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Chat Transcript: Playtesting Stages

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Joined: 12/31/1969

On Wednesday, January 21, 2004, we had a great chat about playtesting and its various types and stages. The chat was well attended and excellent, and covered other topics including deciding when a game is ready to submit to publishers, the Game Designer's Guild, and books about games.

Here's the edited transcript, with non-topical portions removed and the lines re-ordered to improve readability. Enjoy!

FastLearner Let's talk playtesting!
FastLearner My least favorite "stage" or "type" of playtesting is the earliest "Does this design have game?" testing.
Oracle Mine too, but that's the farthest I generally get because the answer seems to be no
FastLearner Bummer
Scurra That's curious, because I usually don't have that stage...
Scurra IOW it's already either a game or it isn't!
FastLearner Not so much because I'm concerned that it doesn't, but because I hate to ask my buddies to play something that is fairly broken.
Scurra maybe it's just that my design process appears to be built around writing a full rule set almost from the start
Scurra and I tend to spot the "broken" stuff as I'm going along
Scurra so it doesn't usually get through to the playtest point
FastLearner Same here, now. My earliest playtests weren't that way, though. Now my first playtests all tend to be of something that is at least a game, even if it's an unbalanced or kinda unfun one.
FastLearner My earliest games, though, didn't always turn out to have "game" much.
Scurra It's nice to reach that point, isn't it?
FastLearner Aye, indeed. Fortunately I mostly tortured my family with the early stuff.
Scurra Yeah, and family will usually put up with a lot...
FastLearner Aye. My brother and his SO played several really boring games of mine.
FastLearner But amazingly they still love me.

Setarcos I saw a good question on the discussion board tonight.
Setarcos Is it standard to ask for NDA's for playtesting?
FastLearner I dunno. Some people definitely do require them. I haven't used them yet.
Scurra I've started to serious consider getting one
FastLearner Why are you considering NDAs?
Scurra Because I'm starting to get to the point where I'm presenting "serious" designs now!
FastLearner I can see that. My designs are certainly approaching the point where I'm likely to submit them to publishers, so I guess I'm a little bit paranoid about them.

Setarcos So far I've found all my games to be "broken" (at least a little) before anyone else gets to see them.
Scurra Oh yes, I think most designs start out like that, Set
Scurra The trick is to minimise the broken bits
FastLearner Have you managed to fix them and get them back out?
Setarcos Only one so far.

FastLearner Besides experience, one of the good tricks to avoiding nasty alpha tests is solo testing, which we've talked about before.
Setarcos Well at least I'm doing that right.
Scurra I wish DavemanUK was here - he knows about solo testing
Scurra He talks a lot about it at our test sessions
Scurra Whereas I don't think I've ever seriously done it
Scurra because I think I can "see" how the game works as I'm constructing the rules
FastLearner I have a game I'm working on now (Rapa Nui) where there's a fair bit of numerical balancing that has to go on, so I'm running a variety of solo tests to try to get the numbers somewhat worked out before presenting it for first play.
Scurra Sometimes number balancing is too tricky though
Setarcos NO WAY! Rapa Nui was the game I was working on for the Design Contest.
FastLearner Well, then I'm glad you didn't.
FastLearner J/k, we can both have Rapa Nui games.
Oracle what's Rapa Nui?
FastLearner Easter Island
Setarcos Just goes to show that there is no theme that hasn't been tried by someone else at least once.
Scurra Biiiig stone heads?
Oracle I know the heads are on easter island, I just never heard the name rapa nui
FastLearner Aye, big stone heads. In fact I was working on little cardboard stand-up moai (the heads) just before the chat started.
FastLearner The natives there call the island Rapa Nui (or Rapanui).
Setarcos It's the native name for the islnad.
Setarcos You're even to fast for me here. (LOL)
FastLearner The ones I've had to solo test in the past were ones that involved relational placement: I put this here so you put that there so he puts that there and...
FastLearner I just can't do those in my head beyond a few steps.
Scurra No - those are indeed next to impossible!
Scurra I don't think I've done a placement game like that yet
Scurra maybe I'm just not built to think that way?
Scurra What I find interesting is that having written a comprehensive ruleset for my playtest game, I then don't use it when I'm explaining it to the testers!
FastLearner LOL, same here Scurra. Who wants to read rules when you can explain it from your head?
FastLearner LOL
Scurra (this is partly why Chris complained about my rules sparseness for Fate of Atlantis - I hadn't bothered to go back to them to expand them because *I* understood the game!)
Oracle When you're teaching a commercial game to friends, how much do you use the rules sheet? I think it's the same when explaining a playtest game
FastLearner Yeah, I agree.
FastLearner It has all the downfalls as well, though (being "wrong"). Heh.
Scurra It's worse with a playtest game because you think you know your own rules
Scurra and of course you then forget something crucial and wonder what went wrong...
FastLearner Aye, exactly.
Scurra but then again I've started giving them rulesets the session before
Scurra (assuming that they don't completely change by the time we come to play of course!)
FastLearner Good idea!

