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Designing for Fun

Designing, developing, and refining FAZA was a process that involved making many mistakes, slowly noticing them, and then making thousands of small design decisions – eventually accumulating into a cohesive experience that I can finally say is fun. This is the one constant in designing any product, service, or experience: making mistakes. We as designers make a lot of them.  It’s only through testing prototypes that we discover mistakes and have the opportunity to fix them.

 

The First FAZA

FAZA originally began as a quasi-tower defense game that mashed together a few different game mechanics I enjoyed. The players controlled heroes that would be responsible for saving and defending their camp from the onslaught of FAZA drones, dropped off from motherships.

Faza Prototype

FAZA also incorporated a way to add more tiles to the board as the game unfolded. The prototype was somewhat playable, but I discovered problems with pace due to  board management. Game play was slowed because players had to move too many FAZA pieces while also navigating the board with their avatars.

Faza Prototype

 

Cutting Rules through Playtesting

Since FAZA is a cooperative game, the players are responsible for managing the foe they’re playing against. The challenge was to reduce the amount of pieces that players had to move around the board, while ensuring the game was challenging. From another perspective, I was also looking to free up more time for players to have dialogue with each other so they could focus on making interesting decisions as a group. The more time they spent managing the board the less time they could engage the core of the game.

At this point, my time was spent playtesting to identifying rules I could cut, which was followed by more playtesting to make sure the game was still playable. Cut, playtest, tweak, playtest – it was grueling and required a lot of dedication to get past this hump. The persistence slowly began to manifest, it helped me discover the core of the game. This took me roughly a year to get through.

Faza playtest Faza playtest Playtesting Faza Faza playtest

By cutting away the game mechanics that were too time consuming and less enjoyable the foundation for the game was now set. It was time to  invested  in the graphical work and illustrations.

 

Illustrations

Faza prototype with illustrations

Another major step in the design process involved working with an illustrator and solidifying the aesthetic, lore, and backstory to the game. This went a long way to make the game look and feel complete, drawing people in to sit down and play. But it wasn’t enough; the game mechanics were still rough around the edges, the choices presented to players were bland, and the user interface still needed a lot of work.

 

Player Choices

Faza Faza user interface

The next big step in the design process was accounting for the different choices players were making to battle and defeat the FAZA. I wanted to ensure each decision presented players with trade-offs. If a player chooses A, then they have to give up B. To promote dialogue, I also worked towards a design that forced players to make tough choices while strategizing as a group. These are the kinds of choices tacticians have to make, and this added tension to every player’s experience. The cards in front of them functioned as their user interface, presenting them with all their options and choices, scaffolding their decision making process. Thinking through and mapping out the available choices for players was the next big hurdle in the game design process. It informed the design of the Player Cards, which are now core to playing FAZA.

 

Refining the User Interface

Refining FAZA's user interface

Just as important as the other aspects of the design process is visually communicating to players the options they have in front of them. All interfaces have a learning process and carefully observing people struggle to learn the game, noting what they find confusing, and adding visual cues and text reminders went a long way to scaffold their learning process.

FAZA User Interface

 

Finding FAZA’s Audience

FAZA is not for everyone. The level of strategic thinking, tactical coordination, and cooperative dialogue demanded of players can be a turn off for some people. There have been many times where I’m two minutes into explaining how to play the game and I can see a player’s eyes glaze over. Before people sit down to playtest FAZA, I repeat multiple times we can stop playing the game and they can leave at any time. I think giving players the option to get up and leave ensures I don’t waste their time and they don’t waste mine. Since it’s a 90 minute time investment, I want FAZA to be a fun and enjoyable experience for people. Discovering FAZA’s audience then involved having conversations with the people that stuck around, learning about what other kinds of games they’re into, other hobbies and activities they engage in, and what drew them to FAZA.

FAZA Audience FAZA Audience FAZA Audience FAZA Audience

 

Facilitating Playtesting Sessions

Another vital step in the game design process is facilitating user testing sessions to extract actionable insights. For me, it involved observing people while remaining detached as they struggle to learn to play the game. I would then ask a few prepared questions post-playtest.

While I’ve been designing games only for the past two years, I’ve been doing user experience research and design for about 7 years. One particular strategy I employed from my professional work to get the most out of playtesting is using the think-aloud protocol. As the name implies, think-aloud protocol asks players to verbalize what they’re looking at, what they’re thinking through, and the decisions they want to make. Occasionally, I would interject to probe with a few ‘why’ questions to better understand their thought process and experience. While this particular strategy can quickly reveal many issues, it will greatly increase the play time and you probably won’t get through an entire game. It also requires you to not play your game and instead sit quietly on the sidelines, take notes, and do your best to deflect any questions back to players in order to see if they can find the answer they’re looking for.

I would argue playtesting is the most important aspect of the design process and also the most time intensive. To speed up that process, I started reaching out to local board game stores and  accidentally came in contact with a local board game design group called the Game Makers Guild of Philadelphia. They’re game designers who get together twice a month to playtest each others board games and give each other feedback.

If it were not for the continued playtesting and feedback from friends, family, and the Game Makers Guild of Philadelphia, I don’t think I would have been able to bring FAZA to where it is today.

