Game Design: Delayed Play Testing



It has been over 8 months since I “completed” design work on Picky Packrats and discontinued regular playtesting. However, my friend Mike and I continued to play it fairly regularly during lunch at work for the entertainment value alone; that is, until late October when his FMLA for a newborn and then the holidays and then the early-year work pressures all got in the way. We finally played Picky Packrats again this week after a 3 month hiatus. Was the game as fun as we remembered? Did we discover anything new about the game or validate any previous conclusions? Let’s see.

Mechanics Makeover: Dice in a Cup – General Playtesting


A few words about the playtesting approach are in order so they are not necessary in every posting. While the specific variations in this makeover are relatively simple, a valuable aspect of this makeover is to review the testing approach to a highly variable game.


For playtesting an individual mechanic, I am introducing what I call a “Gamelet.” A gamelet (like an applet compared to an application) is a mini-game in the sense that it does the functions of a game, but in a very narrow sense. A good gamelet will exercise one mechanic in a very limited sense. In this case there are also Attributes that impact the operation of the mechanic. So there is a grid of Attributes and Gamelets to test if each attribute is tested separately.

Eliminating Player Elimination


In modern hobby board games player elimination has largely been eliminated. That’s a good thing, right? Probably, but it depends on the implementation. Let’s take a look.

Current Norm: Generally, most recent games avoid player elimination unless the game takes less than about 30 minutes and any player is unlikely to be out of the game for more than about 10-15 minutes. (Note: These statistics are based on a quick summary of games I have played recently and are not scientific, but you get the idea). The modern designer doesn’t want any player left in the cold for more than about 10 minutes and presumably that is based on the fact that most players don’t want to risk being out in the cold for more than that either.

As a designer working on a game design, you may ask yourself, “How do I keep all the players in the game to the end?” Depending on what you mean by “in the game” you may be asking yourself the wrong question. If your first thought is to let the player stay in, but without any real chance of winning (probably by some brute force method of basically starting over) then you are not only asking yourself the wrong question, but getting the wrong answer. Better to let them go jump into another game or Tweet on their phone for the rest of the game than to patronize them with a false sense of belonging in the current game. At least they will be Tweeting about how they sucked instead of how your game sucked. Maybe.

Taking the First Bite at the Wrong End


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.

Game Makeover: Nines – General Playtesting


A few words about the playtesting approach are in order so they are not necessary in every posting.


Most of the changes made are playtested one at a time to avoid ambiguous cause and effect unless two or more changes can be made either to complement one another (intentionally as a unit) or it is quite certain that they have unrelated effects.

Player Types

See my other post about using Player Types in Playtesting . A high level description of their strategies and how they are exhibited in this game follows. Due to the multiplayer solitaire history of this game, the player types that focus on their own collection will be the most common among players who know the game. In rough order of expected occurrence:

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.

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.


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.

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