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Subject: Playtesting vs playing the prototype rss

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Ray
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A thought came to me while reading Rick's latest boardgamenews column:
http://www.boardgamenews.com/index.php/boardgamenews/comment...

In the article Rick switches from the phrases 'playing the prototype' and 'playtesting' interchangeably. This seemed a bit off to me as I think of playtesting as the type of long term work where you get a playtest kit and work through several iterations of the game with the designer/publisher (and if you do enough of it you might even get your name in the rules as a playtester).

My questions are:
1) am I behind the times and the two phrases mean the same thing nowadays?
2) do the newer Eurogame influenced companies still involve people to what I describe as playtest levels?
3) and if so has it fallen out of style to give credit in the rules?

 
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Chris Kice
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I've done "closed" playtesting in the past for various card games by Looney Labs and Third World Games and I believe those terms mean two different things.

"Playtesting" to me is the art of trying to "break" a game, seeing how well the rules explain things, seeing if certain card combinations are too powerful, watching for paterns that always lead to a win or loss for a player, and so on. "Playing the prototype" seems like you're just playing the game without any thought to the feedback or test report writing.

I've seen some boardgames list testers in the rules, but some companies (especially those that test internally) choose not to credit the testers. In my experience, most smaller compines will always give "props" to their playtest crews.

 
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Jay Little
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I've been involved in quite a bit of playtesting, and I'd agree to an extent that playtesting (as I view it) is an exercise in stretching the boundaries of a game to see how well it holds up.

This may mean taking odd turns, suboptimal moves and seemingly random actions in an effort to see how the game (and the other players) react to such things. Or in a game with various victory conditions, pushing the limits to see how each one fares -- are they all viable? Are some favored?

For me, playtesting generally focuses on:
1) Fine tuning game balance -- ensuring different actions the designers intended to be roughly equal actually play out that way
2) Looking at the smoothness of mechanics -- how well they work together, if the pace has a cadence, if there are herky-jerky parts
3) Utility of game actions -- if the actions actually work as intended, if they produce the intended effects
4) Uncovering loopholes -- if they're in there, players will find them once released... best to find any loopholes/exploits before that happens

As such, playtesting may not give you a true sense of what the game feels like, and possibly not even let you glimpse if it's a fun game that you'd enjoy. For me, it's fairly objective and detached, as I approach it like an audit.

But playing a prototype, on the other hand, is an attempt (on my part) to play the game -- using the current rules version -- as intended, and try my best to play and win as I would with the final release. This tends to be a bit more subjective, but can still net a great deal of useful feedback.

I'd posit that this is probably the stage after several revisions and drafts of the concept, the one you're most likely to open up to more outside input and start to get feedback from general sources rather than hardcore playtesting/analysis.
 
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Tony Nardo
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Nekura wrote:
"Playtesting" to me is the art of trying to "break" a game, seeing how well the rules explain things, seeing if certain card combinations are too powerful, watching for paterns that always lead to a win or loss for a player, and so on. "Playing the prototype" seems like you're just playing the game without any thought to the feedback or test report writing.

This is a pretty good definition of the distinction between the two.

I'll add that in a playtest, there may be some guidance from the designer and/or developer on aspects of the game that they'd like to see logged: e.g., item tallies, unusual strategies employed and the results of same, whether or not a card deck runs out, relative card rankings, reactions to alternate methods of presenting the same material, etc.

"Playing the prototype" or "playing a demo copy" is more along the lines of playing the game as if it was already in print, but (usually) with inferior pre-production components. If there's any thought to feedback, it's only in the sense of seeing how players react to the experience of playing the game.
 
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