How to Build a Game #68 How Many Playtests Do You Need?

Now that you have built a prototype of your game, how many times to you need to test the game overall? How many tests until you make a new prototype or upgrade to a nicer version? How do you know when it is time to take your prototype to the next level?

When you are doing your research about getting into game design, you will hear most people say you need to test your game hundreds, if not thousands or times. I don’t fully subscribe to that method. I think a game can be tested one or two dozen times and be finished. I would also like to take this space to say, I believe a game can be finished and not worked on anymore. I hear lots of designer say they are never finished working on their games. I am not a fan of this thinking because that might lead new designers to thinking that they need to continuously work on their games when they could be using the time on their next project when the game they have is a nice complete package. Sure there are a lot of games out there that are complex enough to warrant continuous work, but at what point are you working on expansions and not on the original game?

Anyways, that is another topic for another post.

The way we look at our prototypes goes like this. Build a first prototype with the cheapest materials you have. Test it and make the changes you need to make until you get to a point where you are ready to put that game in front of people who are not in your close “design circle”. Meaning, the people at the game store, the people at game night or taking the game to a convention and you want to test that game and make a half decent impression or the game is going to be used a lot and needs to be able to stand up to the wear and tear.

Feedback is hugely important to knowing when your game is “done.” The way we know a game is done is when the feedback goes from mechanical and game play related changes, to art and component suggestions. I put done in quotes because done means different things to different people. For us, done means we can start getting art together and pick a new main project to work on.

To answer the original question, how many playtests do I need? The answer is, it depends. Design your early prototypes to be flexible until you want to show it off. Design your next prototypes to be durable and presentable. You know your game is in a good place when the feedback no wants to fix mechanical and interaction issues.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

So You Want to be a Playtester? #4 Try Different Strategies

When I was a kid, I would play one or two different strategies in the games we played and that was about it. I watch the people at game night and I would say half the crowd like to play the same strategies from one game to another.

When you are a playtester, you should take the opportunity to try as many different strategies as you can. Not only will you expand your gaming horizons, but you will help out the game and the designer when it comes to making updates.

Trying different strategies is all about stressing the game and seeing how it reacts. Stressing the game will put the game in places it has never been before. This really helps the designer get familiar with the random situations their game can get into that they never thought of.

Not only does the game benefit, but the game can be a more interesting and fun exploration of the game for you, the playtester.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

So You Want to be a Playtester? #3 Go With The Flow

As a designer, what I love about early playtests is the ability to make changes as we go along during a test. When you go into a playtest, you should know that there might be significant rule changes made during the game.

There might be times when the game is broken and there is no point to continue the test as it is. The designer may choose to stop the game there and debrief with the group. They may decide to stop that game and start over.

Whatever it is that happens during a test, just go with it. Games can take much longer than you think they should, the rules can change on the fly, there could be players jumping into and out of a game, the designer could get pulled away and leave the group to play a turn on their own. Be patient and go with the flow.

 

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

So You Want to be a Playtester? #2 Expectations

When you are going into a playtest, you should have your expectations in the right place. You are going into a game that is not complete and looks nothing like a completed game. Prototypes can range from hand written on index cards to looking almost completed with game pieces from other games or cards that have been professionally printed. Whatever you end up play, chances are good, the final game will look nothing like what you are going to see.

There is a good chance the designer of the game has made some recent changes to the game and they have not yet explained the game to a group of people. The explanation may not be a clear as you would expect from a person who has played a published game 20-30 times. Designers are also hoping that the game will go over well during the initial explanation. There is a lot going on in a designers head when they are teaching a game. Knowing that going into a playtest will make the hiccups and possible confusion easier to understand.

None of that is to say that you can’t ask for clarification or prevent you from giving feedback about what you would like to see the components look like. While I don’t want to say “go in with low expectations” I think you should keep your expectations low and understand that this may be the first time the game has been tested. There may have been recent changes to the game the designer has not fully worked into their presentation. Designers have a lot going on in their head when they are presenting their game.

Expect to play a game that may or may not be good, but you will be able to tell the designer what could be changed to make the game more fun and you might even play a game that is a blast and fun was had by all.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

How to Teach Games

Boards and Barley

Teaching games is like an upside down pyramid. Photo Credit: ©hassansagheer via DeviantArt, Inverse Pyramid, Louvre Museum. I do not own this material.

