Cauldron: Bubble and Boil has gone through numerous changes and tweaks over the years. I thought I would share a few of these with you.
When Cauldron: Bubble and Boil (originally titled “Witches Brew” then changed to “Cauldron” after I discovered there was a game called “Witches Brew”…there will be another post about names, stay tuned…) first started to boil up in my brain, I had the general framework of the game, its core elements in place. Cards would be used for making gardens, as spells a.k.a. hexes, and as a recipe to be made at the end of the game. The very first prototype card looked like these two (on the right).
Far from what we have today (see below). The method of construction was printing out the cards on business card stock from an office store. For cubes and corruption discs I used plastic counting discs used by some educators (also bought at the office store). I eventually graduated up to wooden discs and began to hire artists in earnest.
Playtesters and scoreboards
Once I turned to strangers for playtesting my game, I immediately saw flaws, some small and some larger that needed improvement. The core mechanics were fine but some score keeping was problematic. In the old version of the game there were not one scoreboard but THREE scoreboards. Ludicrous, I know. One of these was the base scoreboard, One was dubbed the Hag Track where players moved their markers whenever they completed harvesting a garden. This eventually evolved into tokens at the suggestion of a playtester (Thanks, Neil!)…and I changed from “Hag tokens” to “Crone tokens”.
The last scoreboard was the Diablerie Track. It was one track where all players moved their markers after each spell (hex) they cast. This was a problem in playtesting because players would forget to do so. One partial fix was to put the corruption symbol on the cost side of the hex which was very helpful. What really fixed the problem though was a happy accident. I printed off a Diablerie Track and added a turn guide to the bottom. I accidentally printed too many (4 or 5) and during a playtest I handed them out to each player. Having the track right in front of them really went a long way to fixing this problem. As a bonus, the turn order is now right in front of them as well. Below you can see the Diablerie Track in its latest form.
Another major change was in the layout of the cards. I began with art on the top, followed by hex, recipe with text of colors needed and with the garden yield at the bottom.
This was tweaked considerably when I called in a talented graphic designer with this iteration where I moved the garden yields to the top, right.
But I soon discovered in playtesting that the cubes were being mistaken for the “cost” of the card much like certain popular trading card games. Back to the drawing board. If we were going to move the cubes to the middle-top of the card I might as well increase their size so that it would approximate the cubes. This change also allowed players to vertically fan their cards and place the cubes at the top of each card. This was much neater and saved on play space.
The final design also includes symbols and grass around the cubes to further illustrate the point that they are garden cubes.
An additional change was trying to move away from pure test to relying on icons. While I didn’t move entirely toward language independence, I did certainly manage to eliminate the wordiness of the cards. I feel that the iconography and cards are, all in all, pretty straight forward.
There have been several rules changes as well. Early in the game’s development I had decided the game should end immediately when the 7th recipe was recorded. This really annoyed a subset of playtesters. Changing the rule to allow the play to continue until the end of the round was a solution but it too required an addition to the rules to prevent the last player from abusing his/her position as the last player of the round. The original game ending mechanic is included as a variant.
Other changes include tweaking the endgame scoring values of some recipes as well as for cube color majorities and “most/least” scores with Corruption discs. Finally, I added variants to allow for more play styles as well variants for shorter and longer games. There have also been countless little adjustments here and there along the way.
What I am trying to say is: “LISTEN TO THE PLAYTESTERS!” They may not always have good suggestions, but often they do. Indeed one of the most pleasurable playtest sessions I had was at GenCon in 2016 when the players afterwards were animated while they analyzed what they should have done in the game and recounted great “moves” other players did in the game and then launched into brainstorming new hex ideas for future cards (some of which I have added).
Is it done?
When is playtesting done? Is it ever done? I am sure there are still little things to change here and there…I have yet to encounter the perfect game, whatever that may be. But one personal indication that I was getting close(r) was also in 2016 when playtesters stated on feedback forms that the game felt not only polished but complete. One playtester told me, in person, “It’s done“. I was grateful to hear this but was about to chock it up to their kindness but I learned later in the conversation that the playtester has been in the hobby a long time and was very knowledgeable about games, gaming, Kickstarting games, and was the kind of gamer I was designing for.
So to recap: The takeaway is that you should:
- Have ample playtesting your perspective is important, but playtesters can speak for your audience…you know, the people who will (or won’t) buy your game.
- Playtest extensively with strangers, There are many venues to do this, from board game meet-ups, to gaming conventions, to gaming clubs, there are a variety of places to find playtesters.
- It is done when it is done. Like novel writing (or doctoral dissertation writing in my experience) the work is only “done” when it is published (defended, successfully Kickstarted, etc.) One of the most disappointing things that can occur with Kickstarter is when you get a game that is half finished. Just as bad is reading updates about the game taking longer to print because playtesting had revealed some major flaw or problem or even that playtesting was taking longer than expected. I usually close the browser in disgust and go back to working on whatever I am supposed to be working on. You should playtest first, not second to last. It should be mostly “done” before Kickstarter.