Encouraging creative improvisation through tons of playtesting & iteration
Zohaib Khan (Solo Project)
Cardstock, Dice, Sharpies
Dreams are a very under explored theme in table top games. Storytelling as well. Can they come together as key gameplay elements in a team based game?
Designed a game about dreams, incentivizing players to creatively improvise stories in a team dynamic.
Dreams are a theme I haven’t seen explored in boardgames.
I was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series and decided to explore a game where players are dream-weavers, competing with others to be the most creative.
Improvisation and creativity flourishes when given some constraints, so I provided a framework within the game. Teammates play off against each other in a 'yes, and...' fashion, creating the story together, with only 45 seconds on the clock.
The game must be about storytelling and good storytelling should be rewarded
The game must be able to accommodate more than 5 players
The game should not be difficult or complicated to learn. It should take less than 10 minutes to set up and teach other players.
All card illustrations by Hannah Mernyk
HOW TO PLAY
I really wanted to do a euro-style, worker placement game so I did a deep dive into great boardgame examples like:
But what makes a dream a dream? I began to look at the attributes of one.
Dreams are our imaginations running wild. Vivid dreams can make the best stories. I wanted varied, emergent dreams to be a major aspect of the game. With that in mind, I moved away from the worker-placement theme I envisioned in the beginning and decided to feature storytelling as the main gameplay element. I created cards based on the attributes I imagined to be part of dreams, like Locations, Actions, and Nouns. I made a spreadsheet:
I used the first two columns, Locations and Dreams, in my final game design.
To illustrate the locations and nouns, I was on the lookout for dreamy visuals to set the tone for the game, or act as a gameplay element. I first began looking into the Google Deepdream API - which can turn any normal photo into a trippy visualization. But that didn’t allow for much interpretation. I turned to art instead.
I used art from the MET public domain dataset.
I specifically chose abstract, modern art which can be interpreted in a myriad of ways.
Playtesting & Iterations
I conducted a total of 11 playtests, with an average of 5 players per playtest. The following is feedback from selected playtests.
Quotes from Playtesters
“I want to play more rounds!”
“I don’t want to change the game” (First playtest)
“This is so fun!”
“Never played anything like this before”
“Bad dreams are way more fun”
“This game is stressful!”
“It really sharpens your storytelling skills”
I was really happy with how much fun testers had with my game, going back to even my first playtest. This allowed me to spend the rest of my time playtesting and tweaking small aspects of the game that make a big impact, like finding the sweet spot in terms of the length of time a team has to tell their dream.
Getting playtesters was extremely challenging - since after I decided to go with team-based rules, getting a minimum of 5 people for every playtest (2 teams of 2 each, and 1 judge) was not easy. In the future, I might have to think of ways to playtest aspects, or specific rules of a 5 and up multiplayer game with just one or two people.
The content of the cards is good on many levels - the fact that they are generic allows for creativity. If I had more silly cards for example, the dreams that people would make would be heavily influenced by those specific cards. They’re also good because the cards work for players of all ages, from 7-8 years old all the way up to the high double digits.
However, some cards definitely came up again and again in dreams that judges favored. Maybe it was just the people I playtested with, but some cards, like ‘Passport’, cards which I thought would be great ones to make dreams with, didn’t really result in captivating dreams.
More than that - Noun cards seemed to be favored compared to Location cards. It took several playtests for me to see that , but multiple players expressed that opinion.
More playtesting will have to happen to get a better sense of what cards are working, and what aren’t, and what new ones I should add to the game.
Currently, players in a team get one point each if they win the round. However, I would like to try to playtest a game where the Judge gives points from a pool of ‘Favor tokens’ and so even within teams, one person can do better than another. However, this can lead to a scenario where the judge doesn’t give points to someone close to beating them.
Giving the Judge a more defined rubric for scoring can also be a next step for playtesting future games, since some people weren’t comfortable with the subjective, flexible set up currently.
As seen in the Google sheet - there are so many more attributes of dreams I can potentially leverage. Fever dreams, dreams within dreams, lucid dreams and other themes can be used to make the game fresh and exciting.
One big one I’m excited about are Field Influencers - cards which change the rules for just one round. For example, perhaps players must tell their dreams using 3 words. Or, can’t say the word that’s on their card (like Airport), but must still incorporate it in the dream. This will improve replayability and keep things fun and engaging.
I would also like to have the artist, title and year of the artwork featured on the back of every Art card, just so that players can look at them if they’re interested. It could also be a mini-game feature, where players are collectors, trying to collect specific pieces and make sets.