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  • Writer's pictureSam Barton

What I Learnt Playtesting at a Convention

Last weekend, I took the latest version of ‘One Last Heist’ to the UK Games Expo, to visit the Playtest UK area, where kind volunteers match you up with playtesters for your prototype.

This was a great opportunity to be able to watch other people play my game without my direct involvement, and I learnt a lot from the experience. I hope these points will be useful to others in a similar situation down the line, and will give me something to refer to in the future.

The importance of a 2-minute pitch

For the playtest UK volunteers to sell the experience to the UKGE attendees who passed by the playtest area and encourage them to give my game a go, I was asked for a 2-minute explanation of the game. Although this seems obvious in hind-sight, it wasn’t something I was initially prepared for.

Coming up with one on the day forced me to quickly articulate an answer to a few important questions:

  • What was the theme and how did it link to the mechanics?

  • What kind of players is this game for?

  • What is the core experience of the game?

Having answers to these questions as well as examples of other games that evoke the same kind of feeling in players was beneficial for the playtesters as they could mentally prepare for what kind of game they are about to learn and play.

Having a structured ‘teach’

Something that I had prepared for, thanks to the wise advice on the Board Game Design Lab Facebook page, was preparing a teach and learning it in advance. By doing this I was able to move onto the gameplay faster, players got a better understanding of the game, and ultimately meant I was able to have my game played by more people.

This is something I hope to follow up on in another post here in the future, but my main takeaways were on successfully explain the games rules were:

Start with the objective- Start with an overview of the theme or world and combine with a view of the key players objective. Rules become clearer once players know what they are trying to do.

Explain the ‘why’ not just the ‘what and how’- Understanding why you might play a card or make a certain action helps players get a better feel of what they’ll be doing in the game.

Show as much as you tell- The advantage of being taught a game over learning from a rule book is that you can point out components as you speak and, create example game states to provide context for certain cards. Making use of this over just a spoken explanation was crucial.

Things that are obvious to you aren’t obvious to your playtesters

Even after creating a structured teach that I could rehearse, there were still questions that were raised on parts I’d missed:

  • Are cards discarded face up or face down after use

  • There are only one of each of the 13 outlaws

  • Players shouldn't reveal their loot stashes until the end of the game

Playing the game alongside your script with the eyes of someone who has never seen this game before, rather than the person with the most experience with the game, will help me catch things like this in the future. Trying to remember that the players have no experience with your game, and will have pre-conceptions from other games is important lesson I learnt from this experience.

Different people play in different ways

By watching a range of other people play my game, I was able to notice how players engaged with my game in different ways. Some made decisions quickly, whilst others took time to process all available information. I was also able to see how players strategies adapted over the course of the 3 rounds, something that is much more challenging when trying to play the game yourself at the same time. Preparing a sheet to note down these points of interest during the game was very useful, as between teaching the game and collating feedback there isn’t time be searching for spare paper on the day.

They give feedback in different ways too

I created my own feedback form, not knowing that the Playtest UK team provided their own questionnaire, however I was able to use both to get invaluable info of my game. What was interesting however, was the ways in which players wanted to give feedback. Some would mention it during the game, others would happily fill out a feedback form, whilst some much preferred to have a conversation about the game after they had finished playing and processed their thoughts. Being prepared to take feedback in different ways is something I have learnt for the next time I playtest my game.

So what did I learn?

Overall what a learnt can be summarised into:

  • Prepare to summarise your game in 2 minutes, something which I think will be useful for the development of this game going forward

  • Know how to teach your game to people who have no experience with it. Creating a script and using it as a basis for a more natural delivery using the components of the game worked for me.

  • Try to get an understanding of the way people play your game, as well as the types of games they enjoy, as this will frame the feedback they give.

  • Prepare to receive and record feedback in different ways, both during the game and after it.

Most of all I wanted to say a thank you to all the volunteers who made the UKGE playtest zone possible! It really was a great learning experience, for me and I’m sure many other designers.

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