Diary #2 – Playtesting

cyclingphotoDesigners make their biggest strides when playtesting: grabbing a bunch of people, any people, and persuading them to sit down, play a prototype and give feedback. A problem I’ve had with this is that my board games tend to be painful, sluggish and boring for the first 99% of their design process and fun and functional for 1%. Yet you need to be gathering feedback from people who are patient, impatient, old hands, new gamers, fellow designers and game-breaking anarchists at all stages of the process. I guess you need a good pitch.

In pursuit of playtesters I have found myself cycling around Birmingham several times a week to board game nights. I had my board printed by a poster: it needs bean bags to hold it flat and does not respond well to spilled drinks (a frequent occurrence in the pubs where games nights are held). I’ve had better luck with cards: I print them on normal printer paper; cut them to fit into card sleeves and put a bit of card in after them. No gluing required and the study card sleeves provides a backing of your chosen colour. I had the pleasure of showing this trick to designer Richard Denning today (Medusa Games, UK Games Expo).

Recently I have learnt the importance of asking new playtesters how they would like to approach the playtesters. Would they like a full verbal rules explanation at the start? Or just the basics, and we’ll meet the rest when they come up in the game? Perhaps they’d like to use the long and convoluted rule book you were up writing until 3am last night? I’d say this is the most important part of a playtest as it gives your testers ownership of the experience.

Drop by Meeple Mayhem every upcoming Saturday (excepting the Expo, June 3rd) to see me and the Baby. In the meantime, if you see me cycling past with my poster sticking out of my bag, be sure to wave! Stay tuned for more about the game, prototyping and my anticipated adventures at Expo.

2 thoughts on “Diary #2 – Playtesting

  1. I think the playtesting process really depends on a) what type of designer you are and b) what type of game it is. If I playtest a game and it turns out to be too long, slow and/or not interesting enough then I will either give it a major redesign or abandon it. For my own sake, I’m not going to playtest a game that I don’t enjoy myself.

    If you have a party game or a very light card game, then of course you can try to playtest it with any random passing victim. But if the game is more complex, then you need to choose suitable playtesters and/or a suitable venue. There is no point trying out the next Terra Mystica with a bunch of people who have only ever played Scrabble and Monopoly!


    1. A fair point, it does depend on what you’re making. I think it’s useful to have people point out things they liked you may not have expected, even if it’s something very basic like “your game allowed me to collect wool which is good because I like sheep, but I couldn’t work out how to use the wool”. A fresh pair of eyes from an inexperienced gamer may spot something experienced gamers miss.


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