FastLearner Let's chat a bit about "warnings"... When I know a game is rough I like to warn my testers, but I'm concerned that too much warning might prevent them from liking it ("Yeah, you were right, it did suck") when they might have otherwise dug it.
FastLearner Do you guys warn your players, or are they automatically pre-warned?
Scurra well I tend not to warn my testers
tjgames I usually don't warn I try to do as much self playtesting as i can before hand
FastLearner Yeah, I think that can avoid a lot of the need for warning.
tjgames Then find all the problems that still exist in playtest

Setarcos The only time I've used playtesters, it was as much a development session as anything else.
Setarcos I don't think I'll use playtesters again until I'm ready to blind test with the rules, the box, etc.
FastLearner Why not?
Setarcos For me, the group development session just didn't work out.
tjgames Is this a game that's already been tested SET?
Setarcos But none of them were into game design, though.
FastLearner How did it not work out? Were they just really critical or what?
Setarcos It was extremely abstract, and they just weren't into that.
FastLearner Ah, gotcha.

Oracle but if you made the game you're free to make rules amendments as you want
FastLearner Excellent point. In fact that nicely segues into evolutionary testing. Scurra has mentioned that he doesn't mind changing rules mid-game, and I'm the same way. What about you guys?
tjgames I change rules as needed
tjgames Mostly I look for rules that can be dropped
tjgames or are not needed
FastLearner That's a great philosophy.
FastLearner I do try to do it in a "fair" way -- that is, if a rule change will clearly make one guy lose then I try to save it to the next game.
Scurra Unless that guy is me, in which case I generally have no problem with changing it
FastLearner Amen to that!
Oracle if it's a playtest session, then there's nothing wrong with changing rules mid-game. That also helps test the new fix the same game without having to play another game for each tweak.
Oracle The only reason not to change the rules would be if it's a serious game session, not a playtest session
FastLearner It depends on your players, I think. I test with some guys who would have a big problem with it and, while it's a hassle, I don't want to lose them as testers.
Oracle Makes sense, but I hope you also have testers who understand it is just a playtest
FastLearner Absolutely. I have several testers who wouldn't mind if I changed the rules every turn.
FastLearner But not enough of them, and they're often mixed in with the ones who hate it.
FastLearner Sometimes I have to fight them so that I don't have to change the rules.
Scurra same here, but they are also smart enough to realise why it wouldn't be a good idea
Scurra all the time
FastLearner For example, someone will say "You should change this to that, 'cause this isn't working" and I have to say "Give it some time here, I think it's going to work". Sometimes I'm right and sometimes not.
tjgames Are we talking about changing rules mid-game?
FastLearner Aye.
tjgames Oh. I usually don't do that unless the game is really bad
tjgames And if I do we usually start a the game over or move onto something eles
Scurra For instance, I find that we have developed a three-stage process: 1. start and keep changing rules, 2. play a whole game and then develop 3. play a whole game and make minor adjustments
Scurra stage 1 is often the shortest
Scurra stage 2 can be quite long
Scurra stage 3 is where the bugs get ironed out
FastLearner That makes sense, and mirrors what I've been doing, too.
Scurra then I feel happy taking it to my "serious" group, who want to play a proper working game!
FastLearner The kinds of rules I'm happy to change mid-game are things like "you now get 2 gold for that action, not 3" because money is too loose.
FastLearner Makes sense to me.
tjgames small rules you mean then
FastLearner That's what I try to only change.
Scurra Not always for me.
FastLearner Sometimes I've had to change bigger rules, though.
Scurra I've made radical changes early but only when they are really obvious problems
Scurra like my train game in which the track-laying was completely broken
tjgames As long as everyone goes for it it's great
Scurra but the fix was really easy
FastLearner Aye, same here, Scurra.
tjgames I just did a playtest with someone else game and we did some major changes and retested the game several times
Scurra (actually, thinking about it, "Fire and Ice", which was one of my Hippodice games, had a huge rules change about five minutes into the first game which fixed almost everything that was wrong with it!)
Setarcos Scurra: You did "Fire and Ice". I love that game
Scurra setarco, no different game same title
Scurra I didn't know there was another game called that
Scurra until after I entered Hippodice...
tjgames I worked out quite well and was fun
Setarcos Do any of you feel uncomfortable changing rules before playing the first game all the way through to see how it turns out?
FastLearner Not I. Only in cases like I described above, where I felt like the rule would work as long as the game played out.
Joe_Huber Re: changing rules the first time - doesn't bother me at all.
FastLearner Sometimes I have trouble either seeing or explaining to the players that what looks broken isn't, it's just a matter of bad strategy, and that after a couple of turns everyone suddenly sees how to win the game rather than just take their turns.

