This past Saturday I had the pleasure (read ‘sheer terror’) to have my first board game design, “Specimen”, put through a blind playtest. What exactly is a blind playtest, you ask? A blind playtest is where the players play the game using just the rule book. There is no instruction from an experienced player. This type of playtest is actually a critical step on the path to releasing the game. Since I’m not planning on sending myself along with every copy of the game to teach people how to play, making sure that the rules are complete and make sense with minimal confusion is a really good idea. I should point out that I have never written an instruction manual before this, so while everything in it makes sense to me, to others, probably not so much.

Thanks to Eric Van Tassel (“Specimen’s” plucky Science Officer Franklin), we had two very experienced gamers arrive at Stately Cullom Manor at 11:30 AM. After brief introductions and a tour of my fanboy abode, I sat Alex Hunt and Jonathon Hagedorn down at the table with the board, several piles of counters, cards, dice and two copies of the rules and let them have at it. The three of us agreed that I wouldn’t tell them anything and they wouldn’t ask me any questions unless they were completely flummoxed.

Here is where the ‘pleasure’ began in earnest (mostly in my living room, but definitely earnest too). Alex and Jonathon began by reading the rule book cover to cover. Both were armed with post-it notes and pens and very quickly (Like page freaking one!) they began to make notes. It’s quite an experience to watch something you’ve spent basically the last three years of your life working on being picked apart and being powerless to intervene. It’s all for the greater good (the greater good), I kept telling myself. The game will only get better with this. So I sucked it up and went with it. I decided to try and distract myself from the vivisection going on at the table by watching the blu-ray of “The Thing” (the new version, not the Carpenter one.)

By the time the film came to its happy, upbeat conclusion, Jonathon and Alex were well into actually playing the game. Now I got the pleasure of hearing little snippets of their conversation as they confer on game play and rules. “I believe that attempting to damage the ship costs 2 action points, right?” and things like that. Of course, it seems to me that the only bits of the conversation that I can make out clearly are ones that indicate that my rule-writing skills hover somewhere between ‘awful’ and ‘second grader.’ I’m fairly certain that not once did I catch the phrase “This is brilliant. Whoever wrote it is clearly a genius and should be standing in some sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at him” (Why am I the only one who has that dream?).

As this torture rolled on, I became convinced that at any moment the guys were going to announce that the rules are a mess, the game is a failure and my sense of home decor is questionable at best.

Fortunately the whole affair ends quite well. They both enjoyed the game. The rules as I wrote them are serviceable.  Jonathon and Alex both put forth a lot of good suggestions for improvement and a few GREAT ones. Several sections can be combined. Several should be expanded. And several new ones should be added.

So, I think that we’ve passed that step. Or at least, didn’t trip and break our freaking necks on it. I’m now in the process of implementing their suggestions, and hope to have a new draft of the rules soon.

After that, I guess I’ll take a serious look at my home decor…

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out all the past blogs and reviews at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

Location: ICON
Date: 9/11/11

Result: Minor Crew Victory

Current Tally:
22 Games
15 Space Monster Victories
7 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

Note – Italics indicate that a card was played as an event.

As Turn 1 began, the Space Monster moved to Cargo Hold One and successfully damaged it. The Captain moved to the Computer Room and Science Officer Cinder moved to the Infirmary. Cinder then discovered that the monster had a chameleon ability (One of the Monster Attributes). The Monster then emitted an EMP (another Monster attribute) which shut down all of the lights, monitors and the ship’s computer for the rest of the turn. Alarmed by this, the Crew decided to attempt to fix the ship and began moving to the damaged sections. The monster appeared in Corridor Two and attacked Second Officer Palance. Palance wounded the monster on the first combat roll, but was killed when the monster emitted a sonic screech (the third and final attribute of this monster). Both player decks would expand to 40 cards during the end phase.

(Crew Player Larry Haskell rolls the dice for the combat in Corridor Two.)

Turn 2 started with the Crew arming themselves with guns. Next, they discovered that the Monster was using the vents to move around the ship. They quickly decided to hunt down and kill the monster immediately. The Monster avoided detection and managed to heal its wound. The Crew finally located the monster and attacked. During the melee, Britt was wounded and the Monster managed to get away.

