Playtesting is a critical part of the game design and development process that is apparently given less attention that is healthy to the hobby. (I say that assuming that game designers don't set out to produce broken or awful games and end up there primarily due to a lack of playtesting). This notebook will document some of the research, efforts, and insight I make in playtesting.


Study playtesting efforts of my own and others and post any research and insights regarding:

  • Playtesting Methods
  • Prototyping Tips and Tricks
  • Playtesting Tools
  • Playtesting Resources

Hopefully, you will find the resources here interesting and helpful to your own playtesting process.


Playtesting Tools

This is a collection of both virtual (ideas) and literal (utilities) tools to assist in playtesting.


Player Types

Since I (like anyone designing games, I suppose) have to do significant playtesting solo – simulating multiple players – I have identified several player types to emulate. Unfortunately, “Player Type” is not a very descriptive term. You might think of the “Alpha Gamer,” “Sore Loser,” or “Sore Winner” as player types, but I would call these Gamer Personality Type. There are other uses of the phrase, but the term as I am using it might best be described as “Player Engagement Type” which I will explain.

In his excellent book and online reference, “The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses” (on Amazon) Jesse Schell discusses “player types” and what “game pleasures” they are seeking (Chapter 8, Lenses 16 and 17). He shares “Bartle’s Taxonomy of Player Types” (from game designer Richard Bartle) and “LeBlanc’s Taxonomy of Game Pleasures” (from game designer Marc LeBlanc) and instructs game designers to look at the game experience from the perspective of players fitting those types and others. I encourage any game designer to read Schell’s book and consider these player types and the game pleasures they seek.

As Schell suggests, I will playtest from the perspective of different player types. So why do I need my own list of player types? Firstly, I started developing my list before reading Schell which was fortunate because I was taking a different angle than Schell and now have two different playtesting tools. The player types I describe here focus on how players interact with the game on a more technical/mechanical level (what the player is trying to do inside the game) than experiential level (what the player is trying to get out of the game). The types intersect where motivation meets action, but I won’t include further study here.

There are many good things to discover through these player types and I can think of many house rules that have been created to counteract the habits of some of them when they have a negative impact on the game, especially when they are implemented as a single-minded strategy.

Most of the player types I am describing are not mutually exclusive and some naturally overlap, but each has its objective and I have tried to explain the nuances.  You will likely have blended types that will better serve your testing and real people are more complicated than what can be created here. I expect this list to grow as I test more games and will never be comprehensive and some can explode into many when getting into certain aspects of the game (see Dreamers). You can ignore mine altogether, but I encourage you to create your own that apply to your game.

Some of these player types are good to use throughout testing, while others at particular times to test particular aspects. Timing of their utility in testing is largely dependent on the game and some are not useful at all for some games, but I have tried to identify when and how they are most useful. An important note: Not every game is intended for every player type, so the fact that any of these players would /would not be successful in your game is not a value statement in itself. What is important is that their success is consistent with your intent, whether their presence can controvert the enjoyment of other players, and whether your game is successful with them.

Also, once you get to testing with real humans (other than yourself) who are playing their own natural way, it doesn’t hurt to label them in your notes so you can see how their feedback and success in the game line up with expectations for those player types. If you are not present during testing, some questions about the types of games they enjoy can help you figure out what type of player they are.

