The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

How to figure out what’s working in your game (and what’s not)

It’s often helpful to run the first playtest of your game by yourself to get a feel for it before introducing your game to other players.

Although it might seem strange to play your game all by yourself, particularly if multiple players are necessary, this serves a helpful purpose. It allows you to ask yourself a few questions about your game and make sure it’s at least functioning before showing it to other players.

If you’re already a little bit nervous about showing your game to others, this will alleviate a lot of that anxiety. Your game will run more smoothly and there’s less chance it will completely fall apart or waste anyone’s time.

So, let’s look at the types of questions you should be asking yourself when you are self-playtesting your game.

What were the most fun aspects?

The first thing to look for and the first question you should ask yourself is what was fun about your game.

Figuring out what players might enjoy the best will allow you to focus on the positives so that you can build your game in a direction that will be more engaging and interesting to players. You can put more emphasis on these aspects and on building an experience around this.

So, what was the most fun part of your game?

Was it creating combos with your cards?

Was it balancing a meeple on the edge of the building, praying it doesn’t fall?

Was it coming up with a killer strategy and building an awesome engine?

Try to figure this out as you’re playtesting by yourself so that you can incorporate more of the fun stuff (and get to this faster!).

What didn’t work

It’s equally important to ask yourself what wasn’t working in your game.

Did turns drag on?

Did you feel you had meaningful choices to make? Or did they feel predetermined?

Maybe there were too many choices. If it caused you, the game designer, analysis paralysis (AP), then other players will likely feel the same thing.

Quite often, we come up with a game and try to throw every possible idea into it. This usually leads to a convoluted mess of mechanics that don’t work well together. We then spend a lot of time having to remove a lot of these original ideas.

What you want to do is identify the parts of your game that weren’t so much fun or just didn’t work, so that you can quickly make improvements.

Try cutting things out and emphasizing more of the fun

If something is just not working in your game, try removing it and see if your game is any less fun. You might even be surprised to find it works better without this part.

Quite often, this could be something that you pictured in your head you thought would be amazing. It might have even been the core idea of your game.

It’s often hard to remove something that was your original inspiration or felt so unique at first you thought the whole game would revolve around this. But sometimes you have to do it. If something in your game just isn’t working, you either have to find a way to tweak it so it will work really well or scrap it entirely. It doesn’t matter if this was the whole heart of your idea – if it doesn’t make the game better, it has to go.

This will also leave more room for the fun stuff.

It’s also important to try to get the fun parts quickly. If there’s too much build-up to get to something fun, it may feel like a drag for your players. You want to allow players to get into the game right away, which may mean trimming the introduction or first few rounds. Alternatively, giving your players some money or resources right from the start may help to advance the game faster.

Try changes on the fly or reset

Be open to changing things on the fly.

Too many cards on the table or in your hand? Reduce them.

Too few options? Add more.

Is it too easy to complete your tasks with four action points on your turn? Try this with three and see if this increases the tension and the feeling you’re trying to convey.

Don’t be afraid to reset your game either. If it’s just not working, set your game up again, taking out anything that’s not working, even if you just need to focus on one simple mechanic at a time. You can always add things in, and as you play around with your game, it might become more obvious what’s missing.

Make updates

Now that you’ve got a feel for your game and know what’s working and what’s not, make any necessary changes.

Here’s where you can tweak what you’ve got, as well as add more cards and components beyond your original MVP (Minimum Viable Prototype), based on what you’ve felt and seen in your self-playtest.

Try this again and see how your game feels. It may not be perfect, but if you can see the potential and recognize at least some aspects that are fun and/or engaging, you can continue to make changes and try this again by yourself.

Take action

What I want you to do right now is playtest your game by yourself and make notes about what was fun and what wasn’t. Then, make some changes based on these observations and try again. Repeat this until your game is working well (or is at least functional).

Next week, we’ll talk about who you should playtest your game with next and how to go about doing this.

What were the most fun aspects of your game? What wasn’t working that you decided to cut from your game?

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear how it went.

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