Posted by Gemma Crundwell on 26th February 2018

Playtesting is a way games designers test a new game for bugs and design flaws as part of a quality control process. No one wants to play a game where one strategy or card means certain victory, that no one else can compete with (wait…unless you’re the person with that card!).

It is relatively easy to put together a rough draft and start playing to check the concept works. We’re pretty lucky that we can rapidly prototype by raiding our enormous stash of board games for tokens (sorry Pandemic, Catan, Captains of the golden age and others). Plus we own a 3D printer and have access to a workshop in the evening with laser cutters, CNC routers and injection moulding (Thanks Cambridge Design Partnership). Using a very basic version of the game at the beginning means we focus on the core game mechanics – if people still enjoy playing the game using scraps of paper and a random assortment of tokens, we know it is a good game.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been extensively playtesting both Oli and James’s new games. While this is really useful and is a great excuse for a night of playing games and eating takeaway, the most effective feedback will be from people playing when we are not around to explain what a rule means, or what a card does. You don’t just want people to be polite and say ‘yes that was a fun game, you’re so clever for making it’ you need genuine feedback about what works and what doesn’t. PlayTest UK have a meet up in Cambridge which we have been to a few times but admit we need to go more often (which is now a little tricky; going to a pub with a 4 month old!).

So, we’re planning on hosting a few more play testing sessions, to get feedback, in exchange for cake. There is lots of guidance online about hosting a playtesting event. For example League of Gamemakers has some great tips including:

  • Think about level of experience and style of players – some people are seasoned games whereas the last time someone else may have played a boardgame was monopoly 20 years ago. Their feedback will be different!
  • Be clear on theme, mechanics and stage of development – people aren’t necessarily going to give you useful feedback if they expected a final product and turn up to scraps of paper
  • Its OK to change the rules on the spot – we’re play testing, if someone thinks a rule doesn’t work or has an idea why not try it!
  • Use feedback forms – sometimes it is easier to articulate suggestions/criticisms in writing. PlayTest UK luckily have some feedback forms ready to use

Personally, we think Balancing a game is key so often you can get more valuable feedback by asking players to concentrate on a particular strategy or tactic to check it’s not unbeatable.

Also avoid the temptation to over-complicate. Often you are better testing a stripped back version of the game to check the core of it works well, before adding in all your random event cards etc.

So if you want to help us play test drop us an email or Facebook message and we will let you know the plans/can arrange to send you a prototype. N.B. Cakey bakey based bribery only available if I see you in person!