Diary #49 – Seat of Power

Westminster. A gathering of game designers.

My cousins hired a bike and pointed me in the direction of the Thames; getting there involved dodging Battersea Park’s go-kart riders, e-unicyclists and skiers (yes, seriously). I arrived at the pub within the 30 minute timeframe and prepared for some playtesting.

This was the monthly meeting of the original Playtest UK group, which goes right back to 2007. Some of the regulars are known to me: friends I’ve met at the UK Games Expo or online. It was nice to be among such experienced playtesters but also reassuring to be one of several first-timers. We were welcomed at the door and introduced to the group’s systems of registering games and pitching them to the other attendees. What could possibly go wrong?

Covid. Covid is what went wrong: this visit was a part of my preparations for the Kickstarter Playtest Zone at Beachhead 2022, a convention in Bournemouth on the 12th and 13th of February (click here). I had hoped to pick up some eye-catching resources to help make the zone, my local playtesting group and Playtest UK more visible. Covid prevented this happening but, to be honest, it’s not the end of the world and there were lots of other positive outcomes. Some designers I met expressed an interest in attending; if there’s anyone else out there we still have space and you’re welcome to email me on olympusmaster@outlook.com or message me on social media.

Anyway, back to yesterday: after forays into rock music and Peruvian mythology it was my turn to test my nascent storytelling game. Or perhaps “mathematical puzzle with storytelling theme” would be more appropriate. The playtesters noted that the play experience did not match the pitch at all.

“What was your objective here? Push your luck, player interaction, something marketable – “

“Yes, that! That one!”

“Can you get it down to 54 cards? There’s lots of wasted space here and artwork for that many cards will be very expensive.”

Long ago I met a designer who could illustrate their own games (they were, incidentally, at the pub yesterday). At first I was jealous: this talent would surely be a huge asset for a designer! So I asked myself what talents did I possess which could help me out? You’re looking at the result: I knew I could write, tell a story, spin a yarn.

Spin Yarning.

“Yarn Spinning: the game in which Richard invites you and your friends to tell funny stories using subtle, non-invasive mechanics.”

What is “yarn”?

I taught myself to design first area control games, then euro games. But designing lightweight narrative games seems like a different skill entirely. The game I took to London was a eurogame whittled down to a fine point. For this project I’ll need to move out of my mechanical comfort zone: what would happen if I gave my playtesters a load of cards with evocative pictures on and let them loose? I can’t draw and I don’t trust my printer so this will be a challenge. In a way it’s a shame to lose some of the humour me and my playtesters have injected into the current prototype, but I’m sure I can carry much of it forward. In fact I’m excited to give Chaotic Nigel another outing.

Overall I had a lovely weekend and came away with a lot of food for thought. See you at Beachhead.

Update 7th February:


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