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Subject: Prototyping for Playtesting - when, how much and how? rss

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A.J. Arand
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So I'm currently trying to tie down the last few loose ends of my WIP game, Hegemony, so I can playtest it... but I think I'm a bit scared to jump off that cliff.

Specifically, I'm curious as to how much to spend on a prototype, and how to know when a design is fleshed out enough to warrant a full-blown prototype. I've got a pretty good idea, but I'm afraid there'll be some cataclysmic design flaw that the first round of play-testing will reveal; and forcing me to have to modify or even reprint the thing almost immediately. I know I'll need to spend some money making a decent prototype, but I'd rather only do it once, if possible laugh

Is it O.K. to have a slap-dash prototype for "alpha" testing? I'm talking about computer-paper playing cards, pieces cannibalized from other games, etc.? How will I know when to build a full-blown prototype? Also, how much is a good price to spend building it? Should I do so myself or hire someone?

Let me know your thoughts, and thank you!
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David Sevier
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By playtesting do you mean with outside groups? Because you should be doing a ton of testing yourself and with friends and family before getting to that stage.

For the initial testing, anything goes. My games are all done on hand-written index cards and it works well. Now that I'm at the point where I want to show it off to people who know me I'm looking into getting some nicer prototypes made.
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Matt Loomis
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My opinion on prototypes is that they need to be functional. If you can shuffle the cards you print on your computer (sleeves or cardstock) then they're functional. Bits from other games are expected. Artwork and formatting needs to be enough to distinguish cards from one another so each card doesn't look like just another block of text.

Keep it simple for you, and for the playtesters, but make things as close as you can to a playable game, within reason. This might be taking the time to add clip-art to cards, taking the time to slap some names on units, or printing on different colored pastel paper to differentiate between regions. All things that are very cheap to do, but make the playtesting process that much smoother.

And player aides, don't forget them!
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Since you're talking about "Alpha Testing", the method I've seen and heard many designers use is: Notecards. Fortunately, many stores sell these for about $1 per stack; sometimes even cheaper.

I wouldn't even bother with getting a nice layout on a computer and printing/cutting that out. I wouldn't even try to have any kind of art ... usually, the notecards that survive the alpha test will have all kinds of doodles and ... ummm ... notes on them.

Tokens, Dice, and such are also typically cobbled together from household items -- coins, paperclips, lego pieces. I actually try not to scavenge from other games, as I fear losing pieces and making other games unplayable.


Alpha testing is all about checking to see if the game mechanics and game flow work well.

When I get to Beta Testing, that's when I'll play around with different layouts and components ... and seeing how I can make the game "easier to play and understand". Basically, answering questions like "should the attributes be on the top, on a corner, or on the side", and "would an icon work better", and "would dice be better, or would cards be better".

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CW Karstens
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Your alpha prototype needs to be as easy to modify as possible. The more time you spend on a prototype, the less you will want to make changes to game play which at this stage are much more important than keeping components the same.

If you cannot get players for a rough looking prototype, they are probably not the kind of people you need to play it at this stage anyway. If people are looking for extremely nice art, they are likely to want a stable game. That is extremely unlikely for a game played less than 10 to 30 times.

One important advice though is having even a simple hand drawn prototype have a layout that allows players to easily understand things. You want players to concentrate on the game play not burning their brain cycles or time trying to see the difference between one component or another or remembering the order of things. Hand written reference cards are key as well as putting effects of things on the cards or game board in the order they are activated.

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Andy Van Zandt
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MOne wrote:

Specifically, I'm curious as to how much to spend on a prototype,

$5, tops.
Quote:
and how to know when a design is fleshed out enough to warrant a full-blown prototype.

as soon as you can explain the rules to someone, even if you know not all the rules will work as intended, you should make a prototype.
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I've got a pretty good idea, but I'm afraid there'll be some cataclysmic design flaw that the first round of play-testing will reveal;

invariably
Quote:
and forcing me to have to modify or even reprint the thing almost immediately. I know I'll need to spend some money making a decent prototype, but I'd rather only do it once, if possible laugh

nope, do it often, do it cheap, expect to have to make drastic component changes.
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Is it O.K. to have a slap-dash prototype for "alpha" testing? I'm talking about computer-paper playing cards, pieces cannibalized from other games, etc.?

of course.
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How will I know when to build a full-blown prototype?

generally, about 10 iterations AFTER you first think you need one.
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Also, how much is a good price to spend building it?

