Using Reviews to Improve Games

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I don’t like reviews. I’ve been a professional video game developer for 9 years now and I’ve released quite a few titles. Loading up or a review site is always nerve wracking, to the point where I have just stopped looking at them. BGG’s community is no different. If you’ve published a game, you know that scrolling past that first page is just asking for pain.

But, reviews are quite valuable. They provide a quick aggregate view of your customers’ feedback. Not only that, but reviews are often coming from your most vocal and enthusiastic (for better or worse) customers. You know, those who care enough to go onto a website to review your game. This sub-group is very important as they will be your evangelists and detractors.

For perspective, just a bit over 10% of the people who own Farmageddon have noted that they own it on BGG. A tiny fraction have commented.

Today, I want to discuss simple ways to take advantage of your reviews to make better games and have a better relationship with your customers. As Farmageddon is my only released title, I’ll use it as my primary example. It’s not quite appropriate for me to use The Sims from work for this forum.

The Extremes Serve Nobody: I believe fairly strongly, with no data to back this up, that the extreme reviews aren’t terribly useful. By this, I mean the 10s, 1s, 2s, and 3s.

A 10 should mean the game is perfect and could be played for years and is just outstanding. Also, it means you, the reviewer, just love it. A 10 holds great personal appeal. Some of us try to relegate our 10s sparingly, others do not. And while those games DO exist, it’s difficult to really take advantage of such feedback. A 10 is a deeply personal reflection of something the reviewer loves. Understanding it requires you be them.

A 1-3 should mean the game is utterly broken, does not work, and is just a shameful creation. While these games exist, most of the time, a game isn’t that bad. I find 1-3s are often a backlash against a particular mechanic, play style, creator, or pet peeve.

For Farmageddon reviews below about 4, you’ll see the same complaints over and over: Purely random. Purely luck. No strategy. Take that. Waste of time. The 1-3s aren’t people who love take that filler card games. It’s not that Farmageddon is the worst of its kind (for them) and they love Gubs or other such games. They don’t like this type of game.

A 1-3 is a deeply personal reflection of something the reviewer hates. Understanding it requires you be them.

You’ll notice I repeated myself. You cannot rely on those who just get it to represent most or even many of your customers. Nor should you try to chase people who just fundamentally don’t appreciate your offering. Farmageddon will never be the game that a reviewer who gave it a 2 will appreciate.

The extremes serve nobody.

Pluck Low Hanging Fruit: Ignore all numbers, not just the extremes, and instead catalog the qualitative complaints against your game. You cannot action against whether your game is a 5.7 or an 8. That’s just not quality input.

Instead, scroll through the comments for reviews between the 4 and 8 range. Create a spreadsheet and group the comments by type. You’ll often find a few consistent notes.

For Farmageddon, the game’s recurring thorns are:

  • Can Mirror Bean be destroyed with a Flame Fruit?
  • Can I steal a Crop using Genetic Super Worm?
  • Can I Foul Manure a Foul Manure?
  • And a few others…

These are clear and easy opportunities to improve your relationship with your customers in a few ways:

  • Create and update an FAQ.
  • Respond to forum threads with clarification.
  • Write blog posts and designer diaries explaining your decisions.
  • Create How to Play videos that maximize focus on these key areas.

All of these demonstrate your commitment to the product, are easy methods of customer support, and will increase the enjoyment of the play experience for your customers. After all, if someone is playing incorrectly, 9 times out of 10 that means the game is less fun. Unless, of course, you didn’t test your game sufficiently to determine that. But, we don’t do that, right?

Also, if you’re lucky, you can include these tweaks in future editions and printings. For Farmageddon’s second printing, we made 3 tiny rule tweaks, one of which was a change in one word. It makes a big difference. Being responsive to your consumers shows humility, dedication, and is such an easy win for all parties.

Find the Holes: In addition to the easy, low-hanging concerns for people learning the game, you’ll also find holes or criticisms of the design itself. You’ll find opportunities for expansions to address concerns, or you’ll learn for the sake of future games. For example, with Farmageddon, I found a few issues that I wanted to address with the expansion, Livestocked and Loaded:

  • People wanted a little more strategy amid the volatility. Farmageddon will never be Agricola, but adding in Livestock as a long-term strategy really broadens the game in a great way.
  • There needed to be more uses and decisions around low-level crops. Now, you can discard planted Sassy Wheats to Feed animals.
  • Some people felt frustrated by lack of control of Action cards. Some of that comes with the game, but the Farmer’s Market Action, as well as the Livestock Actions, give players more choice over their path.
  • With Livestock and Loaded, the 2 player experience is far richer and more compelling. It becomes less a slug fest and a little more cat and mouse.

I’ve been very fortunate that Farmageddon has sold well enough to allow me to improve the overall game and address the critiques of my fans. Now, let’s say it hadn’t sold well and therefore no expansion would be forthcoming. It’s still useful to know the critiques so I can address them with future games. Some ways to see this in my current designs include:

  • Putting more thought into iconography and graphic design sooner to facilitate learning.
  • Creating a glossary up front for a game so that cards use fewer words that are more consistent.
  • A better understanding of balance sooner.
  • A better understanding of broader strategies.
  • A better understanding of luck, interaction, and variance.

Your critiques are a gift, especially those in the middle range. I believe, again, without data, that those in the middle range have played your game, understand it, and are providing a more rational critique. Those at the extreme ends of the spectrum are on a tilt, either an extreme high or low, and are less likely to provide you actionable and honest input.

Thanks for the Review: This is a parting note, and a suggestion from years of observation and experience. If you receive a negative review, and you will, you’re allowed to do one thing: Post, “Thanks for the review.” You may also try, “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the game. Thanks for the review.” Not everyone will like your game, especially when you make a game with certain highly contentious elements. You have to recognize that opinion. Note, I didn’t say you need to respect that opinion.

By appearing to say “Thanks for the review” you do a few things:

  • Demonstrate that you read all reviews, not just the good ones.
  • Demonstrate that you’re an adult and can take the criticism. This is a VERY important skill for designers.
  • Gives you an opening for dialog. When they see points 1 and 2, they might engage with you further. Making a friend now will pay off in the future.

As a personal example, I sent Josh Edwards of Board Game Reviews by Josh an EARLY prototype copy of Farmageddon. This is back when it was on The Game Crafter. He really didn’t like it and he gave me a lot of input. I responded to it and used it to develop the game further. A year or so later when he reviewed the final game, he did so far more favorably. Yes, I made a better game. But, I also did the work to be a reasonable person.

