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Project: Dead End part 5 - The Design Evolves

Project: Dead End is a development blog where I am chronicling the process of game design from initial concept through publication. To start at the beginning, click here: Part 1

If you've been following along, I teased in my last post that I was excited about the new direction of the game. My first playtest was successful, but it was obvious that I needed to spend some serious time tuning things and and livening it up a bit. I went back, tweaked a bit here and there and what came out as version 2 was garbage. The game broke. It was no fun, not engaging at all and could very easily go on forever unless the players made a conscious decision to not survive. What was worse, adding up all the players scores every turn was really annoying. I had successfully stripped all the fun out of the design. So, I let things sit for a while and didn't think about it. Every now and again I had a little idea, but nothing great. On my way home from work one day, it really hit me: take the zombies off of the cards.

It was a great moment. I realized that if I didn't want players adding up large point totals each turn, I needed to add a tactile element. I needed little zombies. I needed to be able to shuffle tokens around and they all needed to be worth the same amount. Now, instead of playing a strength 3 zombie card on a player, you would instead give that player 3 zombie tokens from a central pool. This simple little change makes all the difference. Suddenly it came back to life and was much stronger than version 2. I'll skip right ahead and show you the cards:

# Icon? Zombies Name Text
6 No 1 Pistol GUN. 1 Shot.
4 No 2 Shotgun GUN. 3 Shots.
4 No 3 Axe Kill one Zombie.
3 No 3 Molotov Cocktail FLIP: 5. 1-4 SUCCESS: Kill 1 zombie for each success. 5 SUCCESS: Kill all zombies. You die.
4 No 2 Shh... FLIP: 1. SUCCESS: Move 2 zombies from your house to the middle. FAIL: Move 1 zombie from your house to the middle.
6 No 2 Barricade Add 2 to your house's defense.
4 Yes 1 Noisy Neighbor After an opponent shoots a GUN, FLIP: 1. SUCCESS: you may move one zombie from your house tho their's.
3 No None Here they come! Give each opponent 1 zombie from the middle.
2 No None What Was That? Each player moves 1 zombie from their house to the middle. You may move 1 additional zombie.
6 Yes 1 Strong Zombie When you play Strong Zombie FLIP: 1. SUCCESS: Destroy one barricade on the target player's house.
2 Yes 1 Wandering Zombie At the end of your turn, move Wandering Zombie to a player on your left or right.
6 Yes 1 Zombie
4 Yes 2 Zombie

Alright, first thing is first, new mechanics. One thing that bothered me about the initial design was Barricades and Noisy Neighbor. Barricades were practically useless because it only took one Strong Zombie to knock them down. If you were over-crowded with zombies already, this could be a killing blow. I want barricades, and I want zombies to break them down... I think it is very thematic... but I didn't want to nullify the usefulness of the Barricades, or else they may just get played as zombies all the time. Also, with Noisy Neighbor, Pistol was an almost useless card. You could kill a zombie, sure, but a small one and chances are, if someone is holding the Noisy Neighbor, you get a 5 or 7 strength zombie in return. Now that all zombies are of equal strength, it is not such a broken card, but I still felt like it was too consistent. My fix for all of this (and more) was to add a randomizer. I had always intended to have a zombie icon on the cards that can be played by dead players, so I decided that this would be the perfect randomizer. When playing a card that has a random element, you flip the top card of the deck. If there is a zombie icon on the card, you fail. This means Strong Zombie is not a guarantee and neither is getting to move off a zombie with Noisy Neighbor. So, when you see FLIP:# on a card, that means that you flip that many from the top of the deck and then consult the card for what happens on a success or failure.

I also added the idea that guns stay in play in front of you and are loaded with a certain number of shots. Now, when playing a Pistol or Shotgun, you keep it face up in front of you and add the appropriate number of counters equal to the number of shots the gun has. When you fire the gun, you remove one of these counters and flip the top card of the deck. On a success, you kill 1 zombie. I did not decide at this point how the multiple shots on Shotgun would work, so I decided that we'd figure that out in playtesting. When the gun has no shots remaining, it is discarded.

Event cards are a bit of a change from the previous version. There are now 2, Here They Come and What Was That. Both of these cards are played immediately when drawn and the player draws an additional card for their hand. These cards are never taken into hand so they cannot be played as a zombie card.

The last big change is the strength of the player's houses and the zombie value on the cards. With the previous version set at a defense of 25, there was way too much counting and adding in the game. Now that all zombies are 1 strength, I decided that a good number for the defense was 10. I adjusted the zombie values accordingly. Also, now that we are dealing with a pool of zombies, it is no longer required that you assign all of the zombies to a single player when playing a zombie card of strength 2 or higher. These values are no longer strength, but are number instead. If you play a zombie card with 2 or 3 on it, you can assign that many zombies from the middle to any number of players. I found that this greatly eased tensions between players because more often than not we would split up the zombies to keep things even.

Designing Dead End at my desk.

After I laid out all the cards I wanted to make, I started thinking about how many of each card I wanted in the deck (again) as well as how I wanted to distribute the zombie icons. I had a bit of a slow day at work and as you can see I spent some time doing math figuring all this out. In the end, I decided to weight the deck in favor of successes when flipping. I came out with a roughly 60-40 split which would drop closer to 50-50 as players keep guns and Barricades in front of them and the deck reshuffles.

Working on the layout for version 3.

Now, this is where my previous efforts to make neat and orderly playtest cards fails. I have completely changed the way cards work. So the design is all wrong. I need to adjust the old card template to put the new information where I need it. Had I just stuck with hand-written cards like a normal person, I wouldn't have had to spend more time at work figuring out how to do the layout. In the end, I didn't even really change much. I re-hashed the old template to save some time. It'll get fixed some day after the design stabilizes more, but there's lots more playtesting to go.

Version 3 prototype.

I'm going to end this post here. I have playtested this version of the game and I can assure you, it is MUCH better than v2. There is still loads of room for improvement, but I need to be sure that the base system is stable before adding more on top of it. I will detail my playtest session with the next post and if I can be troubled to write out a concise set of rules, I may upload a printable version of v3.2 for you to try out! It's my goal to make this game Print and Play throughout the design process so everyone can keep it going... interaction is my motivator, so please please please let me know what you think so far.

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On to Part 6 >>

- March 2, 2012