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  • Writer's picture Danielle Reynolds - @TokenGaymer

Being a Playtester

For a little over a year I have been going to game design meet-ups. Typically, I’d get to playtest one of my games and play on average three other designer’s games. This means I spend about 75% of my meet-ups after work playtesting over people’s games. Every designer is different on how they want to receive feedback and how they handle the positive or negative comments. The stage their game is in also effects what they are looking for. Below are some examples of how other designers went about engaging me as a playtester.

Early Stage Game – Testing a Mechanic/Idea

This designer was only looking to test a mechanic out on the game to see if it would work. He planned to make this rondel his focal point for the design. He told us playtesters what he was testing and what kind of feedback he was looking for before explaining the idea. He also asked questions throughout playtesting and allowed us to ask questions as we went. This is similar to how I do things. Typically, I’ll let people know what I’m mainly focused on testing, so they pay attention to it while playing the game. Then I’ll ask questions and take notes in a note pad as people are playing. Most of the discussion comes at the end of the game. Since we were only testing a mechanic, we didn’t play a full game since the designer hadn’t created a full game yet. I enjoyed giving theme ideas for the game the most, but they already had a theme in mind.

New Game – Early Testing

Everyone is excited when they make a new game. A new game can range anywhere from doodles on paper to using other game’s pieces to using stock photos and simple graphics on cut out printed paper. I personally go towards the printed and sleeved look. It takes more time to prototype, but it looks better and helps non-designer playtesters understand your game idea faster.

Normally in this stage you as a playtester you are deciding if the game is broken. Also, if it has the potential to be fun or something you would want to own. Many times, themes may not have been applied and you are mainly testing the mechanics. At this stage you are probably in the first handful of people to test that designer’s game/idea. If you notice that it is too similar to another published game ask the designer if they’ve played that game. If they haven’t, tell them to look into it so they make sure to make the game different to avoid issues later on once more time and money have been put in.

An example of this stage was a game I played in Madison at a Protospiel Mini. The designer was trying to create a bare bones casual asymmetric game with a quirky theme of being in a whirlpool. We played a 3-player game as a school of fish, pirate and oceanographer. The school of fish’s win condition was to collect all the fish into a single stack. The pirate had to steal all the other player’s coins and the oceanographer could do different things to get victory points including tagging the sharks. I thought the game was really cool, but the roles were super unbalanced. I told him that as the pirate I could never get close to the oceanographer since the sharks would take my money away while the oceanographer could basically ride them. This made it impossible for me to win. This designer took feedback really well and wrote down our issues and suggestions. Once the game is more polished, I’d love to play it again.

Nearing Completion

Once the game has a solid playthrough a few times you can really start to get into the nitty gritty of the game. You can start changing just one thing at a time to make sure you have the best current version. As a playtester you may be told the one or two things they are testing, or you may be asked at the end. Normally you’ll get questions about how you enjoyed the game. Would you play it again? What did you like most/least? Then the answer on their thoughts for changed made to the game.

If the designer is going to self-publish giving feedback on the art and graphic design is important. You want to pay attention to how intuitive it is. If they are pitching it don’t worry about the design too much. You can mention suggestions but most likely a publisher will redo the art anyways.

Printed Demo Game – Testing Expansion / Add-ons

At this stage the designer will either be about to hit Kickstarter or start pitching to publishers. They may just be working on last second balancing of numbers or on potential add-ons for the Kickstarter. Normally you would be giving much less feedback at this stage. Most of what they will be doing is taking count of scores and watching players reactions. They will possibly ask questions at the end or hand you a questionnaire. I’ve playtested once and wasn’t asked any questions at the end. All he was tracking were points to see if his game was balanced enough.

What Does It Take to Be A Good Playtester?

Nothing special, just play the game and follow the designer’s lead. Anyone can be a playtester if you’re willing to give feedback. Normally the designer will ask you if you enjoy a certain type of game that closely matches their game. If you do, you’re good to play. If not, be honest and the designer can decide if you’re a good fit or not. Once you start playing ask questions when you have them. If you’re not getting something chances are someone else didn’t either.

As a playtester, be willing to fill out a survey after the game. They really do help the designer. Give honest feedback in a nice way. Tell the truth and don’t leave things out but make sure not to just tell them this game sucks with no feedback. Be constructive with your criticism. Don’t fight the designer. If they say they’ve tested your suggestion believe them. If they don’t respond well to your response to their game that’s on them and not you. Some designers are good at taking feedback and some are not. Don’t take it personally, you helped by playing the game. Beyond that, the designer can choose what to do with the feedback. But overall, enjoy the game and be as fun, sassy or strategic as you want. And thank you for being a playtester!

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