Game production is never perfect. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

Now there are a lot of ways that manufacturing can go wrong. It’s a complex process to say the least. But then there’s human error too. No matter how many times you check the files (and I recommend over and over and over again), there’s going to be something you miss. I guarantee it. Something.

One such case I heard of was Xenon Profiteer. I read on twitter from designer T.C. Petty that the box said 2-5 players, but the game played 2-4! Ouch! Hearing that, I felt for him knowing just how awful it can be to find any error on your new game.

Happy Accidents

But what if… what if the thing that happens is… good? It’s probably the rarer case, but I have two examples to present in the games I released in 2015 and one example from the recently kickstarted, Manhattan Project: Energy Empire to share. I know there are more examples out there, so I encourage anyone who also has a happy accident to share in the comments.

The Case of the Q Power

As developer of Letter Tycoon, I checked and checked the rules again. I formatted what Brad Brooks originally wrote and spent time reviewing the rules with both the League members and other industry veterans above and beyond normal. It’s a word game, so exact wording was critical after all. We hashed out phrasings of rules on forums until they were crystal clear. I’m happy to say that as a result (and due to the graphical layout awesomeness by Mac Schubert), the rulebook has gotten many, many compliments as a clean, clear tool. So what’s wrong? Well, nothing… except perhaps words that are NOT there.

You may replace a card to start your turn.

letter tycoon example

The Q special power is stated correctly, as Brad wrote it, and never changed in development: “You may replace a card to start your turn.” Clear, simple. The issue is that it assumes “card in hand”. Because in the first version of the game, there were no other cards.

Ahh, but we added community cards in the center of the table! So at an Origins tournament, I got the question, “Can I replace a card in the community pool with my Q power?”

Huh. I guess… so?

It took me completely by surprise. But you know what? It made the Q better, and the Q power in my opinion, could actually benefit from being just a tad cooler. So, I gladly accepted it, owned it, and am happy it happened.

The Case of the Brothel Inspector

Boomtown Bandits, from designer Isaac Epp, also released in 2015! I’m not going to say it was rushed with Letter Tycoon immediately before it, but this quick draw shootout was one of the fastest games ever printed, no doubt. I can’t thank the plants enough – We made custom chunky dice (a la King of Tokyo size) in crazy weather conditions and still got copies to Gen Con!

This is a fun case of an error caught in a play test while the files at just started printing. I actually called Shari Spiro at Ad Magic and told her that the error was out there and she stopped the presses to fix it. Kudos to her for being willing to do that, although I think if we had left it, I would have been ok purely because it is mechanically interesting!

(Unchosen card at top of pile)

boomtown bandits example

Here’s the would-be error. One of the cards is the Brothel Inspector, which allows you to look at 2 cards and pick 1, putting the other card on the top of the pile. But not necessarily at the Brothel – it occurs on a future robbery. So you GET the card at the Brothel, but USE the power wherever you happen to be looting.

Now, late night editing, I actually wrote “unchosen card to top of Brothel”. Whoops. Now here’s how this became interesting, particularly in this game. The end game is when a pile of cards runs out, and so the ability to loot 2 cards at location A and return 1 to the top of the Brothel pile is fascinating. And not at all intended.

This meant that players might be able to achieve some truly unique combinations and also extend the game a turn if it might have ended with the Brothel running out. We fixed it, deciding to deliver the game we actually developed. But I count this as a happy accident as it’s got my design wheels turning on ways to do expansion cards.

The Case of the Diverse Workers

I heard this case posted on Facebook forums, where the workers in Manhattan Project: Energy Empire were originally intended to be in different player colors, but all a certain worker per player, so that color blindness issues did not exist. So you might play Red and have scientists, and someone else plays Green with hazmat suit workers. But you get all of the same. James Mathe was telling folks that the artist Josh Cappel interpreted the assignment that each player would have unique workers. So Red would have a scientist, a mechanic, a hazmat worker, etc.

energy empire example

In a poll on FB, opinions were clear that everyone preferred having this new interpretation of the workers. So yes, Minion Games and Josh had to figure out another way to differentiate color (looks like they did this with BG textures), but now everyone had a different set of worker icons, and a happy accident that I believe will lead to more fun play, “my mechanic will trigger this awesome combo and my scientist will research this with 1 energy. I’ll beat your hazmat worker to this action…”

Share Yours!

If you have a story of a game goof on one of your produced games that actually plays as good or better than an original rule, I’d love to hear it. In the case of T.C. Petty mentioned above, I saw that he actually released rules for the 5th player in Xenon Profiteer. That is pretty cool – never meant to be, but acknowledging the oops that happened, there’s now a way to play it through.

Here’s to dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s but if not, respecting the quirks of your q’s.

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Peter Vaughan

Game Developer at Breaking Games

Peter eats games for breakfast! Founder of First Play LA, Squirmy Beast and League of Gamemakers, and Director of Development for Breaking Games. First published designs include What the Food?! and Nightmare Cove, and development credits include Letter Tycoon, Boomtown Bandits, Sparkle*Kitty and Rise of Tribes.

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  1. John Shulters on April 26, 2016

    Good timing, Peter. Just as we are reworking cards, updating rulebooks, and changing packaging in prep for Kickstarter. These “accidents” are the things that make me sweat. Definitely gonna do about 20 “once-overs”, just to make sure everything is in line.
    Since we haven’t published yet, we don’t have tales of happy accidents in a finished product, but with all the testing we’ve been doing, we’ve had many instances of playtesters asking questions about the powers and limitations of cards, especially with new cards, vague text, and no rule in the rule book. And these questions almost always lead to great new ideas we hadn’t considered before. I’m not necessarily advocating for vagueness when one creates prototypes, but if random playtesters ask questions it is often because something isn’t intuitive, and they’re suggesting a way to make things more elegant, fun, and clear…which is always good.
    …I’ll still be sweating before final file submission though 🙂

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