Let's start at the beginning...
First play test set printed!
Version 1 printed! Looking forward to trying it for the first time
Play testing begins
Version 1.0 printed and sleeved, is ready to try out...and there were several problems...as expected. Game play felt clunky. Not fun. Too difficult to get the letters and colors you needed.
Several updates were made to the rules after this session. On the upside I was happy with how the 'minimal' card design looked.
First 'solo' test with 3 'players' (Version 1.1)
After several rule updates, game played much smoother. Word construction is easier with fewer limitations. Trading is a bit better - although hard to tell when I am playing as 'everyone.'
First 'real' play test with 4 ACTUAL players
This was an eye-opening session. After explaining the rules (and re-explaining, and re-explaining) it was pretty clear there were issues. The play action was way too difficult to remember. There was very little incentive to trade - almost non-existent in this game. Too much luck without much ability to mitigate. Very slow paced and thinky. Too hard to get the cards you needed.
Word Swap version 2
After the last play through, several updates were made - not only to the rules but the cards themselves. It became clear to me that I was too attached to certain characteristics that were inspired by Bohnanza. For this new version, I reduced the number of colors/suits from 9 down to 6. I also added in a bunch or multi-colored cards that share several suits.
After starting my first solo session with this new version it was clear that I was heading in the right direction. Turn action is much simpler and adds an additional element of strategy. It is much easier to get the cards you need without feeling too cheap. Excited to try this with larger player counts.
2-Player play test
Had a chance to try with Cara (my wife) last night at the 2-player count. Very positive results (for a two player game). The only issues we were having is a direct result of the limitation that comes with having too few of people to trade with.
After this session, a few more rules were added to the market for low player counts. Also changed some of the rules for bonuses when scoring to balance the incentives.
Solo test (v2.0)
Played a solo session and encountered a scenario where one player had 2 incomplete words and and hand full of consonant that couldn't be played. Not sure if this was a result of poor strategy (hard to say for a solo game) or a result of of poor card distribution.
Letter re-distribution for version 3
After recalculating the card distribution I realized that I had a very low vowel count (30% of the deck compared to 40% for the whole English language). After this discovery, I redistributed the cards and subsequently had to reassign colors to even everything out. I also redesigned the fronts to show more color. Reference cards for scoring were added as well.
I also realized that I could fit 9 cards on a sheet as opposed to 8 if I formatted it in portrait mode so I was able to save 2 sheets on this printing.
Version 3 - first solo test
I performed a quick 3 player test that only lasted a few rounds just to see how it compared.
I could tell very quickly that the consonant/vowel ratio was better. Very much looking forward to trying this at larger player counts - feeling good about this design.
Another solo test (v3.0)
Tried a full game with 3 hands with the new market rules.
Final score ended up being 22,19,16 with is a decent spread. Could be a bit tighter but it isn't horrible. It's a flawed game as I am playing as everyone so it's difficult to put myself fully in one persons shoes and have a specific plan for spelling words. This issue makes it difficult to assess the trading mechanic accurately.
Testing with family
Introductory game was played with Cara, her mom and dad, and myself. It was a bit rough getting started but it generally went well. Cara's dad loved it but her mom had a rougher time as she didn't quite grasp the strategies required to play well (which is completely understandable).
More testing with family
11-28-19 (Part 2)
I played a three player game with Cara's brother, Griffin and dad. This game was very smooth - the three player game tends to be a bit more forgiving. Second play for dad who enjoyed it even more having known strategies going in. Griffin enjoyed the first play quite a bit but had a comment about it (a simple rule addition) that would allow players to get out of a bind when necessary (which would also help with the issue that mom was having in the previous game).
More sessions of the game were played throughout the day with great success. Most of the plays during this time were not at my request which gave me some much welcomed encouragement that I was on the right track.
Even more testing with family
After some time spent with my wife's family, Cara and I headed over to my family's house and was able to get several more plays in.
