This whole blog is called Fail Faster and it might have all stemmed from this one key learning moment back when Sen and I designed a game called The Dig. We had come up with an idea about archaeologists who must collaborate in order to win. Players would be given some sort of abstracted “nice” token every time you shared or participated in someone else’s dig. You needed these “nice” tokens in the game as they were a currency to acquire things with points on them. It seemed interesting so Sen and I went into game design mode.

We started with spreadsheets and figured out all the variables we wanted in the game, and then figured out a distribution for each of the different types of cards in the game. Many hours later we think we have a nicely balanced set of cards and so we start to make these cards in our art program (I still use Corel Draw!). We got clipart for all the icons (this was back in the day before you could just google something – we actually had clipart on discs that we had to manually search through!), and created a layout for the cards. Many more hours later we have all the cards and boards made in our art program – and not a moment too soon because in an hour we had a few friends coming over to test it! Send it to the printer!
We print the 32 sheets of paper and get to work cutting, gluing to matte board and sleeving. I think we were still sleeving when our friends showed up, but we were able to get it to the table and see how much of our 6-12 hours (12-24 people hours) would result in awesomeness.

Not that much apparently. It was a complete failure. The core concept just didn’t work and things were not that fun right from the get-go. There were issues with some rules where we didn’t think things through and didn’t have a great answer, and had to just make it up on the spot. The players were frustrated, and Sen and I were hugely disappointed.
So where did we fail? Well, the question isn’t where, but when. We didn’t fail soon enough. We spent a ton of unnecessary time balancing all the cards and then making beta-level art and components when we didn’t even know if the game would work or be fun. We didn’t solo-playtest our game and instead subjected our willing playtesters to a game that embarrassed us. I believe we lost some credibility that night with our testers, though they did come back for future playtests fortunately.

So what should we have done? Well, we should have mocked up an alpha prototype earlier on and moved some cards around to see if there was something interesting in our design.

How soon do you make your alpha game? What other are some other dangers of waiting too long to make a prototype?

The quote on the back of the journal, and the title of the journal itself, Fail Faster, is how we should have thought. The game detailed above is one of the main reasons why this journal is called Fail Faster. If we would have made a prototype sooner, so that we could get to the failing sooner, we would have known which aspects weren’t working and if it was worth investing more time.