I was recently solo playtesting one of my designs (Nines Micro) as my twenty-something son, Daniel, looked on. I was gratified that he quickly figured out the game by what I was doing without me giving a rules breakdown. He does not play games much - although he did as a child - and the ones he does are usually the electronic variety. However, he is Mensa-Smart so his quick understanding of the rules may be more an indication of his intellectual prowess than the simplicity of my rules.
He started asking questions about the design and zeroed in on the value equation for each card. (You can read more in the article on the Nines Micro game, but each card has a point value and an action that also has a value relative to the other actions). In the test, I got into a stalemate situation that was rooted in the point-action value system. We had a conversation about how to deal with the stalemate and agreed that the best solution was to avoid it in the first place - my initial intent that he came to on his own. This was an interesting part of the exchange (paraphrasing):
Daniel: "Why do you have the high value actions on the high value point cards? It seems better to have them opposite. Then the risk-reward situation will prevent the stalemate."
Me: "You're right. I'll test it that way also."
Daniel: "You knew that?"
Me: "I figured there were three main options; coincident, counter, and random. I'm ignoring random and started with coincident."
Daniel: "Counter seems to be the obvious choice. It's common in video games."
Me: "True. Generally, you don't want anyone to feel like luck dealt them a bad hand, so there should be no completely bad cards."
Daniel: "Then why did you start with them coincident?"
Me: "Because I wanted to test the perceived non-optimal choice. If I started testing with the perceived optimal choice then I probably would not have tested the other."
We then imagined the actions switched and I dealt the starting draft a bunch of times with each of us picking our starting cards. The change in the draft alone was huge. Daniel was pleased that he identified the better approach and I was pleased that I identified a stalemate condition to test out of the game. It may be less obvious in the counter-value model, but is probably still possible; just less likely.
Did I waste my time starting with an obviously non-optimal approach? Was I just being naive and wasting my valuable playtesting time to prove that A = A? Do you ever take the first bite at the wrong end?