The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

From good to bad (playtest)

Yin and Yang.

Hot and cold.

Fast and slow.

Isn’t it amazing how the same game played at two different times can have vastly different results?

Maybe one playtest goes really smoothly. The pace of the game is just right, players are highly engaged, and people are asking when your game is going to be available.

You were riding a high, thinking that your game is getting really close to being ready for Kickstarter or pitching to publishers.

Then it happens.

The next playtest is a flop.

Players are confused. The game drags on. Nobody’s enjoying themselves like they did in the previous playtest.

So, what happened?

Different strokes for different folks

You may not have made any changes to your game since the previous playtest or perhaps only minor and fairly insignificant updates. Yet the experience is completely different.

As a game designer, you always have to keep in mind that no two people are alike. Everyone has different tastes and interests, whether it comes to food, movies, or of course, board games.

Just because one group of players doesn’t like your game as much as the last group, it doesn’t mean that it’s time to start over again.

I mean, not every game you’ve ever played has been your favourite, right?

Sometimes you just have to accept that not everybody is going to love your game as much as the next person.

It’s important to understand your players and what they’re looking for in a game.

And even if your game is not exactly their cup of tea, you can still get some really valuable insights from these players.

Know your audience

Are your playtesters the same people who would buy your game?

This is really important to know.

You want to get your game in front of your target audience as much as you can. But everybody’s tastes are different and even someone who you think would enjoy your game might not.

If your game is meant for kids and families, but you are playtesting it with hard-core hobby gamers and game designers, you’re not really focused on your target audience.

However, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Listen and learn

By observing and asking these more experienced gamers what parts of the game they like the best and which parts could use improvement, your game will likely end up better for everyone, including your target audience, as a result.

It’s important to listen to their feedback, but at the same time not completely change your game into the game that they want to play, especially if they are not your intended audience. Otherwise, you’re going to be creating a whole different game.

But at the same time, these playtesters can help you identify issues such as long downtimes, lack of interesting choices, or too much randomness. These are the types of things that not all playtesters in your target audience may recognize or be able to convey.

You know your target audience may enjoy your game, however, implementing some changes suggested by more experienced gamers may make for an even better experience for everyone.

Now, your audience

Take these suggestions and lessons learned. Use them to improve your game.

Now take your game back to your target audience to get their reaction.

Has the gameplay improved? Is it even more fast-paced and engaging? Are players now even more eager to find out about when they can get your game?

Hopefully, getting feedback from a variety of sources will help you continue to tweak and improve your game further. Just make sure to continue to stick with your vision for what your game is about and the audience it is meant for.

Keep in mind that sometimes when you get feedback from playtesters, they’re making suggestions to turn your game into the game they want to play, not necessarily the game you’re trying to create. And in the case of designers, they could be telling you how they would design the game if it was theirs.

While this other concept could end up being a great game, it’s not your game. At least not the game you’re currently working on.

The last thing (and one of the most important) to keep in mind is consistency. I’ve written a whole article talking about when your game is ready to pitch or self-publish and the importance of consistency, which is well worth a read.

Have you had drastically different results from one playtest to the next? How did you use this to make your game better?

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    This is great advice. I once had some very harsh – but helpful – feedback from a group of experienced gamers. I knew they weren’t my target audience and could’ve chosen to blown off their feedback on that basis alone, but I decided to take it in stride and keep improving my game. The next convention I went to, I had largely positive feedback to the new-and-improved game. It was tough and set my ‘timeline’ back, but it was worth taking the extra time and doing the work to end with a much better product!

    Thanks Emily! You’re right. It’s not always easy hearing harsh feedback. Sometimes it’s just what we need to hear to make our games better though!

    I’m glad your changes resulted in an even better game!

    hi Joe
    had a similar experience to you. I find that the playtests in the early development of the game will give you a lot of feed back as to what is wrong and what needs tweaking. With my current game I got different feed back from different people. Some said that it was great no issues with rules. A board game designer suggested a few changes that could be made. I did listen to him but didn’t change what I had. If a few other testers had come back with the same analogy I would definitely have looked a lot closer to see if there was an problem.I did point out to the other designer why I had the board designed in such a way,and then he agreed with what I had. I think to get your game play tested by your target audience is key.