Saturday the long-awaited live playtest of the nameless rail game finally happened, and I'm pleased to report that it went very well. My playtesters were Candy Weber, John Portley, Helen, and myself. (John and Candy brought designs of their own that we also tried, and those went well too. But I don't know if they want Internet coverage, so I'm just going to talk about mine for now.)
There was good news, and bad news. The good news was that all players agreed that the game presented interesting and difficult decisions; it wasn't just a matter of turning the crank. (I was worried about that.) The bad news was that it took over three and a half hours to play!
Everyone was very nice about the length of it, and pointed out that it was a learning game for everyone except me, and that we also stopped periodically to discuss the design. True, but I think those excuses only go so far. I don't want the game to last more than two hours. In my playtesting it usually takes only two hours. But you have to allow time for people to chat, and I also don't want a newbie's first experience to be a marathon. So I'm going to give some attention to speeding up play. This probably means reducing the number of rounds and tweaking things to allow players to get stuff done in fewer turns. I received some very good suggestions about how to accomplish that, and I intend to try them out. The best idea I heard was to change a couple of actions into non-actions, so that you can get a bit more done in your turn. I think that will not only speed things up, but also remove some of the major sources of player frustration that I observed.
Between those suggestions and a few tweaks of my own that I've been thinking about for a while, I have a laundry list of things to experiment with. But none of these items are major changes; they all amount to streamlining of one kind or another. I'll try them out in solo play over the next week or two, to see which ones help and which don't. In two weeks there's a Games Day, and I'll probably bring the latest version to that and see if I can get another live test. After that I can bring it to GameStorm in Portland at the end of March, and eventually KublaCon at the end of May. I can hope that by then it will be pretty stable.