FTR is dead. Long live the psychic racers!
Card games are fucking hard.
This past weekend, the Dallas Designer Group helped me out by livestreaming a mostly-blind playtest of my card game, FTR. The stream archive may be found here:
(I tried embedding the video in this blog, but the Wix site hosting service doesn't appear to like Facebook video. You should still be able to view the video without a Facebook account)
The Dallas designers touched on almost every complaint I've received (the Maneuver cards remain hard to understand if I don't explain them, the text and terms need work, nobody likes moving backwards in a racing game, etc), put voice to some of the complaints that seem to've only existed in my head until now (the theme still doesn't work), and provided feedback on problem areas that haven't been touched on before:
Turns slow down as the game progresses. The Dallas designers found that resolving Accelerate cards before the turn begins, in addition to the ability to draw during a turn, was a large part of this. Each player turn has 3 phases, Acceleration, Action, End, and resolving the Acceleration phase can occasionally take as long as entire turns in other games while still requiring a player to plan and execute an Action phase. Adding the ability to draw during (or card effects that draw before or during) the Action phase can make things even worse by injecting new variables during a player's turn versus injecting new variables and choices during other player's turns.
The spread of cards and card effects, in the words of 1 designer, is tight. So tight that the players never felt that they were racing, per se. There wasn't alot of forward movement and, as decks quickly started to dwindle, the players felt more like they were in a test of endurance instead of a car race. Using your speed cards too early, rather than strategically, will result in a lost game.
The turn slowdown was something I always assumed to be a new player problem. However, after watching people play the game for so long, I've had to admit that the Dallas testers are right. There really is a huge point of slowdown in the current game that tends to pop up around the Acceleration phase.
I hadn't thought of FTR as a survival experience before. True, I have been tuning the game to be tight in terms of available speed resources, but I thought of this as keeping and building tension for the endgame. The Dallas testers noted this themselves, when one of the players almost won the game with barely any cards left in deck or hand.
Not all of the feedback provided was helpful. The Dallas designers made several suggestions, including that I alter my game to take a greater influence from established videogame franchises, that I'm simply not open to. And, that's ok. I was looking for testing help to find problem areas, and I received enough testing assistance through watching the Dallas testers play and hearing them talk about the game to realize, as one of them stated, there's a problem with FTR's foundation.
Normally, when I receive feedback, my mind begins racing with new ideas and new directions to try. However, this time, I found myself caring less and less as the stream went on. It started with the realization that the Maneuver cards still didn't work, and the feeling didn't completely go away until the next day.
I have re-designed FTR so many times that it's clear I need to take another break. The only question remaining was whether the break should be permanent.
After spending a few days this week just thinking about what I want to do, I've decided I will shelve FTR. FTR is dead.
However, FTR didn't die in vain. This latest testing, and subsequent thinking, have led me to a series of conclusions:
Attempting to keep a car card racing design simple was not the right approach, and resulted in a fair amount of self-smothering and an inability to see any way to add real card synergy. I'm really, really tired of hearing complaints about the lack of synergy in FTR, so if I'm going to make a card racing game I have to be prepared to go big.
Psychic racers was a correct choice to be part of the theme. FTR was an attempt to boil my game down to a basic racing element, and yet I still couldn't abandon the (now clashing with street racing theme) Psychic Scrap Racers mind power-inspired cards. Such cards feel unique to me in a racing game, and I see them as fun.
When I want to play a racing game, I play Hydro Thunder on Xbox. I have a great deal of trouble imagining a racing board game design that hasn't already been done or isn't actually just a poor interpretation of a videogame. I believe I should work with this, instead of against it, by focusing on far more of a survival experience. I found my game to be fun because of the tightness, and it could be that pure racing would never fit what I'm looking for.
Eventually, I'm going to begin work on a psychic racing survival card game. But, I'm going to take a break and let a few other projects take priority first.
Text to Ghost is still a thing. I'm currently working to set up movement for all of the foes, something that is proving more challenging than expected. The tutorials I followed did me the disservice of only using animations for enemy movement instead of code, and I'm left to painstakingly figure out the code from random forums and guides.
I'm hoping to get Text to Ghost wrapped up this weekend, but don't quote me. Once Text to Ghost is done, I'm planning to move forward with A Beginning for Hitman. Hopefully, my experience with Ghost and Red Bop Blue will result in a faster turnaround for Hitman. Maybe.
Once a Beginning for Hitman is done, I'll either return to square 1 with the racing card game, create a multiplayer experiment in Godot, or begin work on a video game for profit. I haven't decided on this point yet, and I don't see any reason to pressure myself into a choice.
FTR was the culmination of over a year of my life invested in 1 project. I learned alot from the project, including a great deal about how complex card games really are, how they can go wrong, and what it means to admit you need to shut an investment down. I have no regrets.
Until next week.