Learning lessons from running Unpub Mini SD

Jessica Berlin Playtesting 0 Comments


We hosted our fourth Unpub Mini San Diego playtesting event on Saturday, June 4, and I think it was our best one yet! We had a great turnout. We had 30 game designers registered (a couple ended up dropping out or not showing up, so we ended up having a few less than that) and we had a packed room of playtesters almost the whole day.

We’ve learned a few things along the way, since we hosted our first Unpub Mini event in 2014 and I wrote the blog post, “How to host your own Unpub Mini event,” so we thought it might be good to write an updated post on the event.

We changed things up a little bit this time. Here’s what we changed and how we think it went:

Designer Registration:

We ran two sessions of our new game, The Council of Adventurers, at Unpub Mini SD. It’s a tableau-building card game derived from the most popular mechanic of our game Prism.

For the past events we opened registration on our website to designers and then just took reservations as they came, adding people in to the schedule, first come, first serve. This meant that we had some designers with six sessions and other designers with one session and it didn’t really seem very fair. So, this time we decided to have a two-week designer registration period where designers could sign up and request up to four sessions and prioritize which sessions they wanted. At the end of the two weeks, we took all the registrations and made sure each designer had at least two sessions, but some designers (usually the ones that registered early) had three slots. We had 30 designers register this time, which is the most we’ve ever had. I think this designer registration period worked well for the most part, but I think in the future we may limit the total number of designers that can register to allow each designer to have more time to playtest their game(s) at the event.

Designer-only Events:

At past events we’ve had some designers say that they’d like to have time to talk to the other designers or see other designers’ games while they’re at the event, but it’s hard to do this when you’re running your own game most of the day. We did highly encourage the game designers to play other designers’ games during the sessions they weren’t running their own games, and many of them did this. But, we also added two designer-only events at the beginning and end of the main event.


Thank you to The Game Crafter for sponsoring the event and providing tons of blank components to give away to the game designers (and future designers)!

From 10 a.m. to noon, we had “Game Designer Open Play Time” where designers could come early and play their games with the other designers. About 10 designers showed up for this and it seemed to be a good use of time for those that were able to participate. One designer said, “I had another game I brought with me to offer up in the open play time, and I also wanted to chat and get to know some of the other designers. I thought it was great, having time with a smaller group of people (and specifically designers) meant a more relaxed, focused space.”

And then, after the main event ended, from 8 to 9 p.m., we had a “Game Designer Open Forum/Discussion Time.” This was very informal and probably could have been a little more directed. We wanted designers to have time to talk and discuss how things went with their playtests, share knowledge, and discuss what was next with their games. But, this may not really be a great time to do this, since everyone is pretty tired and ready to go home by the end of the day.

Starting and Ending Time:

Most of the day we had a packed house with 12 games running per session.

In the past, the event was from noon to 9 p.m. We shortened the main event this time to 12:30 to 8 p.m., but then didn’t start the first playtest session until 1 p.m. In the past, we’ve noticed that players didn’t really start showing up until 1 p.m. or later, so we thought it would be better to tell people the event starts at 12:30 and then give players time to trickle in and figure out what game they wanted to play so there were actually players there and ready to play for the designers in the first session. We also ended at 8 p.m., instead of 9 p.m. this time, because our last session always seemed rather empty. Both of these changes seemed to work well. We actually had players there for the first session ready to play and a lot more players stayed until the end as well.

Session Play Time:

Since we shortened the event overall, we also had to shorten each of the individual sessions. We used to have six 75-minute sessions with 12 games running during each session. This time we changed the sessions to be 60 minutes long. It seemed to work okay and we were able to keep everyone mostly on schedule. Most of the games were able to fit within that timeframe, or at least play enough of the game to get some good feedback.


Raph Koster, local San Diego game designer and author of The Theory of Fun for Game Design, playtested his game Settlement.

When asked what they thought about the session length after the event, one designer said, “The length of the play sessions is difficult to gauge. Every designer requires a different amount of time. Some prefer complete play throughs, others want quick demos, so that’s hard to answer honestly. I’d say a minimum of one hour is needed, but that the hour should not be broken up by raffles, and that some time should be allowed for set up and take town.”

