Good Day Internet!
Today, we’re going to start diving into the massive (and massively important) topic of playtesting. We’ll start off with solo playtesting and get into the others another time.
Before we get into today’s topic though, a quick recap. Last week, we left off with our first finished prototype. A bare bones, skeleton of a game that probably doesn’t look that appealing to the eye (which is right where we want to be).
Let’s start off with the definition of solo playtesting.
Solo playtesting is the process of playing through your game (multiple times) from start to finish by yourself. This will usually involve you playing as multiple players at a time throughout gameplay. During this time you will be making notes to adjust your rules and components after the playtest (we’ll discuss that later).
So why don’t we grab family and friends who love and support us to play and skip the solo playtesting?
The main reason we go through solo playtesting is that the transfer from idea to physical gameplay usually doesn’t go smoothly. There will be kinks that will need to be fixed and the process will also most likely be longer than planned and potentially frustrating. You should be familiar with this if you’ve built anything in your life, say like a piece of Ikea furniture. Solo playtesting is a way to get rid of some of those kinks so you can make your game run smoother and be more enjoyable. Basically, you want to do the prep work: knowing how your game functions (since that hasn’t been tested) and what makes it function, before trying to explain it and play with family and friends.
Despite all of that being said, what we’ve told you to do leading up to the post is going to make some of the work easier for you. So don’t get mad that you’ve done all this work to make a prototype that probably won’t function exactly how you originally planned.
Alright, so what are some of those kinks you are looking for when solo playtesting?
The main things you’re looking for are: easy to understand (basic) gameplay, and reasonable playing time.
Easy to understand gameplay ties in a lot with what the rules are for the game. This is part of the reason why we suggested previously you jot down your rules so you know what they are and can revise them. As you go through your playtest study how each mechanic and main actions function. Do they make sense? Are they easy to understand? Could you explain this easily to someone? In general, if you’re forgetting or don’t use a certain mechanic or action you need to reconsider how useful it is and if it should be in your game. When you come up with a solution, make sure you write it down in your notes so the changes are marked. This way you’ll remember what changes have been made when you finally explain your game to a public audience.
The other main question you’re trying to answer is: is there any action or mechanic that can be taken advantage of? Which comes down to two things: can a certain mechanic or action be used to give a player an unfair advantage (get them close to victory very quickly, or locks in victory for them), and can a certain mechanic or action be used in a way that is counterproductive (just wasting time/too time consuming)? If you find yourself using the same really effective strategy each playthrough, or realizing the game isn’t progressing as it should, chances are you’re suffering from one of these two problems.
This is another reason why it’s important to write down the results of your playtests and what changes you have made; this will help you decipher what went wrong, and what changes affected your game as such.
Reasonable playing time will depend on your game, but usually we’re making sure that it doesn’t run well over the game time you were aiming for. Understand that because you are playing for multiple people it will be over your planned playing time. Just make sure it doesn’t take 2 hours to solo playtest your 10 minute filler game.
The other parts to reasonable playing time is making sure that when the game ends it makes sense and that your game actually ends. You’re going to want to solo playtest your game multiple times to check this. If your game suddenly ends in 15 minutes for one playthrough, but also took you over 1 hour to play another time, something is probably awry. You need to double-check your victory conditions and mechanics to make sure the ending time is relatively consistent.
Furthermore, check to see that your game will end. Just because the game ended for your solo playtests, doesn’t mean your game will always end. The way to test this is to look at any mechanic that sends gameplay backwards or does not progress it towards the goal and see if a player (or players) can do this infinitely in theory. Try to do it in a playtest and if you can, that needs to be addressed.
One last point about solo playtesting. In looking for all these things you’re going to need to solo playtest as different players. You can’t just play your game as you would personally for all players every time. You need to experiment a little with different strategies. This will allow you to get rid of more kinks and create a better prototype for others to see.
That's it for this week. Next week we're going to show you how we went through all the steps we've talked about so far for my game "Pulled into Darkness".
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.