Unpub Game Improvement, Part 1: FireBreak | Casual Game Revolution

Unpub Game Improvement, Part 1: FireBreak

FireBreak Prototype

(Above: Bruce from Party GameCast finds his meeple surrounded by the flames during a FireBreak playtest session).

FireBreak is a cooperative forest fire fighting game. It was made better over a series of Unpub events because of designers and players who were willing to play it and offer constructive feedback. FireBreak would not have evolved into the game it became without Unpub. In the Unpub article in the Winter 2015 issue of Casual Game Insider, I had space for a specific example of how playtester feedback directly influenced FireBreak’s development. There were many more examples I couldn’t fit in the article. In loose chronological order, here are just some of the people who together helped to build a better FireBreak.

Aaron Honsowetz & Austin Smokowicz – I debuted FireBreak at the South Jersey Unpub in the spring of 2013. I drove to New Jersey that morning with some doubts of how the game would be received, and whether it was worth pursuing further. Aaron & Austin became the game’s earliest fans that day. They enjoyed their first game so much they asked to play a second (to include some rule changes they suggested). Early in the game’s development, they helped me to identify and eliminate parts that needlessly distracted from the core game (such as wildlife that wandered around the board fleeing the flames).

Eric Handler – Another early play tester who encouraged me to keep going with the design. Like Aaron & Austin, Eric was a repeat playtester over different events. He would come back to see how play had changed from last time, then offer feedback on which changes were improvements and which should be undone. Eric played the early version that was too easy, the middle version that was too hard, then the final version that was just right. Eric helped me get even more feedback by talking up FireBreak and encouraging others to sit down at my Unpub table.

Ben Begeal – You’ll have to read the Winter issue for this one. Of all the Unpub feedback on FireBreak, I think Ben’s comment was the most crucial of all. It led to the addition of an element of tension that was missing from the original design.

Josh Tempkin – As I was laying out tiles to create a new park to defend, Josh commented on the long setup time. A few days later I switched from 49 individual tiles to 7 mega-tiles of 7 spaces each. Not only did it decrease the set up time from ten minutes to three, it gave more control to avoid unbalanced boards where all of the same terrain type could end up in the same corner of the board.

Jeff Watson – My favorite playtester and this game’s biggest fan logged over 100 plays before his first taste of Unpub at Unpub4. His repeated plays helped me to find the game’s ideal win-loss rate. Jeff also suggested adjustments to the dice probabilities for the wind shift chart that became the final version submitted for publisher evaluation.

As of January 2015, FireBreak is in a publisher’s production queue with an unofficial estimated 2016 release date.

Click Here to Read Part 2