What an Improvement!
It is amazing how much Ludus Magnus grew over the four-week project. I thought I should go back and compare the final play test with how the first play test went. I vaguely remember that there was a lot of confusion and not a clear path as to what direction the game was going.
Firstly, the big difference between the two playtest videos: in the first playtest, there were a lot of comments on how the mechanics felt a little clunky and were not easy to play with. We noticed the players were really trying hard to figure out the rules, being frustrated with the confusing mechanics. In the last playtest, people actually were laughing and smiling and communicating between each other. There were emotions in the game play, emotions apart from frustration and the element of confusion.
First Playtest: There was a hell of a lot of confusion as to what the Emperor actually does in the first playtest, as to all, it seemed like the Emperor didn’t do much, which was true at the time. Players were not referring to the Emperor as a player, they would say “the players did blah and the Emperor did nothing”.
Final Playtest: By the final playtest, the feedback would say “the Gladiators do this whilst the Emperor would do this to stop them”. It was great to hear that difference, the Emperor was actually doing stuff in the game, both to mess with the game and as an extra degree of the Gladiator’s gameplay.
First Playtest: The players felt that the weapons were not that well integrated into the game, as much as they could be anyway. In one playthrough, both Gladiators were standing in the middle, on top of a weapon, punching each other to death. The fact that not one of them picked up the weapon right at their feet, stated something very important, that weapon pickups were possibly not needed at all, and combat could work a totally different way that didn’t include picking up weapons.
Final Playtest: Taking out the weapons and using cards with different attack and defence values on them was a great way to incorporate fighting in the game. This opened up opportunities for failure of attacks and the ability to use dice more in the game, which added the option to have variable damages based on these dice rolls. Instead of having many weapon types, the Gladiators had a weapon which could be used in many ways, all handheld, but with many different attacks, such as ‘thrust’ and ‘slice’, actually representing what different attacks could be done with a single weapon, and different damage values based on these different attacks.
First Playtest: Gladiators would not move once they were at next to each other, being able to attack. There was no point in movement at all. We needed to change this, as there was this nice board that we created, and it was made with a lot of traversing in mind. This was totally an oversight for us, we just expected that the players would naturally want to move, but it makes sense that they did not. That’s why playtesting exists.
Final Playtest: All playtest groups were moving a lot during the matches. This was due to the fact that depending on the current crowd excitement level, the Gladiators would move to higher or lower excitement generating areas to make the Emperor lose due to the excitement being too high or too low. There was also the fact that the Emperor had area-based effect cards that would move the Gladiators around by blocking off certain areas for a few rounds. We did have one group that discovered a problem with the mechanics halfway through their game, where they could generate a heap of excitement in very few turns by crossing over both middle tiles every turn. This would bring the crowd excitement to max very quickly and the Emperor would lose. This will be solved in the final verison of the game hopefully.
First Playtest: The time limitation was to make the game finishable for a first-time player, in 20-minutes or under, also including the reading of the rules. For the first playtest, the testers only finished the first round of the game in 14 minutes, and by the last playthrough group, they had completed the first round of play after 7 minutes. As well as all other playtest days before the final, the time-to-complete was on average 5 minutes over the time limitation.
We successfully achieved the time limitation in the final playtest day, with all but one playtest groups being under 20-minutes to finish the game, also reading and understanding the rules. One playtest even got down to 14 minutes to complete the playthrough, but they had 1 member of their group that had played a recent iteration of the game, which would have helped a lot.
As you can see, we had improved the game and gameplay exponentially throughout the course of the project. We started off with a game that was barely playable, with mechanics not quite working together and others not making sense at all.
We even had, on the day of the final playtest, after his playtesting session, Ralf Muhlberger, the Games Department Coordinator, coming to us saying that he would actually buy our game from a store and play it with his friends. How amazing is that!
This is Daniel Jochem, signing out.