Is your next playtest scheduled?

Jessica Berlin Playtesting 3 Comments

Event important day, calendar concept

When is your next playtest scheduled? Is it on the calendar? Is it firm? Nothing’s going to change it? You’re going to get your game ready and actually do the playtest, right?

Have you ever had a playtest on your calendar, maybe at a local convention, an Unpub Mini or Protospiel event, or just a meetup with other game designers or your local board gaming group, but then when that date actually came around you didn’t really think your game was ready to be playtested, so you decided not to go, or maybe you went, but didn’t bring your game out? You figured it could wait until the next time, right? No big deal.

But, what do you think you could have learned from doing that playtest anyway?

Who was at that event that could have helped you figure out what you needed to do next with your game? What did you miss out on because you didn’t do that one playtest? How much further along could your game be if you had just put a little more effort in to making sure you were ready for that playtest and you actually did it?

We learned this lesson first hand recently — we almost didn’t go to a convention we had planned to attend to playtest our game, but then decided to go through with it anyway, even though our game didn’t seem ready. Luckily we went through with the playtest after all, and we ended up getting the exact feedback and suggestions we needed to make our game into something we’re really proud of. It feels almost complete, a level we’ve never reached before with any other game we’ve worked on. We’re thinking about doing some blind playtesting soon and submitting it for the Cardboard Edison Award, researching which publishers we want to reach out to and try to pitch to next year. But, where would we have been now if we hadn’t done that playtest? We might have just continued to be stuck with the game, not quite sure how to move past the problems we were having with it, not anywhere near where we wanted to be by this time with this game. We’re really happy we ended up going through with that playtest, but it almost didn’t happen.

We had decided to go up to Sacramento for ConQuest Avalon to participate in their ConQuest Test Lab playtesting event. Dave and I were both scheduled to go, something that doesn’t usually happen, since we have two young kids at home. But, we have family in Sacramento, so we thought it would work out. It ended up that I wasn’t able to go and we debated on whether or not Dave should still go. It’s a small con and we didn’t know how much playtesting he’d really be able to do, it was right before Thanksgiving when we were going to be traveling anyway, and it meant Dave had to buy a plane ticket and rent a car for the trip. So, it was a lot of effort and cost and we weren’t sure it was going to be worth it. But, we had committed to it and decided the game needed more testing, so we’d take advantage of that and we made plans for him to go.

Then, Dave ended up going to another playtesting event a couple weeks before ConQuest Avalon, and had a great playtest with Luke Laurie and Peter Vaughan, game designers that are part of the League of Gamemakers. They had some terrific insight on our game — we really needed victory points in the game (not just whoever has the most money wins) and maybe worker placement wasn’t the best mechanic for a game about farming (been done before maybe?). But, their amazing insight and suggestions meant that our game needed to be completely torn apart and built back up (again!).

This isn’t the first time this has happened, so we should have been expecting this by now. But, it meant that the game wasn’t really ready to go when it was time for Dave to leave for Sacramento to go to ConQuest Avalon. It was a crazy week right before he was leaving and he hadn’t had as much time to work on fixing the game as he had wanted. We again questioned if he should really go. Was it worth it? Was he really going to be able to playtest his game that wasn’t even really completely playable at this point because we hadn’t had time to figure out how to incorporate the suggestions from Luke and Peter yet?

But, he did go. He was able to make a few quick changes a day or so before the con that weren’t pretty, but it was something to play. He playtested it several times at the convention, mostly with other game designers, and he got the simple advice of, “why don’t you just make it a rondel?” This suggestion has now solidified our game, Cobblestone Market, into something that’s ready to move to the next step of potentially getting published (thank you John Shulters!).

Cobblestone Market rondel

Cobblestone Market, using the new center rondel board and victory points, rather than a worker placement game in which the player with the most money wins, all suggestions from our last two playtesting events. Players move their pieces around the squares on the outside of the center board to choose an action. You can’t go on the same square another player is already on and whichever player’s marker is at the end of the line takes their turn next.

And to think, we almost didn’t go. We almost didn’t get that advice. Going to that event, even though the game wasn’t totally ready, pushed us to get something to the table. But, we haven’t always done that in the past. Sometimes we decide not to go and then the game suffers for it.

Playtesting is where your game grows up. You need to get out there and playtest your game in order for it become the game you know it can be. You need other people who think differently than you to play it and show you where it’s not working for them, so you can then take it and make it better and fix the issues. But, if you don’t go to that playtest, that will never happen. If you never take that game off your kitchen table and ask other people to play it, you’ll never know where it could go. Take that game out into the wild and see what happens!

So, when is your next playtest scheduled? Don’t have one scheduled? Start looking at your calendar and scouring the Internet for playtesting events coming up. Check out Unpub and Protospiel to see if there are any coming up near you (and if there aren’t, maybe plan your own). Figure out when the next local game convention near you is happening and see if you can schedule your game as an event, or maybe they even have a playtesting area at the con. Do you have a game designer group nearby? Make sure you go to the next event and ask them to play your game. Or check out for board game groups. There are lots of ways to find playtesters. You just have to figure out what your options are and then get it on the calendar.

Once it’s on your calendar, resolve right now to do that playtest no matter what.

And then, when that one is done, schedule the next one. And then the next… And keep going until your baby board game is all grown up. Won’t it be exciting to see what it becomes?

Let me know in the comments when your next playtest is scheduled and where you’re planning on playtesting. And, tell me what you learned from your last playtest that you wouldn’t have learned if you hadn’t gone. I’d love to hear your playtesting stories too.

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