We decided to bring Ladybird Logic: Mushroom Maze to the convention, because it’s George’s favourite of my designs, and we felt it was the strongest game we had with the least (public) testing.
Ladybird Logic: Mushroom Maze, as at August 2022, is a family-friendly light strategy game which we think works well for kids as young as 8 as part of a mixed-age family game, but will be selling for 14+. The basic structure of the game is:
- Draw your Mushroom Mission cards, and place each of your 4 Ladybirds on one of the indicated starting flowers
- Roll a die for each active Ladybird you have in play, then move up to that many times, choosing from rotating a flower, moving from petal to petal, and moving to and from a flower.
- Grab aphids on your way if you can, to add to your final score
- Match patterns on the flowers to move from one to the other, marking the matches off on your Mushroom Mission card as you go
- When your matches are complete, move any of your active Ladybirds onto the end flower for that card, flip it to mark it as complete, and take the aphids you earnt.
- The player with the most aphids is the winner.
- Additionally, at the end of each round/turn (TBD), the Bad Bugs move. If they move onto the same flower as you, you lose any Ladybird tokens on that flower.
What is Protospiel Online?
Protospiels are events where designers can bring their prototypes and have them played by other designers and play-testers who sign up to the event. Read more about the Protospiel Network format here, and Protospiel Online in particular here.
Being completely online removes many of the barriers to attendance that in-person events have – it’s dramatically cheaper, for starters, without the travel and accommodation costs associated with most events, and it runs at all hours for the entire three days, because it is a global event. Badges are inexpensive, and you don’t even have to cover the cost of printing prototypes, or worry about the risk of contracting Covid and other con-crud.
BUT. Being online also adds barriers that were, for me, too great to overcome this time around, the biggest of which was a 4-day migraine.
Discord and online testing – not for Cat
Because George is comfortable with Discord, we were able to get set up and registered correctly, but for me, Discord is terrifying – the UI is not intuitive, you can accidentally end up with your mic and camera live by clicking the wrong link, it’s not immediately apparent which channels are chatrooms and which are voice/video channels, and it’s impossible to turn the app off properly when you want to leave. We had a terrible first experience last year where people were laughing at us because they could hear us talking, and what was on TV, and we couldn’t figure out how to escape. I am still anxious around my camera since then. So that was a barrier I struggled with already.
The second barrier is “online”. I design board games because I want the tactile experience, away from screens. I want the direct interaction with the pieces of the game. I don’t play video games – the graphics make me feel ill and over-stimulated, and I hate having to figure out (and remember) all the controls. As my astigmatism has worsened, I have become even less able to tolerate games on-screen. So that was a second barrier – especially as I didn’t actually know how to use Tabletop Playground (TTP) at the time I was offered the Protospiel Online tickets. A month was long enough for George to build the prototype and get it on there, because he was familiar with the platform, but there was not long enough after he finished the build for me to find time to learn to use TTP – so we decided to compromise. George would run the actual physical testing, and I would do the talking and teaching.
Or at least, that was the idea, until I got that persistent migraine.
That being said, the Protospiel format in general, and Protospiel Online in particular, were excellent once we figured them out – we definitely see value in returning another time – with George fully at the helm!
Day 1 – Friday
Friday was the start of George’s week off between jobs, and we had scheduled tasks to complete during the day, so once we got those done, we came home.
I was already starting to feel dodgy again, so we decided that George would take point on the first test and I would listen from our darkened bedroom next door.
I am an experienced workshop leader and I am very comfortable leading or facilitating a discussion about pretty much anything – it’s been part of my job for over a decade, and I was in retail sales before that. George, however, has much less client contact in his day-to-day life, and this was also his first time teaching a game, so I was hoping he would have an easy time of it.
Our first tester almost immediately said Ladybird Logic: Mushroom Maze wasn’t for him, and if I had been running the session, I would have thanked him and ended it there, but he then offered to give it a go anyway, and George decided to proceed.
Unfortunately for both people involved, that really wasn’t the best idea. The tester really didn’t like the way the game looked – and TTP certainly made the colours very garish compared to the printed version – so he spent a lot of time criticising that.
Once he got into the gameplay, we found that he was expecting a logic puzzle rather than a light strategy game built from a logic puzzle concept.
Although the game is about ladybirds moving from flower to flower, eating aphids and avoiding being eaten themselves, the tester had a lot of trouble tying the theme into what he perceived ladybirds actually do, which was another distraction for him.
It took some time to get through the teach, and George was very patient, getting useful information from a session that I would have ended about 20 times.
We did get one useful suggestion from him, which proved that George’s persistence was the right plan. Each player has to keep track of 4 target flowers to complete their Mushroom Missions. This tester found them difficult to remember and find in the layout. We will investigate ways to mark the end point flowers for each player, so they can easily see which ones are their targets.
