Blind Playtesting

At least when it comes to tabletop board game design, I have a feeling I’m doing something right.

For those who know me, they’re aware that I always have some board game idea bouncing around in my head. Folks would also know that I spend most of my free time – and much of my ‘disposable income’ – in such pursuits. Spending upwards of $100 at a time on game components is not foreign to me. Granted, it’s usually to cash in on a sale or some kind of discount…But is that something a healthy adult male would do, when they’ve never had a legitimate prototype selected by a publisher?

HOWEVER, I have a strong suspicion that I’m doing something worth doing. The activity: blind playtests.

A blind playtest is when you send your game – and ruleset – off to someone and you let them learn how to play it on their own, without you there to teach it to them, without you there looking over their shoulder, without you there to ‘fudge through’ a particularly prickly segment of the gameplay. Someone else has a first look at your game and they see it for what it is, warts and all.

If it’s a mess, then they will let you know. If something doesn’t make sense, then they will call you out on it. If it’s broken, then they’ll tell you how much your game sucks.

Having my first blind playtest EVER was a gigantic boost for me, personally. Not just because I need a pick me up (I’m personally in what polite folks would call a “transitional period” in my life), but because I feel I’ve risen to a new plateau in game design:

  • I needed at least a first draft of rules composed before I had even thought of sending the game out for a blind playtest. Few games of mine have made it this far…and I have over a dozen prototypes sitting at home.
  • I realized how significant the inclusion of graphics can be when describing rules and game concepts. Essentially, anything that’s complex can be more easily described in pictures.
  • You receive more-or-less impartial feedback – or at least feedback that’s delivered without the awkwardness of you being there in the player’s face. Rules clarity, game flow, game length, and fun factor are all assessed by someone seeing your game for the first time without you around.
  • As a designer, you toughen up. Sending out your creation to others – knowing well that it could easily flop – takes courage. Once you’ve done it, you’ll find it easier to do again with a more-polished prototype (and eventually other game designs). If you’re not used to rejection, then you will be after playtesting is done.

Mole Majority has reached an additional milestone, and for that I am very pleased. Blind playtesting is something I’d never done before, but in terms of being a designer it was pivotal.

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