FastLearner So we've talked about early playtests and about evolutionary stuff somewhat.
FastLearner Joe, have you had much experience blind playtesting your games?
Joe_Huber Some - I've blind playtested a few of my games. I just haven't found it sufficiently beneficial to do it every time.
Joe_Huber Blind testing can also be useful to determine if random players will take the approach to the game you were looking for - and if the game works with a different approach.
FastLearner Great point. That's why lately I've been trying some playtests with groups I don't really know well, and I don't play. Kind of blind, though I'm still there to answer questions.

Setarcos What would you guys do for a final playtest? Anything special?
Joe_Huber Final playtest? No such thing...
FastLearner For me I'd want later blind tests to be rules tests more than anything else... if a blind group of gamers can't get it then there's no way a publisher would.

FastLearner I've only had one of mine blind playtested, but I realized I didn't have a good enough feedback system to make it terribly useful.
FastLearner How do you handle feedback?
Joe_Huber Probably the worst possible system - I listen, and then try to remember it all.
FastLearner Wolfgang Kramer published an interesting example playtest sheet he created.
FastLearner (I mean it was published on the web.)
FastLearner In the example it was for Torres.
FastLearner Interestingly, very little of the form was about player feedback. The bulk of it was things like "How many of x-type pieces did each player have left? How many bonus cards were used?" etc.
tjgames do you have the web address? FL
FastLearner I'll track it down. The interview and test questions are in German and the page is so large that I had to translate it bit by bit.
tjgames I usually lose in my own game because I watching to see how other react and what kind of strategies the come up with
FastLearner Same here.
FastLearner That kind of testing (number of pieces left unused, etc.) is something I'm pretty bad with, as I pretend like I'll remember for the next test but rarely remember it all.
Joe_Huber I tend to run prototypes past additional groups once I'm happy enough with them - for much the same reason. I think it's sufficient; others don't.

Setarcos Joe: Do you (or does anyone) bother recording playtest sessions?
tjgames Mostly in my head
tjgames I playtest with others that take a lot of notes.
tjgames On their games
Joe_Huber No I don't record playtest sessions (though I do track how many times I play each game).
FastLearner I haven't recorded one, though I've seriously considered it so I could analyze it better later. My concern is that the players will be too self-conscious and won't act like they did with the camera off.
FastLearner I tried taking a lot of notes on the first few games I playtested, but it interrupted the flow too much. Now I only note stuff that seems really important.
Setarcos I've wonder if making sure the camera could only see the board would take care of that.
FastLearner Aye, if I could see just that and each players stuff then it could work, maybe.
FastLearner Joe, of games you've playtested for others, have you seen any feedback forms?
Joe_Huber I'm playtested a bunch of games with Tom Lehmann, and he takes copious notes - playing time, scores, impressions, ideas, etc.
FastLearner Does that slow the game down? Is it a good group that doesn't mind?
tjgames I usually track game time. Thats one thing I really like to know
Joe_Huber I've never seen a form, though some designers have used them to record info.

FastLearner Joe, earlier we chatted about NDAs. I've had to sign a ton for software testing and a fair number for RPG playtesting, but never for boardgame testing. Have you seen it much in this field?
Joe_Huber Not a one. Anywhere. In any form. Playtesting with designers or publishers, or submitting or showing games to publishers.
Joe_Huber I think if asked to sign an NDA to playtest a game, I'd bail, to be honest.
Setarcos Why's that?
Joe_Huber Don't care for NDAs, and I'd be worried about being accused of "stealing" an idea I was already using.
Setarcos What if all the playtesters were people not involved in the industry, then would it be appropriate?
FastLearner I'm not very paranoid about that kind of thing at all, though I suppose I might be with completely blind playtesters that I didn't know at all. Like sending a copy to a game club 2000 miles away. But I still wouldn't send an NDA.
FastLearner Joe, that latter point is an excellent one. I've got notebooks full of game ideas and such: I'd hate to sign an NDA that ended up contradicting an idea I already had, as there's no way I'd be able to prove I had it first.
Setarcos I've considered getting some of my paperwork notarized for that reason.
Setarcos (Once I actually have much paperwork that is.)
tjgames I won't play with an NDA. But luckily for me I have never had to.
Joe_Huber I'd still be worried that anyone wanting an NDA signed was likely not taking an approach that would allow me to effectively contribute as a playtester.
FastLearner Also a good point.
tjgames I personally feel I have enough idea that if one gets stolen no biggie
FastLearner Stephen, I've seen posts by you in several places that you don't have a lot of folks handy to game with you. How do you handle playtesting?
Snoop it's quite difficult
Snoop I usually send my stuff out to gaming groups
Snoop Gaming groups of folks I know. Typically it's 2 player stuff
Snoop My philosophy has always been to spend my energies creating an idea worth stealing
Setarcos Good point.
tjgames I like that
FastLearner Great philosophy.
Joe_Huber I don't really care if someone steals my idea - I just don't want someone else accusing me.

