Having been working on Moonflight for a few months now and completing the initial concept phase I've been able to start passing it out for early alpha testing. Technically its not an alpha test since I'm getting people who aren't me to offer their opinions but in so far as the people in question are my three most highly trusted playtesters and good chums its as close to alpha as can be reasonably achieved without developing a borderline personality disorder.
Since with SSO I had rather less blind playtesting than I would have liked I decided to get some in nice and early. This involves my striding up to good friends and shoving a handwritten prototype at them while firmly refusing to tell them anything about it whatsoever, which just goes to show how important it is to have understanding friends in games design.
So, having sat around watching folks play the game without being those folk myself I was able to make some changes. The main problem at the moment is that Moonflight's deck building section ratchets up in speed and eventfulness until "the turn" but then continues at the same rate such that the section intended to be the last half of the game ends up being closer to its last tenth. Worse this leaves the player who is second to finish often out of touch during scoring. The intention is that the deck building section should build slowly then fast and that the unbuilding section should progress from fast to slow. This is for thematic reasons to suggest the nature of building influence and power in constructing the city and court of Moonflight beginning slowly then picking up pace as momentum builds. Then with pulling down its sections to move away happening swiftly where much of what has been built is expendable and slowing down as the supports of your tower become more precious and intricate. Try to imagine the card trashing equivalent of taking down a Jenga tower when you want exactly five of the specific blocks to remain standing. So the decks went through a general overhaul to get closer to this aim.
All that said, on a much more basic level we found a few infinity chains that needed pruning out. The nature of how cards entered and left play was altered to both stop cards bouncing in and out of play or being trapped in a useless position.
On another note early concept art has begun coming in which has led me to play around with some of the story and background elements. All games design is a fantastically enjoyable way to spend your time but while the cards and rules have to fit into quite strict technical rules, with the background you can relax, let loose and get creative. The first background change was to alter the name of the Jacks, so we now have the "Jack o' Clay and Bone", "Jack o' Bond and Kind", "Jack o' Many and Few" and "Jack o' Legacy and Loss". This is for two aesthetic reasons, firstly the altered names better represent the character of the cards at any given moment and read as stronger phrases. Secondly, there will be snatches of a Moonflight nursery rhyme which will turn up in the background which the new names scanned into slightly better.
The other background adjustment is an attempt to clarify an intended element which is still feeling slightly loose. Moonflight is a fairy tale location about which humanity has only partial images and ideas but at the same time it is eternal and has been present throughout human history. Furthermore Moonflight is a settlement, a collection of beings and buildings, these are not fairy folk who live in bower and serge. As such they build their strange reflections of cities and towns within, around and throughout the great cities of human history and as they alter those cities the cities alter them. So the Jacks are as likely to look like Victorian London gentlemen as 1950s New Yorkers or Parisians from the roaring '20s. Moonflight and its residents are timeless but not in the manner of being outside of time or, as is often seen with the fay, in their own or ancient time; Moonflight is timeless because it is of every time.
As such I wrote a few extra pieces of background. Ironically, although rules work is more technical you can be fairly certain that each rule you write is at least a step towards your final version. However, there is a very limited space for background in the final version, anything much beyond the basic necessary is an indulgence which will ultimately increase printing costs and so final retail prices. Sustained creative writing is a very particular skill, worse its one of the skills that most people mistakenly think they excel at, especially games designers a significant proportion of which are frustrated writers of one form or another. Which means that if you're being strict with yourself you'll cut 70% of the background you write and this latest piece will only end up in the final version if there is a perfectly sized gap when all the final rules are in place.