What we learned from Eric Lang

Last June 15, renowned game designer Eric Lang tried two of our games: Energy Superstar™ and Trese Case Files. He gave some great feedback and tips on how to improve our game design process. In this post, I’ll be writing about what we learned from him.

Eric Lang in Manila

During ToyconPH 2016, Balangay Entertainment helped host Eric Lang’s talk about tabletop games. (You can read about that and listen to the talk here.) In exchange, Eric Lang agreed to playtest some local games the following Wednesday, June 15.

Aside from our games, he also tried Core Conundrum by Cranial Vault Games and Insane Traffic and Spirited by Micheal Fong.

Energy Superstar™

(If you’re only interested in Trese Case Files, you can skip this part. But, please support this game too 🙂 We’re really proud of it. You’d be surprised how fun and competitive it is for an educational game.)

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Eric Lang discussing ESS to 2k and Marx

Energy Superstar™ is a game about saving electricity. The goal of the game is to collect the most Energy Stars by buying energy efficient appliances and doing energy saving habits. The clincher is you only have 20 seconds a round to outbid your opponents and do your habits. If you’re looking for a game with frantic fun and buzzer beating decisions, this game’s for you 🙂

Main Learnings from Eric Lang

Design for your Target Audience

Eric Lang was a little confused with the game at first because it is both a commercial game and an educational game. After we explained that we wanted to hit both markets, his advice for would-be publishers is to focus on one market. Publishing a game is a big financial risk. To mitigate the risk, focus on the one market where it must succeed no matter what. If it sells in other markets, count yourself lucky.

Casual Appeal and Stress

Eric Lang said he liked the feel of the game and said he could imagine it on a shelf of a game store. Collecting appliances and filling your house has a SIMS feel that he enjoyed. However, he felt the game was too stressful for a gateway game. In his experience, the more stressful a game, the less it will appeal to casual gamers.

Though what he said was very valid, I think one reason why people like ESS is because it’s frantic. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but it seems Filipinos enjoy the humor of being natataranta. It’s something we will try to be more observant about.

Testing, Testing, and better Testing

Eric asked us for the negative feedback we got from players of ESS. We told him that we couldn’t really remember any negative comments. This bothered him because he said that every game will have negative comments- no matter how good it is.

After talking more, Eric found the reason why we weren’t getting negative comments: Balangay was always there to teach the game. Because we were always present, we would guide them before problems occurred. However, most people will learn from a manual or a friend. What would happen then if we weren’t there to troubleshoot?

Eric showed us that there was a flaw in our testing. At some point, you have to test the game to see if the players will understand it without your guiding hand. He recommended two particular tests:

  1. Test the game by giving the players the manual then leaving them to figure it out themselves.
  2. Test the game by teaching one player then having that player teach it to the rest of the players.

Test 1 will let you know if your manual is clear and if your game is intuitive. Test 2 will show you what parts of the game are most memorable and intuitive to the players. Both tests will reveal flaws in your manual and design.

Trese Case Files

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Trese Case Files during the playtest

Trese Case Files is a cooperative board game based on the comics of Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. It’s still in active development. You can learn more about it here.

Main Learnings from Eric Lang

Gateway Games vs Gamer Games

One of the important characteristics of tabletop games are if they are Gateway or Gamer Games.

  • Gamer/Hardcore Games are games made for gamers. Typically, they are complex, take more time to play, and they are deeply immersive. Players of these kinds of games are often hobbyists.
  • Gateway/Casual Games are games that introduce new people to the hobby. They are often simple, easy to teach, don’t take much time, but are still enjoyable. Generally, these games can be enjoyed by both casual players and hobbyists (but often don’t have the level of depth and complexity that the hobbyists search for).
*Note: In reality, games don’t strictly fall into those two categories. They form a spectrum based on complexity, theme, and other characteristics. From a designer perspective, the concept of Gamer vs Gateway is more to help us imagine our target players and the complexity they can handle before they stop enjoying.

Eric felt that we had to be sure of our direction: will Trese Case Files be a gateway or gamer game? It can go either direction, but not both. Each direction has its own pros and cons.

Trese Case Files can be a gateway game. The game can be an introduction for Trese fans into the hobby of boardgames. However, the depth and complexity will have to be toned down. The current design of the game is based on Scenarios which is generally not found in gateway games.

If Trese Case Files will be a gamer game, it can have more depth and immersion. However, the complexity may alienate those who are not used to playing tabletop games which may include a lot of the fans.

Therefore, Survey!

Given Eric Lang’s comments, we wanted to learn more about you: the fans of Trese. Right now, the current design of Trese can go either way. We want to know what your background in gaming is. If we find that most of you are actually well acquainted with games, then we can play around more with the complexity and depth of the game. However, if we find that you’re more used to simple games, we’ll tone down the complexity.

Here’s the link to the survey. Help us make the best game for you 🙂

Game Identity

The last thing that really got us thinking is that Eric Lang said a game should not rely on its theme/license/franchise/etc. It should have an identity of its own. There are two questions that a game designer should ask himself/herself:

  1. What makes your game special and fun?
  2. Why would a player play this game instead of (insert similar game)?

Though Trese Case Files is already unique since it is based on Trese, we at Balangay shouldn’t rely solely on the source material to make the game a different kind of gaming experience. Rest assured we will be hard at work with these questions in mind 🙂

A Parting Gift

Before Eric Lang left, we gave him Book 1 of Trese as a thank you and parting gift.

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2k, Marx, Eric Lang, and Aa (I took the picture)

He also signed our Blood Rage and Game of Thrones LCG.

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Aww yeaah

It was truly a great learning experience for us budding game designers to talk to one of the masters of the craft. He said that he’d love to come back. Hopefully by then, we will have to show him that we can be proud of 🙂

P.S. Please like our new FB page http://www.facebook.com/TreseCaseFiles. We’ll be using it to post updates on the game. 🙂

Follow Nico Valdez:

Game Designer

Nico is a game designer, programmer, songwriter, ex-audio engineer, amateur fiction writer, and president of Balangay Entertainment®. One of the less competitive members of Balangay, Nico only wins against 2k, Marx, and Aya when he's played the game before and they haven't. Nico always wins against Aa. He'll play almost anything as long as it's not loud. He likes euro games for their strategy and thematic games for their roleplaying. He doesn't like party games that much because they get too noisy for his ear disability.

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