Another week, another By-election prototype! In fact, several prototypes! In this blog I’ll discuss the changes I made to get to my current prototype, over three playtest sessions.

Playtest 1: Campaigns can produce negative results

In prototype one, campaigns could only ever be completed with positive votes. It was proposed that maybe campaigns should be allowed to go negative and take votes from a player. This represents them going so poorly that voters are dropping support for a candidate. I rebalanced the cards according to the byelection-balancer script that I wrote last week.

I also changed the orientation of the cards from portrait to landscape. Doing so allows me to write larger text on the cards. There’s been no observed impact with people holding the cards in a landscape orientation.

Byelection cards in landscape orientation

Finally, campaigns require three event cards to complete, not two. This should keep the number of completed campaigns down and prevent point runaway.

Playtest one was conducted at work with Wilka, Mal and Jack. Jack won, but it was tight. The rebalanced cards helped significantly, it felt at no point like one single player could run too far ahead with points. Much fun was had and it’s still great to see how well the theme fits with the game mechanics.

However, as the campaign starter cards were shuffled into the main deck, sometimes we got into a position where a player finished a campaign and had no other campaigns to start. This meant they were effectively protected for a turn.

It was clear to me that campaign starter cards needed to be a separate deck, that players could alternatively draw from. I put that in place for playtest two.

Playtest 2: Separate campaign and event decks

Playtest two was conducted after Tuesday’s Skeptics in the Pub event, with co-organiser Will and regular Andrew. Both hadn’t played the game before, but were able to pick it up within a turn. For this test, I put the campaign starter cards into a separate deck and added the following rules:

  • Before play starts, each player draws a card from the campaign deck and plays it face up, immediately.
  • When drawing back up to five cards at the start of your turn, you can choose to draw from both the campaign and event card decks, in any combination you wish.
  • When you complete a campaign, you must immediately play a campaign starter card from your hand. if you don’t have one, you play the first card from the campaign deck in front of you.

Again, the results were close, although an early lead by Yellow was soon neutralised through the game’s own self-regulation. Everybody starts messing up the campaigns of the winner! Adding a second deck adds a bit of complexity to the rules, but it’s manageable. The big advantage is that a player always has an active campaign. They can’t score them really quickly to dodge other player’s actions for an entire round.

Will and Andrew playtesting By-election

Playtest 3: Two card decks; a fifth campaign type

It was becoming ever more apparent that there isn’t enough cards in the deck to last an entire game. Every single playtest of the game had burnt through the deck and required a reshuffle. So, I added a second deck of cards! Unfortunately 104 doesn’t divide into 5, but 95 does. That gives me 9 cards extra to play with. I made 4 rules crib sheets and 5 cards to represent the progress of the game. The 5 rounds in the game are meant to represent the course of an election day, so these time tracking cards also show the passage of time!

Five cards to track the rounds played in By-election

95 divides into 5 19 times. So in addition to creating a new suit of cards, I’d have to add 6 cards to the other suits. I immediately decided to add a fifth campaign starter card to each suit, leaving 14 event cards. Once again I turned to my by-election balancer tool to work out an appropriate balance. I managed to roughly keep the ratios of the four-suit version of the game!

Campaign starter cards for the five campaign types: Debate, Rally, Interview, Public Appearance and Door-to-Door

Now, to the third playtest. This was conducted at work with Mal and Angus (who is a new player). Again, the additional rules were picked up quickly. However, due to the re-balancing of the cards, an incredibly lucky run, or both, Mal won with an 18 point lead. That’s a bit too much in my opinion.

We quickly tried totaling up uncompleted campaigns and adding those to the scores, which resulted in a Coalition Government (a draw!). I’m thinking of how to incorporate the scoring of incomplete campaigns - perhaps there’s a penalty for not completing them, but you pocket (or lose) the difference.

Conclusion

There’s another Newcastle Playtest session next Tuesday. I don’t think I’ll make any mechanical changes to the game in time for that. Instead I want to focus on more data and see what the numbers look like with various scoring mechanisms at the end of the game. This will help me determine if the game is well-balanced. But halfway into the month, I’m really satisfied with the game I’ve created!