I ran a playtest on wednesday 15th April with four players to test a few things.
The players sat with the Mayor (played by myself) around a table.
The global setting was narrated by me, explaining the who the Islanders are and the storm and its effects. Next, the players were allowed to read their character snippets; pieces of paper which illustrated who their character is, what they do, some things they know about the state of the Island’s resources after the storm, and some things they experienced in the past which could form their opinion of the Mainlanders. The characters included the Visser (Fisherman), Winkelier (Shopkeeper), Vuurtorenwachter (Lighthouse Keeper) and Oude Man/Vrouw (Old Man/Woman).
Next, I took on the role of the Burgemeester (Mayor), introducing the players to the here and now: we’re sitting in a café discussing the damage done by the storm, our lack of resources and how we’re going to fix that.
The players discussed with each other, the Burgemeester acting as a facilitator, using their character snippets and the resource management mechanic (which was pretty much some pieces of paper signifying fuel and food).
Here’s the video. Unfortunately my camera decided to be grumpy and only record 12 minutes of it.
And here’s the audio file of the feedback and discussion bit at the end:
What I wanted to test:
-The logic, clarity, believability and immersiveness of the setting and story.
-How the audience played their characters.
-The relationship between audience members, and between their characters.
-What the role of the Burgemeester (as an actor) could be.
-How a simplified resource management mechanic influenced the play style and behaviour of the players, and whether it worked well and was engaging.
-If the players exhibited the kind of discriminatory behaviour towards the Vastelanders (Mainlanders) that I was aiming for.
-Most importantly, all the players enjoyed the playtest!
-The players thought the link between the story and the message behind it (i.e. social/political walls and the dynamics of immigration) made sense. One player already knew this link. This had a little influence, but not too much.
-Reading the character snippets took a while, perhaps fill up that moment with something (ambient sound?) to make it less bare and awkward.-The resources should be represented with very physical objects. Let food be actual cans of food, put water into jerrycans to represent the fuel. Also, the actions players do to use the resources could be physical as well. Pieces of paper don´t work as well.
-The Burgemeester shouldn’t only be a facilitator. He should facilitate, then according to the general wishes of the players, make a final decision. For example, during the test, the players thought that meeting the Vastelanders out at sea with their own boat to see what they had and wanted was a good idea. The Burgemeester at that point should announce that this is what they’re going to do, and lead the players to enact that action.
-The dynamics of the group were very interesting. At the start, most players felt as though they were playing purely for their own interests, and wanted to withhold resources and knowledge. However, what worked exceptionally well (and something I didn’t consciously intend), was that each character was dependent on another, and had something that the others needed. This, combined with the fact that they were all in the same boat (so to speak), they were all Islanders, and that the setting demanded they knew each other well, led to the fact that the players developed a sense of being a group. The players said “We were really a community”. Lovely!
-The relations between the characters should be much more defined. The setting demands that they already know each other all their lives. Their character snippets should reflect that. It also gives more context to their interaction with each other. For example, we could have a fisherman thinking that the housewife is his friend, while the housewife thinks he’s a bit of a fool.
-The character snippets, which were separate pieces of paper with text on, should be one single card. Easier to read and keep with you.
-The Visser’s character wasn’t defined enough. The player who was the Visser didn’t have a sense of what kind of person she was. Easily fixed by incorporating some more depth to the character snippets.
-The players, unlike the previous playtest, did not play as much “as themselves”, filled in with some experiences relevant to the setting. However, they much more took on their characters. I’m very conflicted as to whether I want this, as either staying the course and allowing this, or finding a way to lessen the importance of a defined character, has its pros and cons. I’ll have to make a decision on this.
-The passage of time wasn’t clear. The players wanted to build a waterwheel to generate power, but didn’t know how long it would take to build, so they just decided “Damn it, it’s built”. Problem is, only a few minutes had passed in story time. I think the solution to this lies together with the resource management mechanic. If the declarative layer of that is made physical, perhaps the passage of time (as well in combination with a Day/Night mechanic, I think) should be more clear. I’ll have to test that.
-To tie into that, the actions the players did, or wondered if they could do (such as building a waterwheel) were incredibly unclear. Could they do it? How could they do it? Did they do it? Is it working?
Perhaps I can fix that with a good core mechanic (resource management), but that’s going to be difficult.
-I’m not sure whether the Vuurtorenwachter should be paid by the government, or whether that should be explicitly stated. This heavily influenced the player’s decisions; if we don’t help the vastelanders, I won’t get paid.
-In extension, the influence of the government was a bit too much for my liking. Perhaps they should be more… fucked.
-It wasn’t clear that there were nets the players could use to fish. They did attempt to make some using old clothes, ropes and… toilet paper?
-It wasn’t clear what season it was.
-It wasn’t clear that the setting was in the present time.
-It wasn’t clear which technology they had and didn’t have, or what worked and what didn’t. The Vuurtorenwachter’s radio worked well as the only form of contact to the outside world, though.
-The lighthouse was seen very much as a beacon, they only way to find the Island. Of course, the Vastelanders would be arriving in the morning, and they’d be able to see the Island without a problem, but the players didn’t realise that and wanted to turn the lighthouse off to ensure the Vastelanders wouldn’t find them. But that’s also very interesting, so I might have them come at night.
Lastly, I’m not sure that I’m happy with how much discriminatory behaviour the players exhibited. Yeah, sounds nasty of me, but that’s what I’d like to try to influence. The Winkelier, also because of the self-preserving character, and that the player wanted to try to stir things up, did want to throw the Vastelanders from the lighthouse! But eventually decisions, while influenced by the characters’ negative outlook to Vastelanders, were fairly utilitarian and pragmatic. The players were just, at the end of the day, very nice people!
So, thanks to Charlotte’s (my classmate) advice, I’ll have to take a look at the Blue Eyes Experiment again, and see if I can replicate that.
But perhaps if the Islanders are faced with the reality of the Vastelanders arriving, they’d behave differently? Let’s test that, eh?
So in general, what I’ll have to solve:
Some general setting details. Nothing difficult, just need to clarify some things.
Build a core mechanic based on resource management. I’m hoping this will solve the biggest problems I found during the playtests: perception of time, and that players can make decisions and act them out.
Have a look at what other mechanics I can introduce which can influence for discriminatory behaviour and playstyles.