Trollvelopment Diary #7
THE TROLLTEM POLES SAN JOSE PROTOSPIEL ROUNDUP
Trolltem Poles is now officially Protospiel tested (yay). It was a long weekend and some change, but it was definitely worth it. I had a lot of insecurity surrounding trolls (I have a lot of insecurity in general), but the event really put to rest a lot of my fears about art, design, presentation, and my approach to everything I do. With that being said, let's get into the nitty-gritty details.
The Art is Beautiful
I'm really hard on myself when it comes to a lot of things, but I am very hard on myself when it comes to art. I compare myself to others incessantly, doubt my ability, and never allow room to celebrate any success I may have. This weekend helped me realize I'm not a bad artist, and I'm too hard on myself. I received a lot of compliments on the art - about how beautiful it was, professional, and that I shouldn't change anything about it. This was from both players and designers.
I finally felt like I could let out this sigh of relief that I am not a hack. I know a lot of creative people have this feeling, part impostor syndrome, part talent gap syndrome, but this weekend showed me there is a market for me, I belong, and I deserve a seat at the table. Now this doesn't mean I get to rest on my laurels, what it means is the drive and effort I have put into working on my art is paying off, and I need to keep at it.
Everyone Gets a Player Aid!
I wasn't planning on making one, but I happened to make a player aid because I had extra slugs in my print order. It turned out those should be a necessity. Even though I was there to explain everything a player needed to know, it's a lot of information, especially when you have players jumping into new games all day long. Based off of the feedback, I definitely want to put this into the game for every player. I think I can squeeze it all on a 2-sided card, but I'll play with that at a later date.
Information Makes Sense, Information+Icons = Confusion
Speaking of art, let's move over to the graphic design of things. Everyone liked the aesthetics of things, but there was some confusion on some of the iconography. Now most of the iconography is fluff. The icons for Wisdom, Fortitude, and Rage can just be shapes and colors, and I don't really need blessing or curse icons, but the graphic designer/artist hybrid in me feels they are needed for theme. Curse has a negative association, so it has a negative effect, Blessing has a positive association, so it has a positive effect, and the animals chosen for alignments match their characteristic tropes. Now I did get players that said they appreciated that the alignment color matched the name of the card, the background, and the icon. Some people got it, but people new to the hobby were a little lost. Since I want my games to be clear as possible, especially new people to the hobby, I'm going to take a look at all these things.
I do see some opportunities to give even more visual cues than I already do. Where the Hero Boards say what kind of ability an ability is, I'm going to add the ability iconography to match the cards on the playing field. I will also add the reputation icon on the reputation boards. There was also some confusion as to what the toppers cost, so I need to figure out a way to make it more clear. It is one of those things that becomes intuitive after one play, but I'm not sure that is a great bar to set for myself. I should always try and make things exceptionally clear the first go around for players.
How Many Heads Can I Stack?
Ceskae originally didn't have abilities, but in an attempt to speed up playtime (which players were fine with), I gave her abilities and notated the amount of heads you can stack on her. This number seemed too high to complete Trolltem Poles. In addition to the number being too high, players thought the number on Ceskae was the total number of heads, not how many you can stack on her, so by this understanding, it subtracted the number of required heads by 1, which is what I wanted to do, easy fix! I'm pretty happy with the stacking mechanic now and the way it flows.
I knew in the back of my head that in larger groups, those hero abilities would trigger more frequently... and they did. For games with 5-6 players, I need to increase the ability bars by 2-3 squares. The biggest issue with this is space. The Hero Board is so cramped. It's going to take some design voodoo to get the bar in a place that makes sense visually and can do the mechanics I need from it. This is something I'll need to spend some time on. I may be able to move the clan icon above the ability bar, which should give me the space needed to add those additional squares.
Hero abilities are a touchy subject with players. They don't need to be balanced, but they need to feel balanced. I definitely need to make this feel better for the player. I'm going back and looking at the abilities. Clan and rival abilities are the only 2 that need some work.
Rival Ability Nerf
I'm nerfing rival abilities. I'm still doing the revamp that I want to do, but I also want to nerf how often they trigger. You should be paranoid when your rival ability bar goes up, but there is such a thing as too much of a bad thing. Thus, rival abilities only trigger on your turn, and if there is still turns left in the round, you ignore any clan influence that would fill it up further until the end of the round. This should create just enough gap in it triggering with those synergized positive abilities to make the rival ability not feel oppressive. Yeah it's another thing to remember, but the edits to the game have eliminated a couple things, so whats one more haha. Three steps forward, one back is fine I say.
Build the Relationships You Want
Speaking of eliminating rules, I'm ditching the rule that says you have to stick with one reputation track once you commit to it. Originally, this forced the game's ending, but after watching people play, it's clear they want to control the game speed. I need to trust the players to end the game when it feels like it needs to end without it overstaying its welcome. I set the mechanics in place for it to end, now I leave it up to the players. There will always be some people who mess with this, but when you go against the spirit of the game, other players will let you know.
Lean Into the World
I spent a lot of time building this world and handling it with care (someone even mentioned how you could tell a lot of love went into the game). It is my job then to get players to commit to it. When I introduced the Trolltem Pole bases, after one round, everyone was calling them Ceskaes and not troll bases. Players committed to the world I built. It also helped that their abilities allowed them to take specific trolls from the board. It made them learn the names. The player builds that relationship with that character and is excited when the troll they need pops up on the board.
Final Thoughts on Protospiel for Trolltem Poles
Trolltem Poles needed this, but I needed this more. It felt so good to see other people happy playing my game and interacting with each other. It made people happy, and that's the goal with all of this. There are some things I would change as to how I explain games like Trolltem Poles, but other than that, it was a successful event. I'll also be sure to make sure people know I am saying Trolltem Poles and not totem poles lol.
What's Next for Trolltem Poles?
Well I have 11 pieces of offering art to do (people really loved the Cherimowls), 4 heroes, and the box art. Then there is any additional art I need to do for the Kickstarter. Also, I want to add a little detail on the logo at the base - put some leaves and flowers to make it more square and less elongated. I need to do some additional large-count playtesting as well as hiring a playtesting service I found (I'm dotting my Is and crossing my Ts). Once all of that is done, I plan to do a 3-month campaign to advertise, build an audience, and get Trolltem Poles out there so everyone can see how much I love the game, and how much care and passion went into it. I'm working hard on Trolltem Poles, and I refuse to release anything that has not gone through my excessive scrutiny. I have a responsibility to quality and to the players sitting around the table playing it with people they love.