What do prototypes prototype?

I will be relating the questions in this blog post to our first prototype of “The Vamps” — a mash-up of the classic games of Codenames and Guess Who. Here are a couple questions we hope to answer via successive prototyping:

  1. Is the game still as easy to play with cards featuring people instead of words?
    • One of the things we are worried about with our game is that a collection of people does not lend itself to as creative and fun hints as a set of words would. We wonder if players would call out the people cards individually rather than trying to knock down a set of people in one go.
    • We hope that a play test of our first prototype — basically just a bricolage of Codenames and Guess Who — will provide us with the feedback to gauge the playability and fun-ness of the mash-up.
    • I expect players to engage in either two styles of play — they’ll either carefully provide hints specific to single people cards, or they’ll play more “normally” and call-out groups of people with the understanding that they’ll be more prone to error.
  2. Are there ways we can encourage players to come up with more creative hints relating to the appearances of people?
    • Another thing we are worried about with our gameplay is that it would quickly devolve into players calling out people by very obvious and uncreative aspects of their physically appearance (e.g. hair color).
    • We think that a variation of our first prototype — in which we prompt each player to create their hint with non-physical aspects of the people in mind (e.g. profession, major, “likely to listen to ____ music”) — could provide us with good feedback on this question. We would want to evaluate whether such an addition to the challenge would make the game more fun, or possibly even easier, than assuming players will come up with good descriptors on their own.
    • In my opinion, I think prompting the players with these descriptors would go over well despite the slight increase in gameplay complexity. Not only would it encourage players to use non-obvious hints on their turns, it could also prompt them to find groupings of people that are more interesting and revealing of their natural perspective.
  3. Do we need an “immediate loss” play card? Or even the neutral play cards?
    • Like in vanilla Codenames, our game contains neutral “bystander” cards and an avoid-at-all-costs “assassin” card that causes the selecting team to immediately lose. Under typical Codename procedures, these cards add some additional challenge to the gameplay — spymasters must communicate cleverly to avoid falling victim to these cards. However, if our hypothesis is true — that playing with people cards rather than words results in less precise gameplay — then the additional challenge of these neutral and auto-loss cards might be too difficult.
    • We could test this idea by creating a board that is free of neutral bystanders and the auto-loss card. Instead, we could populate the board with nothing but the two team colors — and perhaps a few “switch” cards that can be played on either team to eliminate the risk of ties.
    • I think this version of our prototype might be better received and would encourage the players to be more bold and risky with their descriptor/clues. I would expect players to appreciate a smaller emphasis on precision and greater emphasis on the aspect of fellowship that makes social games so fun.

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