Sen and I had designed a game that had one player providing clues to other players. The clues were very small pieces of information and we had a total of 9 different clue types that you could give. The clue giver would draw one of these clue cards, give a clue – and the rest of the players could try to guess what the answer was. Since the clues were so small, players often had to give multiple clues so that others could guess it. If someone guessed correctly then points were awarded to the clue giver and the correct guesser. This is where things got sticky!

It seemed obvious to us that we should reward players that were able to get someone to guess the answer using fewer clues. Makes sense right? If I gave one clue and someone got the answer based on that – we should get more points, while if it took you 3 or 4 clues until someone guessed correctly, then you should get less points. That seems to be how party games work – reward skill appropriately.

However we found out in playtesting that this had an undesired effect. Some clue givers would give one clue and then repeatedly give that same clue over and over again (with no new information as that’s not allowed – really just repeating the same word over and over again). Why? Because if someone guesses correctly with me only giving one clue – then I get 3 points. If I have to use 2 clues, I go down to only 2 points, and 3 clues means only 1 point. So even though the player had a timer, that player would rather keep saying the clue, raise their eyebrows implying that the answer is obvious and wait while everyone else was frustrated because they couldn’t guess “Cat’s got your tongue” from the clue “Same first letter as… Coffee”.

The game screeched to a halt and none of the players were enjoying the game. While it’s obvious here that this is all due to the scoring system, at the time we had no idea why the game was failing. I think someone even recommended that we change the scoring, but that felt wrong to us and went against our gut instinct to reward good players. We eventually opened our minds enough to at least try the game with different scoring and lo and behold, the game worked a lot better!

Listening to your gut instinct is one of the tools you have as a game designer. You have to learn when to trust it and when you need to step outside your realm of experience and knowledge to try something new. One of the best things about playtesting is that it can be simple to make a quick fix – often in the middle of a playtest – and try it immediately with the new fix. It often costs nothing to try this new idea. So trust your gut, but also be open to new ideas before killing that idea completely.

When did your gut instinct not turn out to be correct with your game design? Share in the comments below as these stories help all game designers learn to be more humble and accepting of feedback.

If we filled out the winning player’s strategy section each time, we might have learned that their key strategy was stalling and waiting because they wanted the most points.


-Jay Cormier