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Subject: Open letter to game designers. How to playtest. rss

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david funch
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*I'm looking at you Fantasy Flight*


Try and think of playtesting as debugging software. Your board game is a program, it needs to function how you intended it to. That means you need to try things that you don't want the game to do. You want to try and crash your game. You need to think of stupid things that people might try to just be annoying. Playtesting is not simply playing a prototype and noting what works and what doesn't. You need to really try and screw your game over.

Is hoarding money a stupid idea in your game? That's the perfect reason to playtest a few games where one player's strategy is to hoard as much money as possible. You need to know exactly what effects this will have on the game.

A recent example of this is Tempus. Who woulda thought that players would exploit a rule intended to prevent player elimination and turn it into a "viable" strategy? Not the playtesters, that's for sure.
 
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Paul DeStefano
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Maybe it is exactly what they wanted, and it does not function the way you intend it to.
 
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Alex Sorbello
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Tempus Viable strategy my ****
Noone can win like that against a good player!

The main problem with playtesting imo is that the guys playtesting are thaught the game instead of reading the rules and thus having feedback on rules layout and such...
 
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Steve Bernhardt
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pothocket wrote:
*I'm looking at you Fantasy Flight*


Try and think of playtesting as debugging software. Your board game is a program, it needs to function how you intended it to. That means you need to try things that you don't want the game to do. You want to try and crash your game. You need to think of stupid things that people might try to just be annoying. Playtesting is not simply playing a prototype and noting what works and what doesn't. You need to really try and screw your game over.

Is hoarding money a stupid idea in your game? That's the perfect reason to playtest a few games where one player's strategy is to hoard as much money as possible. You need to know exactly what effects this will have on the game.

A recent example of this is Tempus. Who woulda thought that players would exploit a rule intended to prevent player elimination and turn it into a "viable" strategy? Not the playtesters, that's for sure.


Last time I checked, Tempus was not an FFG game.

FFG has an extensive playtesting program, feel free to volunteer for it. Beware that its a time committment, can be hard, frustrating work, and is essentially volunteer labor.

Thanks for the advice about breaking a game, us 0kie-dokie playtesters didn't know that.

 
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Jim Cote
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wargamer66 wrote:
FFG has an extensive playtesting program...


How much time/effort you spend does not equate to results. You can spend all day pushing a 1 ton boulder. It doesn't mean you accomplished anything.
 
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david funch
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lexen wrote:
Tempus Viable strategy my ****


Hence the quatation marks.

Quote:
Last time I checked, Tempus was not an FFG game.


Never claimed it was.

Quote:
Maybe it is exactly what they wanted, and it does not function the way you intend it to.


Somehow I doubt designers intend for their games to break down and lock up.
 
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Ray
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Just as often the game designer doesn't stay involved with the playtest. That is more the role of the game developer (and is why the game that gets published often has several changes from what the designer submitted)
 
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Steve Bernhardt
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ekted wrote:
wargamer66 wrote:
FFG has an extensive playtesting program...


How much time/effort you spend does not equate to results. You can spend all day pushing a 1 ton boulder. It doesn't mean you accomplished anything.


Maybe that's true for you, but when I play a game a bunch of times, I usually have some feedback.
 
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Andrew W.
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Sorry to say, Frank, that I had quite a different experience the one time I did help playtest a FFG product. Was emailed a Playtest batch of cards and a deadline for submitting commentary. Four or five days after that comentary submission deadline, booster packs of the CCG were on the shelf of my FLGS.

Never volunteered again, because there is no way they could turnover that volume of data AND do a print run in that period. It was nice to have a peek before the unveiling, but not worth it to me.

I really dig a lot of FFG's work. I buy their products often and they make my table a lot. Their products are designed with high game challenge and intracacy, and catching all the blemishes is no easy task for sure. But I have seen enough FAQ's and Errattas to know that FFG has consistently put their emphasis on appeal first, and working out the kinks and the product quality assurance, both of which they do well, but do so secondarily and after market. Their website is very helpful towards this end, one of the best in the business, but a little more dillegence would go a long way for it to not have to be quite as corrctive as it is.
 
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Mike zebrowski
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Redbeardin84 wrote:
Sorry to say, Frank, that I had quite a different experience the one time I did help playtest a FFG product. Was emailed a Playtest batch of cards and a deadline for submitting commentary. Four or five days after that comentary submission deadline, booster packs of the CCG were on the shelf of my FLGS.


CCG playtesting is seperate from board game playtesting.

Mike Z
 
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Matt Burchfield
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Regarding exploits:

I had someone ask me once during a playtest, "Well couldn't I, in theory, just run around the board the entire game." A guy listening in was quick to say, "Sure you could! I'd punch you and you would be tossed out of my game group forever, but yes you could."

 
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Jim Cote
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MrSkeletor wrote:
Can't speak for others, but i was certainly shocked at how much the designer listened to me in the FFG stuff I have playtested, with nearly everything I brought up as a concern being addressed in the next version of the game. Kind of made me nervous actually.
And I'm a software / systems tester in real life, so believe me I can pick on anything.


