Friday, April 18, 2014

Broken Contract - Play Testing Rounds 3.5 and 4.

Will Blood analyzing the board, probably relating the events to some obscure peroid in history, or just wanting gratuitous violence to ensue. He's a complex man.
Preparing for AdeptiCon had pushed Broken Contract to the backseat for about a month. Art was being worked on and editing was still happening as I commuted on the train, but there was no time for play testing with myself and many of my play testers immersed in AdeptiCon related projects. Regardless, I brought all of my Broken Contract stuff with me to AdeptiCon in case anyone asked to try it out. A few people did ask, but with the fervor of everything else going I kept my play testing gear up in my room most of the time. On Saturday, however, there was some downtime and Dave Koszka from my old home town of Buffalo, NY asked to give it a go.

I was lucky enough to have an hour or so to meet up with him right after his dinner break on Saturday so we sat down to give it a whirl. I gave him the option of trying an already "tested" scenario, or something new I was considering for a demo game. He opted to try something new.

The demo that I had concocted for him involved a miner injured on the job. The brutal Security Officers wouldn't allow the other miners on site to stop work and take him to the infirmary. They were told to get back to work. After some insistence, the Security Officers sent one of their own to get a medic. The scenario began with two miners deciding they couldn't wait any longer, so they had loaded their wounded comrade into an ore cart and started pushing him out of the mine and past the remaining Security Officer. Now Dave is a savvy 40K player having taken 14th in the 40K Championships just days before, so he immediately saw the best avenue to complete the mission. He used the Breakers in an alternating order to take turns pushing the cart past the Security Officer, and ignoring the Security Officer completely. Ultimately there was no combat, only movement, and the game was over in 10-15 minutes. It was a great length for a demo, but didn't teach him much about the mechanics other than movement, which was sort of a failure in my book. Maybe it would have been a good quick mission that was sabotaged by a particularly cunning fellow? Regardless, it was back to the drawing board.

Since AdeptiCon I've been fired up to get back to work on Broken Contract - more blogging, play testing, scenario writing, editing, art development, social networking... the whole deal. I got this blog added to the Bell of Lost Souls Blogger Alliance, grouped my various friends into several play testing circles, and started reaching out to people on play testing and art development. This culminated in some interested parties making themselves available last night to do some play testing. Daniel Kessler, Will Blood, and James Nolastname came across town to give Broken Contract a go for the first time.

In anticipation, I wanted to try a stat card system similar to Zombicide in order to keep the Characters organized. Each Character had clearly marked spaces to keep track of Wounds, Equipment, Initiative, and Re-Rolls. I had whipped up the initial card as I was getting ready to head to work conditioning (I'm in the end stages of recovering from ACL surgery)  and then I ran to the copy shop on the way home to run a bunch off. Unfortunately, I forgot to include a space for an Action Point tally, so sometimes there was confusion as to whether Characters had Action Points left. Otherwise, I feel they were a pretty beneficial addition to the game and will be keeping and improving upon them.

We ran through two scenarios last night. The first was a new attempt at a demo or introductory scenario to introduce the mechanics of the game. It was titled, "Over, Under, or Through" and involved a lone green Security Officer trying to hold a mining passage on their own against a small onrush of Breakers. Rather than pulling a Dave Koszka and trying to out think the Security Officer, their initial plan was to mob them. Without the more lethal weapons on either side it turned into a slapstick slap fight that culminated in everyone eventually giving up on combat and running off when the Security Officer got a bad Initiative Draw. This was a completely viable strategy and possibly a valuable lesson. Combat is not always the best strategy in Broken Contract.  Still, we're trained to crave the decisiveness of beating our opponents and moving on. I think a little bit of slap fighting is cinematic - the dropping of weapons and stumbling around. I've been in more than a few fights in my day, for better or for worse, and they often involve being off balance and rolling around. However, that's not the image of triumphant heroism that we get from single roll decisive combats. Its a hard balance.

While I had a captive audience I decided to keep the momentum going and grabbed the tried and tested "It's Time!" scenario that has been used in all of the other play testing. In, "Its Time" the Gen-Mod Brute, Trest, starts bugging out on the job in an extremely dangerous dig location. The Security Officers hovering by a small area of retaining wall instruct their greenest recruit to handle the situation. With the Prods spread out, and all of the miners desperate to get out, they seize the opportunity to make a Break attempt.

This game flowed in a much more exciting way with a Security Officer being pulverized with a pneumatic drill and another one set on fire.The expected people falling over and weapons breaking were commonplace as well, but they were tempered by those truly grand moments and there was lots of laughing and carrying on, which I consider a success. The number one rule for designing a game in my book is make it fun! Daniel, who was running the Security Officers, was having a rough go as his weapons weren't quite as effective as he hoped and he focused too heavily on taking Breakers down than on sounding the alarm and closing off their escape route. Still, it felt like he put up a good fight and was enjoying himself.

All told, I'm pretty happy with "It's Time!" The results are highly varied based on course of action and die rolls - it can be anyone's game. Though it uses a functional victory point system, I've been thinking a lot over the last 24 hours on how to make it a little more themed to the environment and support the continued narrative as you go from scenario to scenario. More on that as I work on developing it further this weekend.

I'm eagerly awaiting feedback from last night's play testers. Their ride arrived just as "It's Time" was wrapping up so we didn't get to go over the breakdown of people's thoughts, so I'm flying high on their emotional reaction to the game, their enjoyment, rather than their intellectual analysis which could be very different. We'll see. Thank you very much to the three of them for coming over on a Thursday night and hopefully they'll assist further in the process of getting this game ready for market consumption.

-Nick 

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