Over the last couple of years, I’ve playtested JUST RUN hundreds of times with scores of different players. Here are answers to a few of their questions.

 

How do you even start designing a game like JUST RUN?

 

I started with three concurrent ideas. I wanted to create a game in which players build the board. I wanted every mechanic and playing piece to be fun or satisfying. And I wanted component and mechanism to build and maintain tension. So the first thing I did was test the idea of room tiles. I drew them on index cards and just experimented over a couple of days until it all just worked. As I built the rest of the game, I used the last two goals as tests. It all came together relatively painlessly, but not at all quickly.

 

Is JUST RUN your first game?

 

Sort of. I’ve been designing RPG campaigns for decades. I even wrote a book-length spec supplement for the old Shadowrun RPG that was never published. I tested a few other board games before JUST RUN, but they had flaws that were difficult to overcome. So JUST RUN is my first--but hopefully not last--board game to reach the printed prototype.

 

Why zombies?

 

Because they’ve been my favorite monster since junior high school, when I saw for the first time Night of the Living Dead on Channel 20’s Creature Feature. To this day, no movie monsters have left me as thrilled and scared as the creepy zombies in Romero’s Dead Trilogy--with the possible exception of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Plus, I needed an antagonist that could multiply, fill rooms, and respawn.

 

Last Saturday, my long-time RPG gamer group spent the day play testing a new, PvP scenario for JUST RUN. Turns out the scenario wasn't fully baked. (One might even say the oven wasn't turned on.) However, the day was still both fun and constructive. How?

 

Running a successful play test is one of the most challenging parts of any game design effort. Unless you're lucky enough to have paid testers on hand, you are relying on volunteers who may or may not have the patience for a game that's not finished. In fact, most players probably just want to spend a normal hour or two with a new game.

Instead, the game designer will throw them into a combination focus group, usability test, and brainstorming session that--to be perfectly honest--might not be any fun at all. I take that back. It can be a fun *creative* experience. But in the early stages, it certainly won't be a normal game playing session.

 

I have been extraordinarily lucky with the JUST RUN play testers. They have been diverse, invested, brilliant, and frank--in other words, perfect. In all my years doing creative marketing, I've never stumbled onto a set of people quite like this. They brought the energy. I helped by following a few simple rules:

  • Manage everyone's expectations

  • Have the tests mapped out ahead of time

  • Limit your variables in each test

  • Watch and listen very carefully

  • Ask a lot of questions

  • Don't make any promises

  • And don't take it personally

 

Thanks to my play testers, there's still life in the JUST RUN PvP scenario. I just need to tweak the recipe a bit.

 

I received a printed prototype of JUST RUN in late March. Since then, brave play testers have run the game’s various scenarios using the new game components about ten times. This is what I’ve learned:

 

The basic mechanics are done. Testers seem pleased with the current rules. This is great news. But we aren't relaxing. We will continue to strength-test the basic rule set and work to make the game scarier, more competitive, and even more fun throughout 2019.

 

The scenarios are where the action’s at! I am focusing most of the play testing efforts on expanding and balancing the game’s six scenarios. They are getting better and more fun every time. Not only that, I am seeing that the game mechanics are flexible enough to support other scenarios, game expansions, and add-ons. Again, super exciting news.

 

The drafting phase needs an alternative. One of the unique elements of JUST RUN’s game play is its initial, timed card drafting phase. I designed this phase to be fast-paced and a bit chaotic. The intention was to create tension and a bit of panic before the game even really starts. You are, after all, being chased by a horde of zombies! Even though playtesters liked that element, some also asked for an alternative drafting method that is less nerve-wracking. I’m currently testing some options.

 

Some game pieces are perfect; others not so much. I’ve gotten a fair amount of feedback on the actual game pieces--cards, tiles, tokens, markers, and pawns. All of this advice will be rolled into a final design if the game is funded.