I’ve known Starbeard’s lead designer, David, for a very long time. Initially, he sent me early builds of the game just to show what he was up to, but we ended up having a lot of long discussions about it so it turned into a more regular design consulting kind of thing.
When I first played Starbeard, it was in a very rough proof-of-concept form, with temp art, an unbalanced economy, and none of the FTL-like structure that it ended up with.
Since I was coming to the game as an outsider, my approach was to identify issues with the game and then present multiple solutions that would push the game in different directions, towards its disparate influences. Then, during the ensuing discussion, I would ask specific questions about design intent and talk through ways to push the game closer to that, or to pull back and examine the motivations behind the intent to find out if the game would be best served my moving in a slightly different direction.
This is the approach I always try to use when providing feedback; In game design, it’s easy to identify what’s not working, but much more difficult to link the intended effect with effective solutions.
My favorite specific contribution to the game was the suggestion that the flowers at the bottom of the screen actually provide resources when they’re destroyed. Originally, the flowers just represented the number of ‘lives’ the player had before they lost. But because it’s a match-3 where another row is added with every turn, a player in a poor position would face a cascade of failure once the screen filled up. Making the flowers drop random resources when destroyed was a simple way to provide a counterweight to that cascade, allowing the player to use more spells whenever they got closer to losing. It was a pivotal change to the game’s design, making it far friendlier to new players.
Upon its release, Starbeard received a little bit of coverage in the gaming press. As a premium mobile game, it didn’t have much chance of being a runaway success, but it did manage to get some glowingly positive reviews and a few end-of-year rewards.