FastLearner Joe, if you had to guess (or if you know), how many times was Scream Machine tested? Stephen, what about Balloon Cup?
Joe_Huber Scream Machine - 30-35
Snoop B-Cup NOT ENUF!
FastLearner LOL!
Joe_Huber I know Stephen also sends out rules on occasion for playtesting without playing...
Snoop yes I do
Snoop Joe, for instance, has stolen several of my ideas
Snoop kidding, of course
Joe_Huber I've been fortunately enough to find almost no one who is paranoid about their designs.
Joe_Huber Balloon Cup - it was tested quite enough. My job includes finding livelock such as struck Balloon Cup, and it's VERY VERY hard work.
FastLearner In software?
Joe_Huber No, hardware - microprocessors.
FastLearner Same effect, but without the option of patches.
Joe_Huber You can work some wonders with microcode...
FastLearner Ah, fair enough.
Snoop I would estimate I playtested B-Cup 10-20 times before submitting it to Kosmos
FastLearner Ah, interesting.
FastLearner Snoop, have you changed your playtesting style since B-cup?
Snoop That's not including versions of the game that led up to it
FastLearner I see.
Snoop No NDAs were used
Snoop Haven't changed my playtesting style. B-Cup was tested mainly by my sending it to friends
FastLearner If you couldn't realistically analyze the lockup issue (too many factors, say), the I guess it would just be repetition that would have to bring it out.
Snoop I think the lock-up issue was find-able. Just never occurred to me.
Snoop It was like finding Waldo. Once I saw it, it seemed so obvious
FastLearner I know that happens in the rest of my life all the time.
Joe_Huber It could have been discovered, yes - by formal analysis that I suspect most game designers have never done because it's almost never necessary and reasonably complex to boot.

FastLearner Earlier we chatted about solo testing. Do either of you (Joe or Stephen) do much of that, or have you pretty much worked it out enough in advance that solo testing would be a waste of time?
Joe_Huber I've never solo tested a game, though I often will go over it in my head a number of times.
Snoop I solo test quite frequently. It's more of an option when you're working with 2p games
FastLearner B-cup is a simple enough game where you could reasonably run through lots of permutations (or some kind of logic tree thing or something, for example) that I can imagine how to do it. I have a much harder time imagining how to do that kind of thing w/ PR.
Joe_Huber You know, given the market for them I wish I had more interest in 2P games...
Snoop My latest multi-player game (which I'm in the process of trying to sell) was solo playtested ALOT.
Joe_Huber How latest, Stephen?
FastLearner One of the types of games that I have to solo playtest is where physical placement is an issue (like competing for shared territory, etc.).
Snoop Lupo
FastLearner Just can't wrap my head around it after the 2nd or 3rd turn.
FastLearner Lupo. Interesting title.
Snoop I love simultaneous action games, and they are not so difficult to solo playtest
Snoop Lupo the Wolf, to be precise
FastLearner Ah, cool.
tjgames Harry Potter?
Snoop What about Harry Potter?
tjgames Prof Lupo.... was the Werewolf No
FastLearner I can see how simultaneous action games would require a special kind of mind partitioning to playtest, though.
Snoop Since there's a lot of randomness in simultaneous action games, you can actually PLAY randomly just to see how the game works
FastLearner Ah, interesting point.

FastLearner Both Joe and Snoop have had games published... how did you guys decide (and do you decide) that the playtesting is done?
Snoop uh...
Joe_Huber Playtesting is never done.
Snoop yea
FastLearner Sorry, I mean "sufficient to submit for publishing".
Joe_Huber If the game works well enough and people enjoy it well enough, maybe a publisher will. Probably not, so I don't get too picky.
Snoop Yea. I really enjoyed playing it. And I'd worked out some kinks in the original version
Snoop It just seemed kinda cool. And it worked. That was enough for me.
FastLearner I've had the hardest time coming to that conclusion. My testers say it's fun and enjoy it (and they're pretty brutal), but it just doesn't feel... complete somehow. I guess maybe I've just got to get it out there?

