TestBed for new variants

The place where games discussed in "Games in Development" can make short trial runs of the opening or other parts of the game.

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TestBed for new variants

Postby Pedros » 31 Jul 2012, 17:43

With so many new games being developed, and most of them having plenty of discussion about details of the maps or rules, we need a way to give these games trial runs - a bit like the Beta site in main site where new variants can be played for a few weeks to pick up any bugs. Pharaoh of nerds recently ran this kind of trial for 1930s World Diplomacy Aircraft Rules, but it's a bit hidden away in the Games in Development sub-Forum.

It appears to me that we have a mass of good ideas but no adequate way of testing them out. The old favourites amongst the variants, and regular Diplomacy itself, are mostly the result of many trial games gradually refining maps and rules. Often a game may need only a few turns before it's clear that something needs to be altered. If it's seen from the start as an experiment, then nobody need feel their time has been wasted in that case - and they don't need to feel that they must go on to the bitter end with a game which they feel needs definite improvement.

So, I'd like to hear views about this - we could, for instance, create a new sub-forum in this Development Forum where test games are run. They could be GMd by their creator (who wouldn't need to go through the fairly rigorous process of being accepted as a GM for the mainstream Forum Games - it would give them and the rest of us some idea of their ability as GM.) The only things I feel we'd want to insist on is that, firstly, the game has had a fair discussion before the test happens, which could iron out the most obvious faults; and secondly, that if most players (and/or the GM) feel that the test has run long enough to tell whether the game is good in its present state, or obviously needs some changes, then it's OK to stop the game without some players (or the GM) feeling let down.

Thoughts?
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Re: How should we handle test runs for new games?

Postby Willie900 » 31 Jul 2012, 21:01

I defitiely agree that we need a good way to test maps. I have recently gotten into variant development, and I have been frustrated with the length of the game needed to test the one I've introduced so far, and with the lack of feedback. Being able to more rigorously test mapsb would be wonderful.
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Re: How should we handle test runs for new games?

Postby Shibabalo » 31 Jul 2012, 22:45

I fully agree as well. I think this new subforum would be a great addition.

Variants can only get so much feedback from other players trying to imagine various abstract game possibilities; eventually, they just need to be played for further improvement.
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Re: How should we handle test runs for new games?

Postby asudevil » 01 Aug 2012, 01:28

I like the idea. Perhaps but a limit of how many game years are played out as "test run"...like 4 or 5...so then the creator gets opinions sooner.
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Re: How should we handle test runs for new games?

Postby VGhost » 01 Aug 2012, 04:57

As a some-time innovator myself (though I never got Honorverse off the ground, and the books are currently mashing "accurate" possibilities into so many little bits...) I'd be in favor of the sub-forum. I think it ought to go in the "Active Games" forum, though, rather than going in as a Developmental subforum. I feel like it's more likely to get a broader audience there, and given the level of commitment and emotion Dip can stir up (I'm speaking for myself here, I'm sure the rest of you are conscientious Vulcans :mrgreen: ) input from outside the actual test game could be especially valuable.

Further thought - would there be any use in establishing a cadre of good players who are interested in variants who might volunteer to observe and advise - perhaps, "you six people have authority to comment on AARs of new games", or something similar? I looked over the recent discussions re. Heptarchy with some interest though I've never played the variant myself, and getting that level of insight would have to be a help to designers, I think.
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Re: How should we handle test runs for new games?

Postby asudevil » 01 Aug 2012, 05:11

I strongly discourage it being in active...because the game may or may not be finished, and none of these games should go in the archives. I think "In development" is the right place for them, because they are still "in development."
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Re: How should we handle test runs for new games?

Postby Pedros » 01 Aug 2012, 07:54

OK, there's a question about where it goes, but general feeling is clearly in favour. The question of where isn't vital, because we can always move it later (another option to increase visibility might be another Forum directly under FG; but I also suspect that actually being inside Development might get more visibility than in Active, not less - an awful lot of members spend a lot of time in Development.)

But the other thing, I think, before we get it under way is some clarity about rules/guidelines/ground rules. I think asudevil's point about a time-limit is a good one; and it's important that everybody knows they aren't going to get a full game out of this to avoid recriminations later. And GhostEcho's "cadre" is interesting - although presumably anybody can join in AAR discussions if they choose? But a list of players who are known to be particularly good at spotting weaknesses might be very useful. That isn't my strength, so it would be useful if somebody else - maybe GhostEcho himself, or asudevil, would put that together?

Finally, GhostEcho, how have you managed to avoid Heptarchy this long? You really should get in there - we're currently recruiting! :lol:
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Draft guidelines for the TestBed

Postby Pedros » 01 Aug 2012, 09:56

Open now for comments. I'd like to get this running quickly (partly because I want to put the Heptarchy tests in there!) and after a day or so I will create it and include the guidelines in whatever revised form they've reached by then - they can always be changed later. At the moment I intend to put the TestBed as a sub-Forum in Development, but again that's open for discussion.

When a new variant (or changes to an existing one) has been discussed in Games in Development and is ready for a test run, the designer can set up a trial game in this sub-Forum and advertise for players to test it. This post aims to help you make the most of your trial.

You may choose to GM the trial yourself, or you can (hopefully!) recruit another GM, who does not need to be on the list of recognised GMs for Forum Games (although if he/she is inexperienced as a GM they would be well advised to ask an experienced GM for some advice.)

Before you start, you should be clear about what you are looking for in the trial. The discussion will probably have made it clear where the questions are - are they about details of the map (how playable, how testing it is, whether that canal or the other coastline will really work, etc); about some aspect of the rules; or about how balanced the whole game is and how much opportunity for negotiation there is, especially in the opening stages.

This willl affect how the trial is set up - for instance, if it's about early balance then it may need to run only for one or two years to get feedback on the early negotiations; whereas if it's about map playability the designer may wish to set up a sample position in the middle game and ask the players to take it from there for 3/4/5 years. The designer should make this clear in the initial request for volunteers - and may say something like "I'll run it for two years and may want a third when the time comes"; it should never be necessary to run for more than five years - if it is, then you almost certainly haven't completed all the pre-trial discussions. You may also not need to run with the whole map - a question about early negotiations may in fact affect only one corner of the board, so that you only need 3 or 4 players and not the full 7 or more.

This will also influence the ideal players to take part in the test - if it's about opening negotiations there will be no point having players who don't usually spend much time negotiating! But if youre going to be looking for feedback afterwards then make it a condition for volunteers that they promise to provide it! Obviously, you can't always get the ideal group of players, but you can at least try.

These won't be "real" games, so the usual rules don't necessarily apply - for instance, the GM could take a slot either to make the numbers up or to test out a particular negotiating line. The important thing is that the GM makes it clear to the players what the ground rules are.

The "House Rules" for this kind of trial will probably be much more informal than those for regular games. (For instance, it's no use enforcing a strict NMR policy - a trial full of NMRs will be no sort of trial whatsoever!)

If your test is going to be short you may well only need to create one topic here. If, however, it's likely to run for five years and be reasonably complex then PM Pedros to ask for a separate sub-Forum to be set up.

We don't expect to keep records of most trials - the results should be included in the Development discussion topic for the variant, and the record of the trial will be deleted when it's no longer needed for that discussion
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