After printing out the next version of Codename: Vacuum last week, I got it to the table on Thursday lunchtime. The new version had some minor tweaks to reduce the Population strategy's dependence on capturing locations, and some changes to the Trade strategy to the same end. To reflect the new trade rules I also changed several of the advanced decks to make them fit better with the new Trade rules.
The new version was well-received by my playtesters, Chief and Dave though due to the selection of advanced decks available to us none of us chose to pursue the Trade strategy - so it's hard to say how well balanced that one is.
Despite getting no feedback here last week on the new level three art, Dave was appreciative (though Dave is very excitable, so his responses need to be calibrated to take his general excitement into consideration). Certainly I prefer it to the really crappy last version, and the new art didn't detract from the game or make it harder to comprehend.
Anyway, to the subject of this post. I've now played 60 games of Codename: Vacuum. It's predominantly been played with Chief and Dave (probably 40-odd games each), plus a bunch of other people have played it I'd imagine on average five times or less. Pretty much all the players have been close friends of mine, so any feedback I get from them is coloured by their friendship with me. If I had to grade them into three categories, I'd say that two of them really aren't fans (though apparently it's not their sort of game), one (the aforementioned excitable Dave) is a big fan, and everyone else is ambivalent. They've usually played it a few times but there's little interest in playing it again. Clearly it still needs lots of work (though in fairness, most of the ambivalents haven't played the last few versions).
I'm keen not to try to publish (either self-publishing or trying to get someone else to do it for me) unless I think it's genuinely great. I've some experience publishing games that didn't get enough people excited and the last thing I want is to be the proud owner of games mouldering in a warehouse for years again. I could make a hand-made run - I'm pretty sure I could sell one hundred copies of the game as it stands - but I want to be really proud of it, not just publish it for the sake of publishing it (I've done that already!) and spare time is precious now that I'm a father. So I need to keep working at it to change those percentages. It needs to be simpler and quicker and more fun. It needs to leave you wanting another game, and then another. It's not there yet. I need to work those percentages until most of the people who play it are big fans or hate it. Ambivalence is the worse of the three!
In other news, I've decided to make a little app for my Windows phone. It'll pick me a random selection of advanced decks for a game and I'm also thinking of making it store and explore the data I collect for a game so I can investigate how balanced the decks are by querying their popularity and how well they score. I'll need to get a few dev kit things together and then spend some time on it. It shouldn't be that hard though, it's programming in the language that I use for my day job!