Playtesting the game with Michael Schmitt in his Spielwiese gaming cafe in Berlin
Playtesting Complex Games
I found that it is a real challenge to find the time and the players to test longer, complex games. With multiple game designers attending our playtesting sessions in the Spielwiese gaming café in Berlin each week, when a longer game was played someone would have to sacrifice getting his game to the table that night. Sometimes my colleagues were gracious enough to do so, but I also set up private testing evenings for those who were interested in being part of the process, and that was very helpful. I also played the game by myself quite a bit, although it is always difficult to get a feeling for a game with auctions when playing it solo. (How do I bid against myself?) Nevertheless, the game was progressing well, and friend and fellow game designer Bernd Eisenstein even started calling the game "Jeff's masterpiece" on his blog.
I took the game with me to Nuremberg in 2008 to pitch to several publishers I knew who released complex games. One even took the prototype to the Gathering of Friends that year, and I was able to get feedback from Larry Levy, who playtested the game there. Another publisher playtested it for a year after that, and I redesigned the game from their feedback, testing the new version with my group intermittently.
Pitching the game to Hanno Girke of Lookout Games in Nuremberg.
Then I noticed that White Goblin Games was also interested in publishing complex games, and I pitched another game to them that Bernd and I had been doing together for some time. Not only were they interested in that game, but they had also read Bernd's blog and were interested in Nieuw Amsterdam as well. Within a few months of receiving the prototype, they sent me a contract.
At the convention in Essen last year, I decided to--er--dispose of the old prototype bits after getting a pre-production prototype from Josh Cappel.
Even though I had a contract, I wanted the game to be as good as I could make it. I began testing it again heavily and I began a new round of development. With the motivation and time pressure of publication looming, I was able to smooth out more, cutting quite a bit of unnecessary complexity after taking a hard look at what was really necessary.
I could not get the game design out of my head: even at soccer practice, I had to scribble some notes onto a tournament bracket sheet. It was here that I worked out the engine-building mechanisms for the wharf, all while waiting on the bench for my turn to play.
I also noticed some problems that could occur in specific circumstances, and I had to break down and chart the interrelationships of the mechanisms in order to correct any imbalances.
Charting the interrelationships in the game early in the process...
...and then again towards the end of development
The biggest change of all was to the core mechanism, the one that was the impetus of the game idea itself. I finally realized that the dice were not the best way to determine the action groupings, and they even presented some imbalance issues if one number was rolled too often, especially in the first round of the game. Replacing them with tiles was much easier to balance, and this change also proved more cost-effective for the publisher, allowing us to produce other more lavish components.
A late prototype that would get tweaked quite a bit even after Josh Cappel began working on it
I could write endlessly about the many other tweaks, cuts, and redesigns, but these notes would be difficult to understand without knowing the game – and probably not much fun to read either. Suffice it to say, I am very grateful for the enthusiasm and patience of both Jonny DeVries of White Goblin Games and graphic designer Joshua Cappel, both of whom contributed to the process. Up until now, in fact, I had never worked so directly with an illustrator of one of my games, and Josh's feedback and graphic design even influenced some of the final mechanisms. I was impressed with his keen understanding of the game and my goals in creating it, and his development of the rulebook shows that.
A mockup from Josh of the finished game components
The design of Nieuw Amsterdam has been a long and complex journey, with a cast of interweaving characters and story lines as varied as the history of New York itself. I began with an original mechanism around which I thought I could build a game, but the rich historical theme eventually became the driving force in the design. I hope that players of the game will enjoy participating in that narrative, as well as being able to create some stories of their own.
Jeffrey D. Allers
Start of a five-player game, with five longhouses in the Lanape camp and five Trading Posts along the Hudson river