Good Day Internet!
Today we’re going to discuss some of the things you may do during a regular game night that you should avoid when playtesting and explaining your game.
We’ve already covered explaining your game to playtesters and preparing for external playtesting, but with us getting into the heart of convention season (Protospiel, GenCon, and so many others) we thought it would be a good time to revisit these topics from a slightly different perspective. So this week we’re talking once again about presenting your game to playtesters with more of a focus on how it’s different than a normal game night: a semi-formal presentation with a purpose compared to playing with friends at home.
1) Avoid Discussing Tactics or Strategy
During a regular game night, you may help new player(s) by giving them some tactical and strategic tips as well as suggestions to help them contend with the rest of the group. When playtesting though, you need to avoid this at all costs: you’re not interested in how “well” your playtesters play the game. What you are interested in is seeing how your game performs under as many different circumstances as possible, including different tactics, strategies, and player experience--which in turn may reveal why certain players do well.
You also need to recognize that not every playtester is going to be clueless on what to do. Experienced board gamers and playtesters will usually figure out a strategy or potential way to break your game quickly and put it into action--your job is to let them figure that out on their own and stay out of their way. You’ll get way more useful feedback by observing how they play and manipulate the game rather than by telling them how they should play your game.
2) Don’t be an Alpha Gamer
You should always be available and willing to help with rule clarification and interpretation. However, under no circumstance should you be playing the game for your playtesters. The decisions should always be in the hands of your playtesters without any interference from you. You should do your best to tell playtesters what their options are as they would be described in your rules. Don’t give them examples of plays they can make, like you might do during a regular game night. Let the playtesters ask questions and figure it out themselves. Part of the data you want to collect is how easy your game is to learn and how intuitive it is; the only time you want to step in with what a player can do is if they literally are doing nothing and have no idea what is going on. Sidenote: if this happens during your playtest there’s a good chance you have something to fix either in your game or explanation. Try not to look at this as a negative though; rather, look at it as a learning experience in improving your game and/or explanation.
3) Avoid Discussing Other Playtesters’ Feedback Until After the Game
Gamers usually love discussing how previous games and situations have played out as well as previous players’ plans and thoughts on/for the game. Although a big part of the social aspect of board gaming and playtesting, it can be detrimental during playtests. You want to avoid influencing your playtesters’ feedback before they’ve made their own conclusions. Hopefully your playtesters will think for themselves, but you don’t want to take a chance that they’ll just agree with what you’ve told them a lot of playtesters have said before. Besides, you’ll most likely have the chance once the playtest finishes to let playtesters know you’ve had similar feedback before and are working on solutions. Before you do though, listen attentively to your playtesters feedback, ask followup questions, and don’t shut down ideas. Then you can talk about the feedback you’ve had before and have a discussion around those points.
4) Be Helpful, Kind, Happy, and an Active Observer
Okay, you probably want to be some of these things at your regular game night, but they’re even more important during playtests. You should make your playtesters feel comfortable even while you’re attentitively watching them play your game. It’s important to remember that your playtesters aren’t machines or guinea pigs--they have feelings and want to be heard too. Appreciate and accept incoming opinions, and keep an open mind when it comes to feedback and critiques you receive. The only thing you don’t want to do in terms of attitude is bring in artificial enthusiasm for your game.
Part of being an active observer is being involved in the playtest--give the group your time and attention, even if you are not playing. Pay attention to aspects of the game you did/didn’t expect, think about those moments and ask questions about them. Playtesters will only comment and give feedback on what stood out to them in the experience. By being observant you can ask questions and get feedback on other important aspects of your game that may not immediately come to mind for your playtesters.
That’s it for this week. We hope this helps you as you go around playtesting your game during convention season. Speaking of which, due to our participation in Protospiel, GenCon, and helping to organize ProtoTO (plus other commitments) we’re going to have to take a small hiatus from the blog for the next month. If we get a chance though, we’ll post some content on our adventures at Protospiel and Gencon. We will also still be active on our twitter and facebook--so make sure to follow us there.
Along with moving, and travelling for Allysha’s work, we’ve got lots to do to get Pulled into Darkness and our island survival game: Swept Ashore updated and ready for critique. However, we’re getting pretty confident with the play of Pulled into Darkness, and depending how these events go we hope to start working towards getting Pulled into Darkness published!
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.