  • Analysts: These players analyze every play to the nth detail. Although they have greater value to testing than this trait, they are prone to Analysis Paralysis (AP) if the game provides the opportunity. In this case they become Perpetual Analysts.
    • Example:
      • Positive: In a game that has a tech tree, an Analyst will think through the cost-benefit of each branch.
      • Negative: In a game that provides several intersecting factors to a single decision that have multiple long term implications, an Analyst will try to think all of the paths before picking one.
    • Use:
      • Early: Use to explore options that new additions/changes to the game provide.
      • Mid: Use to explore the options that you think you have provided. Are they viable/productive?
      • Late: Use to refine optional paths.
      • Throughout: Use to test for AP potential.
  • Artists: These players try to make something beautiful in the process of the game.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a tech tree, an Analyst will think through the cost-benefit of each branch.
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to see if there is potential for beauty in the game.
  • Dreamers: These players look for opportunities to get lost in the game. For them, the game experience is more interesting than winning. When testing theme, you may find you need many Dreamers with different ideas of what they want out of the game.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a strong theme, a Dreamer will try to be consistent with the theme in their actions even if those actions don’t advance their position.
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to test theme-mechanics consistency and thematic immersion.
  • Engineers/Builders: These players look for opportunities to build something in the game that has permanence. For them, building something lasting is more interesting than winning.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has anything that can be built, an Engineer will try to build it solid and lasting.
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to tweak the building process. Does it make sense?
  • Fiddlers: These players look for opportunities to fiddle within the game and tend to think that these are usually better options than a suboptimal direct play. For them, exploring the game is more interesting than winning.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a tech tree, a Fiddler may try to take one tree to its ultimate end even if that isn’t necessary to win. (Though a Perfectionist may do the same thing, they do it for different reasons).
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to tweak and refine mechanics.
  • Long-Gamers/Tortoises: These players are usually Analysts that play for the long game, but are not necessarily Perpetual Analysts. They aren’t necessarily try to mentally play the game to the end every turn, but are patiently pursuing a strategy that will “win in the end.”
    • Example:
      • In a game that provides a benefit that will pay 5 gold now or 1 gold every turn to the end of the game, a Long-Gamer will take the annuity.
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to see if there are long-game strategies in the game.
      • Throughout: Use to see if there are late game surprises.
  • Meddlers: These players look for opportunities to win by dragging their opponents down.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a “take-that” mechanism, a Meddler will use it every chance they get.
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to see how much player interaction there is and whether it can become vicious.
  • Novices: These players take the obvious play based primarily on observing the play space and a simple interpretation of the rules.
    • Example:
      • In almost any game, a Novice will look to the theme or card text or game board for an indication of what they should be doing.
    • Use:
      • Early and Late: Use to see if the game is as accessible as you want it to be.
      • Throughout: Use to see if there are obvious actions each turn. Are there times in the game when a player simply won’t see anything for them to do?
      • Throughout: Use to see if the theme helps players know what they should do next?
  • Opportunists: These players modify their strategy based on the best opportunity that is apparent at the time. These players are usually short-term Analysts who will switch between strategy and tactics quickly.
    • Example:
      • In a game that provides a punctuated competition for resources, an Opportunist will take the most expedient counter-play until the dust settles.
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to see if there are multiple productive, though not necessarily optimal, plays every turn.
  • Perfectionists: These players try to get the perfect score, the perfect layout, etc. They are often Soloists in some gaming systems, but not necessarily.
    • Example:
      • In a tile-laying game, a Perfectionist will try to complete every feature that they have started even if they may get more points (or benefit by blocking another player) laying the tiles in a different place.
    • Use:
    • Early and Late: Use to determine what perfection in your game looks like. Is the pursuit of perfection a winning or even viable strategy in your game? Should it be?
  • Pushers/Pressers: These players will push/press their luck for the chance of a better outcome.
    • Example:
      • In a game that allows a player to risk everything for a chance to double their points, a Pusher will take the chance.
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to see if a press your luck strategy has an appropriate (not necessarily balanced) risk-reward ratio.
  • Retaliators: These players are like Meddlers, but will retaliate and risk losing to get back at someone. There are many names for this player type that are more descriptive. (When listed alphabetically in this list, they should appear somewhere between SOA and SOC).
