Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Gencon Playtesting Results

That's Farmpunk in the white hat, he came by to watch for a bit between Flames of War tournaments. 😀
Whew! That was an exhausting week! So were the weeks of work leading up to it! But in terms of Playtesting WarStrike, our Gencon adventure was VERY productive! We only found a few minor potential rules bugs, and two of the test groups had some very interesting feedback about how we might appeal to a wider audience than we had originally planned for.

First, some tips for anyone thinking of demoing their game in the First Exposure Playtest Hall at Gencon:

  • Wargames are a bitch to demo in the FEPH. Most of the companies doing demos were showing card and board games that would easily fit in a small box or backpack. But with minis, terrain, and everything else needed for a tabletop wargame, we had to use the largest Pelican Case we could find (above). Loaded up, it was roughly 100 lbs, and since there was no place we were allowed to store it in the FEPH, we had to cart it back and forth to the hotel before and after every session. Dead body jokes were common in the elevators, and one Japanese lady asked (in a shocked voice) what kind of huge camera we had in there. Yeah... Because what else could it be?
  • Seriously though, the trips back and forth (plus setup and teardown) ate up half of our 2-hour breaks between testing sessions. So it was run back to the hotel, drop off the trunk, run back to the show to see/buy something or get food, run back to the hotel, pick up the trunk, and get back to the hall. It was quite the workout.
  • The FEPH is EXTREMELY noisy. Expect your demos to take at least twice as long as they usually do, because you'll be repeating yourself constantly. By the 3rd day I was pretty hoarse, and praying that I wouldn't lose my voice before Gencon was over.
  • As my son and I discovered, noise-cancelling headphones are a godsend in a noisy room like this. They cut down the background chatter by half, and allow you to actually hear the people that you're next to. Once we realized this, they made our last 3 demos much more pleasant.
  • Be prepared to adapt as you go. We started with a 4' x 4' play mat, but since our games weren't getting much past turn 2, I switched to a 3' x 3' play mat after the third demo. Which made setup, deployment, and gameplay go faster (at the expense of overpowering the side with jump troops). That way we at least got to turn 3 or 4, and two of the demo games were actually played to completion.

Now On To The Testing

We had eight 2-hour demo slots spread out over 4 days, with three of those on Saturday. When you register for the FEPH, you can tell them exactly what demographics you want your testers to fit into. We went with 20-50 year old males with wargame experience, as that's our core target demographic.

When we shrank the play field to a 3' x 3' mat, I had the players deploy their minis along the outside edges of their deployment zone.
Now with tabletop wargaming being the niche hobby that it is, and with the FEPH staff being used to finding players for board games, my son and I heard a lot of shouts of "Any wargamers?!... Anyone who wants to play a wargame?!" Which meant that potential players heard "war" and little else.

So we got a wide range of player types. From those whose only "wargaming" experience was Axis & Allies or Risk, to board gamers who maybe played 40K or X-Wing a few times, to veteran 40K and Warmachine players.

I was kind of bummed at first. But this actually turned out to be very valuable to us. Why? Because...

We Discovered That WarStrike Has A Much Wider Potential Appeal Than We Thought

Yeah, that's me.
Yeah. The Axis and Allies guys had no clue how to move around, or shoot with models in units. Things that veteran tabletop wargamers take for granted. But they picked up the basics well enough (with me telling them what to roll) to play a few turns.

And... They had fun! The game plays fast, you're constantly engaged, and although they were bewildered at times, they were still laughing and trash-talking each other. Aside from needing to practice the rules more, they had no complaints, and gave the game a huge thumbs-up.

I wasn't expecting that at all.

Not. At. All.


The Warmachine guys picked the game up instantly, and deployed with actual tactics in mind. Which was gratifying. They played to turn 5 and tied, because the green jump-troop army player kept passing his Strike Force Morale rolls (even with his commander killed). They walked away praising the game, and saying that the experience was really compelling. Though they did pick out a few potential issues during the game. Nothing that major, and most will only require a little bit of rewording on existing rules.

"Just Get Rid of One Thing..."

The most interesting feedback that I got though, was from the final two demos. Which were played by guys who were mostly into boardgames, but who had played enough 40K to not be lost in the squad mechanics. Both of these games played to completion, with a clear winner. 

But when I asked what they thought, both test groups said the exact same thing to me. In the attack sequence (Roll To Hit, Roll Armor Saves, Roll To Kill, Roll For Casualty Allocation) they wanted me to remove one thing from that list, so that it was a sequence of 3 rolls instead of 4.

None of the minis we used for the demo were GW models. All are Anvil Industry minis with my own 3D printed bases.
Why? Because they were convinced that if that one sequence of steps were just a bit simpler, that the game would "absolutely" appeal to (gesturing at the crowd around us) a large percentage of the board gamers in the room. That took me back.

The groups disagreed on what should go though. The first group wanted the casualty allocation roll axed, but that was a hard no for me. I had to explain to them (because they didn't know) how other tabletop wargames handle casualty allocation, and how this "roll two dice, count the 8+'s" mechanic was the single biggest time saver in the game (short just unfairly letting one side pick the casualties like 40K does now). I also had to point out how their ideas (some kind of comparison to how many shots hit/penetrated) would actually take a lot longer to figure out than simply rolling two dice.

The last test group though, wanted the Kill Roll (for models with a toughness) to go, and if I'm going to remove a step from the combat sequence, it's the obvious target. The Kill Roll is the most confusing mechanic in the game, and it's always mentioned as being "strange", "but not really bad..." by testers. So turning it into some kind of non-rolled numerical comparison wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing to do if it would increase the game's appeal to any significant degree. 

I'll have to think long and hard on it, because that roll was integral to my future plans for vehicles and monsters. I believe it needs to happen, I just don't have the change completely worked out in my head yet.

So to wrap this up... I was a bit down when the first couple of demos were filled with non-tabletop wargaming players, and feared that my son and I were wasting our time. But by the end of Gencon, I was really grateful that we'd gotten a mix of different player types. If we'd only tested with hardcore tabletop wargamers, then I never would have realized how much broader WarStrike's appeal was, or have been pushed to make the attack sequence just a bit simpler in order to increase that appeal.

Heck, you should have seen how many people in the hall came over to take pictures and praise us for how professional/beautiful our demo table was.


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