The magic power of saying yes to your players, or the happiest game I’ve ever made

Well, Argyle & Crew has been released into the wild for just over 24 hours now.  This game is quite different from anything else I’ve designed or written for and the process of making it was, quite frankly, more fun than I expected.

Don’t get me wrong, I love designing games. There’s something about getting into the crunchy bits, especially when you can get them to all line up just right so that things work.  Determining at which levels certain powers should take effect, looking at how the mechanical bits I’m adding will change and compliment those of the original system without breaking them and in general, doing more math than I’m comfortable with. Doing all of this generally ends up being fun, if time consuming and for me results in some products I’m pretty proud of.  It’s like working out at the gym – doing the heavy lifting isn’t easy, but the results are worth it.

Writing Argyle & Crew was more like skipping through a flower strewn field on a mildly windy, sunny day with my own theme music playing and a host of dancers romping playfully around me. To start with, the bulk of this game was written in about a week, which is pretty good for me. I didn’t have to force myself to sit down, it was more me begging my family for more time at the computer because the ideas just kept on coming.

There’s a bit more creative writing involved in this game as well. Two complete short stories for children are included in the game, along with an original poem. That part was  just as much fun writing as the rest of the game was.

Then comes play testing. I have never, not in my wildest dreams, thought about play testing any of my other games with a small horde of children, all under the age of 10. This game practically demanded that situation.

Usually play testing a crunchier game is a balance of doing the same thing with minor changes an awful lot until you find what’s broken, and then tweaking it so it (hopefully) doesn’t break anything else.  All the while keeping an eye on the base system mechanics to make sure you adhere to them. It’s a lot of die rolling, a lot of trying this with this stat just a little higher, or what if we move this power to be accessible at level 15, not level 17?

The hardest part of play testing Argyle & Crew was figuring out where my 5 year old had left the glue.  After that, it was all fun. While making Soppets, I was able to say “yes” to just about every question.

“Can I paint my wings orange and purple?”  – Yes.

“Can I add 15 lbs of glitter and call it fairy dust?” – Yes!

“Can I use this pine cone as a spaceship?” – YES!

I’ve never said yes so often during a gaming session.  No arguing about rules, no looking up interpretations in game forums, no players with hurt feelings. It’s incredibly empowering to be a ‘gm’ and to be able to say yes to just about everything.  Man, does the story just flow from there! It amazed me how rapidly the kids would start developing new scenarios, bring in random npcs (props in this game) and give them incredibly developed back stories and play them themselves!  When was the last time you had your party clamoring to be the one who gets to play J.Random Peasant Farmer #1?

This was an experience that I was hoping for, but wasn’t really prepared for. I was pleasantly surprised!  I mean, it worked, and it worked the way I planned it! As I started getting reports in from other folks play testing, I found a lot of the same happening elsewhere. Which was great, because it wasn’t just my biased view and familiarity with the game.

So, if you’re looking for a fun time developing games, make a game for kids! It’s amazing to see just how excited they get over it, and how much they get into it.

 

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