What Do Prototypes Prototype? — Dating Around

My group has created a prototype for our card game Dating Around (working title) which tests experience and role, but not look-and-feel. The questions we primarily seek to answer with this prototype are:

Will players be comfortable with constructing “dates” to appeal to another player acting as a judge? Better yet, will they find humor in it? This is an important question to answer because this is the game’s core-most mechanic, and if players are uncomfortable pretending to date another player — or if they are comfortable with it, but do not find it funny — the game is unlikely to be very enjoyable as a party activity. We’ll test this by including this mechanic in our prototype, although with different items and graphics than will likely be in the final game. My guess is that the answer will be “yes,” especially since we’ve included “character cards” to create the fiction that players are making their characters date each other rather than doing the dating themselves, but it’s important to test regardless.

How do players value creative expression versus stat optimization in a party game that involves elements of both? Understanding this will help us potentially narrow the focus of our game’s mechanics, which have so far been split between those two distinct goals. Including both a social judging mechanic and a stat-building mechanic in our prototype will allow us to see which element of the game players seem to most enjoy. My guess is that the creative expression element will be slightly more enjoyable since it has more potential to generate funny situations, and there is likely not enough variety in our stat system to make it deeply interesting.

Will players be confused by the inclusion of multiple phases in each round? Our vision for our game involves two phases to each round, one which primarily functions as a setup period for players to build up their hands and one which allows them to use the cards they’ve built up. However, we found in writing out the rulebook that this system is a bit confusing on paper, and it is unlikely that a party game will be successful if players need to study the rules extensively before playing. We’re testing this question by including all of the envisioned phases in our prototype to see whether the flow between them makes intuitive sense in practice. I suspect players may need to seek clarification on the rules a few times before understanding the gameplay loop.

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