Playtest Early, Playtest Often: Key Advice on Developing Your Tabletop Game

Your game isn’t finished? So what! It’s time to playtest it.

I’ve gone through several iterations of my game, and playtested with people that are close to me. None of that was nearly as beneficial as when I playtested with avid tabletop game lovers who had nothing to hide. They ripped my game apart before I could even finish explaining the rules to them—in a good way.

As I reflect on my game this holiday season and look to make improvements on it in the new year, the most important feedback that I got on my game was that it seemed like I was throwing complicated mechanics in the way of what seemed like an easy objective. I knew that my game was in trouble. After receiving that feedback, and realizing that players were typically forced to agree with one another during a turn (there was no competition or backstabbing in my competitive game), I reworked several elements of it.

  • It’s now a hidden identity game where everyone has separate win conditions
  • The “influence” currency in the game now has multiple purposes instead of just one
  • Players are forced to decide whether then want to help one another or try to screw one another over in the game

I have yet to playtest this latest prototype but I think that these changes will make the game way more exciting for players. And that’s the point, right?

But my game doesn’t have the cool parts built in yet…

It doesn’t matter—playtest it. Playtest it with yourself, with others who understand that it’s not finished yet, with other designers if you’re fortunate enough to have a network of them.

Playtest it!

But my game isn’t even winnable yet…

It doesn’t matter! Playtest it! Break your mechanics down to their core elements and set a goal for a weekly or even daily playtest, then specifically dedicate a portion of your playtests to hunting for balance issues and flow issues with that one mechanic.

Is your currency too easy or too difficult to obtain?—dedicate a handful of playtest sessions to investigating that specific element.

But…

It-doesn’t-matter-playtest-it! In early development, my game had a lot of issues that I would’ve worked out a lot more quickly through active playtest sessions versus speculation and glancing back and forth from my computer screen to my handwritten notes in my journal.

You still write things down? It’s 2018

I realize that. Soon it’ll be 2019 (happy new year!) and I’ll still likely write things down. You don’t have to, but you should log all of your playtests somehow.

Here’s what I make sure to log for each playtest:

  • Date
  • Play duration (in minutes)
  • Turn durations of all players (in minutes)
  • Noticeable balance issues
  • Game-stopping issues that we had to work through
  • Ideas sparked by seeing my game in action
  • Asset issues (typos, weird icons, things that don’t make sense)
  • General anecdotes on the flow and fun of the game

If you take anything away from this advice, let it be: playtest early, playtest often AND log all of your playtests so that you know where to improve your game.

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