So You Want to be a Playtester? #9 Giving Feedback

The main reason we are all here testing games is to give and get feedback. Designers are going to many different ways to go about getting feedback. If this is an organized playtesting convention, there will be pre-printed forms for you to fill out. Some designers will have their own forms and some will ask you questions and write down the answers.

No matter the method there is one phrase you need to keep in mind: Be Honest and Brutal

Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. If you want to be helpful to the designer then give the most honest feedback you can. If you are not really comfortable giving back feedback, think of ways to word it when it comes to parts of the game you don’t like. Maybe you can mention one thing you didn’t like and mention two others you did like.

Don’t be afraid to be hard on the game. Think about the game as if you want to play it at game night. What about the game do you want to see changed in order to take this game to game night and show it to your friends? When I say brutal, I mean that you should not give the game a pass because it is a prototype. Be fair to the prototype in terms of art and theme, but look at the mechanics and make sure that the game works. If it doesn’t tell the designer, be brutal.

As designers, we really appreciate you taking the time to test our games and we want you to test more of them. We want you to be honest and break our games. You are an important part that goes into making our games become a reality and we will never forget it. We hope you enjoy the games and we hope that you feel comfortable enough to give us some honest and brutal feedback.

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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? #8 Learn How to Break a Game

I think the most valuable skill to have at a playtest table is the skill to break a game. All the other skills are very important but as a designer, I always appreciate it when a player break our game. Everyone gets blind spots when they see the same game over and over again.

When I leaned how to break our own games, I think the first thing was to remove any notion of wanting to win the game and find a strategy that no one else at the table is using. Another take on this idea is to try the same strategy other players are using and see how the game reacts. I look for the limits of the game and I want to try and hit them. Think along the lines of resource limits, hand sizes, a fast character with no armor or a beefed up character with no speed. What happens if I try to horde a lot of resources, what happens if I try to play the entire game spending resources as soon as I get them? What happens if I hold on to a full hand size? Do I have options through the whole game, or do my cards lose their value as I am not playing them? Can I find a character that is over powered compared to everyone else?

These are just a few examples of the kinds of appraoches you can apply to a game when you are testing it.

The more published games you play and the more prototype games you test, you will be able to identify the weak points and put them to the test. Not only are you allowed to go outside your normal style of play, you are helping out the designer and the game in the best way possible.

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So You Want to be a Playtester? #7 Play Games Like a Designer

In the previous post of this series, we talked about chatting with the designer and some of the benefits of having those conversations. One of the specific things you should ask a designer is how they play games.

I can’t say this applies to all designers, but all the designers I speak to when the topic of how they play games comes up, we all have two modes when playing games. Gamer mode to have fun and designer mode to dissect the game.

Listen to what designers have to say about how they dissect a published game. What parts of a game to they focus on during different plays of the same game? Do they study the reaction of other players during the game and what are they listening for when everyone is talking about the game during clean up? Maybe you want to be a designer yourself….you can ask a designer to tell you what game and what mechanic gave them inspiration to build a game of their own with that feature or theme.

Playing games like a designer will not only make you a better playtester, it will make the published games you play at game night more interesting. Learning how to deconstruct the games you play at game night will help you deconstruct the games you playtest and make playtesting games that much more fun and interesting when the feedback you give comes from this frame of mind.

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So You Want to be a Playtester? #6 Chat with the Designer

Having run playtests I can tell you that I like it when I get to hear from my playtests what games they like to play, how long they have been a gamer and in general, talk about things other than the game we are testing.

This is not always possible because playtest events can get very busy and the designer may not have time. But if you find yourself in a situation (maybe even during the playtest) where you can chat with the designer about your gaming background or your likes and dislikes; this will be valuable information to the designer. It will help the designer give weight to your feedback. Even if the games you are testing is not the kind of game you like, maybe there was an element you really liked and the designer can look at that and think about how to give their game a wider appeal.

If you give the designer an idea of what games you like to play, maybe they have a game they are working on they think you would like and they can give you an advanced copy of the rules for you to look at.

Keep in mind, not all conversations with the designer need be in person. Lots of designers are on twitter and probably on Board Game Geek. They should have contact information at the event or you can ask them for it and you cans trick up a conversation online. There are benefits to both you and the designer is you keep in touch with that and designers love to talk about their games all the time.

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So You Want to be a Playtester? #5 Could You Teach This Game?

I try to write these as general as possible, but I am going to be a little more specific today.

One of the questions I ask all my playtesters at the end of a play is, “could you teach this game to a friend right now?” Outside of the “standard” mechanical and thematic questions, this is by far the most important question I ask. I don’t have the expectation that everyone will be able to teach their friends this game, but I can tell how well the game was absorbed by the testers and how comfortable they are with the game. The most standard answer is along the lines of, “sure, if I had a quick reference sheet.” As a designer, I can take the variety of answers and adjust the way I explain the game and I can ask very specific follow up questions.

What does this mean for you? You should be thinking about this as a piece of feedback because regardless of the complexity/theme/length of the game, this kind of feedback applies to all games. You can tell the designer you feel good about explaining this area here or that mechanic there, but not so much the amount of accounting you need to keep track of. The designer will be able to make changes to the game that makes the game better for the next people to play it, and that is what we are there to do, make the games better.

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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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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