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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Playtesting – the Questions

A second chapter in my views on successful Playtesting. You know what you want to test, but what do you want to find out from your test players?

Mechanics and Rules
This is typically the first set of playtests you run, even by trying out a game yourself, playing the parts of three to five different players.

You want to know if the turns work the way you thought they would, whether there are any major stumbles in how the game proceeds, and if the game appears to have some tension or challenge. You want to see if your concept of the board, or the cards, or the pieces, etc “work” the way they are supposed to.

The other major thing we look for at this stage of Playtesting is, “Is this game pretty much like a game that is already published? Did we just re-invent the wheel or borrow too much from a known game mechanic?” If the answer is YES, maybe you’re done with this game as it stands. Using a known mechanic in a new way is fine though, as is using an interesting mix of known elements.

You might also want someone to try it out (with you sitting nearby) trying to learn the game from the rules you handed them. That’s how you see whether your write-up needs work (and it probably does!) This testing happens several times in the life of a game, so be prepared to take people’s edits and assistance gracefully!

Finally in this group, you really do want playtesters to tell you to improve the game, with rule changes, ideas about components, game flow, anything goes. You have to listen to them. You don’t have to accept every idea, but you dang well better listen politely!

So past the basics of getting the game to “work” properly, now you’re onto the bigger issue. Should you try to get this game published somehow and get people to play it?

Here are the main questions we want answers to. Some of them we can ask directly, some we ask in a group setting, and others we don’t ask until later, maybe after a playtester has tried a given game at least a couple times.

1. Is it fun? How fun is it compared to other games sort of like it?
If it’s boring, or trivial, or irritating, you might as well know now!

2. Did you like the theme? Did it add to enjoyment of the game?
This is where you have a chance to educate or keep the interest of a player. Although abstract games are fine, if you can fit theme (and ambience) to the game well, you get an extra bonus from the game when you’re done since the experience was itself themed.

3. Was there some tension in the game? What was it about?
There’s good and bad tension of course. Good Tension – tough player decisions, game surprises, and bluffing are examples. Bad Tension – players disagreed on a rule, someone took too long to play, the game took forever to learn—these are the things you don’t want of course!

4. Would you buy the game? What would be a reasonable price?
If they like it but would not buy it, try to find out why. Also it can help to find out in general if they think games are under- or over-priced to give you a point of reference.

5. If you owned it would you play it:
· Only on a special occasion
· Once every few months
· Once a month
· Possibly more than once in a single game session
You want to know about re-playability. The more people want to bring your game out, the more they sell it to other people on your behalf. Over half the games I own I bought because I played that game at someone’s house and went home and put it on my wanted list. If, right after you test a game, someone yells, “Let’s play again!” that is a _very_good_thing_.

6. Would you share this game with other:
· Gamers? (People who play board games and card games twice a month or more)
· Collectible Card Game Players? (Games like Magic the Gathering , etc)
· (In Havoc’s case) Poker Players? (We wanted to know about crossover interest)
· First-time Gamers (Is this a game one people could use to introduce the gaming hobby to people who had not played?)
· Non-Gamers? (People like your family that might play a game once a year if forced to.)
This is marketing information, pure and simple. It might tell you that publishing 20,000 copies is way too many, since your game only appeals really to one small group listed above. It might tell you that publishing the game yourself as a DTP (desk-top published) game is plenty good for the people you want to get it to.

I’ve probably left out some big questions we also ask, but I don’t have access to the files from here. So if I missed some obvious ones, drop me a note and I’ll report back next time.

Happy gaming!


  • At 11:00 PM, Blogger GDW said…

    Interesting questions. I also tend to ask questions specific to the game following the general questions. Things like "what did you think about the scoring?" or "were the attack rules too complex?".


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