Faza Reviewed by “A Pawn’s Perspective”

Soldier and Faza Alien in Background

“It’s an excellent cooperative game that manages to keep all the players engaged at once with its simultaneous play.” – Rob Kalajian

“If you’re a fan of cooperatives you owe it to yourself to give FAZA a shot.” – Rob Kalajian

Head on over to A Pawn’s Perspective to check out the entire review by Rob Kalajian.


 

Are you a game reviewer? Interested in getting a copy of Faza to review?
Send us a message.

 


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A Recap of Philly Tech Week and International Tabletop Day

Last week we were out on Friday night exhibiting during Philly Tech Week (PTW) and on Saturday afternoon for International Tabletop Day.

For the Innovation Crawl during PTW, we took over half a conference room at Benjamin’s Desk, a co-working space in the heart of Philly. While there wasn’t time for visitors to play Faza, we met techies and entrepreneurs, and conversed about how to market Faza and how to bring it to a larger audience.

ptw1

ptw2

During International Tabletop Day, we set up Faza at Redcap’s Corner and were able to playtest the game three times with three different groups. The audience included fellow board gamers and their feedback highlighted the rough edges around Faza’s end game. They pointed out a few more tweaks that could make the game a little more challenging for the veteran gamer.

redcap2

redcap1

Stay tuned for new developments as we incorporate feedback and work to get the game professionally reviewed.

 

Faza at Philly Tech Week and International TableTop Day

A quick update about where you’ll be able to see Faza tomorrow and Saturday.

Tomorrow, we’re going to be participating in the Philly Tech Week Innovation Crawl. We’ll have a table set up at Benjamin’s Desk, which is a co-working space located on the 12th Fl. of the Sun Oil Building – 1608 Walnut. We’ll be there from 5 to 10 PM.

On Saturday, you’ll find us at RedCap’s Corner, participating in the International Table Top Day & Community Potluck from 12 to 5 PM.

Come over and play or stop by and say hello.

The Faza have Landed

The Faza have landed, but Faction Zeta is here to defend our city from the extraterrestrial invaders!

After more than a year of developing the game and traveling to local board game groups in Philadelphia to playtest it, we finally shared it with the board game community at large. We sent out a few copies of Faza to do blind playtests with people across the United States.

 

 

A regular playtest, when the game designer is present is easy to troubleshoot. If the players feel confused about a phrase on a card or in the rulebook, they can turn to the game designer and ask a quick question. When doing a blind playtest, it can take a few days to troubleshoot an issue and might result in not completing the game due to vague rules. While it’s still a work in progress and we continue to receive feedback as we continue iterating on the game, the feedback we’ve received so far has help us to develop a detailed how to play section of the website accompanied with video tutorials. 

 

 

Interested in trying out Faza? Send us a message.

Naming the Game

I wish had some advice here about how to name products in general, but I don’t. So I’ll explain how I came up with the name Faza, because I didn’t. So this is going to be a short post…

After coming up with the sci-fi metaphor of space aliens and human survivors, early on my wife suggested I look for the word ‘alien’ in Farsi. I didn’t even get a chance to have a list of interesting and unique words or phrases shot down by my significant other.

She provided the initial direction to explore words in Farsi (since I also speak Farsi, the native language of Iran) and began listing out phonetic translations (so I got to create a list after all, but it wasn’t in English). After listing these words, I found the majority of the words too difficult for an English audience to pronounce, except for one: Faza.

Faza is a phonetic translation of the word “space.” The first “a” sounds the same as the “a” in “cat,” and the second “a” sounds like the “a” in “wash.” Faza has come to be the name of the alien species human players encounter in the game.

In retrospect, I guess I do have some advice for naming products – ask my wife.

We’re Not Alone

It was November 16, 1974 and the world’s largest radio telescope located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico was aimed at the center of the Hercules Globular Cluster, readied with its contribution to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: a message encoded with our location in the solar system, the structure of our DNA, the average size and the total number of humans on Earth, as well as an image of the telescope itself that sent out the Arecibo message.

 

This cosmic handshake from Earth to anyone out there was intercepted 200 light years away from our solar system, and its contents bearing information on a goldilocks planet sparked the attention of a spacefaring fleet belonging to the alien Faza, a telepathic species of insectoids, though still tribal in their nature, a civilization not entirely unlike our own. The warring factions within the Faza had consumed all their resources and ravaged their homeworld, forcing them farther into space to search for new systems and new worlds suitable for colonization.

 

Two years have passed since the Faza arrived with their motherships — the Carrier colonizing the world with drones, the Destroyer decimating the militaries, the Fazaformer fazaforming the atmosphere — making the most of the intel we had already given up, their message was clear as the Faza enslaved most of the human population to survive the worst of the invasion and make it alive through the alteration of the planet. The Faza were here for their newest colony, Earth.

 

But all is not lost, because once again, we’re not alone. A rebel Faza faction intent on fighting the Faza war machine has approached your band of survivors and, in exchange for peaceful coexistence if you defeat your shared enemy, armed you with the information on how to board and disarm the Faza motherships before your home is lost. It is time to take your last stand and take down those motherships, Faction Zeta!