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a take-that mechanic, a Retaliator will be dedicated to attacking another player that wronged them earlier that game (or in childhood, but we can only go so far back).
    • Use:
      • Late: Use to see if there are particularly devastating blows that can cause someone to become so injured.
      • Late: Use to see if there are ways to single out one player for retribution.
  • Rushers: These players try to cause the end game as quickly as possible. They will accept suboptimal play if they can catch others before they have their strategy in full swing.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a deep tech tree to build combat units, a Rusher will find the cheapest way to field a light army and attack while the other players are investing in heavy units and have little or no defenses.
    • Use:
      • Mid-Late: Use to see if a rushing strategy can terminate the game early or worse, create Zombies of one or more other players.
  • Snipers: These players look for opportunities to attack the current leader.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a take-that mechanic, a Sniper will use it to attack the current leader.
    • Use:
      • Late: Use to see how difficult it is to determine who is perceived to be the current leader.
      • Late: Use to see if one or more Snipers can drag a game on past its welcome.
  • Soloists: These players are almost exclusively concerned with their own play space and ignore all but the most critical events of other players.
    • Example:
      • In a game that involves trading that is not absolutely required, a Soloist will probably not actively participate.
    • Use:
      • Early and Late: Use to see if the game falls apart if one player isn’t interactive.
  • Strategists: These players either come to the game with a set strategy or determine early in a game that is new to them. They stick to this strategy regardless of how it is working for them. They are more accurately called Single-Minded Strategists.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a strategy that appears to be solid, a Strategist will stick to it and double-down on it.
    • Use:
      • Late: Use when there are clear strategies to victory. Are there alternate paths to victory or ways to counter the winning strategy?
  • Tacticians: These players look for specific cause and effect actions and prefer to play at the low level of the game. They stick to a tactical approach regardless of how it is working for them. They are more accurately called Single-Minded Tacticians.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has a 1-step option and a 3-step option to gain VPs, a Tactician will take the 1-step option.
    • Use:
      • Throughout: Use to see if there is balance between tactical and strategic options.
  • Vigilantes: These players look to do their own thing, find cracks, and break the game.
    • Example:
      • In a game that uses resources, a Vigilante will try to break the game by hoarding all of one resource. Do you need more of that resource in the game or a rule that allows for alternate counters for infinite resources?
    • Use:
      • Early-Mid: Use to explore the rules and bits and walk through the game solo.
      • Late: Use when you think the game is pretty tight. There are too many ways to break a game early in development to place the Vigilante at the table with others.
  • Zombies (Kingmakers and other Bored Losers): These players will entertain themselves when the game has left them uninterested or ineffectual.
    • Example:
      • In a game that has “silent elimination” (players are eliminated from a possible win, but are not eliminated from the game – maybe a topic for another article) a Zombie will look for other, usually destructive, ways to entertain themselves to the end.
      • A Kingmaker will try to help someone else win when they don’t have a clear way to win themselves. They may accomplish this through a combination of dragging down the leader and assisting someone else (In testing, assume that they are anointing the player who appears to be second in line to win at the time they switch to Kingmaker). They can be any other role leading up to the point of becoming Kingmaker.
    • Use:
      • Mid – Late: Use to identify if players know too early that they have no way of winning and therefore may turn to other ways to entertain themselves to stay engaged. Have you “all but” eliminated some players from the game?

Player Type Tool

I have created a simple document that can be printed on card stock and used like name tags at the table to remind yourself and other testers what mindset they should have while playing. Another document provides cards with each Player Type and instructions on how they should play. You can add specific instructions to them here. I have not tried this yet, but it might be interesting to have each player keep this role a secret. Then at the end of the playtest try to identify which role the others had – make a game out of playtesting. They win the playtest if others can tell who they are.


Player Awareness

Generally, in an actual game, players are often aware of the habits/tendencies of their fellow players which can impact their own strategies. They may react anywhere along a spectrum of:

  • Ignore – hold to their principal tendencies.
    • Even though every time they open the door they get a bonk on the head, they keep opening the door.
  • Adapt/Morph – change their tendencies to mitigate the effect of their opponents’ tendencies.
    • Every time they open the door they get a bonk on the head, so they stop opening the door.
  • Respond/React – change their play style to counter their opponents’.
    • Every time they open the door they get a bonk on the head, so they jump through the door with a shield raised, swinging a mallet.

This dynamic is hard to simulate, so I stick pretty much to an initial Player Type regardless of the other Player Types in the game. (Though some Player Types have adaptation built in, they aren’t changing type). This is one of many reasons why real playtesters are important.