The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

It’s not what you know, it’s who you playtest with

Once you’ve playtested your game by yourself and identified the most fun aspects and removed aspects that were holding your game back, it’s time to look for other playtesters.

This will allow you to gain different perspectives on your game and see how your game plays with actual players.

Let’s jump right into how to do this quickly and effectively.

Figure out how many players you’ll need to try this (ideally 2 players)

First, you want to figure out the minimum number of players you need to playtest your game. It would be easiest and most ideal if this was just two players, as you’d only need to recruit one other person to try your game with you.

However, if your game requires a lot of deduction, trading, negotiation, or voting, you may need a minimum of three or four players or more.

It’s even better if you can just sit back and observe other players rather than be a player yourself, but it can be helpful to join in during the early stages to see how the game feels to you when you’re playing with others.

Help is close to home

For your first playtest (outside of self-playtesting your game), try to recruit someone you know who is both close by and would be willing to try your game.

You could ask your partner, a friend, your roommate, a colleague, or a family member. Whoever is willing and able to be your first victim… uh, I mean playtester. ?

The goal is to get your first playtest under your belt as soon as possible. So, if you ask a friend and they are not available for a couple weeks, you can still gladly set this up, but you’ll also want to playtest your game with someone else much sooner. Then, when this other friend is available, your game will be in an even better place.

You’ll need to playtest your game a lot, so make sure to accept any and all offers!

Set expectations

Many people have never playtested a game before, so they don’t know what to expect or what the expectations are of them.

Let your playtesters know that you’ve come up with a game, but it’s still in the early stages and you’re just looking for feedback on how to make it better. Tell them that it’s a prototype, so it’s not going to look pretty, and the game will still need a lot of development.

What you need from your playtesters is the willingness to try your game at this early stage and give you critical feedback (as honest as they can be, given that they know you personally!) so you can figure out how to improve upon it further.

Also, let your playtesters know that there is a chance you’ll want to make some changes on the fly. This may affect scoring and gameplay, and some players might be irritated by this if they didn’t know it was coming. Assure them that the outcome of the game or who wins and loses isn’t all that important, rather it’s all about getting feedback on the game at this point.

Play for a bit (not necessarily the whole game)

You also don’t have to test the game in its entirety.

If it’s a short game and everything is flowing smoothly, then go right ahead, but if your game is on the longer side, or something is just not clicking, don’t be afraid to wrap your playtest up early.

As you get more experience as a game designer, you’ll begin to understand when you have enough information to end a playtest and when you want to continue. If players will continue to do the same thing throughout the game and you don’t expect anything new to occur, you don’t necessarily have to reach the end point.

This is also a great benefit to your playtesters, as you won’t be subjecting them to an overly long or boring playtest. Thank them for their time and willingness to play, and they will be much more willing to try your game another time.

Get a feel for what is working and what’s not

Throughout your playtest you want to observe what players are doing, both when it is their turn, and when they’re waiting for their turn. Notice whether players are engaged or if they are distracted and doing other things like checking their phone.

Take plenty of notes on what you see and how you feel as you either play or observe the game.

Make sure to thank your playtesters profusely for their time and make it a comfortable atmosphere for them to provide you with honest feedback.

Next week, we’ll discuss the exact questions you’ll want to ask your playtesters to get the best quality feedback.

Take action

Ok, time to take action! Figure out how many other players you will need to playtest your game properly and arrange to run your first playtest with them. If this happens to be your partner or roommate and they are available right now, get that prototype to the table immediately!

Do you have any hesitations about running your first playtest? Please let me know by commenting below.

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