It’s rare that I finish making a game, but I take great lengths to make sure it’s playable!
I have a party-RPG prototype in which you share a taxi with a group of strangers, one of which is a werewolf. The game has 12 stops (aka: rounds). At the start of the game, each player secretly rolls a stop number and a “Wolf Out” number. The person who rolls the lowest Wolf Out number is the lycanthrope and will get both shaggy and hungry when they reach the corresponding stop number. The remaining players are human after all, and try to survive long enough to make it to their stop numbers without being eaten.
I got to wondering about a few things: How the pace of the game might change with different numbers of players? How soon should the werewolf appear? What would the distribution of stop numbers be? How often would a player be left to fend for themselves while everyone else had escaped?
Some of this could be gleaned from everyone’s favorite probability calculator site, but I wanted to be able to visualize the randomized set-up, and outcomes, over dozens of games, representing multiple players, and showing a timeline of how each game might play out — without having to physically play dozens of games, ‘cuz actual play testing is for chumps. So, it was spreadsheet time.
There’s nothing special going on here. Each player gets a random stop number (Stop#) based on a roll of 1D6+6. Each player also gets a random “Wolf Out” number (WO#T) based on the total roll of 2D6 (WO#1 and WO#2). The results are are plotted over the course of 12 stops. The colored heat map on the left-side columns highlight lower numbers with a darker color, letting me see who becomes the werewolf first, who reaches their stop sooner, and any close calls that might develop. Ties are resolved by player order. Rinse and repeat for as many games as I’d like to generate.
These kinds of visual experiments really help me to understand the flow of a game outside of my own head, and how some of the intended mechanics interact with each other as the game progresses. It tends to iron out unseen issues before inflicting an actual play test on a real human, and often informs some design decisions along the way. For example, choosing to make all stop numbers start at 7, ensuring that passengers have to stick it out for at least half the ride.
The simulation also allowed me to see how tension would play a big part in the game. The werewolf is most likely to appear mid-game (around stop 7), but because all of the set-up rolls are made in secret, there’s a lot of individual tension for players.
If a player rolls low on thier Wolf Out number, they have a greater chance of being the werewolf. Will it be them, or did another player roll lower? If a player rolls high on their stop number, they know they’ll have to deal with the werewolf for longer. Will there be anyone left to help them at the end of the ride? It’s entirely possible that the werewolf will reach their stop before they transform, leaving the other players second guessing each other for the remainder of the ride. Though in a game with a high player count, this is less likely, as made obvious through the simulation. So how do I want to address this in games with fewer players? Hmm.
I still need to mess around with this one some more, but I like how it’s coming together. Thinking about a Halloween release for obvious reasons. Fortunately there’s one of those every year, so there’s no pressure to finish it. But at least I’ll know it’s playable. 🙂