The Boardgame Design Project, Part 4: Prototyping and the First Playtest!

I’m a little bit giddy today.  Sure, part of it is the 3 hours of sleep I had after staying out too late at game night.  But the bigger issue at hand is the fact that part of the evening’s festivities included a couple of playtest games for Acute Care!  I’ll get to how it went a little later, but let me back up a little…

Designing Cards 

My big design challenge left over from the last article was to finally sit down and hammer out the patient and event cards.  Before I could really do that, though, I had to also nail down which keywords I wanted to use to describe the patients and serve as triggers for other cards.  After a little internal waffling, I decided on having 3 basic patient types: Medical, Surgical, and Cardiac.  In addition, I also had two other keywords that could exist with the patient types and even with each other: Geriatric and Chronically Ill.

I then started jotting down card ideas in a little notebook that I tried to keep with me almost anywhere I went.  But it was hard to really see the big picture of what I was doing, and it got really messy when I wanted to make changes, so I then spent some time developing a template to actually lay out and design the cards.  I looked at a couple of different ways to do this, but finally settled on using PowerPoint because I’m really familiar with it.  Then, I was able to bring into play many of the royalty-free images that I’ve collected and purchased through the years for work (since I work at a hospital), which helped both to differentiate and inspire cards.  

While there were certainly cards that I designed based on some mechanical element, most of them came from me thinking about actual situations and complications that happen on real nursing units.  So hopefully, the theme will come out pretty well in play.    


Building the Prototype

So, component-wise, the game needs:
– Starting Patient cards
– Event deck cards
– Wooden cubes for each player
– Some sort of central board, plus individual player boards
– Dice (to mark Acuity and make a rolls related to Shifting Priorities)

For the cards, I printed them out on card stock and then just sleeved them with old Magic cards.  I used white sleeves for the event deck since it seemed most appropriate for the nursing theme, but put the starting patients in pink sleeves to make it easier to separate them.

I designed the boards in PowerPoint as well and printed them on cardstock.  Rather than trying to find some complicated way to make a large board, I just split the information into 2 sheets that I place together on the table.  Since there’s no map or anything spatial involved with the board, it doesn’t really matter much to the game play.

I grabbed the cubes from a retro version of Risk I picked up cheap a few years ago and pulled out my vat-o-dice to round out my components.  

The First Playtest!

I was both nervous and excited to actually play a game that I had actually designed with actual other people, but Chip and Keith were great to join me as I (for the first time) tried to explain the rules (as I know them at this point) to them.  I sort of figured out how to divvy out the starting patients on the fly and made an almost random decision about the number of cubes for the Charge Nurse to have, but then we drew our first cards and got started!

The first game was a wreck, of course.  By the end of the game, we only had 1 or 2 patients still admitted to our unit, which is clearly ridiculous.  And we had also scored a net 46 Quality points in a game that I mostly want to be tit-for-tat in terms of positives and negatives.  But we had an idea about maybe starting with 5 patients each instead of 4, so we shuffled up and tried again!

This time, it was a little more tight through the game, and I think we felt at least a little bit of tension from time to time.  We drew a card that gave the charge nurse 2 more action cubes at the very start, though, so that really gave us some wiggle room that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.  But it still seemed to play fairly well.

More than anything, I came out of the evening hopeful that there really is a somewhat decent game in there, even if I do still have a lot of work to do in refining the event deck and ratcheting up the difficulty. 

Next Steps…

Well, MACE starts tomorrow.  I’m part of a newly-formed game design group, and at least a few of us are going to get together over the convention weekend to playtest and have fun together.  So I certainly hope to come back with even more feedback and ideas to make Acute Care even better.  And as always, I’m totally open to thoughts and comments from my readers as well!  

The Boardgame Design Project
The Boardgame Design Project, Part 1: Design Goals
The Boardgame Design Project, Part 2: Brainstorming Mechanics
The Boardgame Design Project, Part 3: Wrapping up the Conceptual Phase