Finally, upon reading the review, you may find the reviewer made some mistakes in reading your rules. This is an opportunity!

“Thanks for the review. I’m sorry you didn’t like the game. One thing I wanted to note was that you made one slight error in regards to a rule. I’ll make sure I update the FAQ so others don’t miss it! Thanks for pointing that out. Instead of doing X, you want to do Y. Hope that helps.”

It is unlikely, honestly, that you’ll win that person over. But, others will see this dialog, will learn from it, and will appreciate you being a reasonable person.

I hope this was useful for you. What advice do YOU have for taking advantage of reviews?

Problem Solving for Hocus’s Design

We could discuss every problem in every version of the game, but we think it best if we focus on the problems we identified and how we fixed them, roughly chronologically, for Hocus Poker as it exists today. If you have follow up questions about a specific portion of this, comment below and we’ll be happy to answer. This post grew a tad long (we’ve done a lot of work!), so look forward to a part 2 (or even 3) in the future.

If you want to try Hocus Poker, you can get the PNP here and read the rules here.

Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

Grant: The starting point of the game was “Texas Hold ‘Em plus Spells.” In the first iteration, the cost of the spell was to discard a defined quantity or set of cards. For example, “discard a pair from your hand to take this Action.” The problem was, the actions weren’t very good and you needed a crazy good draw (basically a pocket pair) to do the Action. And, why would you get rid of a perfectly good hand to draw something random?

Next, I tried reducing the cost. Discard a single card, or a single card of a defined rank (ex: face card), but still it was a problem. I changed it to coins. Spend coins to activate a spell.

The problem then was that if a spell was really good, people would just activate the same one over and over again. Economics acted as the guide. With every use, I made it so the spell cost more. This naturally caused players to use different spells. It added a layer of resource management to the game and opened up for a lot more interesting decisions.

This is one of the game’s oldest and most important mechanics. Now, how we’ve gone about indicating the increase in cost is the topic of an entire post, so we’ll cover that in the future.

Josh: This all happened before I ever saw the game. In the first version that I ever saw, it had the basic structure of paying mana (then called coins) to buy spells, with the increasing cost in place. It’s just a huge mechanic, truly crucial to the game, but I didn’t have to worry about it. What makes it work is that it creates a market at the table. At every action of the players, each of their various actions has a different cost and benefit, and they weigh those and take what they regard as the best value. But then it changes! The next player has to pay more as things are bought, which is more or less micro-economics 101, and it works as well here as it does with idealized widget firms. I’ve never had a moment of doubt about that mechanic.

Grant: We wanted to eliminate player elimination. This is something I think is not fun about real poker. Really, I don’t think it’s fun in most games with more than 2 people.

Josh: I think there are specific cases where it can work well, but they’re rare, and certainly not appropriate with this style of game.

Grant: My first take was to add a way for players to regain currency. Players could fold in order to gain a payout of Mana. The problem with this was that the rich remained rich and the poor had to not play to get a little bit of money. It’s rare that telling someone to not play will result in a fun experience for them. That’s another problem with typical poker — you’re supposed to fold most hands. Also, in this setup the chip leader could just squash the poor players.

It was also non-intuitive to receive money for folding. People didn’t get it.

Josh: I first encountered the game with this mechanic in place. During my first playtest, there was still betting during the game, and folding (called “Cash Out”) pulled money back to players. It was an attempt to keep a lid on the problem of a big stack pushing the table around, providing a method for players to recover cash without winning a hand. The money in question came from the bank, meaning the economy slowly (or not so slowly!) grew over the course of the game. It diluted the big stacks, yes, but it was kind of confusing and also didn’t really dilute the big stacks fast enough. It just kind of didn’t work.

Added to that was the fact that the original rules didn’t really cover what happened when someone made a bet that was too large for the table to cover. It was effectively limit Hold ‘Em (bets were capped at five Mana), but it was easily possible for that to still be too much. I was advocating for “you can always call” rules, but those are really, really hard to write from scratch (give it a try!). The economy was neither fish nor fowl at this point.

Grant: I did write them. They were bad and I think they took an entire page just to cover the concept. There was a brief phase where we toyed with having betting as a means to bring bluffing back. It was a lazy attempt. But, in doing so, I think it demonstrated to us that we needed to be more or less like poker. We chose less and it was a good, pivotal decision. You can’t keep everything. But, by freeing yourself, you get to do new stuff.

Josh: Stack management is a huge part of no-limit Hold ‘Em. It’s kind of what separates great players from so-so players. Understanding things like pot commitment, pot odds, all that junk – it’s huge, and it’s an important part of skill, and it’s really beyond the pale for a casual game like this. Having any of that stuff be part of the economy in a lightweight card game was a mismatch.

Coming away from that first playtest, this was my biggest concern with the game. The economy just had to change. There were really two games here fighting each other: on one hand, this light-hearted game of spellcasting, hand and card management, which encouraged wishcasting and chasing hands; on the other, a darker, deeper game that reflected its poker roots, of ruthlessly bleeding out your opponents in Hold ‘Em fashion.

Grant: This also brings up the similar symptoms of runaway leaders. It was often clear that after a win or two, the chip leader was going to win. They could even just park it, add no Mana to the economy to be won, and win after a number of hands were played, which was the end condition.

As a result of all of this, we had a breakthrough. What if the win condition wasn’t Mana, as it is in poker, but points? Suddenly, having a lot of Mana meant you had a large amount of currency, but it wouldn’t mean the win.

Josh: I think both of those are worth unpacking further. The first is points. There were a few ways to fiddle with the economy. One idea would be to reset each hand. Everybody goes back to the same X mana every turn, and then just tries to maximize their result for that hand. That has the advantage of simplicity and draining the big stacks of their power, but it has a downside: folding is meaningless.

Not only would folding be stupid in that setup, but paying big for effects is meaningless. The cost of things isn’t very important, since you would just stay in every hand. It drains too much tension from the game. How do you fix that? Well, we need to have the pot be meaningful each hand, since we need people to weigh how much they’re paying in. But, we don’t want individual people to be able to bully the table just because they won previous hands. The answer suggests itself at that point: you need to record the results of each hand somehow while returning everybody to relatively even footing. That’s where the idea to record points came from.