My point was that FFG-designed games have more errata/faqs than all other games added together. The fact that their games go through this "extensive playtesting program" means pretty much nothing to me. If I can find 10 problems in a ruleset on my first pass through that was missed by the "extensive playtesting program", then there's a huge problem somewhere.
 
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Marc P
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pothocket wrote:
*I'm looking at you Fantasy Flight*


Try and think of playtesting as debugging software. Your board game is a program, it needs to function how you intended it to. That means you need to try things that you don't want the game to do. You want to try and crash your game. You need to think of stupid things that people might try to just be annoying. Playtesting is not simply playing a prototype and noting what works and what doesn't. You need to really try and screw your game over.

Is hoarding money a stupid idea in your game? That's the perfect reason to playtest a few games where one player's strategy is to hoard as much money as possible. You need to know exactly what effects this will have on the game.

A recent example of this is Tempus. Who woulda thought that players would exploit a rule intended to prevent player elimination and turn it into a "viable" strategy? Not the playtesters, that's for sure.


Restraining...hubris pummeling...fingers...of...Flame.

Or, as in the thread where you got your last idea: "Wow. Just, wow."
 
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Hayden Scott
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Redbeardin84 wrote:
... I have seen enough FAQ's and Errattas to know that FFG has consistently put their emphasis on appeal first, and working out the kinks and the product quality assurance, both of which they do well, but do so secondarily and after market.


Do you mean that FFG compared to other publishers put more emphasis on appeal?

If you do, then I'm not entirely sure how reliable the level of FAQs and erratta are as a measure on this. I say this for 2 reasons.

First, it may be the case that FFG provide FAQs and errata in circumstances where other publishers would not. If this is the case, FFG would look poor, comparatively speaking.

Second, some types of game are going to have a higher propensity for requiring FAQs and errata, particularly an interactive game, where the game isn't simply based essentially on just a novel scoring model (ie Knizia).

I'm certainly not excusing FFG from getting it right before going to market. I just think that there may be more factors at work that just the claimed emphasis on appeal.
 
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Steve Bernhardt
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Well, try playing some wargames for perspective on errata + lengthy FAQs. Twilight Struggle is great, but the FAQ/threads on the cards make me want to cry.

By the way Frank, I have Shadows of War and it looks pretty darn good. (picked it up at Gencon)
 
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Andrew W.
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Mike Zebrowski wrote:

CCG playtesting is seperate from board game playtesting.

Mike Z


1) Thanks for posting. I appreciate that this discussion puts you in an awkward position.

2) Thank goodness they are separate, it explains much, and not just limited to why I really dig the boardgames more.

 
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Andrew W.
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Hayden wrote:
Redbeardin84 wrote:
... I have seen enough FAQ's and Errattas to know that FFG has consistently put their emphasis on appeal first, and working out the kinks and the product quality assurance, both of which they do well, but do so secondarily and after market.


Do you mean that FFG compared to other publishers put more emphasis on appeal?


Yes.

I hadn't thought of the validity of the appeal argument quite the way you outlined. I was speaking more anecdotally from expreriences with a number of FFG products and the anecdotal experiences of acquaintences in a similar way.

I've tried to give credit as due though. They make very appealing games. They make some complex and intricate games which lend themselves to loopholing more than other types of games may. They often do a great deal to make thier mistakes right and their mechanical intentions more clear after market.

I understand sooner or later you're up against the wall of the budget and you have to put out something, sink or swim. I am just of a like opinion to the original poster that FFG does some good, dillegent work, but might do better work looking things over even more dillegently.

 
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Tony Nardo
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lexen wrote:
The main problem with playtesting imo is that the guys playtesting are thaught the game instead of reading the rules and thus having feedback on rules layout and such...

Not always. There are companies that do blind testing; i.e., mail the playtest kits to about half a dozen groups and have them treat the game as an "off the shelf" DTP product, then gather feedback, cross-test recommendations, refine the game, and repeat as necessary.

Problem is, even with blind tests you still have no guarantee that every wacky strategy will be exercised. Plus, you still need folks who aren't afraid to appear stupid in asking about poorly worded rules/cards, yet with the willingness and ability to offer improvements constructively.

Good playtesters are a rare breed.
 
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Frank Strauss
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Recently my game "Wheels of Steel"
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/23239
was tested at "Hans im Glück Verlag".
The playtest failed ( Letter posted in the files section to the game )
for three reasons:

1.) If you get the second train you´ve got a big advantage

2.) In the rules it is not mentioned if the big starting tile is one or more tiles

3.) If you have loaded a commodity and there is no station for unloading, what could I do ?

I could have answered ( but wasn´t asked ):

1.) Some players call this competition and it is very easy to become a second train.

2.) Yes, the big tiles ( starting tile and big cities ) are one tile for movement purposes.

3.) Change this rule slightly to be able to unload the cargo elsewhere without getting points for it and leave the cargo for later pickup.

If these truly where the only reasons for not publishing the game, why didn´t the playtesters ask me or find some possibilities to solve this minor "problems" ?

To me it sounds like: "Your game isn´t 100% perfect and so we won´t publish it".

Maybe I´m wrong, but I thought the playtests should fix this minor problems!?
 
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