Setarcos Joe, Snoop: What's the acceptance rate for the games you guys submit?
Snoop don't understand the question
Snoop I've only had one game accepted out of MANY submitted.
Setarcos How many do you submit for each once that a publisher wants?
FastLearner Jet Set was accepted, yes? That's at least 2.
Joe_Huber 2 acceptances; ~20 submissions reject; ~20 games rejected on reading the rules or a single play.
Snoop So far, about 20 for every 1
Snoop okay 2
Setarcos That's real encouraging (not) to guys like me! (LOL)
FastLearner Joe, what else do you have accepted? Something coming out soon or is it held up by the publisher?
Joe_Huber Plenary is publishing Corporate Beehavior. That one was only turned down by R&R...
Joe_Huber Not sure what Angela's current schedule for Corporate Beehavior is - will check next month.
Joe_Huber Looked at another way - 4 publishers turned down Scream Machine. (Alea, Ravensburger, Hans im Glueck, and R&R)
Snoop I can honestly say B-Cup wasn't turned down by anyone
Snoop Jet Set was turned down by Goldseiber and Adlung
Joe_Huber FWIW, I currently have six games submitted to five publishers.
Snoop Finally Angela had pity on me
FastLearner It (B-cup) was a clear fit for Kosmos, certainly.
Snoop that was no accident
Snoop I certainly modeled it after Lost Cities
Snoop Babel .. the whole my side vs your side
FastLearner Aye, I can see the match up.
Snoop I was aiming squarely at the Kosmos 2p series.
Snoop still am, but having less luck
Snoop that's a good strategy. Look at the games a publisher publishes, and make designs that fit
FastLearner Aye, I'm certain it is.
Setarcos Guess I'd better make sure to get to the GAMA con.
Snoop Setarcos, it helps to know folks in the industry. Don't downplay contacts.
FastLearner I'm certain that's true, as I've yet to be involved in an industry where it wasn't.
FastLearner I met Angela at GAMA last year. Unfortunately I can't afford to travel too much and am not one of the cool GoF kids, so I'm not sure how to make better contacts.
FastLearner Any suggestions?
Snoop PowWow
Joe_Huber Essen.
FastLearner Yeah... That's my goal for next fall, but I'm not holding my breath.
Joe_Huber (Yeah, I know, that's more travel - but it's the best place to go.)
FastLearner Makes sense.
FastLearner What kind of turnaround time have you guys had from most publishers? Who's slow?
Snoop I've had several ideas rejected by Alea. I can't seem to please Stefan Brueck no matter how hard I try
Joe_Huber The game of mine that Hans im Glueck has they've had for - well, let's just say a real long time now.
FastLearner Alea has a serious reputation to uphold, so I can see how he'd be picky.
Joe_Huber Stefan at Alea has a great turn around time.
Snoop Speed depends on the season. Right now Lupo the Wolf is in Goldseiber's hands, but they say they can't even start to look at it until after Nurnberg
Snoop Yea, Stefan usually tells me very quickly that my idea "is not very convincing"
FastLearner That's good to hear. I have a game in the works that I think would fit in their line, so at least I'll be able to learn quickly that I'm wrong.
FastLearner Have both of you been to Essen?
Joe_Huber Not once. Not anytime soon, either. Maybe 2008.
Snoop My first Essen will be this year

Setarcos Joe, Snoop: Would self-publishing (even on a very small scale) be likely to get a publisher's interest, or would they be less likely to pick up something like that?
Joe_Huber Self-publishing - seems to have worked OK for Breese & Henn...
Snoop Also James Droscha (Hell Rail) got his game picked up after self-publishing
FastLearner Aye, good point Snoop.
Setarcos So would self publishing provide any protection for the I.P?
Joe_Huber I think a self-published game would have no greater or lesser chance of success with a publisher, _if_ published in reasonably limited quantities.
Snoop Self-publishing is not anything I'd be interested in doing. Much hard work.
Snoop I don't know the laws on intellectual property
Setarcos OK.
Joe_Huber Self publishing isn't going to hurt in protecting IP, but to be honest IP isn't terribly valuable in this industry.
FastLearner The copyright protections that exist in the US automatically protect pretty well that which can be protected. Ideas are notoriously difficult to protect, and since they're a dime a dozen, protecting them isn't all that important, eh?

FastLearner As I noted earlier, I'll be posting an edited transcript so I don't want to go over too much that we've covered by asking the wrong questions, so for those who joined recently, do you have any particular thoughts about playtesting?
Joe_Huber Thoughts: games go through about four main stages in playtesting - first testing, smoothing things out, developing (and developing again), and working out the final art/etc.
FastLearner Those are pretty much the stages we've discussed. Do you get the impression that some publishers do very little of the 4th type?
Joe_Huber Yes - the fourth is limited. The third can be done a lot, both by the designer & publisher.