The first session went generally well with similar results. Everyone liked it quite a bit but there were definitely hang ups while they were learning the rules and strategies.
A second session with a slightly different group went well with most people knowing the game. In this one, I asked my sister's husband to explain the game to see how easy it is to explain by someone who is less seasoned with it. He did a good job with it only missing a few things. Game session went well with people still enjoying it quite a bit.
Yet again, testing with family
Only got one session with 3 players in today with my sister's husband and my mom. Session still went very well. I asked for more comments about the game from them after playing and realized that others were noticed something I had also noticed in previous games - the game plays a bit slow. And it's not that the game is too long, only that it 'feels' long because the game isn't quite as fast paced as it could be, i.e. there is too much boredom/downtime in between turns which I am trying to avoid at all costs.
We discussed some possible rule changes to help this but haven't landed on anything concrete yet. Trying to think of ways to improve/increase trading throughout the game and/or find other ways for people to stay active and engaged throughout.
First play test from an unaffiliated party
First play test was completed by someone I connected with through Board Game Geek with generally positive reactions.
It was surprising to him that he enjoyed it despite his dislike of word games.
There were a few welcome criticisms regarding game length, letter bonuses, rules clarity, and letter acquisition difficulty. The game length issues and the letter acquisition were both things I was already aware of so it was good to hear that this was consistent. The rule clarity and letter bonuses were both new ones to hear from others. I am not surprised by any of these and completely understand the concerns.
The version 4 card distribution is already underway in order to hopefully remedy the issues of game length and letter acquisition (make the game shorter/more exciting by making it easier to obtain the letters you need to finish words). I think I will also need fix the market rules a bit - either by removing it or adjusting how it works. Rule clarity is an easy fix. I also have a plan to improve the 'rare' letter issue by adding some simple abilities on the 'somewhat rare' letters to increase the incentives to use these cards.
Version 4 printed
Added double-letter cards to increase frequency of letters, increase trading ability, and add flexibility.
Also added wild cards (and added certain abilities to obtain wild cards on certain letters to balance things out).
Christmas break family play-testing (Part 1)
Cara's dad requested to play the game as soon as we arrived which was a great sign - haha.
Play session went well - didn't have to do much explaining and the game went very quick, everyone liked the changes.
One comment that was made was a graphical issue having to do with the double-letter cards, which I had assumed may be an issue. The problem was that I didn't have both letters shown in each corner of the cards - so it was very easy to miss the fact that you have a double letter card if you aren't familiar with the cards and the deck distribution.
Christmas break family play-testing (Part 2)
When visiting my family - similar to the in-laws - my mom requested that we play soon after arriving. We had some cousins in town who were interested so we sat down to start the session (which included 2 young kids around 10-12 years old).
This session went generally well and I was pleasantly surprised that the kids were able to pic up on it fairly quickly and understand the general gist of the game.
Criticism from this session afterwards centered around choice. It seemed that in my pursuit of creating options and choice, I created too many options that swung the pendulum in the other direction. While this is a good problem to have (considering my previous issues) it is still a big problem as it basically introduces analysis paralysis into the mix. When it comes around to your turn you have a hard time deciding what to do.
Version 5.0 changes
After the previous three play test sessions it became very clear some of the things that needed to be adjusted.
Double letter cards were changed to communicate more clearly to the players what each card is when holding them in hand
Scoring was changed to only include matched color cards when calculating (the 'color bonus' points were also removed). This simplifies scoring to still encourage matching color and also encourage spelling longer words.
In order to balance out the scoring change and give more strategic direction in the game, I am planning to add shared 'category' cards that will be randomly selected at the beginning of the game. The idea for these is that if you score a word during the game that falls into one of the categories then you may count *every* card in your word for the purposes of scoring. This will work to decrease the overwhelming choice you may encounter as well as also give a route to victory for those having trouble matching color.
With these changes I am hoping to finally be narrowing down the design to a well balanced game experience. Can't wait to get this version to the table!
