Dreams of Dystopia: Very First Playtest Session – A Photostory

Dear readers!

Just the day before yesterday I received my admittedly-awesome looking (thanks to the stunning artwork of Robert “Misfit” Modelski) copy of my latest game prototype: Dreams of Dystopia (DoD for short), the “Deckbuilding Game with a TWIST”!

In this short photostory I will recount my or our experiences with the game – keep in mind this is the VERY FIRST prototype version 0.1 althought it might not look like such – over the course of our first test game, which lasted longer than expected but was exciting and tense all through never getting boring or into stalemate situations and such. I will not explain in depth how the game actually works. If you want to know about that I refer you to my introductory article here. You will also find the full rules at the end of the linked article! OK let’s get going!!

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I was mighty excited when I got this in them mail (and yes, a full four player action game fits neatly in the small and highly portable box as seen above) and was very eager to test it! All thanks to my good friend and loyal “boy companion” Robin, I didn’t have to wait long to do so and so we got this to the table the very next day after I received the game, so yesterday!

The rules were explained in a matter of minutes, which I regard as a great quality in any game – only setting up the playing field, the “Supply” mostly, which is the place from where you “buy” or “acquire” your new cards, took some time but wasn’t much of a hassle overall and is rather standard for most “Dominion Style” Deckbuilding Games. The only real downside of DoD here is that you need a rather large tabel to play, as you got 16 differnet Minions, 8 different Weapons all with their separate card stacks as well as a stack for Curse and Heroic Deed cards. So you can’t exactly play this on a small coffee table or whatever but this should be a minor issue and we resorted to our kitchen table. This is how the game looked like all set-up:

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To the left you can see the 16 different “Minion” cards you will be able to recruit throughout the game and to the right there are the 8 different Weapons that are “for sale”. Also to be seen in the top left and bottom right the two “Masters” of which each player chooses one and chooses whether to play them as “Divine” or “Demonic” (each card has a Divine and a semonic Side – hence the use of card sleeves – you can see them to the extreme left) is mandatory) , with a red D20 indicating their starting / current Life Points. In DoD, the aim of the game is to reduce the opponents’ Masters Life Points from X (X can never be more than 20) to zero, hence the game is VERY combat-centered and hence very interacive. My gaming buddy Robin chose the Demonic Razalgaar the Reckless, giving all his attacking Demonic Minions +1 ATK,  which turned out to be a major advantage (not as much of an advantage to be broken/unbalanced though) with starting LP of 16 whilst I chose to tread the Divine path with the “vanilla” Jilocasin the Saint, with starting LP of 20 but no special abilities.

The choice of a Divine or a Demonic Master matters mostly during the early game, due to the “FAME-System” I implemented in the stead of a standard resource system as seen in most Deckbuilders. If you have a Divine Master you can recruit Divine Minions at face value (your Fame will be increasing by playing “Heroid Deed” cards, which are limited to one per turn and 2 of these are contained in your 10 cards starting deck – there are however many ways to add more “HD” cards to your deck and to break the one HD per turn limit) whilst you have to have at least 2 extra Fame if you want to recruit an “off faction” Demonic Minion for instance. Later on in the game, and it did beautifully work out that we gradually increased our Fame hitting the max of 20 (Fame is indicated by a blue D20 placed on your Master accordingly) during late game. Still we did not always recruit just the highest “cost” Minions even if able through having 20 Fame, but always those we needed most at a certian time.

Here is a shot taken mid-game, in which you can see my playtester number one, Robin, thinking hard and making choices:

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Although we played for about 2 hours, the game felt and turned out quite fast-paced with very easy to learn but probably hard to master gameplay. Also, having to put each new card you add to your deck from the Supply into an opaque-back card sleeve wasn’t much of a hassle at all and my esitmate of 50 sleeves per player (you can see a pack of 100 standard size game sleeves in we used in the above picture) was more or less spot on.

Here you can see what you will be seeing a lot in DoD: Sleeving of cards you just “acquired”:

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When you acquire a card, you choose which faction it will be – Divine or Demonic – and put it in your sleeves accordingly. There will be, mind you, losts of ways to “reverse” cards, switch them from Divine to Demonic and vice versa mid game and I was exceedingly pleased to actually see that happen in our first test game and furhtermore to see how we started towards mid-game to recruit off-faction cards as well, so neither Robin’s nor my deck was purely Divine or Demonic at the end! Exactly what I had been aiming for when designing the game system and mechanics – a very rewarding feeling for me as a designer I cannot help but tell you!

And here an image of the mad designer himself – he is aiming for the kill as you can see in the stern look on his face!

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Although I was aiming for an hour when I designed the whole thing, the game took us about 2 hours not taking into account set-up and rules explanation and discussion, but the cool thing was that the game felt exciting and tense throughout, without any statlemate situations, “runaway-leader” issues or “turtling in” by either of the two of us. What made the overall gameplay experience so exciting and never ever boring was that there was more “back and forth” than I could have possibly wished for. For me, not seeing who will be the winner in the end until the end comes VERY near is a huge quality in any game and I think we turned the tables in favor of either of us, Robin or I, like 4 or 5 times during one game, meaning there were times when either of us was at almost zero Life Points but then managed to recover up to full health or beyond even whilst beating down the LP of the opponent to a very low level, only to be turned around soon after. That is probably one of the things that satisfy and please me most in any games, not only my own creations, this “back and forth” as I call it and I am  of course exceedingly pleased to see it happen in games of my own devising, even more so when it happens so abundanlty in a Proto version 0.1!

Here another shot of the playing field in the middle of our first game of DoD:

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I must note that both Robin and I chose very different strategies, Robin buying quite some Weapons to support his Minions while my approach used no Weapons at all and was a wee bit more defensive. Again, up to the very end, nobody could really tell who would emerge victorious and we both somehow intuitively built very much capable decks as it seemed, which again was a pleasant experience for me as a designer. Robin won in the end and I think it is a very good sign in favor of the game that it is easy enough to understand and play, yet being highly complex when it comes to the finer things in strategy, that two bloody beginners (well, I had the benefit that I had come up with the whole thing) could build competitive and relatively equal decks right from the first time they play the game. Again something I regard as a quality in DoD!

Here a close-up of a neat situation (in Robin’s favor) which my buddy insisted me to capture in a photo:

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You can barely see it but it is none less than Robin attacking with the (stats-wise) strongest Minion in the game, the Champion of the Moon/Sun, with an ATK of 12 being boosted by 3 Weapons at the same time – Blades of the Fallen Angel, Fiend’s Handguns and Nether Bone Clubs – thus totalling in at no less than 26 ATK – I think I ruined the whole thing by just blocking with one Minion with the awesomely useful “Defender” Ability. In DoD, excess damage, either way, bleeds through to the opponent’s Life Points so if I had blocked with a Minion with like 10 DEF, my Master would still have lost 16 Life Points. Not with a Defender. Even if the Defender has but 1 DEF, the Defender keyword just says he absorbs ALL excess damage which proved a good counter and life insurance in many a case, without leading to stalemate situations.

Anyways, even if I was able to stop the 26 damage rush seen above short, Robin won in the end and he earned it!! Just look at him:

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Overall I must say that I am VERY excited about the game after our first test-run and EXCEEDINGLY pleased how everything turned out and fell into place in the end. If you are not familiar with the way I design games, an approach I also applied in the case of DoD: Usually I come up with a full game, that includes basic and central as well as specific rules and mechanics as well as a list of prototype cards over the course of one or two afternoons (or nights…) and, as if I hadn’t praised myself enough already in the above, miraculously and unexplicably to me, my “Speed Design” approach, as I like to call it, never once failed me. I suck at maths and statistics as I have to note and I have nothing but my “game designers intuition based on half a dozen years of experience in intense and active game design. So the concept and cards I make up in one or two days at max are then converted into a first prototype (this is just assembling the cards and stuff in Photoshop), which usually takes a few days as the Photoshop “assembly” part can be quite a chore,  and then I usually upload to and order from http://www.thegamecrafter.com, without any furhter analysis or preliminary testing, hoping for the bet that what I had made up in my mind and converted into cards etc would work out as intended in the end. This seeminlgy utterly foolish appraoach of designing games in such a rush has, oddly, never once failed me, as many of my playtesters for various of my protos can give testimony about and as many games, some of which are or will be published soon, stand witness to. And in fact DoD is a prime example to the fact that my approach DOES work (for me at least) as everything seemed so terrifically balanced already, the card effects, stats and such (of course there will always be minor issues to be addressed and cards to be tweaked – yet the rules stand firm and worked out perfectly as far as I ma concerned!) – long story short, I was intrigued and so was Robin who gave a massive Thumbs-Up for DoD!!

But enough of that. All in all I am VERY happy with how everything turned out and fell into place almost flawlessly in the DoD Prototype 0.1 and cannot wait what other playtesters might have to say about the game (I am looking in your direction, Mr Seater!) AND I cannot wait to take this to the imminent Vienna Spielefest (Games Festival), where I will have my very own designer’s table to present DoD and my other games! Exciting times ahead!

Well you guys, that’s it for my photostory report of our very first 2 player Dreams of Dystopia testing session. I do apologize for the plentiful bravado but I simply couldn’t contain my grand excitement for this newest creation of mine. I hope you don’t mind and humbly ask for your understanding! I will keep you updated on DoD as well as on my other undertakings in the world of game design – as a matter of course!

Thanks for your interest, time and attention and

HAPPY GAMING

Sincerely yours,

Andi

 

P.S.: Thank you Robin for being such a good friend and my first “victim” for DoD and Thank you Rob for providing your awesome artwork and putting so much trust and confidence in my game design skills!! You guys rock!!!

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