FastLearner I'd guess that Kosmos didn't do a lot with B-cup,
Joe_Huber Actually, I know they did do a reasonable amount of development.
FastLearner On B-Cup: Weird that the issue didn't appear.
Joe_Huber The Balloon Cup livelock requires a 1 in ~200 event to happen - it wasn't certain to come up. Play styles also influence it.
Setarcos Question: I'm not familiar with the lock-up issue in BC, did it affect sales or anything?
Snoop I'd have to know what the sales numbers were to answer that
Snoop If the lock up hurt sales, I'm sure the SdJ helped them
FastLearner Aye, no kidding.
Snoop I mean, SdJ nomination.
Joe_Huber Don't worry Stephen - you'll get a SdJ yet... before Knizia, even...
FastLearner Yes, but as they say with the Oscars, nomination alone will increase your box office.

Joe_Huber Somewhat touching on a prior topic - I think any game past stage 2 can be reasonably submitted to a publisher.
FastLearner As in, it's fair to leave a few rough edges to the publisher's development?
Joe_Huber Kinda. I usually get the rough edges off, but don't necessarily worry about minor details.
FastLearner I see.
DonovanLoucks Ah.
DonovanLoucks With the main game I'm working on, I had thought it was about ready to go to the publisher. Then, I took a long, hard look at it and realized I needed to fix some things.
DonovanLoucks I have one playtester who thinks I should've submitted it years ago. I think he's biased.
DonovanLoucks I didn't want to submit a design that the publisher would change so radically during development that I couldn't call it my own.
DonovanLoucks I guess it could be argued that my primary design still has some "rough edges", at least, according to me.
FastLearner I know in both my programming and my graphic design work I have a hard time say "done enough," so I guess it's just being reflected in boardgaming.
Joe_Huber With some publishers, I'd be sure to do the development myself - but with some (Alea, Hans im Glueck, Kosmos) they're going to develop it to their line anyway.
FastLearner Sure, I can see that the bigger outfits would be doing that level of development work no matter what you submitted.

DonovanLoucks Joe: By the way, I REALLY like the national vs. local customers concept in your game. In fact, I'm tempted to try a variant where there are more locals and less nationals.
Joe_Huber Check out the variant on the Jolly Roger web page...
DonovanLoucks The Balanced Distribution Variant? I'll check it out.
Joe_Huber Yup, that's the one. More local customer (and national as well).
DonovanLoucks That sounds like a good variant. I like the idea of more customers, which I assume will lead to higher scores.
Joe_Huber Yes, the scores will go up.

Snoop Anybody want news on SAZ?
FastLearner Aye, yes please.
Joe_Huber Sure...
Snoop I just set up a mailing list per Alan Moon's instructions. Once he posts some etiquette rules and some introductory messages, I'll announce it here
Snoop He says he should post it this evening or tomorrow morning
FastLearner Excellent, good to hear.
Snoop I have no idea what the messages will include. He's just asked me to moderate the list.
Joe_Huber Mailing list through Yahoo?
Snoop Yes, Yahoo!
FastLearner Cool, makes it easy enough to add one more Yahoo group.
Joe_Huber Good. Open to SAZ members only, or a recruiting tool?
Snoop SAZ: will have open membership for a month or so. Then invitation only.
Snoop From what Alan says, it will be open for anyone to join
FastLearner Interesting. And somewhat surprising. Are either of you current SAZ members?
Snoop I'm waiting for the next big idea to hit me. Unfortunately, sleep usually hits me first.
Joe_Huber Nope.
Snoop Not me
Snoop There are dues and stuff involved. The introductory messages will explain what you get for your ducats
DonovanLoucks I don't even know what SAZ stands for, so I'm betting I'm not a member!
Snoop Whatever it means, it's in German
FastLearner It would seem that if you can't realistically attend their get-togethers then it's not quite as appealing, but if you're in on the messages then it could be more worthwhile.
FastLearner Spielautoren something.
Joe_Huber SAZ is a German game author's organization. (Spiele Authoren Zsomething)
Snoop The English contingent will be GDU (Game Designer's Union)
FastLearner Ah, interesting.
Joe_Huber Eek!
FastLearner Union is a spicy word.
Joe_Huber Might be a bit, um, offputting.
Snoop I'm pretty sure you have to have a published game to join. But anyone can join the mailing list at first...
Snoop lemme double check
FastLearner You can join the SAZ unpublished.
Joe_Huber Stephen - you can get an associate membership if unpublished.
FastLearner Right. 60 euros, IIRC
Snoop ack! I'm glad I checked. It's Game Designer's Guild
FastLearner Ah, Guild is a much better word.
Joe_Huber Ah - guild is much better.
FastLearner I'm glad you'll be publishing the info tomorrow, Snoop... my birthday's coming up fairly soon and a GUG membership might be just the ticket.
Joe_Huber Stephen - can US authors still join SAZ, or will they be shuffled to GDG?
Joe_Huber Or both?
Snoop no idea
Snoop I think it's all the same thing.
Snoop This is just the English translation
FastLearner That would be ideal.
Snoop at least that's what I understand
Snoop I'm curious what one gets for their 60 EU
FastLearner As near as I can tell -- and this is from Googled translations -- you get to be on their email list and you get invited to their events (at Essen, Nürnberg, and IIRC one other dinner or something).
Joe_Huber I know the 60E gets a guide to help find publishers, etc.
FastLearner Ah, and the guide, right.
Joe_Huber (Rather, includes...)
Snoop you mean like addresses and contact info?
FastLearner Again IIRC the guide is printed, not electronic, making translation from German much more difficult for me.
Joe_Huber Yes, Stephen - addresses, contact info, advice, etc.
FastLearner Have any of you folks seen this book: ?
Snoop nope
Joe_Huber Not I...
Snoop it appears to be written in a secret language that I do not understand
FastLearner It seems to be a book put out by Ravensburger with advice for game designers. Just curious about it.
Snoop wow. Wish I read German
Joe_Huber (The only game design book I've read is Tinsman's; that for the humor moreso than anything else.
FastLearner Heh.
Snoop I should write a book explaining how to get rejected by Ravensburger. I have lots of experience in that dept
FastLearner LOL
Joe_Huber Ooh - I can help with that, Stephen...
Snoop of course, that will come AFTER Kitchen Sink Games

