Kingmaker Developer's Notes - 5, Teamwork!
This is the fifth post in a series about Alan Paull's re-development of Andrew McNeil's game Kingmaker for Gibsons Games. Posts: Basic Principles, Prestige, The Board, Parliament, Random Death, What Versions to Put in the Box?, Controversies, Scrope to Masham, Stuff we left out.
Although I take responsibility for the re-development, I must also acknowledge the assistance of my brilliant team of rules reviewers, and my wider group of playtesters. They have been unstinting in their help, knowledge, skills, and critical commentary. I haven’t space to name them all; however, my review team includes Ralph H Anderson, our Kickstarter manager from across the pond; Alan Beaumont, who used to rules-wrangle for TM Games back in the day; Steve Froud, who also designed the Solo Challenge; Mike Oliver, a veteran Kingmaker expert and historical game designer; Greg Sarnecki, designer of Bella Rosarium, a hugely detailed historical game based on Kingmaker; and Justin Thompson, Kingmaker tournament player extraordinaire - comments on the whole body of the rules have also been made by Paul Mason, Mike Seely, phyphor, and Ben Clayton, amongst many others. The whole process of re-development from the summer of 2019 to now would have been impossible without them, though of course I accept that any errors are mine, and these good folks will not necessarily agree with all of my decisions. I’ve also been very well supported by the team at Gibsons Games, of course, who have the task of translating my prototype into the fully-functional game that you will see shortly.
In 2019 and very early in 2020, I was able to arrange face-to-face playtesting, both locally here in Cambridgeshire and further afield at Eclectic Games in Reading (thanks to Becky and Darrell, who run Eclectic Games). At this stage, I was experimenting with early (and shaky) versions of the Prestige victory concept, while leaving much of the game as it was. Fortunately, my playtesters are a very tolerant bunch. Then, as you’ll know, everything came to a juddering halt - Covid struck, and the remainder of face-to-face sessions I’d organised had sadly to be cancelled.
I remained determined that a mere global pandemic would not halt this process, even though extensive playtesting was a critical part of the re-development. So, online then. Initially, I used Tabletopia, because I found it easier (back in early 2020) to create and upload the digital assets there, a system I had already used. Although we did have many successful playtests on Tabletopia, there were a few technical issues, and playing such a large and complex game on this platform was not the best player experience - it proved rather fiddly, and Tabletopia didn’t allow for modifications ‘on the fly’, though it was free-to-play. A few months later, I switched to Tabletop Simulator, which proved a little more troublesome for creating the digital version, but was rather better for the players, and permitted ‘on the fly’ changes, though it was not free-to-play. I would have to admit that this whole process of digitising the revised version was very time-consuming and slowed down the development process a great deal, and I am very thankful for the tolerance and understanding shown by the Gibsons team. I am also very grateful to my playtesters for their forbearance and ability to separate out the difficulties of using an online platform interface versus any actual game play difficulties and issues.
The development and testing of the new version was a methodical process. I absorbed ideas from many sources, including Board Game Geek, my rules review team in particular, and playtesters in general, as well as concretising ideas of my own. There was a lot of fundamental work on constructing the new version of both the Crown deck and the Events deck, and particularly the additional cards for pre-set Factions - balancing them sufficiently - and also for the Cities, the Royalty, and the Major Battle/Siege cards. Although I knew that the board would be re-imagined for final production, we produced entirely re-drawn versions of the new board and the Classic board for playtesting. I say “we”, because I relied heavily on my wife, Charlie, an expert illustrator and artist in her own right, to help to produce the prototype versions, so they were presentable to my playtesters. She was unstinting in her time and skill doing this detailed work, with the advantage that she’s much quicker than me at using Photoshop and InDesign!
For each new thing I did a bit of solo testing to make sure that it had a basic viability. Then, extensive playtesting through a round of 3 to 6 sessions of online games with various numbers of players (it has to work with 2 to 5). And after that, drafting the new section of rules and sending it off to my review group for comment. Where points were contentious, we would have extensive and frank discussions to air our opinions and chase around the issue, to make sure that the suggestion(s) were beneficial and met the design requirements. Finally, the decision on whether and how to implement would be mine. Then, more iterations, more ideas, and more checking to make sure that one change didn’t throw up issues with another part of the game’s model. This process was overwhelmingly fun (at least for me!), and the whole team was a pleasure to work with. It helps that I had a good mix of people - some very experienced in the industry, others expert and analytical players, still others good at detail, and everyone prepared to commit their thoughts to the process either verbally or in writing or both.
Playtesting enabled me to come to decisions about the levels of Prestige points for each player count, to experiment with tweaks on movement, combat, and alliances, and to address and check the flow of the game. One key issue was to estimate game length, knowing that online difficulties can distort these estimates. Subsequent face-to-face games, including very helpfully at the Ludoquist board game café in Croydon, have suggested that my estimate of an average of 45 minutes plus 30 minutes per player for Kingmaker The Second is reasonably accurate. We’ve also now successfully playtested the game with as near as possible final components.
Next time: Kingmaker controversies!
Kingmaker Kickstarter live between 26 September 2022 and 14 October 2022: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kingmaker-rerelease/the-royal-rerelease-of-kingmaker/