I’ve had several friends tell me that I am good at teaching games. So I sat down for a while with a nice brew and thought about why they might have said that, and about what makes someone good at teaching games. So I’ve postulated and hypothesized some ideas that I want to lay out for you today.

There are some rules and some guidelines. But the overall idea of how to teach games can be summarized in this upside down pyramid table with the idea being that you teach from the top down:

TeachingPyramidBefore we get into those concepts I want to address Rule #1 of teaching games…

RULE #1: Know How To Play!

That seems pretty straightforward, right? It is really annoying when someone is…

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How to Build a Game #67 Player Motivation

 

When you are in the early stages making your game, ask yourself, why would a player want to do this action? Why would a player want to this action over another? What is it that would make a player pick action x over action y?

When we work on our games, we take this approach and there are times when this approach will change mechanics, throw them out. We also find that by the time we get to the testing phase, we have spent the time thinking about what players might want to do. Because we have asked ourselves why a player would want to do x or y, we have multiple theories in place we can test during our play tests. We can see the decisions players are making during the game and have an idea of what was most important during different stages of the game.

Not only does thinking about player motivations early in the process make for a better game out of the gate, but it makes for a more fruitful testing process.

Do you take this approach when you are building your games? Have you made changes to the initial idea because you could not think of a good reason why a player would want to take one action over another? Tell us about it.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #66 Designing With a Time Budget

Designing games takes a lot of time. We all have things going on in our lives that take priority over design and we have to manage our time around life so we can work on the designs we love. When we are designing on a time budget, we need to work out methods to make the most of the time we have. What follows are the methods I use to make the most of the time I have to design.

Notebook(s) at the Ready

If you have a lot going on in life, as we all tend to do, you need to steal as many moments for design as you can. One way I do this is to have notebooks forever at the ready. I use both my phone and small dollar store notebooks I can fit in my pocket and I always have a pen on me. If the idea strikes, if I am waiting for my wife to try on some something at the store, if I am waiting for my car to get washed, I have something on me that will allow me to work on game designs in some way shape or form. The drawback to this is that I am not making progress on a prototype, but I am able to think of potential ideas. I can also run a mental playtest on a game and take notes of changes or tweaks I would like to try out the next time I am at the table working on a main project.

Batch Processing

When I think of batch processing, I think of writing my blog posts in batches of 3-5 and scheduling them days/weeks in advance. I won’t assume you write a blog, but this idea can still apply to designing games. You can collect suggestions for a string of playtests and make the changes all at one time. This is more efficient than making one change here, waiting for a test, one change there, waiting for another test. If you have multiple projects that need prototyping, work on them all during the same design session. Don’t worry about making design/mechanical/thematic progress. Worry about getting the prototypes to a point where they are all playable. Doing things this way will keep the same kind of supplies in front of you so you can work on one game, and when finished, move quickly to the next. You won’t be distracted by the idea that pops up here and there that you want to try out.

Make Materials Ahead of Time

Speaking of prototypes, make all of your pieces ahead of time. Do you cut the same size index cards for your games? Do you use the same kind of counters over and over? Think about all the pieces you use when you are building a prototype or testing a game. Figure out a way to get the pieces you use regularly, or the pieces you need to create, and collect them in a single location. We use fishing boxes with adjustable compartments to hold out counters, dice, blank cards, pens, pencils, etc. When we sit down to make a prototype, everything we need is there, ready to go. The odd occasion we need to make a different piece, we are spending the time only on that thing and not trying to make all the pieces for every game, every time we get to the table for design.

Two Things at Once: TV and Design

My wife and I have some shows that we like to watch. The more I get into design, the less interested I get in TV. However, my wife likes to watch certain shows with me. My solution to this, is to design on the coffee table while we are watching TV. Whatever I can fit on the table, I will work on. Sometimes that is brainstorming, sometime that is playing with a few different components to get a handle on the flow of a mechanic.

Sometimes design is all about finding moments in and around your day so you can move your projects forward. What methods do you use to find time in your day to fit in design time? Leave your time tricks in a comment below.

Find us on Twitter (Follow Us!) and Facebook (Like Us!)

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.