Bellevue College students have taken their love for gaming to the next level by becoming playtesters for “Exceed,” a card game that attempts to capture the feel of a video game.
The Student Union is the social nexus of BC. The cafeteria is full of students talking and studying, and the cafe in the front of the building is always full. However, the real action takes place right outside the front cafe, where a small board and card game community has sprung up.
Charles Butler and John Gatan have bestowed a new craze onto this group in the form of a card game called “Exceed Fighting System,” or “Exceed” for short.
“We’ve built a pretty good community here. We’re actually the largest Exceed local scene in the world right now,” said Butler. Every day, students can be found challenging each other at several tables, and copies of the game are stacked high, waiting for players to throw down. The group also attempts to regularly schedule tournaments to foster healthy competition.
However, Butler and Gatan have gone beyond playing the game and organizing tournaments. Their love of the game has driven them to become playtesters for “Exceed’s” parent company, Level 99 Games.
Level 99 Games is a board game company known for creating the games “Exceed,” “Millennium Blades,” and “Argent: The Consortium.” According to their website, they believe, “gameplay exists in the space between discovery and mastery,” and that their games have “infinite replayability.”
For Butler and Gatan, becoming a playtester was simple. The first steps involved joining Level 99’s Discord channel, part of an online communication service. Then, they signed non-disclosure agreements before becoming playtesters. Gatan said of the agreement, “we’re not gonna spoil the game, we’re gonna make sure that we can help push the game towards where its balanced and playable.” Once the NDAs were signed, a digital version of the game was sent to the players and playtesting could officially begin.
As playtesters, Butler and Gatan are very involved in the direction of the game. They feel their feedback and observations are being used to make the game more balanced and fair. There are standard feedback forms that testers can use to communicate with the developers. However, the involvement goes beyond that. The Level 99 developers host playtesting events and freeplay sessions on the Discord channel to ensure every card is balanced, and they also communicate through weekly “dev talks.”
“Dev talks” allow the testers and developers to talk directly to each other about what does and does not work within the game, and where concepts have succeeded or failed. Butler recalled that one character just wasn’t panning out and required some extra work. “[The character’s] design was conflicting with what he was supposed to be doing and making it really hard to [play] around…That was something we had to work around and try to resolve.”
Gatan is enjoying playtesting for more than just the technical aspects. “The stuff that we playtest is just a lot of fun to mess around with and it’s constantly changing every time,” he said. “Everything that we do feels impactful.”
The “Exceed” community plays every day in the Student Union building in front of the cafe. Butler and Gatan welcome all new players, and will teach anyone who wants to learn. “Come by and maybe try the game out!” said Gatan. “It’s a lot of fun.”