$5.
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Should I do so myself or hire someone?

yourself.
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Kevin Spak

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MOne wrote:
I'm afraid there'll be some cataclysmic design flaw that the first round of play-testing will reveal; and forcing me to have to modify or even reprint the thing almost immediately. I know I'll need to spend some money making a decent prototype, but I'd rather only do it once, if possible laugh


It's not possible.

As a bunch of other people have said, your first prototype can, nay should, be as slapdash as you please.

But I'd like to add that even when you get past that stage, and want to make a version nice enough to play with people other than your significant other/most patient friends/design buddies, you *still* don't want to spend a lot of money on it or have someone else do it. It's still a prototype, not a finished game, and you should expect to make changes to it constantly. So you're going to want to make it yourself, and in a way that makes repeated changes a breeze.

Some tips? You can buy blank sheets of business cards from any office supply store. I know some people like to print stuff on paper, and stick them in card sleeves with bulk magic cards behind them. Heck, I've printed straight onto Index cards before. Layout your board such that you can print it at home. Etc. The goal is not pretty. The goal is functional, and flexible.
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One Armed Bandit
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TheForgottenTaxi wrote:
I know some people like to print stuff on paper, and stick them in card sleeves with bulk magic cards behind them.


This is what I came to say. The advantage to this is that you can quickly swap out a card, or just rewrite it on the fly, but it "handles" like a real game.

I also second the $5 rule. Ideally, avoid even that much if you can.

You really want to do a lot of prototyping? Hit every thrift store you can find, at least twice a month, and look for crappy old board games that are full of components but priced at $2 or so.

If you can get enough copies of Trivial Pursuit at $2 a pop, then all the pie pieces will be a good substitute for wooden cubes, for instance. Also, the extra game boards can be cannibalized... print your board on paper, then glue it on top

With colorful bits like pie pieces, a repurposed (but solid, and folding) board, and cards in sleeves with backing, your super cheap prototype will start FEELING real, even without the art.

Also, all those components are reusable for later versions of your prototypes, saving more money!
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A.J. Arand
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Thank you all so much for the input. I guess I was thinking too seriously about a prototype; trying to "be perfect on the first go" (which as I know from iterative design, is impossible). I guess the key is being able to adapt the prototype as often as necessary, as cheap & quickly as possible. I need to focus on mechanics and balancing, not color motifs right now.

I'm going to throw something together this coming week and start playing! Thank you again!!!
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Oliver Kiley
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One other note ... check the game database for the the name Hegemonoy, there is a game using that name (and similar ones). I don't know if that is an issue or not for you.
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First proto should be quick and dirty. Get a working playable copy ASAP. Don't redo the proto as you make changes unless you are adding bits. Draw on existing cards, cover old text with stickers etc. When the design is getting too chaotic to be playable due to revisions or the design has settled down enough that lots of changes are not happening redo the proto. If you are submitting the proto I would make a fresh copy and pretty it up a bit. Don't go crazy and don't spend a lot of cash to do it.
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A.J. Arand
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Mezmorki wrote:
One other note ... check the game database for the the name Hegemonoy, there is a game using that name (and similar ones). I don't know if that is an issue or not for you.


Thanks - I should have done that before posting about it. I've changed the name a few times already, I guess I'll just have to find something even better.
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Tony Gullotti
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Just a side-note, while we're still in concept of our game and not even to Alpha testing, after reading this thread I went to a local thrift store and picked up 4 games with quad-fold boards for $0.50 apiece.

By hitting numerous thrift stores, using the home printer with some label/adhesive backing, Magic cards with sleeves, I have no doubt we can make like 10-15 Alpha prototypes at around $1 to $2 apiece.

Moving ahead, using Staples or a local print shop with adhesive paper, and the crazy amount of knowledge from the guys in the DIY section, I'm fairly certain we could make higher quality versions for around $5 apiece.

