Or The Game, to be more precise. For the past couple of weeks I've been consumed by preparations for the Mooncurser's Handbook beta, which we ran this past weekend. Now comes prep for beta 2 in a couple of weeks, and the Game itself in a month. The beta was tremendously helpful in identifying problem spots, most of which involved timing. Now we need to tweak some clues and revise some segments of the route to try to improve the experience. Response to our biggest gambles was uniformly positive, which is a huge relief-- if they didn't work, we'd have been in big trouble. Even with an imperfect Game, with timing/difficulty issues and with some things missing for logistical reasons, participants had fun and said a lot of positive things about the experience. The real thing will be even better thanks to the lessons learned in this beta and the one yet to come. I'm eagerly looking forward to the day of the event... and to the day AFTER the event when I start to get my life back.
July 2005 Archives
July 26, 2005
July 15, 2005
I recently ordered some game design supplies from EAI Education, which arrived today. Blank dice, some clear colored chips (I thought they were winks, but they turned out to have a lip, which is fine), and a set of 1000 7/8" stacking chips (mini poker chips, like in Boomtown or Geschenkt) in 8 colors. I expected 125 of each color, and since I'm that kind of guy, the first thing I did was separate them by color and count. Turns out the set of 1000 was 29 chips short. Not a huge deal, especially for $10, but I did pay for a set of 1000. So I called EAI to inform them of the shortfall. They immediately offered to send me a new set of 1000 (or perhaps 971) in addition to the one I already have. That's great customer service (if not great quality control). So soon I'll be drowning in plastic chips. Michael and I'd better get cracking designing something to use these suckers.
Coming soon from SarrettAdams Design: Chips Ahoy!, One Chip Two Chip Red Chip Blue Chip, Chip Wars, Chippy McChipperson, The Klutz Book of Multicolored Chips, and a collectible trading poker chip system.
July 12, 2005
This weekend I visited San Francisco to take part in The Griffiths Collection. This was a full-length, 32-hour event that sent us driving and puzzling throughout the SF area. There was virtually no theme. Ostensibly we were searching for the stolen McGuffin diamond and journal, and a few pages of the journal were recovered at each clue site. The contents of the journal, however, had no bearing on the Game itself, and consequently most of our team never read those pages.
This was a schizophrenic Game. The first 4 or 5 clues were reasonable. The opening clue was a great concept-- translating text into Braille to form a picture-- marred a bit by its execution. There were some unintentional red herrings and nothing to prod us into snapping out of a key assumption-- that we were trying to translate from Braille. Clue #2 was a nicely conceived and executed polyominoes puzzle. Clue #3 was the first of many puzzles that had too many layers for their own good. In this case, the flavor text strongly implied an approach that wasted a lot of time for us. Clue #4, a CD of TV show themes, was terrific. We completely missed the ciphertext engraved on the shiny side of the disc, and so wasted a lot of time trying to extract meaning from nothing, but when we finally found the ciphertext it was a classic V-8 moment.
Clue #5 is where the wheels started falling off the cart. Clue 5 through clue 10 took us 15 hours-- from around 4 in the afternoon to 7 in the morning. We (and most, if not all, other teams as I understand it) were skipped over one of them involving a stereogram and a mirror, so that's an average of 3 hours per clue, which I think most Game players would agree is far too long. And lest you think our team was performing below average, even the best team took 14 hours on these clues (depending on how you interpret the results we finished 4th or 5th out of 18 teams). GC (that's "game control", Game-speak for the folks running the event) clearly underestimated the difficulty of their clues. But each of these monsters had multiple layers to unravel, including unnecessary Caesar shifts and a superfluous Vignere cipher, often with no internal clues to the necessary steps.
The fact that these puzzles made it into the event suggests that this was the first time the organizers were acting as GC. Underestimating difficulty is a classic rookie mistake, but these puzzles just screamed for simplification. With luck, the lessons learned from this event will help them make their next effort run more smoothly.
After sunrise, it was a like a completely different Game. Suddenly the puzzles were less convoluted, more approachable, and more fun. A couple of them were terrific group puzzles, and solving them was a wonderful collaborative experience. If the whole Game had been like the last 10 hours, it would have been a fantastic weekend. But to compound the problem, GC didn't manage our time very well. Instead of calling teams in within the pre-announced window, they let teams stay in the field longer. Understandable, since the Game was running long and they wanted as many people as possible to get to try the stuff they'd spent so long putting together. But we had a plane to catch, and as a result we skipped a clue near the end and still didn't have time to attend the wrap-up and chat with GC and other players-- often one of the highlights of the experience. So we finished with an anticlimax.
Our hope is that we'll learn from this experience and that all the mistakes we'll make in our own event next month will be completely different. We believe we know what our biggest problems are likely to be, and hope that our mitigation strategies will be effective. We're trying things that, to our knowledge, have never been done in a Game before. In and of themselves, these decisions may be controversial and some players may not like them. But that's the risk you take when you try something different.