The game evolves after a play-testing session!

Yesterday, three of my colleagues sacrificed a Saturday morning to help me start the play-testing of Your Planet.  It far exceeded my expectations.

The positive outcome really shouldn’t surprise me because I have a lot of respect for my colleagues and I asked them for a reason.  We had two of my fellow science teachers, both of whom taught the target course in the past.  In addition, we had an English teacher who is a gamer and who started a graded discussion piece that I adapted to the game.

I started with a brief overview of what I was trying to accomplish with the game, the curricular scope and sequence and the basics of the rules.  They were quick studies, but the best way to learn something is to do it.  We partially played the game and partially discussed outcomes.  A couple of key issues came out:

  1. Jordan made a strong case that having a separate Sink and Source Meter introduces a level of cognitive complexity that is unnecessary and a barrier to learning.  The extra step of subtracting the Sink Meter value from the Source Meter value is needlessly complex.  It may also make it harder for students to see the positive and negative outcomes of their decisions because they need to execute two cognitive steps.  As a primary purpose of the game to understand the consequences of actions, that has to be changed.  I’m also not teaching mathematical number line thinking as the true purpose of the game.  So, here is the new Sink/Source Meter!wpid-20150808_142333.jpg

In this game, blue is good and red is bad so I added the additional colors to help kids think about it.  I may, in the near future, produce all white text to increase contrast.

  1. The game as written up to yesterday was way too difficult.  It is hard to judge the fine line between “too easy” and “too hard” in the design phase and we quickly realized that the realism of a 20 ppm increase in carbon dioxide at the start is just too demoralizing and made the game an exercise in despair.  By doing the new Sink/Source Meter above, I can keep all of the numerical penalties and rewards as written (tentatively), and students will have a) much less need to make good decisions immediately, and b) can see major effects happening with their decisions.  In the original version brought to the table, failing to act immediately resulted in the game being impossible to win.  I have to sacrifice a sense of urgency to prevent students from entering “despair mode”, lest any learning be erased by a sense of futility.  The new start value is set at +10 net carbon dioxide gain, which slows the rate at which students get into the “danger” are of carbon dioxide and gives them a real opportunity to respond.  Our realistic carbon dioxide change in our actual atmosphere is double that, but this is that line between learning experience and staunch realism.

  2. Jeff had a great idea that it just doesn’t seem right that Disasters wouldn’t raise the Level of Concern Meter.  In fact, in the short few rounds we played, the Level of Concern Meter hardly raised at all.  So, some Disaster Cards, specifically those that have “societally visible” effects, are getting an LOC increase in addition to the Disaster.

  3. In addition, we did some shuffling of Special Actions for each role.  One suggestion my play-testers had was to allow some Disaster Card effects to be “cancelled” through AP.  This makes sense.  It may or may not be a sacrifice in realism, but it does add a dimension to the game of really being focused on saving resources.  They didn’t like the original Government Special Action of being able to redistribute AP to other players, because it just wasn’t a “good deal” for the group to ever do it.  The new Special Action of the Government player is to be able to cancel some Disaster cards by spending AP.  This generates a pull between accepting a penalty and a Level of Concern increase on a Disaster Card or choosing to cancel it all together.

  4. Discussions went well, but we are professional educators.  I need more input from the second playtest group.  It will be up to me, as the resident expert, to encourage students to discuss things.  The comment and question tokens may be much more necessary for students than they were for us.  The group suggested possible small AP rewards for quality discussion points to encourage people to discuss.  I’ll pitch this to the second play-test group.

  5. The Turn Order of the game also shifted slightly to make things a little more accessible, with AP gains coming  before Disaster cards, and all Goal Card steps coming after Resource card steps to allow people to chunk those aspects of the turn order in their mind.

  6. A big surprise for me was that what I’ve already written for Disaster, Goal and Resource Cards is probably enough for this year.  I might target five or so more for each one as a precaution.  I want to have enough variance in the game for players to feel that there are options, but I also don’t want to have cards that are just sitting there when my time is very very valuable to me. 🙂

  7. A lot of editing needs to be done to Disaster Cards to make the changes, but I’ve just updated them with Sharpie in the interim to get started on the next play-test.  I was so jazzed after the play-test yesterday that I stuck around school for another three hours, created the new Sink/Source Meter and re-arranged all of the rule book text for the updated turn order and new roles.  I also re-did a new set of role/turn order cards to match the changes because I feel pretty confident that they will be permanent.

So, it was an awesome and intense day for game design and my play-test group really helped me a lot.  This is why we play-test!  😉


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