Grant: According to you searching our email records, we tried four solutions, the last being the right one.

  1. If you win the hand, you earn 1 Point and reset Mana to all players. This has problems, as noted above.
  2. If you win the hand, you buy Points via a complicated rule. More on that in a second.
  3. If you win the hand, you buy Points at a fixed ratio by paying other players. Close!
  4. If you win the hand, you buy Points at the cost of 1 Mana paid to each player. Ding ding! We have a simple, scalable winner!

This solution fixed the economy by balancing it long term, giving weight to your mana expenditures (spending more = more points for the victor), removed the chip leader bullying issue, removed the runaway leader issue.

Josh: Can I just say, I still like the intellectual properties of solution #2?

Grant: You can say whatever you want. Free country!

Josh: The idea, basically, was that the chip leader could buy points with the cost determined by the size of the second biggest stack at the table. You thus could reward somebody who gets far out ahead of the table, but if you had a pursuer, your lead was less valuable. I think the dynamics of that would have been fun to watch. Clearly too complicated for a game like this one, and it was never actually tested, but I think it’s a cool, fun idea that I might re-use in another game.

Note that here is an area where having two designers paid off. Going from a Hold ‘Em  economy to our solution, which stands to this day, required only two games of Hocus Poker. Most of the intermediate steps were hashed out in discussion, saving us from burning out our playtesters too much.

Grant: Our solution did, however, introduce a new issue: hoarding. You could only buy Points if you won. However, a player could decline to purchase points and therefore hold all the Mana. Without Mana, other Wizards couldn’t use Spells. This basically meant they couldn’t win and it made the game really not fun.

To make a simple comparison, it’d be like a worker placement game where one player had the option to hold onto your workers.

My first solution was to ignore it. In the, put my hands over my ears and go “na na na na na” method.

Josh: I can remember you trying to talk yourself into this not being a problem. And it wasn’t a huge one, honestly. Most players would just buy points as they had a chance, no problem. But some players would think one step deeper and decide that there was no point in buying points if they couldn’t buy a winning set, and they’d sit on their Mana.

Bullying was back in the game, in a much more minor form. We needed a way to force Mana redistribution. It seemed obvious: just make them buy points. Heavy handed, but sometimes problems have easy solutions.

Grant: I tried to convince myself that I shouldn’t have to design mechanics for awful people. And I still somewhat stand by that. However, awful people do exist. We debated whether to make it a minimum number of points, but that led to weird side issues, especially when players had to split the pot (which we later removed). Ultimately, the clean, global issue was to force players to spend Mana until they were equal to or less than the starting amount.

Josh: The line between “awful person” and “ruthless optimizer” is pretty thin. Speaking as someone that sometimes falls in the latter camp (I’ll leave the first for others to define), it was an issue. Maybe in 80% of games, it wasn’t a problem. But 20% is still an issue.

Grant: It’s a good lesson, really. Just because I personally don’t think like that doesn’t mean others don’t. Your design shouldn’t have huge opportunities just screaming to be, exploited.

Josh: It can be easy to say that a particular audience won’t have an issue. But why not try and solve it for as many audiences as possible. I have a bunch of math majors in my regular gaming group. The game should work for them as well.

Grant: We then needed to solve our endgame, which was incredibly anti-climatic. When you played a set number of Hands, players in the lead would have an incentive to play cautiously and withhold potential winnings. For example, if someone had the most points and knew the game would end in 3 hands, they would slow play those 3 hands to choke the economy. If a player doesn’t win any Mana, they can’t buy points.

Josh: In my first several games, there were players who were eliminated before the end of the game. There was literally no way that they could possibly buy enough points in the final hand to win the game, even if they won every mana chip at the table and bought points with them. That’s a bad thing.

Grant: People in that position leaving our game feeling awful. They might as well have spent 30 minutes being insulted.

We tried a race solution: first to 8 points wins. This felt lame, especially as in some rare cases, the game could end really quickly. We then tried first to 8 points, plus one final hand. In one out of about nine tests this final round mattered. In the remaining eight, it was a waste of time. A foregone conclusion.

Fundamentally, we had an issue where players in the lead remained in the lead. Players in the back felt terrible, especially if they lost without any points.

Josh: Not only that, but there was even a kingmaker problem. In one playtest game I played at this time, a three-player game, I was pretty far in the lead going into the final round. My friend Jarrett was toast, with no hope of winning, and Marc had at least an outside shot if the pot got rich enough. I folded right away, so that Marc’s pot was going to be limited. The only way that Marc could win would be if Jarrett stayed in and paid liberally into the pot. But Jarrett had no way to win. It was a classic kingmaker situation: an eliminated player could help determine who wins with no chance themselves.

Both problems stemmed from the end condition. It comes down to race mechanics. You can only gain X number of points in any given hand, defined by how much Mana is available at the table. X tends to increase as hands go on, but it’s still a limit. Fall more than X behind, and you need more than one hand to catch up. Adding a final hand to the list just moves that threshold to 2X for futility. Yes, it’s better, but it’s still possible to be eliminated before the end of the game. This isn’t a wargame, that’s really not OK. You can keep layering on extra rounds, but that does two things: one, it dilutes the impact of the “finish line”, which is crappy and makes the first part of the game feel futile; two, it doesn’t actually solve the problem, just kind of buries it under the rug.

So, time to bust out the thinking hats. What properties do we want for the game? We returned to first principles: one of the guiding principles of the game was to avoid player elimination. At every moment, people need to have a chance. How do you capture that? Well, you can solve that if, at any given time, a player could go on a run and still win.

That’s when things came together: we don’t want a fixed number of rounds, due to kingmaker/elimination issues. We don’t want a fixed number of winning hands, because we want the size of each pot to be significant. A first-past-the-post victory condition still leaves people possibly eliminated. So we combined a few options. A points threshold added to a requirement to win one more hand. That gives a tangible goal for people to hit with the addition of someone needing one final win. That keeps everybody in it towards the end. If you can keep winning hands, you can still pull things out.

Grant: I love when a game ends with everyone in sudden death. It’s delightful knowing this is the last hand. Whoever wins takes it all.

Josh: I’ve come back from zero points to win the game by just running the table. It’s a great, great feeling. This endgame mechanic is similar to one I used before, in Foresight, and the hybrid of conditions works really well.