We had 10-minute breaks between each session and we did a raffle prize drawing during these breaks, plus sometimes games weren’t finished, so people were still playing or at least trying to fill out feedback forms or talk to the designer. And if the designer didn’t have the next session also then they were cleaning up their game while the next designer was trying to get in to set up his game. There was a lot of chaos during the 10-minute breaks. From this experience, we’re thinking about changing the format once again to try to solve some of these problems.

How to Fix it:

Thank you so much to all of our sponsors who provided these amazing raffle prizes. Players won these throughout the day.

Here’s what we’re thinking for next time. We’ll have two sessions that are three hours each. We can have 12 designers per session and we’ll limit total registration to 24 designers. So, each designer will have their table for one of the two sessions and they’ll have their table for the full three hours and they can do whatever they’d like during that time. If they have a short game, they can play it multiple times. If they have a longer game, maybe they can actually finish a whole game during their session. Designers could bring multiple games to playtest, depending on the players they have available and how they’d like to use the time they have at their table.

We may also consider charging designers a nominal fee to register, since we’ll have to limit the number of designers that can register. The fee would cover some of our costs for running and marketing the event, but more importantly, it would help ensure that the designers are committed to showing up. Since designers would have a table for half the day in this new format, we would want to make sure we actually filled up all the tables and didn’t have people not show up at the last minute, if at all possible.

We won’t interrupt play during the sessions with raffle drawings. We’ll plan to just have two big raffle drawings at the end of each session. So, this will hopefully give players and designers bigger chunks of uninterrupted play time, without the chaos of raffles and switching games at tables after every session.

Hopefully the designers will also still plan on coming early or staying for the other session and playing other designers’ games. This helps ensure we have enough playtesters for everyone’s games, but I also think there is a lot of benefit to both designers when you play another designer’s game. We’ve always felt that game designers usually have very helpful feedback and we also learn a lot when we play another designer’s game. It’s a great learning experience from both sides of the table.

This schedule change will mean that we won’t be able to have quite as many designers participate in the event, but I almost think we had too many designers this time, which meant that each designer that came didn’t really have as much time as they would have liked to have their game playtested.

Future Events:

Currently, we don’t know when we’re going to host the next Unpub Mini SD event. Most likely it won’t be until next year. But, we are looking into doing more than one next year, and possibly co-hosting events at other San Diego gaming events. If you’d like to stay updated on when the next Unpub Mini SD will be, sign up for the email list.

But, there are others who are now hosting playtesting events in the area!

  • Coming up next is LA Unpub Mini, hosted by the LA Board Game Jam group on Saturday, June 18, at Game Empire Pasadena. Dave will be there with our newest game, The Council of Adventurers, a tableau-building card game that was first playtested at Unpub Mini SD and received good feedback. It’s been upgraded from hand-written cards to a basic layout with icons since then and we’re looking forward to getting even more feedback at this event.
  • We also just heard that Gam3rCon in San Diego is going to host an Unpub/Spiel playtesting event for the first time this year, which will be from July 21-24 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in Downtown San Diego. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to attend this event, since it is the same days as San Diego Comic Con, which Dave attends every year. But, we heard a rumor that next year the event won’t be at the same time as Comic Con, which is exciting.
  • Also, Tabletop Commons, a board game cafe in San Diego is now hosting Playtest Tuesdays and having one game designer every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. come and playtest their game. We’ll be there tomorrow, June 14, playtesting The Council of Adventurers. Come join us, or check out other designers’ games on future Tuesdays at Tabletop Commons.

There is so much more tabletop game design playtesting going on in San Diego and Los Angeles these days! It’s exciting to see all the game designs and opportunities for playtesting. When we first started Unpub Mini SD two years ago there really wasn’t much going on in Southern California for tabletop playtesting, which is why we started our event in the first place. There is obviously a need for more playtesting events in the area. We always have more game designers than we have room for at our event and they’re always asking for more! So, we hope all these events will continue and then we can start to see some great games coming out of Southern California.

If you attended Unpub Mini SD Summer 2016, what did you think? And what you do think about our ideas for next time? If you’ve hosted your own Unpub Mini or other game design playtesting event, how do you run your event? Any other thoughts or ideas for scheduling and running playtesting events? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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