Good Day Internet!
Today we’re going to discuss what to keep in mind when creating your own Print and Play (PnP) for blind playtesting. For those who have never heard this term, a Print and Play is a set of electronic files that allow willing playtesters to print off (almost) everything they need to play your game at home. This would include the rule set, and files to create paper copies of all components. Many PnPs are available online on various forums and websites, but you also have the option to email your files or grant access to them on platforms like Google Docs to select personnel.
Through creating our own Print and Play for Pulled into Darkness and playing multiple Print and Plays from other creators we’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks on how to make a Print and Play more playtester friendly!
1) Provide a Theme and Mechanics Overview in Your Post
You need to be able to catch potential playtesters’ attention before they even open any of your files. Therefore, it’s important to have a short, well-rounded overview of what your game is in your post. That way potential playtesters can get an idea of if your game is for them and worth looking into more. Furthermore, most playtesters aren’t going to click through to your PnP files unless you give them a reason to; they’ll most likely skim the overview and decide whether or not to from there. So only cover the basic theme and mechanics, and keep it short. As an example, take a look at our original post for Pulled into Darkness on boardgamegeek.
2) Provide the Basic Board Game Stats
Number of players, play time, and type of game should be prominently shown near the top of your post. Some of these should also be included in your post title if posting your PnP on a forum. These stats let your potential playtesters know at a glance if they can play your game or want to. However, don’t deceive your playtesters. If your game doesn’t play 2 players and takes 2 hours, don’t say it plays 2 players and only takes an hour just to get more interest. It’s hard enough to get people to play Print and Plays, don’t chase them away with lies.
3) Be Upfront About Required Additional Components
Whether you post your PnP on your own site or on a forum like the boardgamegeek Works in Progress forum, part of your original post needs to tell players if they will require any additional components not provided in your files. There is nothing more frustrating than committing to printing off a PnP only to find that you don’t have all the components you need to play the game. Let your players know upfront in the post (not just in the rules) if they will require extra components. Additionally, you need to be practical about how many extra components you can reasonably expect your playtesters to have on hand. If your game requires 150 tokens in 10 different colours and shapes you’re probably going to want to provide files for those in the PnP. Even if it’s not that many, you could still provide them on their own sheets in the PnP and then if a playtester happens to already have those components they simply don’t print off those sheets. Again, if you do such a thing, remember to explain that in your original post.
4) Avoid Round Components if Possible
For your first PnP, you want to make it as easy as possible for players to get up and running with your game. Round components are more time consuming to cut out than triangle, square, or rectangle components, so you should eliminate round components wherever possible. Also, when it comes to cards most playtesters won’t cut rounded corners, so don’t waste your time putting those in. When you have a game that has proven to be good, and art that brings out the theme and looks aesthetically pleasing your playtesters will be more willing to spend the time cutting out components.
5) Provide a Black and White Version
Not everyone wants to spend the money or has the option to print in colour, but there can be information loss printing a coloured version of a PnP in black and white (the amount of information loss depends on the number of similar tones and how they’re combined). Therefore, you should provide a black and white version of your game for those people, but remember to keep colour variants where it matters. For instance, unless your game is strictly solo or 2-player, you should keep colour in player pieces. You could also use symbols instead which is more friendly to colour blind players. Although you may not have any colour blind playtesters for your game, it’s always a good idea to keep them in mind and be inclusive when choosing player colours or by utilizing symbols for player pieces instead.
6) Appropriate Access
If you’re granting access to your documents online be careful to make sure your playtesters don’t have full access to edit your entire documents. Chances are they won’t destroy everything you’ve worked so hard on, but they might (even if only accidentally). If sharing access on a PDF or Google Docs use ‘Can View’ on your share settings to make sure your playtesters can’t do anything to your document. You may also want to use a watermark on your documents to prevent any fraud or theft (although I’ve been told removing a permanent watermark is easy if you know what you’re doing). The other option on Google Docs is to use the ‘Can Comment’ share setting to allow your playtesters to put their feedback directly into your rules without finalizing any changes. This is extremely helpful for applying your playtester feedback afterwards, but it will make your rules messy and harder to navigate for later playtesters.
If you looked at our PnP you may have noticed that we didn’t follow all of these tips and tricks. All of our spaceships are circles, we didn’t put a mechanics description on our website, and we didn’t provide a black and white version (although that would have required some creativity on our behalf). In retrospect, we probably could have made the spaceships triangles, and it would have been easy to include a mechanics description on our website. The reality is that you’ll probably never create an initial PnP for a game that everyone loves, but there are ways to make it stand out a little better. We’ll definitely be trying to improve our PnP for the next version and apply what we’ve learned so far. After we return from GenCon we’ll be working hard to get that up and running so check back soon for updates!
That’s it for this week. Next week we’ll put out a last minute, scrambled blog post after a week of packing in preparation for moving! Perhaps the packing will inspire us to write about organization of mechanics and making a working ‘turn order’ in game. We’ll see.
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.