Grant: Oh man, we should talk about Antes! I forgot about them. For a phase there, they were so important. We had a problem where some spells were strictly better. You would always use them first. Keep in mind, at this point, all spells had a base activation of 1. Summon, which was then “Draw 1” was simply too good. You would always do it.

Josh: This was a problem I noted in the first playtest. There was just no reason not to use Summon right away. Sometimes several actions in a row. It was just too obvious.

Grant: As a side note, fixing Summon is how we came about the Show mechanic. Summon became Draw 1, Show 1, which meant you had to play a card from your hand. This revealed information, which is important, potentially exposed the card to some spells, but meant you couldn’t Show that card again. Show has since become one of our most important mechanics.

When you get to a point like this, you have two paths you can follow.

  1. Perfect Balance: Make every action balanced, which means it’s fine for them to share a cost. I think this path is very boring.
  2. Economic Balance: Very the cost of every action. This means you can have wildly disproportionate powers which are reigned in with an economic tool. I vastly prefer this and love finding solutions for these in my games.

We chose the economic solution — the Ante. Better spells would have an ante. You would add 1 Mana from the Bank onto the spell, which would increase its starting cost by 1. This would also inflate the economy, which at the time seemed like a good thing. Smaller pots in the beginning, larger pots towards the end.

Inflation had a few problems. Plus, it was a clunky way to include the idea that “some spells should cost more from the start.” There was a simpler solution.

Josh: An ante was suggested after my first playtest to just make the differing spell power levels work. I think it’s more interesting to have variety in spells without having to keep everything leveled out. And the Ante mechanic did work pretty well – we have more or less that same mechanic in the game today. But there was a hidden problem: it pumped mana into the game. Each hand then became more significant as the game went on. In addition, the costs of spells became less significant as the game went on. Both effects weren’t huge, but they were there.

There was also a more subtle problem, which was the cost of production. Having the economy slowly increase meant that the game had to include enough mana to get the players through the game. With 5 players, you needed the start mana, plus roughly 13 hands of inflation (26 spells, two per hand). I sat down to compute out the worst case, and it worked out to something like 84 mana in the absolute worst case. Not insurmountable, but that was a fair bit to produce.

So, we again had an issue. Honestly, we lived with this one for a fair bit. It wasn’t a huge problem, it was a subtle one. The game basically worked under these conditions. But it nagged at us.

I think we both arrived at the same solution. There was no need to pull mana from the bank. It could just be the starting cost. The rest of the economy worked fine, you now had a fixed pool, off you go. It meant that each hand would be of roughly the same importance, encouraging players to go hard right out of the gate. Production was simpler (we got it down to a single sheet of tokens). There were essentially no down sides to it.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully some of these insights and development paths are useful to you in your own design. Potentially, they may aid in your enjoyment of Hocus Poker. If you want to try Hocus Poker, you can get the PNP here and read the rules here. 

Flippin’ Sweet

Post by: Grant Rodiek

My last few weeks have been a frenzy of prototyping. Upgrading components (Sol Rising), re-balancing and improving the design (Sol Rising, Flipped), and experimenting with new ideas (not ready to talk about yet). It has been a lot of fun and I’m ready to test again. Before that, however, I’d like to write about how I’ve improved Flipped, both to share with folks and hopefully impart some of the wisdom I’ve gained as a result.

Flipped is intended to be a simple, very accessible light-euro fueled primarily by a worker placement mechanic. It plays 2-5 players in under an hour, typically 45 minutes. I had a few months where I couldn’t work on it, which let me think deeply on the game and really examine what needed to improve.

Let’s cover the basics, first.

To simplify the typical resource complexity of some of these games, I baked it all into the workers. Your workers are essentially your actions and your resources. Instead of the typical “Place 1 worker, get X output,” which you then spend, in Flipped it is Place N workers, gain asset or take action.” Very similar, just a light twist.

The game features an area majority mechanic where, if you build out a certain neighborhood in a certain way, you will score points at the end of the game. For example, a client who wants a rich luxury neighborhood will give you points if there is no infrastructure (i.e. power plant) in the neighborhood. It’ll be up to you to make that happen.

Both of these mechanics have been done before. Thankfully, I have what I think is a simple and fun unique hook. The theme of the game is that you’re rebuilding a city that’s down on its luck. The demands and needs of the city are dynamic. After all, every game would be the same otherwise. This dynamic demand curve influences many things in the game, most notably, points. If you manipulate the needs of Business clients to drive up the Infrastructure demand, you can then build for those clients to score big points.

This was all mostly working, but I had some issues.

Previously, the demand model was very fiddly, mostly from a player updating standpoint. Players had to constantly place chits onto the board and it took time and was just annoying. It felt, to me, like counting out money in Monopoly. I realized that I could simplify this by just tracking the demand with a much smaller chart. Players could then simply pull tokens out of a bag based on the demand number. Easy!

I also realized the game had far more little complexities than it needed. Some of these included:

  • 2 slightly different methods to obtain Client cards.
  • Lots of symbols on the board that could be distilled and eliminated.
  • A few Client requirements that didn’t make sense and slowed the game.
  • A few end game scoring mechanics that always drew confusion from players.
  • Too much info on clients.
  • Too many minor details in setup that didn’t need to be there.

The effect of these tiny complexities was somewhat akin to the death by a thousand cuts. Furthermore, all of them took away from my hook. If my dynamic demand model is the cool feature in my game, then it needs to be THE feature in the game. It needs to power everything, so I set about doing so.

As a result, I baked in quite a few simple changes:

  • One method to gain clients, which is a bit of a push your luck. You choose how many options you want up front.
  • When you build, you don’t get pre-defined points based on the Client. You get points based on the demand curve. If you satisfy higher demands, you tend to make more points.
  • The beginning of the game is more randomly setup. It’ll be equal and fair, but also faster to get going.
  • Client cards have been simplified.

This all shaved about 3 pages out of the rules, simplified the game, and focused everything towards the hook. This is a lesson we should all take to heart every time we make a game. What is your unique hook? What is your theme? What is the best part of your game? Focus all of your efforts towards that and distill and cull the rest. If your game is about battle, simplify the mechanic about giving your soldiers food. If your game is about building the castle? Decrease the time players spend building an army.

Focus focus focus.

Other concepts

I sought input and entertained a few ideas from others. Paul Imboden of Split Second Games suggested I add a few more properties and remove a number of them at random every game. This means you don’t know what’ll come up for sale. I really liked that idea and incorporated it.