Then, once everything is to a point where we're comfortable and solid with the game, we make a Print-and-Play version, throw it up here, and get more feedback.

Finally, we get art and design made (as we're self-publishing) have 1-5 "professional" test copies made by one of the prototype companies on here. Send a couple to video reviewers, then launch a kickstarter.
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Nate K
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MOne wrote:
Mezmorki wrote:
One other note ... check the game database for the the name Hegemonoy, there is a game using that name (and similar ones). I don't know if that is an issue or not for you.


Thanks - I should have done that before posting about it. I've changed the name a few times already, I guess I'll just have to find something even better.


Don't sweat about the name too much at this point. You may decide to take the game a different route, anyway. Even if you don't, you can still get away with the title "Hegemony" if you make it distinct from other games with similar titles. For example: "Hegemony: Fall of Man" "Starship: Hegemony" "Hegemony: The Final Empire" and so on.
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A.J. Arand
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LoreChase wrote:
Just a side-note, while we're still in concept of our game and not even to Alpha testing, after reading this thread I went to a local thrift store and picked up 4 games with quad-fold boards for $0.50 apiece.

By hitting numerous thrift stores, using the home printer with some label/adhesive backing, Magic cards with sleeves, I have no doubt we can make like 10-15 Alpha prototypes at around $1 to $2 apiece.

Moving ahead, using Staples or a local print shop with adhesive paper, and the crazy amount of knowledge from the guys in the DIY section, I'm fairly certain we could make higher quality versions for around $5 apiece.

Then, once everything is to a point where we're comfortable and solid with the game, we make a Print-and-Play version, throw it up here, and get more feedback.

Finally, we get art and design made (as we're self-publishing) have 1-5 "professional" test copies made by one of the prototype companies on here. Send a couple to video reviewers, then launch a kickstarter.


"Label/adhesive backing" - sorry for being slow, but what do you use these for, and how? Is it for playing cards, or something else?

I've been making 'playing cards' by gluing printer paper to index cards... but they're barely good enough to use, and their lifespan is limited.

If there's a thread on it somewhere, just direct me there if that's easier.
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Andreas Pelikan
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MOne wrote:
"Label/adhesive backing" - sorry for being slow, but what do you use these for, and how? Is it for playing cards, or something else?


That would be for the game-board, once you're at the stage to mount it to chipboard. For boards I usually use thick paper (see below) taped together for play-test versions, and chipboard+adhesive paper when I'm ready to submit to publishers.

For cards I use the same thick paper, without lamination or anything. When submitting, I laminate the paper before cutting, and then 'soften' the corners by cutting off the sharp edges at 45 degrees.

The thick paper is 160-200 gsm (gram per square meter) regular white paper (most likely index grade). Google unit by which you buy to gsm conversion, but beware, the realm of the ream is a wide and confusing one.

MOne wrote:
... but they're barely good enough to use, and their lifespan is limited.

They're typically good for 30-50 plays, which is much longer than one version of a game survives unmodified. With reaction games it may be a different story.

Adhesive printing paper is also great for customizing dice or for creating counters, esp. if they need to be double-sided. Note: rectangular is usually good enough, and octagonal is almost the same as round. Don't fool yourself into cutting out round counters, unless you have a die or punch.
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Filip W.
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MOne wrote:
Specifically, I'm curious as to how much to spend on a prototype,

Nothing. Use components from other games and paper to write on. I've invested in printing a bunch of cards with different colors and symbols on them so that I can pull them out and prototype by just removing no-necessary cards (without having to write up cards) but that's it.
Quote:

and how to know when a design is fleshed out enough to warrant a full-blown prototype.

When you have a stable game, that is when the rules don't change any more, then you're ready for a prototype (above the alpha prototype).
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Is it O.K. to have a slap-dash prototype for "alpha" testing?

Yes!
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How will I know when to build a full-blown prototype? Also, how much is a good price to spend building it? Should I do so myself or hire someone?

