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Project: Dead End part 9 - More Exciting. Better Looking

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

It's been almost a month since I last wrote about Project: Dead End. This time, however, the game did not sit idle! We've been testing and tweaking it each week, trying to find the right balance. I got some new playtesters involved and even converted the layout over to the new design! With the release of Scallywags at the beginning of June, I found myself without a great deal of free time to write for the site, so I decided to wait it out. I promised in the last post I would include playtest files of version 5. That's not going to happen. Why? Because I've had a month to make it more awesome than version 5! I'm posting the shiny new version 6 instead! Lucky you!

Playtesting Dead End at Origins Game Fair

What have we changed? Well, not all that much surprisingly. Most of the changes between my last "still not fun" blog post and today have been minor tweaks to certain cards. The reason the game was un-fun the last session was not anything inherent to the mechanics, it was more the cards themselves. I really needed to up the power-level of many of the cards in order to bring more excitement and tension to the game. There was a finality to things, but without the players actively trying to mess with each other, the game creeped on. That is exactly the opposite of what I wanted from this game. I do not want another slow, boring zombie game.

So, I upped the zombies themselves. In version 5, there were only 32 zombies that players had to give out. These were either on events or cards like "Zombies!" which did nothing else. In version 6, that number is increased to 49! So, with that change, the game is much more tense. Everyone balances tightly on the edge of defeat for quite a while and the mid-game tension is crisp. I did not just simply throw more zombies in the mix and call it done, however. That would be irresponsible. I added more awesomeness thanks to some great suggestions from playtesters!

Generator Spotlight

I added a new card type: equipment. Weapons are also now equipment cards, but more importantly, there's new stuff. Like Spotlights, Fences, and Generators. These cards all do something on their own, but if you have a generator in play, the others become quite a bit more powerful! These cards are almost entirely due to playtester suggestions. I introduced the Generator as a negative card (because generators are noisy, they attract zombies) and it was suggested that if we have a generator there should be cards that require electricity that become rather good. As it turns out, that's actually a pretty darn good idea!


One of the most powerful new cards is Head to the Basement! This card actually allows you to come back to life after you've been killed. It took me almost 4 months to design it also. I did not want death to be a finality from the very first time I played the game. I really wanted to figure out a way for players to come back after being killed, but I struggled with all sorts of different ideas. One day, it just hit me. What if they came back at a reduced capacity? That way, they would likely still be on the verge of death, but there would be a chance. Players love this card and regularly find ways to keep it in their hand.

Playtesting Dead End at Origins Game Fair

Playtesting after these changes has been going great! I took the game to Origins Game Fair and played with some strangers in John Moller's Unpub gaming area. I received some exciting feedback there from some rather enthusiastic playtesters. This was surprising as it was the first time I had tested the game with five players and it was absolutely terrible! If these guys thought a drawn-out version of the game was fun, what would they think of something streamlined and exciting!? So, I had to find a fix for 5+ players and it was determined that if I lowered the base defense of the house, it would have been perfect. As it turns out, we were not wrong. So now, the starting defense is based on the number of players: 10 for 3-4, 8 for 5-6.

After all these changes, it just felt like it was time to update the look of the game. I have finally reached a stage where I am comfortable spending time on attractiveness. I feel like it is really close to being finished, so I sat down with the design templates I showed a few posts ago and converted all the cards over to the new format. As you can see above, I used some clip-art for my personal copies, but I lifted all of this art from a Google search, so I don't feel comfortable distributing it that way. The files you'll find at the end of this post are sans art, but they are in the new format! Beware, the files are HUGE and might take a while to print. Here's some previews of the new cards:

Basement Zombies!

The files can be downloaded here: (15.8 MB)

I'd like to thank all my Twitter followers for discussing the game with me this week. It has kept my momentum up and really helped me iron out some specifics I needed help on. You guys rock! I can't wait for whatever discussions this week holds!

Keep checking back for more updates, I may just have some really exciting news in the near future! As always, if you sign up for my newsletter, you'll hear about these posts rather quickly.

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On to Part 10 >>

- June 18, 2012