I talked to peers Danny Devine and Phil Kilcrease about adding in new bonuses, like gaining free specialized workers, gaining extra clients, or adding in a more detailed infrastructure layer. They all listened and chimed in, but ultimately these things just complicated the game in a bad way.

Focus focus focus.


You can read the rules for Flipped here. Comments are allowed in the document, or you can email me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to build.

Flippin’ Friday


Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been working in my spare time in the evenings on building Flipped. This is a game I’m actively working and designing. It’s real and will happen. Unlike much I discuss on this blog. I’d put a smiley face emoticon there, but it pains me to do so.

I’m excited about this game. It’s good to do something completely different. It makes me a better designer and forces my brain to do things in new ways.

I created Flipped based on the name, which just popped into my head. It’s about flipping homes, or more broadly (and optimistically), urban renewal. Your team (and others like you) have been hired by the city to revitalize the neighborhoods to stir a new age of growth and prosperity.

Homes will be represented on the board with 1 inch square punchboard tokens. One side, a decrepit home, the other a rebuilt, beautiful place to live. My hope is that as the game progresses, the board is transformed from a dire state to something lovely.

Starting point...

Starting point…

...ending point.

…ending point.

My goal for the game is that it supports 2-5 players in 60 minutes or less. 45 minutes is my sweet spot, so I’m really pushing for that. I think the game will be more complex than Ticket to Ride, but not by to much. The game will be turn-based. I’m not using a round based structure in the hopes of reducing complexity and rules, streamlining the experience, and focusing on brisk pacing.

Players will take one action on their turn from a pool of three: Buy one of the 4 homes available for sale, improve a home, or flip/sell a home. I think I’ll need a fourth “release valve” interaction, but for now, this is it.

Homes are represented by a deck of simple cards which are shuffled at the start of the game. Four will be drawn and are available for purchase. As a home is purchased, a new card is drawn and placed on the board. Cards are simple and contain the following information:

  • Neighborhood. This is currently A, B, C, or D, but in a final version I envision a symbol with a color, like Beach District or Inner City. 
  • Number. This is to indicate the space number. So, A3 is the third house in A neighborhood. Fictionally, this is the address.
  • Cost. This is the cost to acquire/fix the house sufficiently to sell. See below.
  • Improvement possibilities. Just an empty circle (which is the shape of the improvement tokens).

Early on I was troubled by the amount of math in the game. Players had to manage outflow of cash, inflow of cash, and various multipliers. It made me sick to my stomach and I came to a compromise that I think will work well, at least initially. Every player will have a crew of 3 cubes. Buying a home will cost 1-3 cubes, which are returned at the start of your next turn (1 per job site). The abstraction is that this is your team and there is minimum work required for every home you purchase. Some homes require more work. The fiction is that you are “paying” them and by using them, you expend a resource. But this way, you don’t need to manage money going both ways.

The other benefit is that I’m still throttling players. If you don’t have sufficient cubes, you cannot obtain more homes. I’m trying to figure out how players can obtain more cubes to increase their crew. My current thinking is that players remove 1 cube per home/work site at the start of their turn, so a home that costs 3 will take 3 turns to return all cubes. I’m also thinking that a player can buy multiple homes on their turn as long as they belong to the same neighborhood.

Some cards will have a symbol that causes the card on the end of the buy row to leave the market permanently. This will have a negative impact on the neighborhood value. This exists to push the game along and remind players “Hey, if you want something, you might want to get it now!”

As homes are improved (or left decrepit), the neighborhood’s value will change. This is conveyed with a simple graphic. A marker will move up and down this track. Small circles are just progress, but big circles are a threshold with an actual price change. I don’t know fully how this will work yet, but essentially, players will be driving up the value with small purchases in order to make their big investments bigger payouts.


Another idea I’m experimenting with is that neighborhoods can impact the value of others. The idea of a synergistic city appeals to me and I want to try to do this simply. For example, the low value neighborhood, if left to rot, will hinder the nicer neighborhoods near it. Go deep on a single neighborhood at your peril — you are not an island!

As a way to incorporate variance and the unexpected, there will be municipal events (better name pending). These are the four 2 inch square spaces on the board. There are 4 cards in the deck — an A, B, C, and D. You then pull the top tile from the municipal stack and place it on that letter’s space. These will be things like a new school, which is good! Or an increase in crime, which is bad! Or a new metro, which helps with hiring contractors and such. The idea is to simply vary the rules of the game as it progresses. These should never hose someone. They will never be “every player loses 3 cards.” I want to make that clear. The goal is that they provide new opportunities and force players to be reactive and think on their toes.

I’ve distilled home improvements into 4 simple items, each represented simply by a colored token at the moment. The categories are: Landscaping, Painting, Electrical, and Layout. These are ranked in order of complexity/cost. The general idea is that you can hire contractors (a limited and shared resource) to do this work, which will increase the value of the homes. Furthermore, players will have hidden clients that have certain requirements.

The action a player will take is to hire the contractor for a job and pay the cost. The contractor is now not available. When finished, the player places the token on the circle space on the house card. If sold, the house will bring in more than a house without the upgrade.

The game ends when the deck of homes runs out. The winner will be the player who contributed to the city the most and made the most money. Some combination of those, I think.

The game at a high level is this: You get one action per turn and must decide what you want the most. Players will be competing to buy homes, acquire new clients (also in the home row), increase the value of neighborhoods in which they are invested, hire limited contractors, and take advantage of the municipal events.

My hope is to refine the choices  and content such that there is great tension (not stressful). I want this contractor so I can sell this home…but man I don’t want Bob next to me to get 3 more houses in this neighborhood next turn. Gah!

I don’t really know what the game’s hook is yet, which is bad, but it’s my first euro and I really just need to make it right now. Mechanically, the game involves:

  • Area Influence: Modify the value of homes in a neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods.
  • Resource Management: I have limited workers, money, and there are opportunity costs for taking one action versus another.
  • Hidden Goals: We have clients that are unique and private to us.

The game is less becoming an economics game, but frankly, I didn’t want to make Power Grid.

Thematically the game has been very well received. Seconds after saying the name and saying “You’re improving homes,” people go “Oh yeah! Cool.” People get it and connect to it. Presentation wise, I’m thinking the board might resemble a blueprint and over the course of the game, a beautiful and colorful city comes to live. It can go from drab and decrepit to colorful and nice.

