18 Mar

All You Need – And Don’t Need – For Your First Solo Playtest

Bagdad first playtest, only pen, paper and cubes

Bagdad first playtest, only pen, paper and cubesOk, so you’ve got a idea and you want to move on to the next step. That step is a solo playtest, which is exactly what it sounds like: you playing the game by yourself.

Grab a pen, some paper and whatever extra components you need and have laying around (if you don’t have them, just make them with the pen and paper). Make sure you’ve got half an hour to spare and sit down at your favorite table and play through the game until you realize that it’s pointless to go on. I’m recommending half an hour since that’s the longest it has ever taken me to break a game in a first playtest.

Ok, here are some things you DON’T need for your first playtest:

* Players/an audience.
You’re doing this solo since your game is going to be bad (we’re looking to break it as fast as possible, remember?). You don’t want to put anyone off trying it later by showing how terrible it is now.

* Complete rules.
If you can write up complete working rules for your game without extensive playtesting then you’re either designing a very simple game, have an IQ to equal Einstein and Hawking combined, are incredibly experienced (what are you doing reading this, then?) or are one of those people who spend incredible amounts of time analyzing their game before. If you’re not one of them then all you need for your first playtest is a general idea of what players can do. You’ll wing it and add or subtract stuff as you go along.

* Complete components.
Since you don’t need complete rules you can’t have complete components either. Especially don’t design dozens of cards/characters/abilities/other only to find out that your main game mechanic doesn’t work and you need to start all over.

* A sense of fairness.
This is a playtest, not a game. You’re not playing, you’re working on your design. I’ve got a problem with this, since it goes against my feeling of fairness to change rules/components/other in mid game. But since I’m playing with myself (insert bad pun here) no one suffers when I change stuff. Don’t fall for the “it’d be unfair to do that” trap. The faster you’re able to change and optimize your designs the faster you can get to the point where fairness matters.

* Nice looks.
Big trap here. Graphics don’t add anything at this stage. You need to concentrate on your design. If you can make out what each part is then it’s pretty enough.

* Completed plays.
Your design won’t work. That’s what playtests aim to fix and that’s why your most precious resource is time (or iterations actually). So don’t waste time playing your game. Try it for as long as you need in order to figure out what’s broken then stop playing. If you’re like me, and a compulsive finisher of bad books, bad movies and bad games, then you need to train yourself to stop playing when you see that the game is about to break. Chances are that you won’t learn anything new by continuing and will only be wasting time.

Here’s your advice. Now go playtest!

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