Are you designing game? You better have Vlaada Chvatil in your testing group!
Czech Republic is close, so when friend of mine recommended me this small Czech convention that took place 3 hours car drive from Gliwice I didn’t think too long. I took my wife, my daughter, I took Robinson and off we go! It was March or April, spring time, great time for nice weekend in Czech. This is a beautiful country as I heard!
Certainly, I didn’t see much of Czech country. I didn’t see Czech at all. I spent two days in games room playing Robinson Crusoe and Convoy. But my wife said country was nice. She went for a small trip when I was playing…
Anyway, at some point when I was looking for new players to play test Robinson, Vlaada Chvatil appeared in the room. One of players asked him to join test game. Vlaada looked at me, looked at Robinson and said: „OK, let’s play.” We began.
The game was hard. Players quickly got wounded. Few times they were very unlucky. Because of wounds they started to loose their character’s skills (when you got some level of wounds, you were loosing skills) and they looked like in despair. Since 4th turn Vlaada started to complain.
’We are going to die. We won’t make it’
I was in good mood. The game was tough, they really needed to fight hard to survive on the island. I liked it. 'Stop complaining, fight. Do your best!’ I told Vlaada.
5th round. They got another couple of wounds and again lost some of character’s skills. 'We gonna die next round’ said Vlaada.
’Stop doing that!’ I said. 'You need to fight. You need to do your best. You need to survive. Think, try to find solution.’ I insisted.
’I do. But there is no solution. Game will kill us next round.’
Other players weren’t demotivated as much as Vlaada, they saw chances, they tried. Vlaada gave up. He saw that the end is close.
6th round. They are dead. Vlaada is right. They didn’t make it.
’You should try harder.’ I said.
’Game has bad construction. We had no chances.’ Vlaada answered. He was thinking, watching cards, character boards, dices. 'If I may suggest… Well, in my opinion you have problem here Ignacy. When players got wounded, they loose skills. This is bad.’ he said.
’Are you kidding? This is awesome! It’s like Die hard! You got wounded, you are bleeding, you have broken leg, you feel pain all over your body, but you can not give up, you need to fight!’ That was exactly what I wanted. You got wounded, you loose skills, you have to try harder. 'It is like Bruce Willis, right? Wounded, bleeding but still fighting back!’
’Ignacy, it ain’t a movie. It is a boardgame.’ Vlaada replied. I don’t know if Vlaada likes Die Hard, but at that very moment, he didn’t look like he was a big fan of John McClane.
’Vlaada, c’mon! It’s like in Die Hard movie! You know, Bruce Willis in torn shirt, lots of blood and fight till the very end. Bruce Willis never gives up. That is the feeling I want to have here in Robinson. I want you bleeding, suffering but still fighting for survive!’
’It’s a boardgame. You are designer. Not director. Remember?’
’There is a serious problem here.’ Vlaada said. 'When you get few wounds, you loose level of wounds and you loose skills of your character.’
’Yes, this represent that you are tired, hurt and you loose your abilities…’
’Take the story aside for a moment. Focus on problem. You get wounds when you are in troubles. When situation gets tough. Whey you have problem. But the game is not helping. It is knocking you down. You got wound, you are in troubles and what is more, game takes your skill away. It is double hit. You need tools to get away from problems. But here in Robinson when you are in troubles, game takes away your tools. You get the point?’
’Yep.’ I may be John’s McClane’s fan, but I am not an idiot… 'But if character gets wound and there are no consequences, getting wound will not be problem! I need players to be afraid of wounds!’
’It doesn’t work. This mechanism is bad. You are in troubles. You get wound and at the same moment you loose tools to scramble out of this shit. This is bad.’
He was right. He just took whole 'wound mechanism’ and throw it to the bin.
I hate when people are right.
I took my prototype. I went to the room.
No, I was not crying. True John McClane’s fans don’t cry.
That night I didn’t sleep well. To be honest I didn’t sleep at all. Well, maybe two or three hours. Let’s face it – if Vlaada Chvatil says that your game has a problem, you don’t sleep. Right?
I spent few hours rewriting rules. Tried to find solution. I wanted players to be afraid of getting wounds but on the other hand I understood what Vlaada said about taking skills away. I changed levels of wounds that take away character’s skills. I changed skills, now when you loose them you don’t suffer as much. After few hours I had new set of skills, new levels and I was sure that now, when players got wounded, they will still have chance to fight back. But still, getting wound was bad, was something that players will try to avoid.
I caught Vlaada on breakfast. 'Got minute for me after breakfast?’ I asked. 'Yes. Actually I wanted to talk with you. I was thinking about the game last night.’
I showed him my notes. I showed him how I changed levels and skills. I showed him how I changed wound rules and consequences of wounds.
’Is it ok? This is what you were talkin’ yesterday?’ I asked.
’Well… It is step in right direction’ he said.
For all of you who don’t get it – 'step in good direction’ is polite way of saying 'Man, it sucks. Try harder.’
We talked about other problems of Robinson for an hour. Then I packed Robinson, Convoy, my wife Merry and my daughter and we drove back to Poland. My prototype was devastated.
So here is my advice for all of you – think twice when you decide to take prototype to Czech next time…
To be continued…