I’m rambling.

What do you think?

Protospieling Dawn Sector

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I attended my first Protospiel this past weekend in Milwaukee. I spent 3 days hanging out with good friends, playing my game, Dawn Sector, and playing many of their outstanding prototypes. Originally, I planned on writing a post about their games, but I don’t think I can do it properly. Sure, I can share photos, but ultimately I don’t think it’s right to discuss someone else’s in-progress prototype in so public a forum as the internet. I don’t want to pass any judgement or opinions that could in any way hinder their game’s progress.

If I played your game at Protospiel, I’d love to have you write a guest post on this blog or if you’d like we could conduct a quick interview.

Instead, I’m going to write about Dawn Sector. I conducted 5 tests of the game: 3 with the generic faction and 2 with the real factions. Overall I think it was well-received and people seemed to enjoy it. However, I’m going to make two modest to big changes to the game that I think will really get me on the home stretch.

Draw Draw Draw: The first major change is the addition of a fifth turn Action — Draw a Card. For a long time the actions have been as follows:

  • Move
  • Build Fort
  • Declare Battle
  • Use a Spec Ops (essentially a really powerful action for which you spend cards)

Players could also pass, though this was never a good option (if you’re playing well) and if you passed on the first or second action round, you’d lose all remaining Actions. I really wanted to avoid players passing to force an opponent to blink. The Mexican stand off isn’t fun in most cases.

However, in a few instances, especially towards the end of the game, things often became quite tense and the game can come down to a single Action. Players would often be conflicted and some would simply pass to avoid making too gross an error. I didn’t like this, but I didn’t have a solution and it wasn’t so much of a problem that I was really worried.

In the very first test of the con I was given the suggestion to allow a Draw Card action. “Wow,” I thought immediately. That is a damn good idea. I added the action for every subsequent test and it was indeed a damn good idea. Drawing a card opens up the game in a variety of ways:

  • If you have a particularly bad hand or a hand that ALMOST gives you what you need, you can spend an Action to draw. 
  • It provides a moment of tension. Players NEED a card. When a really clutch draw occurred (i.e. they need a cavalry and drew one), it felt good.
  • It gives players a way to “pass” without passing. As a result, I’m removing the option to pass.

This can’t really be exploited as you still need to discard down to 5 cards before the end of a round. Basically, you can’t spend a round stockpiling only to have a crazy subsequent round. Plus, it is often still not the best idea to pass. Good players will learn when to hold or discard cards at the end of a round. The Draw Card will ultimately fill a nice hole but won’t be a crutch or a game breaker.

It’s a really great idea and attribution for it goes to Mr. Brett Myers of Nanuk fame. (Stay tuned for some of Brett’s upcoming games. One was presented to me and I was able to play another. Both were beautiful, tight, and well designed games.)

Withdraw Withdraw Withdraw: Before I explain the second major change, I want to discuss an idea that was presented that I considered and ultimately rejected. Ryan Metzler of the Dice Tower played in the first test. He suggested I add a “Remove Troops from Board” action.

Initially this seemed compelling. For the many of you who haven’t played Dawn Sector, you should know a few things. Firstly, every player has a finite until pool of 15 Units. At the beginning of each round (6 total), you may spend cards to add these Units to the board. Units are only removed as a result of battle (i.e. casualties), at which point they can be re-added via reinforcement.

Ryan felt like he was in a bad predicament. His units were spread about and he wanted to be able to remove them to add back via the next reinforcement phase. This seemed fine enough, until I thought through it.

For one, the action would be highly inefficient and therefore only useful for this in the direst of circumstances. You’d have to pull units off in order to add them back next round? That’s not really useful. Secondly, this greatly rewarded bad play (sorry Ryan) and would give people a crutch for getting lost in the wilds. Furthermore, the game already provides ways by which you can sync units back up, including faction abilities (like Double Time in Ryan’s game) and the spaceports, which let you move to any territory bordering the edge of the map.

Finally, they’d break the game. Imagine a scenario: I carefully build up units and maneuver them to attack you. Perhaps this round, perhaps the next. You see this, realize you’ll lose the battle, and withdrawal your troops. Now, I just wasted an entire round of maneuvering and you got away with only one action! Why would people not do this every time?

I honestly felt like the game didn’t need this and furthermore it’s not worth adding many other rules or tweaking many other things to allow it. If you aren’t too reckless, your units shouldn’t get too far astray. And if that happens? You still have ways to recover.

The Single Decker: Now, for the final significant change as a result of Protospiel. Yes, I’m tweaking some tuning, but this is the second big one. Currently, every faction uses a unique deck. All decks are comprised of cards with the same 5 Symbols (Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Specialist, Commander) with numbers ranging from 1-3. All of the decks have a very similar level of potential reinforcements. However, the distribution of the card types (i.e. cavalry versus infantry) differs. Originally this was for thematic and balance purposes. For example, the Brigade should have a lot of mech cavalry, whereas the Militia has the most specialists.

Alas, over time this has added a layer of fiddliness that isn’t necessary. For one, all decks have cards with the same five symbols, but not all factions use every symbol. Without a fail, one new player asks “why do I have this card?” It’s a good question for which I don’t have a good answer. Furthermore, more serious players have to relearn and re-examine the subtly (and sometimes significantly) different distributions when they change factions. Instead of just learning new abilities, they have to also learn the deck.

This is a bit of oversight on my part. Now, all factions will use an identical deck of cards. Faction abilities will still be triggered differently based on the approximate difficulty of the ability and, where possible, along thematic reasoning. But, players will now be able to move between the games with the same deck of cards.

I fully believe this can be done and the system can be tuned. However, I think there will be some subtle balance issues that will take time to suss out.

In conclusion: If you played Dawn Sector at Protospiel I really appreciate it. By observing you and discussing the game with you I learned much. I shall improve Dawn Sector and hopefully make her even more appealing for a publisher.

I’m almost finished tweaking the revised player board and I have a first pass take on the new deck distribution. Now, I must apply that distribution with new tuning for the faction abilities. Following that, I’ll reprint all the cards.

My next step after that is updating the rule book with these changes AND introducing my “director’s commentary.” If you want to know what I intended with a feature or why I implemented something as I did, this should be a fun read.

Finally, I’m building a prototype copy for Jay Treat. He’s offered to do some long-term balance testing for me. I look forward to having him as a testing partner.


