As you know, a game takes a long time to get to that beautiful piece you bring to the table. And many many versions of the game have come and gone before that – from flimsy notes to sturdy almost finished components. And all along the way playtesters have been needed. From partners in crime and family, to friends, to the greater public. Newbies and seasoned gamers, and of course gamers with all possible tastes. You have to be able to find your target group!
As a reviewer and gamer I will happily playtest a game. Since I’m rather new in the community, and live in a somewhat remote country, I haven’t exactly had many opportunities. Usually playtesting also requires the tester in question to print their own copy of the latest prototype and go from there. And that is always tricky. Now I do have a father with some connections, but I can’t ask him to print deck after deck of cards you know? But during spring I signed up to playtest a game by a Swedish publisher (and I think I should be receiving the finished copy once they get it out on the actual market) and it was good fun bringing it to my student game group and trying to figure out what worked and didn’t. And just recently I stumbled upon a small game that was in the public playtest phase and just looked so darling that I had to give it a go. So I thought, why not start another little thing on the blog. Not a review or a highlight or musings on a specific game topic, but a kind of diary. Or maybe this is just another type of musings? Anyway, let me tell you a little about the two different playtests…
This is nothing near a review of either game. It’s more about the playtests themselves. So in May the Swedish game company Ninja Print were looking for testers for their Guillotine-style game Berghain ze Game and I thought why not? If it works out I get a free game eventually, and it’ll be fun to try out something so new it doesn’t even officially exist yet. So I had dad print the cards (quite a lot of them) and went to work with a small boxcutter. Wow my hand hurt after a while let me tell you. And please, if you ever make a PnP, don’t use black cut marks on black designs! They will obviously disappear after the first cut and it will be impossible to get the other sides.
In the case of Berghain ze Game very little of the artwork was done, and to be honest I don’t know if the artwork that was on the cards is what we will see (but slightly better print quality probably) or if it was more of an advanced sketch. But, the information needed was all there or the game wouldn’t be possible to play. There was less than a page of rules to read, and I brought the game to the group of archaeology students that played games every Friday on campus. Everyone was happy to help, and we playtested with probably the absolute max amount of players suggested (there was no number in the rules at that point), which was pretty fun. I kept a document open on my iPad to take notes of specific cards that didn’t work or rules we wondered about. It was clearly not a streamlined game but it was definitely playable and most people seemed to enjoy the experience. This particular game is a full card game with plenty of action cards, so there could be a lot of nitpicking and “please clarify” notes.
A couple of days later I played it against myself to get a feel for a two player game (and in this case it worked fine playing against yourself since there are no hidden cards or anything). I was quite soon sent a link to an online survey about the game. I thought this felt very professional and a good way to do it for a game of this type. There were questions about how many people you played with, what you thought in general, if there were any specific problems you picked up on, and then some specific questions that they had thought about themselves along the lines of “How did you think this thing worked? We’re thinking of reducing the number of cards. What about you?” Actually I had already commented to that same effect, so it was nice to see they were already aware of the biggest flaw in the current rules. I’m looking forward to see the finished copy, and if I end up with a deck I’ll be sure to review it for you guys!
Much more recently (as in a week or so ago) I stumbled upon a picture of someone playing the game Topiary by Danny Devine. I thought it looked really cute and wanted to find out more. Turns out it’s just in the testing phase so I just had to get in on that. It’s such a small game too so I didn’t feel bad about asking my father for a printout. I should say that I never request to get printed card backs. It just feels like pushing it a bit far. It would’ve been nice in this case but I thought I would try to game out first before committing to anything so to speak.
This process was a bit different. I looked for the game myself (thinking it was a finished product) and found a thread on BGG asking for people to look at the rules, but that had been edited with a link to a PnP file. I downloaded it and sent it off to get printed. I try to get these things printed on good paper and got this (and I think the previous one to) on thick high quality semi-gloss photo paper. It works out pretty well I must say. But this game feels like one that would be wonderful with actual tiles, but I digress.
Topiary in contrast to Berghain ze Game looks pretty much done already. The art is absolutely darling and what drew me in the first time. Please Danny, don’t even think about changing it! So it’s probably more about the rule book, gameplay, and maybe if something has to be added in terms of additional cards or something. So this felt more like printing a finished game rather than a prototype. Topiary does require meeples to play, but pretty much any gamer on board with a PnP playtest will have meeples around. Or at least something similar. I brought my print out to a friend’s place and we ended up just using Carcassonne meeples as you only need eight and that’s exactly the number you use in Carcassonne.
There was/is no survey to fill in. Instead Danny has included his Twitter, BGG name, and email in the rulebook. I had already been in contact with him via Twitter so I shared gameplay pictures and thoughts that same evening. It was nice to have that kind of contact with the designer. It also meant I got to see some of the process and suggestions of changes to be made in how to place meeples etc. It’s a 2-4 player game and I only tried it with two, and with the base rules that were out when I downloaded the PnP. It has since been changed slightly and I should give the new placement rules a try soon I hope. So Topiary was a completely different playtest experience and I really enjoyed it. If the game itself is my kind of game… well, that’s another question and maybe a future review, hah!
There is a certain excitement in trying a game that isn’t even out yet. You’re among the first to play it, and your opinion might even bring on a change if needed. And it is quite satisfying to be able to help a game developer finalise their project, even if it’s simply by going “This totally works. Good job!”
When I playtest more games I will probably write more “diary entries”. It’s an interesting part of the gaming industry and community, and I like being a part of it in turn.
If you want me to playtest your game, please contact me! As I mentioned earlier I can’t easily print anything big. A few pages (~4) is fine but more than that will get difficult. However, if you want to send me a prototype – any stage, shape, and quality – I will very happily receive it and put it through the ringer. Of course the same goes for any review/preview copy as well. I’m more than happy to play and write full reviews of those.