Banner showing three books


Analog Game Design: First Solo PlaytestsSo there I was, a game in my hand, my game, my cards, my design. Felt great.

For about two minutes. Then I was ready to see if I could commit suicide by paper cut. That’s what my first, solo playtests usually do to me.

But let’s recap. I’ve written about the spark, the part where creativity reigns free and I spew ideas the way a first-year computer science student spews regurgitated lager[note]No, I’ve never actually spewed lager, even though I have been a first-year comp-sci student, and on the ölhäfv (speed-drinking beer) team.[/note]. I’ve written about building the first prototype. This post is about what happens next: the solo playtesting, where crappy games are beaten into gold[note]Or, to be truthful, slightly less crappy games.[/note]. (more…)

Emotional PlaytestingIt’s hard to find good playtesters. A playtester has to be a lot of things: subjective enough to give valuable feedback, yet objective enough to make it constructive. Skilled enough to spot what’s wrong, yet innocent enough to see the game with fresh eyes. Set enough not to be swayed by minor graphics or trinkets, yet fluid enough not to try and push your game into something its not. Yes, it’s hard to find good playtesters.

That’s why I’m suggesting that we don’t.

That’s right. I’m saying that you shouldn’t try to find good playtesters. In fact, you should try to find the worst playtesters ever, the whiny, bitchy, annoying powergamers. Then ask them the right questions. (more…)

Board Gamers make Magnificent TestersMy friend broke Elvenar.

I don’t know if it’s been changed since – I don’t play Elvenar myself – but if you do, and don’t want any spoilers, skip this post.

But enough with the disclaimers, on with the show.

My friend is a gamer, more specifically a board gamer. More specifically, my friend is a very, very good board gamer. And what differentiates board games from computer games (except for the whole “board” thing) is that in a board game the entire game system is always exposed.

Think about it – in a board game you see all the cogs and wheels all the time. You don’t get any graphics between you and the rules. You don’t have any unknown variables (ok, a draw deck of cards can be an unknown but you know that it’s there – you’ll never be in a position where variable X is secretly controlled by variable Y). What you see is what you get, and you get all the rules up front. (more…)

Failure leads to understanding Burt Rutan quoteWith the hordes of rapid prototype tools available today it’s easy to cobble together a rough draft and start playing. It’s agile, lean, scrum, six-sigma and all that, right? We start with something easy, test our way to success and be releasing withing weeks. Hell, we can release a pre-alpha right now.

Hold your horses, pardner. Why would you want to do that?

Why would you want to prototype immediately at all? (more…)

Break your gameWhen I was little I played cards with my grandmother. I loved playing cards with my grandmother. She always lost.

She didn’t mean to. Grandma played to win and when we played for money, which as all the time, she played to win. Oh, she’d give me my starting cash. She’d fund me on the rare occasions when I ran out of 10 öre coins. It wasn’t like she tried to fleece me, but she did play to win. And she lost.

For years I thought that I was simply better at playing cards than grandma. I was convinced that I had a gift. But when I look back on what was going on I realize that this wasn’t so.

See, grandma’s favorite game was rummy. And we’d play for 10 öre per card. If you had six cards in your hand when your opponent played their last cards then you lost 60 öre. Grandma always complained that I didn’t play my cards but kept them in hand until I could play every card at once. She could never add any cards to my melds and I would win.

Because I had broken rummy. (more…)

Dominic CrapuchettesSome time ago I read Derek Thompson’s MeepleTown post (part 1, part 2) where he interviews Dominic Crapuchettes about his games and breaking into mainstream. Here’s a quote:

After [listening to us pitch] Wits & Wagers, the [Target] buyer was very interested – he said, “This was probably the most unique game that has ever been pitched to me. This is something I would like to play. But here’s my problem: If I carry it, it won’t sell. Here are the only things that have sold, based on my experience: One, a Hollywood license. Two, a 2+ million dollar television advertising campaign. Three, a recognizable brand name, because it’s been built up for 3-5 years in other channels, and it’s sold at least 100,000 copies previously. Those are the only three types of games that sell at Target.”

So, does this mean that you can’t break into mainstream without being, well, mainstream? (more…)

Playtesting is more important than you think!So you’ve got your idea, you’ve got your stack of index cards, your pen, your pencil, your coloring markers, water colors, word processor, online sharing, blog, and, while we’re dreaming, signed 20% royalty contract. Fine. But where do you start the route to finished game?

You know the answer to that one: with a crude prototype and lots and lots of playtests. But how crude is crude, how complete does your prototype need to be in order to start playtesting it, what do you need?

Answer: Nothing. Not a thing. (more…)

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: (more…)

Migrations playtest 1. Materials used: pen, paper.
Migrations playtest 1. Materials used: pen, paper.

I once saw a brilliant description of what it takes to be a writer. It was filmed during a writers’ conference, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve forgotten who said it, but one of the greats of Science Fiction. He was asked what it took to be a writer. He then picked up a piece of paper in his left hand, a pen in his right hand and mimed writing.

You don’t need fancy word processors to be a writer. All you need is to write. You don’t need fancy cubes to be a game designer. All you need is to design games.