How to Use Feedback

Jay is fresh from Unpub 3 where he took a few of his new prototypes to test with a flood of designers and gamers alike. He’s also been participating in the PPP program. Therefore, Jay’s input on gathering and using testing feedback is useful and should be read!

Guest Column by: Jay Treat

You’re more likely to be struck by lightning twice than you are to design a flawless game without any playtesting. Yet, figuring out how to improve your game after a playtesting session is often a mystery. How can you turn your playtesters’ nebulous comments, insane ideas, and bad advice into useful feedback? I’ll share a few tricks with you and I hope you’ll share yours in the comments.

Ask the Right Questions

“Yeah, that was pretty good.”

The first piece of useless feedback every designer hears is the patronizing reassurance that your game isn’t 100% crap. You ask, “What did you think?” or “How did you like it?” and 99/100 people will answer the same way. What they’re really saying is “It wasn’t good enough. I can imagine a worse way to spend as much time, but it involves fire and shackles. I can’t tell you exactly how bad it was because I was taught if I can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

While you will get more pointed feedback from your peers in the industry who know what you need to hear, and you must seek that level of feedback out at some point, you need the perspective of real players first. If you want more useful responses, you have to ask better questions. Crap in, crap out.

Be as specific as you can. If you’re aware of any points that might be less than perfect, call them out and ask for opinions. “What did you think of mechanic X? Was it fun? Balanced? Confusing? In-Theme?” Once players realize you know there might be a problem, they’re no longer the messenger and are more willing to discuss it.

There are other staple questions that can lead to more useful information. “Was the game too long?” “How much would you pay for this?” “Who do you think would enjoy this?” There’s a subtle difference between these questions and the following: “Was anything confusing?” “Would you buy this?” “Was the game too hard?” Take a moment and think about why the first three might be good and the last three might not.

“Was the game too long?” Unlike “Did you like the pacing?”, this question acknowledges that the game might be too long. Answering “a bit” doesn’t make the respondent a villain, it lets them confirm your line of reasoning. More on what that answer means soon.

“Would you buy this?” is a binary and personal decision. The player only has two answers to give; one of which will be a lie and the other will hurt your feelings.

“How much would you pay for this?” gives them a scale to grade on, the upper and lower bounds of which are not clearly defined, so whatever they answer can’t be interpreted as an insult. Even though ‘you’ is the same word, this question feels more like an abstract question where the ‘you’ is more of a general ‘one.’ I might not buy your game for $40, but I know people who would. Note that this question is less to help you set a price point and more as a secret gauge for how good your game is.

“Was anything confusing?” is an attack. Your player hears “Are you too stupid to play this game?” They will always answer ‘no,’ unless they made a bad play during the game and would rather pawn off responsibility for it to the game. A better question is “Where can I improve rules or game text to be more clear?” Or “Can anyone word this better?” Or “Did scoring seem cumbersome?”

“Was the game too hard?” Also an attack:. “Was the game too hard for you?” Instead ask, “What felt imbalanced?” or “The game is meant to be a challenge. Do you think I should increase or decrease [some element]?”

“Who do you think would enjoy this?” allows the player to give you a positive response without committing themselves to a lie about how much they hate your game. They might say “hardcore gamers” which tells you the game is too complicated or “kids” which tells you it’s too simple or luck-based. If they say “my play group back home” you can do a little dance inside.

Under the Veil

Very few of the comments your testers give you will be directly applicable in tweaking your design, but all of it is useful data. Your job is to interpret what they’re saying (the hard part) and decide how to use that information (the other hard part).

“The game was too long.”

Your player(s) weren’t engaged the whole time. While we all prefer short games, that’s a learned defense mechanism against bad games. No one who enjoys Cards Against Humanity minds playing for two hours straight or D&D for four or more hours. A game is only too long when it’s boring.

The more players there are in your turn-based game, the longer a player has to wait before her next turn comes around again. If the game isn’t highly interactive, all of that time is boring. Try to make turns shorter by giving players less to do and preventing analysis-paralysis by limiting their options. Try to keep players engaged when it’s not their turn by giving them stuff to do out of turn, or making sure they care desperately how the current player takes his turn.

If a player feels overwhelmed or doesn’t get the game, they will tune out. “I don’t know how to improve my score/position because I don’t understand everything” leads almost instantly to “I don’t care. Please let me stop.” You probably need to simplify your game. Consider making a basic/introductory game or improving your initial presentation, but probably, you need to simplify your game.

If a player feels they can no longer win the game, or that there’s so much luck that their choices don’t matter, they will disengage and want to escape. Make sure that you have an appropriate amount of luck in your game for the length and gravity of the game (they’re inversely proportional) and that the amount of work a player has to do to take their turn (analyze the situation, make a decision, move pieces around) doesn’t exceed the impact of their choice on the game. It’s fine if your game is mostly luck, provided it’s short, light-hearted and easy.

“I didn’t like this mechanic.”

Many comments mean very different things depending on who said them and the context. You have to be reading your players throughout the game so that you will know how they mean what they say afterward. Honestly, you shouldn’t even need to ask “did you like the game?” If your players were laughing and smiling, they definitely did* and if they were checking their watches or nodding off, they definitely didn’t.

*Good company can make a game the same way bad company can ruin a game, but you can tell how much of the fun was just friends joking with each other as if they weren’t playing at all.

If a player lost the game because he misplayed or because another player leveraged a mechanic against them well, “I didn’t like this mechanic” often just means “I didn’t get this mechanic” or “I lost to this mechanic and I don’t like losing.” If they play again (good luck with that) and have the same opinion, consider upgrading them from ‘sore loser’ to ‘onto something.’

If a casual player hates your mechanic, it’s probably too novel/complicated for him. Reconsider your audience, or simplify your game.

If a hardcore player hates your mechanic, it’s probably too old/shallow for her. Reconsider your audience, or look for a unique twist to cast a new light on this classic mechanic. If you weren’t aware the mechanic was old, ask for at least two games that use it and go play them. Also, play more games. Musicians don’t not listen to music. Boxers don’t not watch boxing.

If an industry peer hates your mechanic, ask them why. They could fall into any of the above categories, but if not, they probably have a really good reason and whether you agree or not, you need to understand their reason.

“There’s too much luck.”

Funny how you almost never hear the opposite. The reason is that in a game with luck, players can blame their loss on something other than themselves; in a game with no luck, your only recourse is to blame the game balance or complexity; it is a rare player that acknowledges their own mistakes.

