The Art of Playtesting
As a board game designer, playtesting your board game is the best possible thing you can do to improve the quality of the game. Flame Point Games ensures that our games, Magical Unicorn Quest and Towering Purrfection, are thoroughly play tested so that people want to play them again and again. There is an art to a successful playtest session, and the success or failure of the playtest session heavily relies on your role as the leader. Your ability to make everyone comfortable, encourage everyone to speak up, enforce a respectful tone, and manage the pace of the game will determine the quality of the feedback received.
Step 1) Introductions: Make sure that you have the game set up before your play testers arrive, and have refreshment available. You want your play testers to feel welcome and ready to play the game. Introduce yourselves. Tell the play testers your name and your passion for the game. Most important explain to play testers that they have been invited to share their opinions and that all feedback is welcome.
Step 2) Playing the game: First, let everyone know that you would like feedback after the game has been played and that time is set aside so everyone can give their feedback. Before you start the game, teach everyone the rules. Being able to articulate and quickly teach the rules is important. Keep the teaching short. Players will not remember 10 minutes of rules given to them in a list. If the rules were not taught properly, it will ruin a player’s experience. Practice teaching your game and refining what you say. Figure out keywords that will help people learn the game faster. During the game remind people of the rules and make sure they are followed. Don’t go changing the rules mid game. If you want a rule changed, save it for the next playtest. Also, don’t provide players with winning strategies. You want to see how other people play the game, not how you would play the game.
Step 3) Feedback: Feedback is the reason why you have people playtest your game, and you must come prepared with questions to ask. All responses to your questions are valid; there is no right or wrong answers. Please respect the opinions of others even if you don’t agree with their feedback. Remember their feelings are legitimate, and that this is how other people would feel if your game was published in its current state. When receiving negative feedback ask them to elaborate, for example you can say “Can you elaborate more on this issue in the game, and do you have an idea of to fix it.” Do not get defensive and blame the play testers for making bad moves during the game.
Feedback: 4 ways to keep it positive.
- Begin feedback with a fun, non-threatening, open-ended question; this will enable everyone to develop a comfort level with speaking in front of the group and sharing their ideas. Example question “Which aspects of the game did you enjoy the most?”
- After ask a question that will help improve the game and allow you to make changes. Example question “If you could make one change to the game what would it be and why?”
- Write down on paper the players’ actual words as much as possible. Avoid the temptation to paraphrase. This will show each participant that his/her ideas are unique and important. Having detailed notes will also help when revising the game.
- Redirect the discussion when it strays too far off topic. Say something like, “These are important and interesting points. However, we need to bring the discussion back to....”
Feedback: 4 things to avoid.
- Read questions verbatim from a scrip. This may come across as stiff and formal.
- Finish people’s sentences or make assumptions about what is being said by someone. Let people finish their thoughts it is respectful.
- Allow one or two people to dominate the conversation or use the feedback time for their own agenda. Balance participation by saying “I would like to hear more from…”.
- Permit side discussion; It is hard to be present in two conversations at the same time and you may miss important information.
Step 4) Closing: End the discussion by summarizing the main points. Thank the group for participating, and let them know how the discussion results will be used to modify the game for the next play test group. At the end ask them to complete a short survey where they can right down their thoughts. In the survey have a section where they can sign up for your newsletter.