FastLearner I've read both Tinsman's and Peek's. Neither was useful to me at all, but mostly because I already either knew everything in them or because it became clear that they were just wrong. :/
DonovanLoucks “Written of Tom who-hit a corner appears this important paperback in 5. extended edition. Here a play author finds all worth knowing one in a paperback. Standard work!”
DonovanLoucks I guess "Werneck" translates to "who-hit"!
Snoop well said, Donovan
FastLearner It's the "An initiative of the Ravensburger of play publishing house" part at the top that makes it at least slightly interesting.
DonovanLoucks I'm constantly browsing through my collection just looking for inspiration on mechanisms. That's the kind of book I want.
Setarcos Just looked up Tinsman's book. I must really be the novice here, I actually found it somewhat informative. Should I pay any attention to it?
FastLearner I definitely don't want to self-publish. I've already done the "run a business" thing enough times in this life.
Setarcos Which one was Tinsman's?
DonovanLoucks Here's Brian Tinsman's book:
DonovanLoucks It's been on my "to-buy" list for quite some time.
FastLearner Tinsman's book is basically an overview of the game market in the US. If you're totally ignorant about it then it might be somewhat useful.
Setarcos That must be why I found it to be useful, I guess. (LOL)
DonovanLoucks I read Peek's book years ago, but I'm really not interested in all the publishing aspects. I want a book about game DESIGN that can inspire ideas. A sort of commonplace book, if you will.
Joe_Huber I suspect that your method is probably better than anything anyone's going to put in a book.
DonovanLoucks But, if a collection of many of those mechanisms were in a book, it would save a LOT of space.
Setarcos DL: Which book is that?
DonovanLoucks Chapters on different card mechanisms, dice mechanisms, probabilities, all that schtuff.
Joe_Huber Tinsman's book has a few reasonable bits, but really is more an enjoyable read than guide.
Snoop Sometimes wacky stuff like that can inspire me
DonovanLoucks I've also got Tom Braunlich's rare book.
DonovanLoucks Tom Braunlich's book was virtually self-published. Lemme see if I can determine the name (I'm at work).
Setarcos I'm finding books by Braunlich about Pente and Card Games.
DonovanLoucks Yeah, I can't find it now. To be honest, it's nothing special. I e-mailed Tom directly about it since I couldn't find a copy elsewhere. He pretty much sold me his personal copy.
Joe_Huber My most recent design was inspired by the PoF discussion here last week...
Snoop At Protospiel, James Droscha gave an incredible lecture on thinking outside of the box. If he ever puts it in essay form I'd love him to publish it online
FastLearner That would be quite cool.
Snoop James is really "out there" with his thoughts on gaming, but he really forces you to change your way of thinking of what a game "should" be
Snoop Here's an idea...go to BGG and write down each mechanic listed on a slip of paper (one mechanic per slip)
Snoop Put the slips in a box and draw five randomly. Design a game using those mechanics
FastLearner No need for the slips... use this:
Joe_Huber I'll have to ask Rick if he ever really designed a game that way...
FastLearner Heh.
Snoop Neat. I'll have to try that
Joe_Huber (Rick -> spotlightongames)
FastLearner It's really fun mental play, frankly (the 3-mechanism version)
FastLearner Right, Heli
FastLearner Has Rick been published?
Joe_Huber Only self-published (Balmy Balloonists)
Joe_Huber I've played 2-3 other games of his - quite interesting stuff.
FastLearner Ah, yes, that's the name. I was arguing with a friend about that the other day. Halli Galli kept coming to mind.
FastLearner I read a book on designing wargames about 20 years ago. It inspired me to want to design games, anyway.
FastLearner Here's an update of Dunnigan's book (that I first read in 80 or so):
FastLearner A lot of Dunnigan's stuff is pretty good advice, it seems like, even though it's about wargames.
