The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Running an unguided playtest of your game

So, your game runs smoothly when you teach it to other players, but what happens when you’re not there?

One thing that all designers have to keep in mind is that when somebody buys a game and takes it home, they’ll have to learn this game on their own or from someone else, and you won’t be there to help them or correct any mistakes.

That’s why it’s crucial to not only create well-written rules but also run an unguided playtest (also known as blind playtesting) of these rules with multiple groups.

Here’s how the process works…

Hand over the game box with your rules

First, you’ll want to find a group of players who have never played your game. Even if one person has played it in the past and remembers your game at all, this playtest will not give you the information you need to bring your game closer to completion.

Next, you’re going to hand over the box with your game, rules, and all components to the group. You won’t explain how to set up or play your game, as this will be up to the players to decipher.

Have one player read through the rules so that the group can set up your game up and let them explain your game to the rest of the group.

Let the games begin!

Observe but don’t answer questions

Unlike previous playtests where you answered players’ questions and helped them to understand what they could and couldn’t do in your game, with an unguided playtest, you’re going to act as if you aren’t even there.

It is completely up to the players to set up and play your game without your help. If they have any questions, just shrug and ask them what the rulebook says.

It would be even more ideal to run your unguided playtest when you’re not even there. By recording the playtest or having someone else run it (and optionally record this as well), you can gather even more information. However, this is not always possible, so the next best thing you can do is sit back, observe, and take lots of notes.

Note anything not set up or followed correctly

While the players are setting up and playing your game, watch exactly how they set your game up and make note of anything that is done incorrectly, out of order, or put in the wrong place.

Once the game begins, you’ll continue to observe and take notes about anything the players find confusing, actions being done wrong, or any time they require repeated referencing of the rules.

It’s going to be really hard, but you need to hold yourself back from interjecting or correcting anything the players are doing. Pretend this is a science experiment and you are on the other side of a glass panel without access to your guinea pigs – uh, I mean players. 🙂

Running an unguided playtest of your game is going to give you so many insights.

  • You’ll see where your rules are unclear
  • You will identify any steps you missed or are out of order
  • You may find that you have some clunky rules or exceptions that don’t need to be part of your game
  • You’ll also see how players think and where more examples or images could be beneficial
  • You may even change some of your rules if you find that players have a more intuitive way of doing things

Take action

OK, it’s time to run an unguided playtest of your game. Hand over the box with all components and rules to a group of new players and watch as they try to figure it out. Take lots of notes so that you can improve your rules further and make it much easier on future players.

Next week, we’ll talk more about your unguided playtest results and how to use them to finalize your game.

Any questions about running an unguided playtest? I’d be glad to answer them. Just comment below.

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    hi Joe, I did something similar with my latest game. I got a friend of mine who is a teacher, to bring it in to school . He play tested it with some students. I got some good info back from it. However the problem is that , the information is second hand. So it could be like two people going to a party and one had a great night ,while the other one thought that the party was rubbish. My friend might also have influenced the interaction with the player experience. I hear what you are saying about being there in person and just taking notes without saying anything. However ,if the play testers are aware of you being there as the designer, I think it will make them hold back a little, as regards there comments etc.

    Hi Kieran! That’s a good point. Playtesters may be more willing to provide honest feedback if you’re not there. I’ve heard others say that they’re testing a game for another designer when it’s actually their game to lessen any worry the playtesters may have. In either case, you’ll gain a lot of insight by watching or having someone else watch others try to set up and play your game. Beyond the feedback, just witnessing how they play your game when you’re not teaching it can be invaluable.