After what felt like a pretty disastrous session overall, we decided to call it quits for the night.
Day 2 – Saturday
On Saturday morning, I felt like I might be ok, so as it seemed pointless to test again with the garish colours that caused so much distraction the night before, I quickly redesigned all the assets, re-ran the data merges, and George uploaded the changes into TTP, ready for another session.
We attempted to find a game to play, to give back, but everyone was asking for a game to play instead, so we offered ours and got a second set of testers.
Once again, I was only listening from a dark room.
George’s teach improved massively, as did his questions. We were also very lucky to get a great set of testers, J and G, who listened well and played a good game. While again, a lot of their feedback was concerned with the appearance of the game on TTP, we also got some really useful stuff about the difference between playing first and last when the Bad Bugs move at the end of the round, and the impact of Bad Bugs on different age groups. Take That is out of favour at present, but I remember as a child that it was wonderful fun to eat your opponent’s tokens. Not as much fun when it was yours getting eaten, though – noted. They also reflected one of my own concerns, that the Bad Bugs don’t move as much as they should.
George then stayed online until he could give back by playing someone else’s game, which is the Golden Rule of Protospiel – give back at least as much as you get. So if 3 people play your game for an hour, try to give back 3 hours to others.
We spent the afternoon having another go at fixing some of the issues with how the game looks online – a major pain, honestly, because none of these problems matter at all in person. But online, it’s hard to distinguish which pieces are the tokens, the colours are garish, and then there are all the challenges of the physics of the platform itself.
So, we exaggerated the fixes a bit more, and tried again.
This time, while I was definitely feeling the migraine returning, I felt I owed it to George to at least try and teach LLMM, so I ploughed through what was probably a bit of a rough teach – but we were very lucky in this third set of testers.
We got by far the juiciest feedback here – and this might have been because I am more experienced eliciting feedback, but I think it might also be because we got such a good group.
We made some changes for this game: we tried out rotating the first player, which didn’t work all that well, and also allowed players to rotate all flowers, including occupied ones, late in the game. This was a change I was considering but didn’t plan to test until we had sorted out the Bad Bug movement, but as it kept coming up, we decided to test it for the second half of the game.
The most useful feedback we got (and there was a lot more) was that players wanted more agency over the Bad Bugs, the value of the Mushroom Missions needed to increase (I suggested the values I planned to use, and all players agreed), and as adults, these players didn’t think everyone should get the pattern matches that others make (bingo-style). We will need to test that last option, because it might increase the length of the game too much.
Day 3 – Sunday
In the morning, I felt ok again again and spent a bit of time trying to make more changes to accommodate the online platform.
Games George tested
George spent the afternoon and evening on the Protospiel Online Discord, and played some more games for other designers, to help balance out all the time people gave to us, with help from our Lizzie-dog.
Ambition – Rome‘s mechanics have a tight feel, and the player is rewarded for focusing on a given strategy. Though I won I didn’t ever feel I was “safe”, or had the opportunity to snowball the game. It’s close to ready!
The Open Road was more conceptual, and our playthrough was largely a brainstorming session around the complexities of capturing the frenetic nature of an endurance race within the board game medium. There’s not much in this space that’s trying to do exactly what’s being attempted here and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
Random Traditional Card Game was as stated; a play on the classics that sits somewhere between Rummy and Spit. It was good light fun and surprisingly social, which I think is an essential element of any game that isn’t built around flash art or mechanics.
Nylon – Chaos Sky Pirates is a cooperative lane defense card (mostly) game. It has echoes of Battle for Greyport but does stand on its own with the lane defense element and strong interplay between the party members. Mechanically, it shows its years in development and looks to be a great entry point to the genre that will grow in difficulty and complexity with its players.
And then that was the end of Protospiel Online – August for us!
We have redesigned the Flowers and Mushroom Mission cards again, specifically for online users.
We have made more changes to the online tokens to try to make them easier to use and see, which is another problem specific to the online version of the game, and we will try to find a way to add end flower markers to both the online and physical games.
Rather than changing player order, we are going have each player move one of the Bad Bugs either at the start or end of their turn (TBD), working on the best way to do that, and change all the Mushroom hexes so that Bad Bugs can land on them.
While some commented on the number of patterns and if they were needed, we aren’t going to make any other changes as yet. We also aren’t going to remove the “bingo” pattern-matching until we see how much the Bad Bug movements change the length of the game, but we will play with some alternatives to losing Ladybirds to them – perhaps you get sent back to your start flower, or you lose all the matches on your Mission card.
Overall, it felt like the core of the game held up really well to some pretty intense testing, while the things that I wanted to change were corroborated by testers suggesting the same thing. The unexpected challenges of the online testing environment aside, this game feels pretty promising.