Three weeks ago we announced the Saga Machine Unified playtest and posted its first feedback survey. Today I'm going to go over the results of the survey and how we plan to use playtest feedback to inform our decision making.
The focus of February's playtest was on the basic mechanics of the system. In particular, we're looking to make a few key decisions regarding the action mechanic that will affect much of the design going forward. The key questions on the survey asked about modifiers, skills and dice vs. cards.
Before I go over the results, however, I want to first take a moment to thank everyone who participated by filling out a survey. Your feedback is critical. Thank you so much!
I also want to note that while feedback surveys are useful tools for indicating general interest or weeding out particularly bad ideas, they are less well suited for making controversial and highly-contested decisions. As such, we use the survey feedback to inform our decision making process, but not to dictate the outcomes. This is game design for our fans, but not game design by popularity contest.
That said, let's look at the results!
The mean rating was 7.19. This is good; it sets a baseline for us. This is the number we want to beat when the new design is finished. That is, we want Saga Machine Unified to be an improvement over what came before.
This question had a clear favorite. 66.7% of respondents either significantly preferred or slightly preferred boons and banes. 14.3% significantly preferred traditional modifiers.
For us, this confirms the decision that we want to use boons and banes as modifiers going forward.
Out of the three skill mechanics we presented, Stats+Boons came out slightly ahead (46.6% first choice, 19.0% last choice), with Stat+Skill not far behind (33.3% first choice, 19.0% last choice). The other option, 1/2 Stat+Skill, was a distant third (14.3% first choice, 57.1% last choice).
Based on these results, I think we can rule out 1/2 Stat+Skill as the mechanic going forward. The other two options, however, are close enough that we want to consider more aspects of their design. Since March's playtest is going to focus on skills specifically, expect more questions on this topic in the near future.
This was by far our most controversial question and, honestly, is going to be the hardest decision to make. It turns out that our fan base is split almost down the middle: 19.0% of respondents strongly prefer cards, while an equal number (also 19.0%) strongly prefer dice. When it comes to people with a mild preference, dice-advocates have a slight edge: 19.0% slightly prefer dice, while 9.5% slightly prefer cards. 33.3% seem to be fine either way.
And this seems to be a design decision that fans feel strongly about both ways. Let me throw out a few quotes. In favor of dice:
Not a fan of nor able to convert others to a card based system. Every gamer I know prefers dice. This has been a game breaker for interest in the system.
Using cards is very hard to incorporate with online play (which I now do far more of).
And in favor of cards:
[The] card mechanics make it stand out and provide a lot of scope for player strategy and agency.
It is the first playing card based game system to make me a fan of the process, as opposed to using dice.
In fact, when we asked in the survey about which aspects of the system people want to see changed and which aspects they want to see left unchanged, the card-based mechanic was the number one response to both questions.
Unfortunately there's no clear best answer here, and that leaves us in a bit of an awkward spot. I had hoped to have a clear direction to move forward after this month's survey results, but as it is, there are likely to be a couple follow up questions in the March questionnaire.
The number one response was the card mechanic. But other favorite aspects include the concise skill list, character creation and extended actions.
The number one response was also the card mechanic. But other least favorite aspects include the way combat is presented, the wealth system and the way wounds are handled.
All in all, we have a lot of take in and a lot of work to do. Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the survey! And keep your eyes peeled for the March playtest, which we expect to release sometime next week!