Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reactor Scram: early playtesting

I have finally started working in earnest on a co-op idea I've had percolating in my mind for the last few weeks.  The theme is that the players are workers in a nuclear reactor plant whose maintenance has been neglected, until finally the bad day comes when everything seems to break at once.  The goal is to get the plant into a "safe condition" without melting down a core or irradiating any of the workers.

First prototype of "Reactor Scram"
I ran a couple of solo playtests.  I won one and lost one, which made me think that I've got the initial balance at least coarsely in the right neighborhood.  What surprised me was how quickly each game completed - roughly ten or fifteen minutes per game.  I usually have the opposite problem with the games I design - play times that run way too long.  Right now I've got a game that takes more time to explain than it does to play.  So I want to figure out some way of extending the gameplay as well as the "story arc" so that I'm not just "making it longer" for the sake of making it last.

Yesterday I got to try out a two-player playtest for the first time with my wife, Kathy, the good sport that she is.  I realized as I went through the explanation of the game mechanics that I really need to make the game boards more self-explanatory.  Certain things happen at certain reactor power levels and so forth, and I need to put some kind of text or iconography on the power tracks so that players can easily tell what happens with the reactors depending on what condition they are in.  Our playtest when generally well, although Kathy said she felt like she really didn't follow what was going on and was just along for the ride.  But she thought it was fun and could be a good game with the right adjustments.
Close-up of the Control Room and the Electrical Room

So the next step is to redesign the game boards to be more self-explanatory, and then perhaps start writing
the first draft of the rules.  I also need to figure out how to extend that "arc" of the game.  Once I've done that, I'll probably order some game parts so I have a slightly better-quality prototype to work with, and then maybe try it out with more people.

I love this stage in game design - when the initial prototype starts shaking out the major issues, and I'm starting to refine it into something that could actually be fun.


  1. Paul, this sounds very interesting. Of course, I'm a sucker for co-ops. Very cool theme.

  2. Thanks, David! I'm really pleased that the initial playtest held together as well as it did.