So you have created your board game, started playing it with friends and family. Suddenly it dawns on you that maybe some of the rules are too complicated and could be simplified. Maybe the game play could be changed a little to make it more fun and challenging. This is where the idea of play testing comes in! And here is how it works, you get a non family group of 4 to 6 people. Everyone has pencils and paper for note writing. You all play the game and make notes of your likes and dislikes. At the end of the game, you compare notes and discuss your overall thoughts of the game. After this intense session, you take a short break and come back to write on your own notepad how you feel the game could have been played differently as well as the outcome for more of a fun challenging experience. This in turn is given to the inventor for possible changes and or a whole new concept that works more efficiently. Board Game Manufacturing offers play testing by qualified play testers in a qualified group setting for a nominal fee. Please contact us at Quotes@BoardGameManufacturing.com for more info in this play testing service, as well as prototype building . Here are some Do’s and Dont’s that I was able to find publicly:
- Be polite and patient with your play testers. By play testing your game, these people are doing you a favor. They won’t always understand everything you say, they’ll make mistakes in playing, and they’ll make you repeat yourself. That said, any one of them might have a suggestion that will really help your game. Perhaps they’ll become strong supporters of your work. Better still, perhaps they’re connected to a major publisher and they might just sign a contract with you. If you’re polite, you’ll keep lines of communication open.
- Adjust your teaching to the level of experience and style of your players. Ask your players if they’ve played games that might share similar mechanics or strategy to your game. If so, you can compare your game to those other games to make teaching procedures easier. Find out if your players usually play light, medium, or heavy games, and keep their level of experience and preferences in mind throughout the play test.
- Be clear about the theme, mechanics and stage of development of your game. Make sure your play testers know what they’re getting in to. After describing your game in detail, give your players an out. If they’re still interested, they’ll be engaged players. If they learn your game isn’t what they’re looking for, let them go find another game that suits they’re interest or ability.
- Be respectful of time. This is a big one. Let players know how long the game will take, and stick with that duration. If your game is taking too long, suggest that you can end the play test – or if players wish, you can see it through. But don’t drag it out. If the game takes too long, your play testers may not stick around to give you much feedback.If your play test is not going as planned and the game is having major problems, stop. Acknowledge that you’ve learned that there are major problems and talk it over with your play testers. You are not required to finish every game.
- Feel free to make revisions and rule changes on the spot. If you recognize issues that can easily be changed, change them. Think of your play test like you’re cooking a meal, and as you start to taste what’s cooking, you may realize something it really needs. Write on your cards, grab some extra pieces, or remove parts that aren’t working –as long as you’re not making people wait.
- Use feedback forms. It’s a good idea to get written feedback, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes some suggestions/complaints/criticisms are easier to explain in writing than they are verbally. For the designer, written comments are harder to ignore. Letting players write feedback also lets the players know that you take their feedback seriously. Even when they are not writing on forms, you should keep your own notes of their verbal feedback. An idea that sounds outrageous to you in the moment might make perfect sense to you later on when you review these notes.
- Don’t give players all the rules at once. Give players just enough information to play. Answer their questions. Add more information when it’s pertinent. “Just a heads up here. In a couple of turns we’ll be entering the end phase, and you’ll be scoring those achievement tokens.” Avoid giving the history or justification for the various elements of your game, that information can be distracting to players that are trying to experience and test the game as it is.
- Don’t camp on tables in the play test room. During an event without a defined schedule, it’s important to make space available for the designers and players who need that space. once you’ve finished a play test, vacate the table for another designer to use, unless there are plenty of empty tables.
- Don’t get defensive when you receive feedback. You’re almost guaranteed to hear things you don’t like, and things you don’t agree with. Listen to these comments, try to understand their feeling or perspective, and try to discern the origins of their perspective. Then, take these comments and file them with all the other feedback. Keep in mind that this feedback may be from limited exposure to your game – related to this being a first-time play. Whatever you do, don’t tell the play tester they are wrong or unjustified. Accept the fact that your game likely has issues, and even if it’s fabulous, some people are going to hate your game no matter what, even if its the next Catan or Dominion.
- Don’t ask your play testers loaded questions, “Is my game not awesome?!” Guess what, you’ll learn nothing from them, no matter how they answer. Don’t delude yourself with confirmation bias (even if you know your game really is awesome).
Being a Good Play Tester
- Choose to play test games that fit your gaming preferences and style. You can make your playtesting experiences more enjoyable by choosing games within the spectrum of games you usually like to play. If you are familiar with other games within the same genre or mechanical style, you’ll be able to offer feedback that’s informed by knowledge of similar games. If you do step outside of your usual range of games, keep that in mind as you provide your feedback.
- Try your best to learn the rules quickly, but don’t worry about knowing all the details at the beginning. Give the designer all of your attention and mental energy, to help make the play test start quickly and run smoothly. Be okay with figuring out some parts of the game as you go along. Winning is not your primary goal- helping this game become better is.
- Play the game the way it is meant to be played. Pursue strategies and explore choices available in the game as players should. Yes, you can try to break the game by finding overpowered effects and interactions, but don’t break the play testing experience through bizarre behavior. “You know, I passed every turn, because that was an option, and frankly the game was pretty boring.” “I took a random card every turn instead of selecting purposefully, and really, the game seemed very random. You should make a rule to prevent that.”
- Ask questions, but save deep discussion until after the game is over. Too many questions and interruptions can ruin a play test. Undoubtedly, you’ll need to ask questions about how aspects of the game work. Save your deeper philosophical questions for the post-game debriefing.
- Take notes if necessary. Take notes on issues that come up during the game. Write down design questions. Help keep side discussions to a minimum. Prevent yourself from forgetting useful feedback that you’d like to provide the designer. After the game, include those notes in your written feedback to the designer or post-game discussion.
- Focus on the game that is, not the game you want it to be. This one can be especially difficult at times when play testing with designers. Each designer has their own style and preferences. Sometimes they’ll get very excited by the ideas they get while playing your game. “Change, this, change that, and redo this and your game will be perfect… for me!” Instead help the designer realize their vision. Offer your suggestions, but don’t demand or assert that the game must be done your way.
- Provide feedback that is clear, direct and honest. Say what needs to be said. Let them know what aspects of the game work, and which ones do not. Say what was fun, and what was not. Identify an area that you think needs the most work. Unless the game is very refined, you don’t need to belabor every detail, because those details will likely change as work on larger aspects continue.
- Don’t interrupt the flow of the game to make suggestions or criticisms. The middle of the game is not the time to discuss what the game could be, would be, or should be. Don’t make the designer justify elements of the game as they come up. Don’t tell stories or carry on lengthy side conversations. These interruptions will stop the flow of the game and drastically alter everyone’s perception of the game.
- Don’t judge the components or art of the prototype, unless the designer asks. Prototypes will vary greatly in how finished they look. Try to focus your play testing on the “game” and the “game play”, not the physical representations of the game elements. That said, contact Board Game Manufacturing at Quotes@BoardGameManufacturing.com to discuss designing and/or simply building you a great playable prototype.