I'd say don't spend money, spend time. You can do wonders with a bit of Photoshop/Illustrator knowledge or by learning NanDeck. Also, unless you're self-publishing you'll never do a printer's (a "ready to print") prototype. That's for your publisher to do. Chances are they'll want to do their own graphic design (and have input about the game and rules too). And "full blown" prototype often means "hand drawn map with generic counters", so don't try to do too much.
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I am working on a prototype right now. For the boards I spent a bit of time getting the grid sizes right on the computer then printed them off, stuck them onto some sturdy cardboard out of the recycling bin and coloured them in with pencils. cost - next to nothing.

For my tokens instead of buying laser cut wooden hexes I used 1 i had already and used it as a template to cut my own from some glossy packing card I took from a warehouse I was visiting that was to be binned. Cost - next to nothing.

I also have some blank dice and blank cards, they arent expensive if bought in bulk I use them for other games and stuff.

So, so far my costs, a few quid, but its the time ive spent doing it thats the cost, probably about 5 hours just crafting boards and tokens so far and im only half done.

I wouldnt send this away to anybody in the state its in but my boardgaming friends have already expressed an interest just looking at the pieces i already have.
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A.J. Arand
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I've been working on my prototype as well. Most of my stuff I've got for free from old games or odds'n'ends of old crafting stuff lying around my home. One thing I am having trouble with is finding things to use as counters and tokens. I've heard some mention to thrift stores or craft stores which might carry such things, but I didn't have any luck today at Michaels. They do carry some wooden chips/blocks - expensive though - and they don't carry anything plastic. I'm looking for some cheap plastic tokens (A&A style) for use in my prototype. They'll be used in the same fashion - as counters for armies. Any ideas for other stores to try or substitute materials?
 
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Tony Gullotti
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Search "Mini plastic poker chips" on eBay. You can get a tube of 50 7/8" chips for $3.91. Not the cheapest for bulk by any means, but not bad for prototypes if you don't need a ton.

Edit: I'd recommend using cardboard/paper/other game tokens, but if you have your heart set on plastic.
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In my limited time around here I see too many people seemingly spending way too much time on the pretty little details when they should be spending that time on Gameplay, mechanics, balancing, testing and more testing. I don't know how anyone could be ready for a nicely printed proto until they've gone through countless iterations of actual game play. Go cheap. Index cards or something quick and dirty off your home printer are more than sufficient for this.
Remember this: Your game IS your rules. No more and no less. Pretty art is just icing. Get your game on cobbled together components and play the heck out of it.
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Ryan Wanless
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Another way to make a free prototype if you are a bit computer savvy is using Vassal. For one of my games I am designing, I made all the components in Vassal and have been play testing with it. I have found it a lot easier because it looks like a top down version of how I see the game in my head...
Also if you ever want to play test with people on this forum or over the internet you can just send them the vassal file.
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Hernan Ruiz Camauer
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I, too, was going to suggest using software for virtual prototyping and playtesting.

Some threads you might want to read:
http://www.bgdf.com/node/4759
http://www.bgdf.com/node/5614

I recommend Battlegrounds Gaming Engine for this (of course I would, I developed it, LOL!). Unlike Vassal, it's not free, but IMO it's easier to use, and especially to create your own digital games with (no scripting or XML editing is involved).
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A.J. Arand
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All, thank you very much for your insight.

bno70_1 wrote:
Your game IS your rules. No more and no less.


VERY well put. Can I quote you on this? Sadly I only recently got into board games (beyond the basic stuff in everyone's basement - e.g., Monopoly), so I have a very limited source of materials to draw on in cobbling something together - but I've gotten quite creative with card stock and old RISK pieces

@Ryan & Hernan - I'm not at all computer savvy... as far as programming, coding or anything like that. I can use photoshop & illustrator to a point, but beyond that I'm hopeless. I'll definitely keep those programs in mind, but I'm not very confident I can use them.


Speaking of play-testing around the site and over the internet, however - are there any best practices for how to construct a print'n'play file?

I want to make one so I can get other opinions on my game, but I don't want to make something so ungainly people won't want to print/play it.
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Yes getting a testing group together can be difficult but don't discount making the components and solo playtesting the game yourself, playing all the seats. Give each "player" a distinct personality or style in your head. You'd be surprised just how much playing like this can reveal in the early stages.
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