Play Testing and Hair Ripping

So, this week I played Smash Up again, to get some ideas of what changes I should make to my game because I felt at a bit of a loss as to how to make my game more exciting.

(My previous posts are here if you need to venture back to see the evolution of this game.Dystopia: A Card Game and Rebooting Dystopia, re-mixing Fallout and associated costs with creating my game)

Smash Up, a card game where you combine two factions to create an army. eg. I played with Pirate Ninjas.

My playtester and I played the game and discussed what we liked about Smash Up and what mechanics I should take inspiration from.

We liked how the different factions/races in the game have different abilities that affect the game play in different ways.

The Robot Faction is all about powering up your existing ‘minions’ 
The Ninja Faction is all about destroying other players’ minions and playing extra minions.

So, for my game, I decided to give the different factions in my game different abilities (factions A, S, I, Y, L for the moment). For instance, faction L had no abilities but had a large amount of battlepoints, and faction I is about swapping and gaining new cards.

A typical card from my game, with the I faction.

Continuing with the discussion of Smash Up, we also liked the idea of point accumulation to win a location. In Smash Up,everyone’s points add to the total (eg, A base of 15 points. If you have 6 points on a location and your opponent has 9 points, your opponent wins because they have the most points when 15 was reached). Also, we remembered that in Abyss, as well as Smash Up, the locations have certain abilities that help you in the game. We liked the idea of Abyss, where you can gain control of a location, instead of winning points, and the location’s ability only helps the owner.


TOP: A typical Smash Up ‘base’/location. The amount of points needed to ‘bust’ the base is 23. People win different amounts of points depending on who has the most points on the base. BOTTOM: An Abyss location, with an ability that helps only the owner to gain more points.

So, for my game, being that I wanted it to be a battle game in a dystopian future,  I decided that I wanted the ‘gist’ to be that everyone starts with two locations each and you use your soldiers to defend your locations and attack opponent’s locations so that you can gain control of them. The first person to 5 locations wins. Sounds great in theory, right? Well, I drew up some locations, as well as some weapon cards, to substitute for Action Cards from Smash Up.

A Smash Up action card. You play these to help yourself and hinder your opponents. You can play one minion and one action card per turn. This is a mechanic that I really enjoy. It’s simple but gives you some choices as to how to act on your turn.


To my game and my playtest.

  • I have location cards, that have abilities that help the owner. Yes, I do, as well as cards in the deck that when drawn, bring new locations into circulation, to keep the game moving. These are the aim of the game, to win control of the locations.
  • I also have soldiers, of 5 differing factions, that all have differing abilities that help the player and hinder opponents.
  • I  have ‘weapon’ cards that weaken your opponents, as a substitute for Smash Up’s Action Cards.
  • I have ‘ration’ cards,to add some more of a post-apocalyptic flavour to the game. These power up your soldiers.
  • I have location cards that are in the deck, that when drawn, bring new locations into circulation.

So, we started the game with two locations each, and a hand of 5 cards each to defend and attack with.


We found immediately that we were only really defending our own locations and were not really willing to engage in battle, for fear of being overpowered, so the game didn’t really ‘go’ anywhere. We also felt that the differing abilities of the soldiers was a little hard to keep track of, as well as location abilities, ration abilities and weapon abilities. It was clear that I had not really thought the battle part of the game through, and had not really considered what would motivate someone to engage in battle, rather than to stay back and defend. The idea WAS to have different soldiers with different amounts of battlepoints, battle it out to win control of locations. For some reason, this didn’t really inspire any battleaction. So, I promptly ripped my hair out, sighed and grumbled for a bit, and we had a bit of a thinking session.

Thinking and Stripping (not that kind!)

I pulled out my small (sadly) collection of games: Smash Up, Abyss and Carcassone, and we talked through what we liked about each game, and why the game was fun.

Smash Up

I’ve already mentioned why we liked Smash Up, so I won’t go into too much more detail here. We liked how the game was simple in the idea of draw two cards, play two, where you can play one minion and one action per turn. We liked that each turn had a ‘routine’, where you were motivated to place down minions and actions to achieve a certain goal.We liked the motivation to place cards on bases to win points, and the person with the most amount of points wins.

We liked a lot of the mechanics in Smash Up, and we soon realised that my game was going to become Smash Up, but with a dystopian, Fallout-esque coat of paint on it, so we promptly moved onto Abyss before that happened!


We liked the idea of three potential actions you can do on your turn (explore, take a deck from the Council, or buy a Lord) and we liked that different Lords had different abilities. We also liked the ‘routine’ type nature of the game: it was clear what moves you could make, and some moves were more desirable on certain turns than others. We also liked the idea of building up your resources to buy Lords.

We did figure out though that by taking too much inspiration from these games already, that I had made my game much too complicated, but at the same time, nothing was happening. Strange, right? So, we switched gears and had a look at a game that we both love for being very simple, but very engaging.


A typical Carcassone game. I thought I’d include a picture because the game play is a little unusual.

This is a game where players take turns to draw a tile from a deck and place it on the table in front of them, to contribute to a large map that characters are co-operatively building. The pieces have grass, castles, roads and churches on them and the pieces have to ‘match’ to fit together (eg, one part of a castle has to be placed next to another part of a castle to make a larger castle). Players than have ‘meeple’, which are little coloured figures that they choose to ‘invest’ in certain things. So, you can choose to place it on a piece of castle, so that you win points when the castle is complete.


