July Playtest Meetup

The local playtest group met up once more recently bringing 3 games to the table and a lot of design discussion. 
First up was a bit of a first for us which was a group sending us their game to be playtested. Lantern: Lost in the Dark, won the Moray Game Jam boardgame track this year and they have been very busy promoting the game at Expo and the like. 
Game Setup, sleeved cards.
We had 6 players and since the game advertised itself for 8 players max we got stuck in straight away. The game revolves around a bunch of investigators looking into goings on at a mysterious location and trying to find out about the evil that lurks within. As you venture through the various rooms you pick up Stress and spend Oil, running out of Oil meaning you all lose and getting 10 or more stress turning you into a monster. 
We dove straight in, reading over the setup and getting stuck into our first rooms. We found quite a few rules clashes as we made our way through the rules and found some of the items our characters had to be immensely powerful. For instance one character has a book that could give all other present investigators -1 stress. We saw very little reason not use this pretty much every turn. We had to make quite a few rules calls based on what we thought should happen but that is to be expected in a game in early playtest. 
A bit further down the Rabbit Hole
However one of our biggest issues with the game was at the moment we aren’t sure what feel it is supposed to evoke. A lot of the investigator names are puns, like Earl Grey, evoking a pulp feel but the game drips with a more creeping horror vibe from a lot of the cards and current layout. We really felt the team needs to pick one direction to go in and it would be really interesting to see a good, creepy horror game on the market.
Overall we didn’t really enjoy the game in it’s current form. We never felt we were in any trouble at any point and the most stress we ever had was 5. The team has a lot of levers they can pull to change the feel of the game and I hope they will continue working on it as the core mechanic of oil and stress is interesting and could be really honed into something great. We wish them all the best with the future development of the game and will be happy to give it another try. I would also like to try it with a smaller player number as we guessed that might change the feel of the game a lot. 
Next up was a game I had missed out on playing last time about being a celebrity called Scandal which Steven had brought along. This was a tableau building game and as you probably know I am a great fan of any game where I get to build things and have stories emerge from what I build. So it was with this game which shows a lot of promise despite still being in early stages of playtesting. The designer had changed the scoring from the previous version of the game and it certainly didn’t feel that cumbersome to me. 
Scandal in play
I really like the building of the tableau and there are some interesting decisions to be made about what suits you play out of your hand and how you score at the end. There are Scandal cards that you could buy as a kind of Gotcha element in the game and there was much discussion about different ways to use those. They were originally meant as a catch up mechanic which I can totally understand but I felt I was spending so much time figuring out how to get my tableau sorted that I forgot they existed and when I was hit by one it almost slowed me down too much. Plenty of ways to do it and the core of the game is good enough that the designer can now start playing around with those mechanics. 
Last but not least was one of my own creations currently titled ‘Minions’. This is a game that has been simmering under for a while now and I was really glad to get it back to the table for another swing at it. The idea is that you are all minions in a James Bond style world really looking forward to taking on the henchman position that has been recently….vacated. You do this by working together on projects that the Mastermind demands, whilst try not to help out others projects too much, after all when review time comes round you want to advance the most up the ladder. The core of the game revolves around the idea of as you climb the ladder, you become more powerful but have less resources thus forcing you to order other people about as best you can. 
Minions in play
It worked pretty well, much better than an earlier version that had you hiding dice behind your hand for your bidding. This version has the dice value on cards that you also play to make yourself more interesting, worked ok. The ladder climb and fall is still not quite right as I really want you to feel under pressure at every review, that you could fall down the ranks as easily as you climb. At the moment the catch up in the game seems good so I will need to be careful playing with that mechanic. You also play way too many cards to make up your guy so I need to turn that lever down a bit so you are more interesting.
We had 6 people which was good turnout but I would really like to grow the meetup to handling a couple of tables at once. I am going to try and throw the message out further for next time round as we only need a couple more to allow us to test a couple of games at once, which would be perfect. I’m really happy to see new faces every time and I hope the fruits of our labours will eventually reach a wider audience!

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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