The first iteration of Biogenesis was done on paper. Because the game is turn-based, testing it as a board game gave us a good indicator of the game’s strengths and weaknesses. It also allowed us to change rules on the fly.
One of the main things we fiddled with was the board size and setup. We tried both square and rectangular boards, starting teams at a different location each time. We found that starting teams on the short sides of a rectangular board led to a slow game with a quick and bloody finish once the teams finally met! Square boards were favored, followed by rectangles with team placement on the long side.
We also scattered genes and rocks over the board differently each game. It turns out that rock placement is very very important because it influences battle locations. Battles tended to happen close to rocks, as both reptiles, insects, and mammals all benefited from their presence.
The most time was spent adjusting and testing different stat balances. Nearly every game had slightly different stats for each creature. At the time the game contained only attack and speed, but the players favored speed over attack. This was especially true with birds, who soared over everything and quickly gathered genes. We struggled to find a way to nerf them while retaining their uniqueness. Similarly, the fish’s special ability (to move to any water tile on the board) became a tough balancing challenge.
Despite all the flaws found and critiques given, our players had one common opinion: they wanted more. The game was too simple and they were itching to try new strategies. Many of our mechanics came from players asking “can I do ___?”. Never underestimate the power of a good playtest session! You can design all day, but a new set of eyes are invaluable. Our playtesters were exceptionally good at spotting contradictions, ambiguities, and emergent strategies we hadn’t planned for.