GCSF Column: Game Prototyping and Playtesting

Hello ladies and gentlemen, Eugene Shenderov here, writing for Game Creators’ Social Forum. Today, I wanted to write about game prototyping and finding playtesters.

This is a game I made with my business partner, kickass artist Charlie Wilcher.
This is a game I made with my business partner, kickass artist Charlie Wilcher.

The game I have shown above is a Microgame we are submitting to the 2015 BGG Microgame competition. Above is our final prototype, after a month of work and prototyping. Here is our first prototype:

Yes, really.
Yes, really.

As you can see, the original prototype shines with a certain charm, a verisimilitude that… oh, forget it. It’s not very good ūüėõ

And that, in fact, is my point. If you are prototyping a game, the first version you make will be… not very good looking. AND THAT’S A GOOD THING. The first prototype you see is similar in many ways to the polished prototype at the top (Which is also not the final game,) but we had to make a lot of changes to the rules, and even change some cards entirely. A few iterations of the prototype were made before we decided to spend some money ($14 for two decks, thanks to University printing,)¬†on a prototype that we thought was good enough to photograph and proudly present to people.

As an aside, in regards to the University printing: always utilize whatever resources you have at your disposal. If you have a local print shop or other venue where you can get laminated, fairly high quality prototypes made, it can mean a world of difference. Once you are closer to a finished game, you should use a more professional service such as The Game Crafter, but local is an important first step. This will save you time and money in the long run, as issues with your rules or mechanics will be easier to see if those testing your game are not battling a poor quality prototype.

 How did we magically know what cards and mechanics needed to be changed? Good question, glad you asked! Playtesting. Playtesting is one of the most important aspects of game design, and the point of this entry.

Halfway there, Comrade!
Halfway there, Comrade!

 I got lucky with my group of gamers. When I first went to college, I had already played a lot of board and card games because of my friends in high school. We would always discuss all aspects of a game; art, design, mechanics. This led me to where I am now in terms of game design. But when I first came to college, I did not see a group for board gamers, so I organized one. We met every Friday, and would play lots of games. Most were mine, but others would bring their favorites as well. This went on past my graduation, and the group is still active!

So, I organized a group that would become my playtesters for the games I created. I have shown them two of my games, and their feedback has been invaluable. The group is actually very diverse; we have competitive players, MTG (Magic:The Gathering) players, analytical players, and people who just play for fun. This gives a lot of insight into different aspects of the game. A game should be fun, well designed, and take the amount of time you want it to take (Often, prototypes take much longer than you originally thought the game would or should). There are other factors, but these are the ones I believe you should focus on when first designing a game.

These people are a valuable resource, and you should keep that in mind. Bribe them with snacks, thank them for their time, and pay close attention to their comments. They will be critical. They may say hurtful things. You may want to glare at them until they catch fire. You should not do so, however. Their comments are extremely valuable; besides talk about having to have thick skin to make games (which is true), what your playtesters think is the problem is not necessarily the main issue.

An important skill is taking what your playtesters say and seeing how it relates to the underlying mechanics. For example, one of the leaders’ powers in Communism: The Game is to draw an extra card every turn. This is a much stronger ability than the others (though theirs are useful in their own way), but since only one card is played per turn (with some exceptions) this ability is not overpowered. In earlier iterations of the game, this ability was a significant issue, but some changes to the mechanics fixed it. Our group is lucky to have players with a deep understanding of mechanics, but you may have to tinker with the underlying mechanics yourself.

 As I have said, I have gotten a group of playtesters by creating a group of like minded individuals in college. But there are many ways to find Рor forge Рa group of playtesters. You can involve family, if they are gamers, you can involve friends, with the same caveat. If you want professional playtesters, there are sites out there that specialize in this. I cannot recommend them, as I have not used any, but anyone who has please feel free to post in the comments below! Hopefully this advice has been useful, and good luck with all your game projects!

Eugene Shenderov, Game Creators’ Social Forum

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