Version 5.0 printed
Version 5 set finally printed after extensive graphical changes and rules updates.
Version 5.0 first play-test
Had a few friends over this evening to play version 5 of the game and everyone enjoyed it!
The goal cards were a huge hit and definitely an improvement to the overall gameplay. No one had major issues getting cards that they needed. Interesting strategy, laughing throughout, tactical/tough decisions without feeling trapped.
Comments afterwords centered around 1) it still feeling a bit too long and 2) variability of goal cards. I am currently brainstorming ideas to fix some of these issues.
Overall a good session!
Version 5.1 updates
Version 5.1 is kind of an 'amendment' to version 5. A smattering of minor changes outlined below.
Scoring cards were updated to clarify the scoring process
Wild symbol was simplified
Goal cards were added and subtracted after reevaluating strategy and mechanisms
Rules changes were made including word removal, discarding before drawing, and higher hand limits
All of these changes were made to accomplish 3 main things -to simplify the rules, speed up the pace, and decrease the overall length.
Version 5.2 updates
Scoring cards were updated to add a bonus for matching all colors (I know I keep going back and forth on this)
Preliminary card backs were designed to help with scoring
Word category goals are worth 2 points - card backs designed appropriately
4-player play-test (v5.2)
Session went generally well. Good things that came out of it included
Close final scoring (which has been relatively consistent)
Interesting goal mechanics that increase tension and paths to victory
Increased endgame uncertainty because the 'word category' goal cards are now worth two each so it's hard to tell exactly how many relative points someone has simply based on the size of their stack
The game felt shorter - but not too short. The game has always felt a hair longer than desired. This one felt just right.
Card backs were awesome, they looked nice and they were practical
A few neutral/negative points:
Sometimes the goal stack can stagnate if a card comes up that is difficult for anyone to achieve or they aren't getting the letters they needed
Adding the color bonus back in after changing the base scoring significantly encourages spelling shorter words than longer words which is not what I want. Longer words should be more than worth it to try and spell and the 'color' match bonus does the opposite. I will likely remove it (once again) as I think the new base scoring does enough to encourage longer words as well as matching color.
Remove 'color match' bonus
For the goal cards, reveal two from each pile at any given time to add flexibility and remove stagnation.
2-player play test (v5.2)
Have not played a real 2-player session since version 1 or 2 and this went very well which was great.
A few minor things came up:
My opponent felt that the wild cards are a bit too powerful. I have been a bit too 'close' to the game to see it but after giving it some thought I definitely agree. I will likely change the wild cards to only be 'wild letters' and not 'wild colors'. This will still allow for word construction flexibility, but it will not contribute it's color towards your word score.
Another large issue that became apparent was the game length. While the length feels good with 4 players, this one felt MUCH too long. We ended the game prematurely after an hour of playing and only had made it through half of the deck. To remedy this issue I am planning to add additional end game triggers. This will also increase player agency and tension throughout the game.
Another reference card added
Another double-sided reference card was created in order to help players remember what actions they can perform.
This was a minor issue that came up during one of our play tests.
First prototype ordered!
Created several more graphics for the box and rulebook for the first prototype which was ordered today (a few samples below).
It should be arriving by mid-April! Stay-tuned
First prototype created!
Quarantine has a bit of a damper on the development of the game but the first prototype finally arrived!
After many play test sessions and extensive feedback I am pleased to announce the game design is complete.
We are consistently getting tight final-score spreads when finishing the game. People are having more fun with the goal cards. The latest rule updates have reduced the game play time without reducing strategic choices. I am very happy with the latest results and cannot wait to get it out into the hands of the public.
I have updated the rule book with a larger font, new graphics, and an improved structure/layout in order to minimize time spent learning the rules and maximize time spent playing the game! New prototypes have been ordered which I am planning to send out to reviewers before launching the crowdfunding campaign.
See below for a few examples from the rulebook: