got a new idea on the shape of the tile that would help with some affordance issues as well as a new idea for the cards that would probably be easier to produce. I'm going to make a couple of mockups of those new ideas but likely won't change much before GenCon. Stay tuned for some exciting news on this game though in the next few months!
Dessert Disasters (Crumbling Cakes??)
The newest addition to the roster, Dessert Disasters is intended to be a push-your-luck game of baking beautiful cakes. Right now it's running up against my limited skills around designing push-your-luck, but hey, it's a journey :-) I really liked the baking system from Pirates, so I decided it should be its own game. One of the things I'm playing with is giving players choices between investing in stable skill resources (that last the whole game but are expensive) versus unstable tool resources (that are cheap but may not materialize when you need them).
Right now it's a card-drafting and bag-building game. But the bag-building isn't working the way I want it to. I had originally started with dice, but that felt too random. I think I'm going to try a deck-builder next. We'll see how it goes, but I'm not feeling in a hurry on this at the moment.
Oh, and it's actually all about building cakes rather than desserts. And when you fail, you get crumbles. So I sense a new name coming too, something about crumbling cakes...