How to playtest your board game even when you have no other playtesters or you’re quarantined
*This article has been updated from a previous post to include some thoughts on digital platforms so that you can playtest your board game online.
If you’ve taken that game idea that you’ve had in your head for a while and created your MVP (minimum viable prototype), you should pat yourself on the back.
This may seem like a very inconsequential step, but it’s one that many aspiring game designers never even make it to. That game idea just sits in their head and it never ends up on the table. Many inexperienced game designers just get stuck at this step.
But what do you do once you’ve gotten your makeshift board, index cards with your handwriting all over them, and random parts that you’ve scavenged from your game collection?
Rather than immediately looking for other people to playtest your board game, which may completely fall apart when you turn theory into practice, you can avoid this uncomfortable and possibly embarrassing scenario by first trying out your concept by yourself.
Figure out the setup and what players need to get started
Going back to the idea you had in your head, set up your game as if you had other players with you around the table. Depending on your game, you might just want to set this up as if there were two players to start.
Give each of the players what you would imagine they would need to get started. Shuffle any decks of cards and deal out a hand to each player, giving them any dice, gems, or any other components that may be necessary, leaving the rest of the components within reach.
Figure out where you will place all the objects, such as a board, decks of cards, or anything else used in your game, and set them up in the way you have imagined.
On a digital platform such as Tabletop Simulator (my personal favourite), you can create or place something down in front of each player area as well, to keep them separated and more easily remember who is who.
Now, what you’re going to do is play the role of each player.
Starting with the first player, go through the motions of taking actions you’d expect to take on your turn. If you anticipate a player will need to draw and/or discard cards, do just that.
Then go to the next player and figure out what they would do in response.
Keep taking turns back and forth to get a feeling for the actions that each player would take, what they are trying to accomplish, and how they would accomplish these goals throughout your game.
If something doesn’t feel quite right, don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you go. If 3 cards in your hand are too limiting, try 4 or 5.
This is especially quick and easy to do in Tabletop Simulator or other online platforms. Simply reset, grab any new components you need, or try something completely different. No more rummaging around looking for more dice, cardstock, or hundreds of cube for a way to track things. You can use counters or any other pieces, all ready and available for you (with no limits on how many you can use!)
It’s not about trying to “win” against yourself (which is kind of strange to say out loud), it’s all about getting a feel for your game at this point.
What to do if it’s a game that doesn’t work without others
But what if your game contains some elements, such as bluffing, negotiation, or deduction, that you can’t really test all by yourself?
I imagine it would have been really difficult to playtest Werewolf or Spyfall and take on the role of multiple players in any reasonable way!
Well, you can still deal out the cards or other components and figure out what types of questions players could ask, what type of information could be revealed, and the timing for when certain actions or events could take place.
You might quickly discover that your game just won’t work for 3 players, even though you thought this would be the minimum player count. Now you know that your game requires at least 4 players, which is helpful information (and better to find out now rather than after you set up a playtest with 2 other people!). Or, you might discover that you will need a different set of clue cards, more rounds than you anticipated, or something else.
It might feel strange to be trying to deduce who the spy is when you already know, but you can still get a good feel for how the game could flow and may very early on discover something that wouldn’t work as it currently stands.
I want you to take that MVP you’ve created and try it out by yourself, taking on the roles of different players so that you can playtest your board game. Set everything up on the table (or digital table) as you’ve imagined the game in your head, and take on the roles of each player, figuring out what each could do on their turn.
And if you’re on TTS and things aren’t going your way, you can always let off a bit of steam by flipping the table!
May the fourth be with you. Sorry, I had to. ?
In my next article, we’ll look at what you’ve learned from your self-playtest so that you can make changes and feel good about putting this in front of other real people to try.
Have you self-playtested your game? Did you run into any issues?
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