MuscleMania Development Diary: Playtest, Playtest, Playtest!

Last week I wrote about how MuscleMania came to be. This is my first brush with developing a game. In my day job, I work in learning and development and with the recent trend in workplace learning for learning games, I’ve analysed plenty. I’ve even written some papers on what makes a good learning game, but I’ve never actually made a game. As this was my first experience of letting people loose on a game I’ve come up with, I was surprised with how much doesn’t actually work on the first playtest. It all made sense and worked in my head but the real world is a different beast.

So the first play through revealed a few a things. As I said last week the game was far too complicated, mainly because of the money system and having to pay for your wrestlers, any special items such as a cage for a cage match etc. Another part that made the game too fiddly was how many wrestlers you can have, how many matches you can book and generally the huge amount of cards laying around the table. So I went away with plenty of notes and ideas for improvements.

The first step was simplifying the game. Right away I decided to strip out the currency and wages for wrestlers. I also wanted to change the mechanism for choosing wrestlers and other cards. In the first version you were just dealt some wrestlers, so there were no choices to make, just dumb luck. Around the time as re-thinking this I had started playing a lot of Sushi Go with my other half. It’s a simple game to play and can be played pretty much anywhere (we play it quite a bit on train or plane journeys) and it struck me that the take one card and pass the hand on mechanic would well for MuscleMania.  Being forced to pick the best card in your hand and then hand the remaining cards to someone else can create quite a tactical battle, forcing you to decide wether to pick cards to strategically to help yourself or to hinder your opponent. So with this in mind, I went back to rewriting the rules to steal adapt this mechanism.


We playtested this new approach on the train to and from the UK Games Expo and it was an instant improvement. The game flowed a lot better, was simpler to understand and after only a few games, tactics were starting to emerge. There was still a lot to work do, issues and bugs to iron out, but after only two iterations and a handful of playtests we had already seen leaps in progress. As I said earlier, I’ve never made a game before so the difference really was quite surprisingly.

Before I leave you for this week I want to talk about the name of our game – MuscleMania. How did I come up with that? Wrestling has a long tradition of holding big pay-per-view events and these often have very over-the-top names. My favourites are  are some of the classic cheesy 80s and 90s names, like SummerSlam, Slammiversary or my personal favourite terrible pun – Slamboree! Even one of the biggest annual events in wrestling – WrestleMania – is a really cheesy name when you stop and think about it. So I wanted to capture some of that. I came up with a number of “slam” puns, but all of them are already being used by actual wrestling companies. I brainstormed a bit more and came up with MuscleMania. It’s cheesy and could very easily be an actual serious 80s name for a wrestling company or event. And it’s only whilst writing this up that I’ve remembered I had a massive collection of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, which was some sort of crazy Japanese wrestling toy brand, and may well have subconsciously been thinking about that! So for now, I think MuscleMania is the perfect name for me.

Do you remember these?


Next week: We’ll look at where MuscleMania is now and what the plans are going ahead.

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