At the beginning of turn 3, Navigator Hamm and Executive Officer Abel moved to the Bridge and began plotting the ship’s exact position. This would take the entire turn. The rest of the Crew headed towards the damaged sections. The Monster now attempted to evolve, but was unsuccessful. Cinder and SISTER turned up something useful to use against the Monster, resulting in the Monster losing a card from next turn’s hand. The Engine room suddenly lost pressure, making it uninhabitable for the rest of the turn. The Crew finished out the turn by quickly constructing a couple of electrical prods to combat the monster.

Turn 4 began with a bang as the cargo in both holds exploded. The Crew headed to the damaged sections to attempt repairs. Just then, the Captain and Science Officer Cinder moved to the Infirmary to look at something interesting. They would be forced to spend the rest of the turn there. The rest of the crew reached the damaged areas and managed to repair the damage in Cargo Hold One. New damage was detected in the Crew Mess. The Crew responded by splitting up again. The Monster appeared in the Cargo Hold Two and wounded Chief Engineer Milton before he was able to escape. The Monster again emitted an EMP, shutting down the ship’s system’s for the turn. During the End Phase, the Monster evolved to Stage One.

(Monster Player Derek Rompot indicates which Section new damage has been detected in.)

Turn 5 started with the Monster quickly evolving to Stage Two. To negate the monster’s sonic screech attack, three of the surviving Crew members put on EVA suits. New damage was detected in Corridor One. The Crew decided that in order to better fight the monster they would split into two teams. But this idea was immediately negated when they started bickering and fighting and not trusting each other. New damage was detected in the Escape Pod. The Crew was able to repair the damage in Corridor One.

At the beginning of Turn 6, the Crew moved to the Bridge and held a burial in Space for Palance. This forced the Crew player to randomly discard a card from his hand. The monster became distracted by the lights on a control panel and had to randomly discard a card. The Captain came up with a plan to deal with the situation and the Crew went into action. The Captain then attempted to activate the SISTER computer to gain an extra card for next turn’s hand. But SISTER was unable to elaborate. The monster attacked and killed Science Officer Cinder in the Crew mess.

(A mid-game look at the game board.)

Turn 7 began with the five surviving Crew members suddenly developing suspended animation sickness, resulting in all of their Crew cards being flipped to the wounded side for this turn. First aid was applied to Milton and Britt, so they would be back to full strength once the animation sickness wore off at the end of turn. The monster attempted to damage the ship while the Crew succeeded in repairing the damage in Cargo Hold Two. Knowing that the monster was going to become more powerful as the game progressed, the Crew constructed two incinerators to help fight it.

In Turn 8, machines repaired the damage in the Escape Pod. But just as that was taken care of, new damage was detected on the Bridge. The Crew spent the rest of the turn attempting to repair the damage, and one of the incinerators ran out of fuel and was removed from play. The Monster evolved to Stage Three at the end of turn.

Turn 9 began with Milton and Britt refusing to work unless they got some more money. The Captain went into the vents to try to force the monster out of the ship. His attempt failed, and he was killed at the third junction. Hamm was told to go take care of something by herself in Corridor One. The Monster appeared out of the shadows there and killed the hapless navigator. Now only three crew members were left alive.

(Larry reacts to the Captain’s death at the Third Junction of the air vent system)

Turn 10 started with Milton and Britt again refusing to work. Machines repaired the damage to the Bridge. The Monster attacked again and killed Engineer Milton. The two survivors, Abel and Britt, quickly moved to the Bridge to plot their next move.

Turn 11 began with action as the Monster managed to get into the Bridge undetected and kill Britt in the ensuing battle. Abel, armed with both pistols, managed to inflict three wounds and drive off the monster. But the respite was only temporary as the Monster again attacked. Abel’s aim was true, and he killed the Monster. The game had ended in a Minor Crew Victory.

(Derrek congratulates Larry on an exciting victory for the Crew.)

Lessons Learned:
Another exciting game, this one ending with the Crew winning! We got to see the Sonic Screech and the EMP attributes used together. They could be a deadly combination. The EMP will have to be tweaked. One suggestion by the players was to have a recharge roll during the end phase to see if the EMP is available again after it has been fired. I like that idea, and will put it into play for the next batch of playtesting. I was glad to see the Crew win a game, but they still need help to give them more of a shot!