My Game (yet again) 

We decided to strip the game down, and to think about motivation. Why would I want to attack? What’s the end goal? I decided to make my game a bit more simple, and allow for more complicated elements to be added later if needed. It is better to have a simple mechanic that works well, than a more complicated one that does not.

We thought about what would be the concerns in a dystopian future, and we thought about rebuilding society and infrastructure.

We also made the little distinction of changing weapon cards to ATTACK cards, because it seems to make more logical sense.

So, we decided that the game would have tiles (like Carcassone) that would contribute to a larger map, but players would each have their own map and not all tiles would benefit each player’s map (depending on what their map looked like). You would win these tiles by battling for them. We decided that like Smash Up, each tile/location would have a number on it, where the battlepoints of soldiers would have to add up to that number to win it. But we thought that the number would have to be reached by the individual player (eg, you would need 20 battlepoints worth of soldiers to win it, instead of players’ points all adding to the base). There would be several tiles in the middle so that you can choose where to invest your force. You can choose to battle for a piece you want, or to battle to screw over your opponents who need a piece for their map. You would use your soldiers (which we stripped of abilities for now, to make the game simpler. Factions still exist, just different factions are more point-powerful than others) to try to reach the amount of points needed for a tile. You can use rations (power up your soldiers) or attacks (power down opponents) to help your efforts.

We decided that soldiers and locations no longer have abilities for now, just because it makes points harder to keep track of.

The first player to complete a map of 9 tiles (3×3) wins.

Playing It

The game begins with locations being placed in the middle of the table (amount depending on how many players there are. Amount of players +1). Players draw 5 cards each. If you have no soldiers, then show your hand to the others, and discard and draw some new cards. Players can play a solider AND a ration card OR an attack card on their turn. Ration and attack cards cannot be played on nothing, they have to be played on a solider. Ration cards are placed on top of the solider, but in such a way that players can still see the battlepoint number on the soldier. Attack cards, since they affect opponents’ soldiers, are placed on the soldier of an opponent, but in such as way that you can still see the soldier’s battlepoints.

A player can choose to only play a soldier, or only play a ration, or only play an attack. A player cannot play a ration AND an attack in the same turn.

When playing cards, your soldiers face you on the table, so that you can read their text. This is to help differentiate whose cards are whose.

When a player reaches the amount of points needed on a location, they win that location tile, take it, add it to their map, and all players discard the cards that were on that location. The location is then replaced with a new one. When the draw pile runs out of cards, the discard pile is shuffled and added to the draw pile.

Players draw two cards at the end of their turn.

The idea was to have it so that you can play soldiers and rations or attacks to increase your influence over a location and decrease an opponent’s influence.

(Note: you can spread your cards onto however many location tiles at once as you like. You can also play a solider on the left hand location AND play a ration on a preexisting solider on the right hand location, if you want. You can also assign as many attacks or rations to a soldier as you like)

Play ends when a player makes a coherent 9 tile (3×3) map.

For our playtest, we just nicked the Carcassone tiles, to get a feel for how the game would operate.



Overall, we felt this these mechanics did work, and did keep the game moving (hallelujah!), but perhaps the game play was a little repetitive and it may also take a while to build a 3×3 map! Thoughts were thrown around about having ‘wild cards’ that allow for tile swapping or stealing. Also, maybe soldier abilities could be trialled again, or perhaps changed so that they suit this new objective of play?

Closing Thoughts

So, my game changed direction slightly in the course of a few hours, for the better, I think. At least now the game has a flow to it, and some motivations for wanting to keep playing. Some more mechanics may need adding to keep it interesting, but I will need to be careful not to overcomplicate things too quickly, like I did before.







  1. I really love how your game is coming together! I think it’s great that you’re drawing inspiration and game mechanics from other games while still developing something that’ll be unique, good work! I also think it’s a smart move to simplify things, especially if you’re going to be targeting more casual players, as complex rules can get pretty overwhelming. In saying that though, simple can be repetitive, have you thought about making the 3×3 goal smaller and instead building on the tiles you own? Similar to Takenoko? Perhaps, because of your dystopian theme, they could build shelters or hoard resources?

    Can’t wait to see the game art and the way it develops further, good work!


  2. Hey Emily! I went back and read all of your blogs to see how your game has evolved, and I must say I really like the direction your game has headed! On the issue of the repetitive game play, why not decrease the size of the map to 2X2 for when 2 people are playing the game. If you wanted to add another style of play to your game, than you could consider a co-op mode for when 4 people are playing, where 2 players team up and have to build a 3X3 map. If there are two people working on a 9 piece map than it would probably go faster. Hope my thoughts were helpful. Keep up the good work!


  3. I think your game is definitely heading to the right way. I think the issue that you pointed out, about people are only defending their own base and not willing to battle, maybe it simple means the reward from battle is not good enough for player to take the risk. In this case maybe add in some reward after a successful battle so people are more eager to engage each other’s battle field. But overall I think this game is fantastic, and the fact that you tried to player different board games and reflect on the play style, eventually in cooperate into your game, that is definitely a solid effort!!


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