[In the Lab] Belle of the Ball - Beta v.1 - Feedback Part 1

Last week, I sent the beta test PDF to ten playtesters who expressed interest in putting the current draft of Belle of the Ball through its paces. Feedback is coming in already, and very thorough feedback at that! For the sake of transparency (and to give proper credit to each playtester) I'll post excerpts from their emails so far. These playtesters mentioned here are Thomas, Mike and Tim. Thomas played three 2-player games with his wife and had these findings.

"We probably would only play with [Lady Lara Lately] when teaching the game to new players.

"We really didn't like [Ruby Rosen's] dance/dance combination – it didn't make any difference to play a dancer or hoard them in hand. [...] The random factor of drawing a dancer is what decided the game, not the placement on the board.

"However, the third [...] was the Alexandra Avendale game, and with the snub/eat combination, it felt like at this party, we were gaining points for inviting certain people (playing them on the grid) and gaining points for keeping the boors out (hoarding the eater tiles).

"[...] This third game, where there was a bit more strategy, was our longest. Although even if we took more time, I don't think playtime would be more than 15 minutes for a two-player game."

I get a feeling that Lady Lara is a fine way to learn the basic game, but isn't a good introduction to the potential fun. Right now I'm 50/50 on whether I want to revise her. Anyhoo, Thomas wraps up with a few of his own suggestions:

"Don't have the bonus points be the same for in-game scoring and endgame scoring. You have two groupings: flirt/snub and dance/drink/eat. I would go with the Belles having one from one group for in-game scoring opportunities and one from the other group for end-game scoring opportunities. We also saw the in-game scoring as the people that you want to invite and endgame scoring as the people you want to keep out of the party. It's just text on the Belle cards, but a Belle like Felicia Fawsley's Felicitous Feast could have endgame scoring for people with Drink or Dance icons. Felicia is throwing a party for people that like to eat, right?"

Quite right. As a matter of fact, I failed to notice this "invite/exclude" element of the theme, but it's something I should tap into as a strong mechaphor. All the Belles could have a bit more story behind their preferences and whims, which in turn would help explain their unique scoring structure. Meanwhile, Mike also gave it a go with his wife and came back with these observations.

"Ruby Rosen's Riot seems silly since dancing guests are worth a point no matter if you play them or keep them in your hand effectively making them "whoever draws the most dancers get extra points""

Okay, with two playtesters specifically calling out Ruby as a bug, I'm revising her in the next draft.

"I wonder if there is some sort of end game process that could be added in to reduce randomness in the final few rounds. [...] Have you tried the game with different tiles in hands? We played it with 5 tiles in hand (accident). I get that part of what makes the game operate is you have to balance playing tiles to make things big and keeping enough to still score points, but with only 4 tiles in hand, it would seem that the closer that you get to the end game the less control you have."

The randomness of the endgame has been characteristic of Belle from its inception. I'll look into some revisions to hand management to make sure it's more feature than bug. Simply expanding the hand limit to five tiles might do the trick, but also risks increasing the chance for ties.

Lastly, Tim played a game with Lady Lara Lately, so he wants to be clear that he didn't tap into some of the more complex scoring mechanics that might add more depth to the game. That in mind, he offers some options for more mid-game scoring opportunities.

"[M]aybe have some intermediate scoring opportunities for honored guests with the hangers-on (not unlike completing a castle in carcasonne)... example: start with the attached belle-sample diagram. Once the orthogonal positions to the Richminsters are filled, the HG token scores for everyone who has that in their hands. It could introduce a neat element of tactics and hand management to the honored guests. Then perhaps the HG token moves to the smallest group that is not surrounded - or a player has the option of placing it when they play a valid tile (grouping of 2+ that has orthogonal access)."

"Grid could be more complex and even optionally function as the "belle", e.g. A ballroom layout with a dance floor, banquet table, bar, and private couches as board elements could score bonus points for tiles with the relevant icons (see attached image)."

And now, here's a potpourri of ideas from Thomas, Mike and the inestimable Fred Hicks.

» Place the bonus point icons on the Belles.
» Link up two dancing people (regardless of family) and get a point.
» Place a pawn mid-game. +1 pt for that family for each tile you have.
» Set aside a tile face down. That tile will score 2x pts in endgame.
» Score bonus points from longest rows/columns of same family.
» Hopeless romantic: Place a Flirt for X points. X = Snubs around that tile.
» Emphasize that diagonal guests still form a group.
» Have the family tokens be substantial pawn-like objects.
» Scoring track consisting of spaces with dance steps.

Phew! Some very interesting ideas here. Fortunately, some rules changes can be modular, thanks to the Belles. I look forward to seeing more feedback from the playtesters. :D

» Download the beta v.1 PDF


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