That said, there’s probably too much luck. We game designers love our dice and cards and rarely do the math to see exactly how much impact they have on the game. It’s okay, that’s what playtesting is for. Just don’t be afraid to make some big tweaks (always start with big tweaks and iterate your way down to small tweaks—it’ll save you time, guaranteed). Editor’s Note: Famous video game designer Sid Meier of Civilization fame has a classic rule for tuning: double it, or cut it in half. I’ve been using this for years and it has served me well.

Games need variance in order to create suspense, so don’t remove all the luck. Just make sure players can’t invest more work into the game than you can guarantee they will be rewarded for. Again, shorter and easier games can have more luck, but longer and harder games can’t. Think of a bell-curve. If your game is 5 minutes, it’s okay if the more skilled player only wins 60% of the time, but if your game is 5 hours, it’s not okay if the player who played best doesn’t win at least 95% of the time.

Note that luck and skill are not opposite ends of a single axis. There are games with low luck and low skill (Tic Tac Toe) and games with high luck and high skill (Poker). One does not preclude the other. There are also vastly different sorts of variance. That’s a whole other article, but consider for one example the difference between Candy Land and To Court the King. Candy Land’s dice decide who wins the game, while To Court the King’s dice usually just push toward one strategy or another.

“Have you considered X?”

Players will suggest ways to change your game or things to add. Especially industry peers. Some of these suggestions will be so dumb, you have to lock off the part of your brain that heard them so it doesn’t infect what’s left. Some of these will be so brilliant, they turn your game from “ehhh” to “yeahhh.” You have to listen to these suggestions and even harder, you have to consider them.

Suggestions like these are to be treated like a brainstorm. No matter how bad they sounds, you must not criticize or dismiss them, or it will be the last suggestion you get from that playtester. You can either write them down and promise to think about them later (which you should actually do) or talk them through on the spot. Make sure you understand both the core concept of the proposal as well as the reason the suggester thinks it might improve the game. Often, his solution will be unusable, but the problem he’s trying to solve will be a very real problem that you need to address.

This actually tends to be the easiest way to tease out a problem from your testers. “What would you change/add/remove?” will often lead to terrible ideas that pinpoint with laser accuracy a deficiency in your game. For example, “I would make separate cards for cowboys’ horses” :: “You haven’t integrated the Western theme enough.” And “eliminate the bidding step” :: “the bidding is unoriginal and doesn’t really impact the game.”

Remember that no one understands your design or your vision as well as you do. Just because Richard Garfield would add powers to your character cards, doesn’t mean you should. But if you don’t understand exactly why he suggested that (the game’s too simple) and exactly why you shouldn’t (your audience is the elderly), then you need to find out.

Is there another comment you’ve gotten you’re not sure how to interpret? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

What Next

You’ve got your feedback. You think you know what it means. How should you change your game? Try all of it—one at a time. So many of man’s greatest achievements have come from accidents or from crazy ideas that someone wouldn’t give up on. Don’t let your instinct throw away an idea because it doesn’t sound helpful. If you don’t know exactly how that would work out in every possible situation, you owe it to yourself to find out. Most of what you try won’t improve the game, but everything will improve your understanding of the game.

Design is an exploration. You are entering an unknown reality where you don’t even know the rules of physics. You can only discover the boundaries by pushing ahead in a direction until you hit a wall. The more you push, the better intuition you have of what’s possible and what’s not, but if you stop pushing when you find something good, you’ll never know if you missed a secret passage to something vastly better.

Design with the intention of failing, or you’ll never have the perspective at the end to know if you’ve truly succeeded or merely stopped designing.**

That said, don’t try everything at once. If you try three changes at the same time, and the game improves, how do you know if all three helped or if one helped a lot and the other two held it back. If the game worsens, how do you know all three changes were bad? More importantly, how do you understand how each change impacts your game and what that means about your game? Editor’s Note: The scientific method will treat you well.

You don’t have to prototype every change. Most games and most changes have to playtested with other humans to see their true impact, but sometimes you can do that without making new playing pieces. Just tell the players X is Y this time. Some changes you can eliminate socratically: What if players could pay $10 to the bank to roll an extra die in Monopoly? They wouldn’t bother in the early game, and would know exactly when to use it in the late game. Does the mid-game matter? Do you want players paying marginal amounts to the bank to completely bypass their opponents’ hotel chains? You have to be really careful with this type of thought because it’s ridiculously easy to miss important details and still be 100% certain your right. If you are going to skip this test, at least run it by another player to see if they agree with your conclusion.

**How do you know when you’re done? If you blind playtest the game with at least three new groups of your target audience and they all love it, and you can’t find any way to make the game better (without making it worse), you’re probably done.

Multiple Paths

You’ll often reach a fork in the road. Perhaps your game is half-way between a party game for gamers and a fun party activity for non-gamers. You have to go one way or the other because the split won’t please anyone, but how do you choose? This is the other other hard part.

Sometimes, you have to go back to your original vision for the game. If you set out to make the fastest, lightest tactical wargame ever and you have the chance to instead make a meatier game that really stands on its own, maybe you should stick with your vision and complete your original goal. Put your thumb in the page of this choose-your-own-adventure, because you can always go back and explore the other path when you finish this one.

Sometimes, I’m thinking most of the time, you have to forget where you were coming from and listen to what the game wants to be. Like carving stone, of course you have to start with a plan in mind but you might get half way there and just see something else waiting to be revealed. Something better. It’s rare that the act of executing one game idea doesn’t lead me to discover something different, something a little more natural and unique. Unlike carving stone, you can always undo a change and go back to what worked better.

Ultimately the decision is yours and yours alone to make, but remember that you can always ask friends and peers for their opinion. The value of another perspective is immeasurable.

Calm Down

As a parting note, I wanted to touch briefly on designer ego. It’s impossible not to be invested in your game. It’s your baby and if you aren’t invested in it, it’s going to be trash and you’re wasting the playtesters’ time. What you have to learn to do, though, is to divorce the quality of your game in its current state from your self-confidence as a designer. A bad playtest doesn’t make you a bad designer. It doesn’t even make the game bad, because your game isn’t finished. It just means you’ve learned something and found a way to make your game better.

The only way to be a bad designer is to release only bad games, and the only way to do that is to ignore your playtesters when they tell you what’s wrong with your game. Or to not playtest.