DonovanLoucks I was working on a list of my game collection and was shocked at how many AH and SPI games Dunnigan made.
Setarcos Are there any other books about the games industry in general besides Tinsman's and Peek's. I only know of the recent one about Parker Bros. (Can' remember the name though.)
Joe_Huber Parker Brothers - The Game Makers. Good read.
FastLearner I've wanted to read that. I'll have to grab it.
Setarcos Yea, that's it. I haven't picked it up yet.
DonovanLoucks That does look good.
Snoop Hey, in my Game Design Challenge I got - THEME: Ancient Egypt, MECHANIC: Auction, Bidding. I think I'll go invent Ra now
DonovanLoucks If you can call that game "themed"!
FastLearner LOL
Joe_Huber Stephen - I want to see you design an ancient Egypt game with auctions that is _nothing_ like Ra. I expect to play it in April.
Snoop Can we change the theme to gangsters? I know nothing about Ancient Egypt, except that it's divided into three epochs and involves monuments, gods, and civilizations
FastLearner I can envision a game where you're one of the many groups of workers that appear to have built the pyramids, all bidding to lay bricks. In fact there could be a pretty cool tile-laying mechanism that would work in with it, with the final result being a pyramid.
DonovanLoucks Sounds like "Tal der Konige" to me.
FastLearner Gack, it is somewhat similar to TdK. Interesting.
DonovanLoucks Gorgeous but pricey game. I bought a copy over a year ago and still haven't played it.
Joe_Huber Stephen - how about using Cleopatra to design a game around?
Snoop give me something this century, dude
Joe_Huber Cher?
Snoop All I know about Cleopatra I learned by playing C&C
FastLearner Think Pueblo + auctions.
Snoop Pueblo already has an auction variant
FastLearner Well, ok
Snoop I could design the Cher game...
Snoop Cher balloon racing
Joe_Huber OK, then Stephen, design the Cher game, and we'll re-theme it to Cleopatra.
Snoop Cher Theme Park
FastLearner LOL
FastLearner I saw an interview where she said that after a nuclear war the only thing remaining would be cockroaches and her, since her career apparently can't be killed.
Snoop Cherabande
DonovanLoucks This looks like it could be an interesting book:
FastLearner Aye, that's the new one from MIT. Anybody read it?
Setarcos DL: Wow! Looks interesting. Thanks.
Joe_Huber A friend is reading The Rules of Play, I believe - isn't finding much valuable...
Snoop I'd sure like to flip through it before I paid $50 for it
DonovanLoucks I've come across that one on eBay before. I'm hoping it'll start getting remaindered.
FastLearner No kidding. Wonder if it's at the local Borders. I'll have to check.
FastLearner Nope, not in the local stores. Ah well.
DonovanLoucks Wow. Check out that second review, which mentions German games.
DonovanLoucks Wayne Schmittberger's New Rules for Classic Games is a great book.
Snoop I agree heartily (even though Wayne Schmittberger doesn't answer my e-mails)
DonovanLoucks THAT BASTARD!
Snoop doesn't he know WHO I AM!!!
FastLearner LOL. Not the Stephen Glenn, surely?
Snoop yea
FastLearner I enjoyed NRfCG as well. It does a good job of helping you "get into" games that already exist, kind of deconstructing them. Quite handy.
Joe_Huber Interesting - I found New Rules... rather dry, and didn't hold onto it.
FastLearner Definitely dry, but I didn't mind.
Snoop I love New Rules. I keep coming back to it
DonovanLoucks I liked the variants because they demonstrated a variety of different rules. Just reading through them gives me inspiration.
FastLearner It taught me to examine games differently than I had been.
DonovanLoucks There are used copies of Rules of Play that cost more than the new price on Amazon...
DonovanLoucks $50 new on Amazon or $57 used from College Book Service? Hmmm....
Snoop Gamut of Games is also a must have
Snoop I have a German version if anyone wants it
Joe_Huber Card Games from Around the World is also worthwhile...
FastLearner I'd like to get an English version of either.
DonovanLoucks Yeah, Gamut of Games is great.
DonovanLoucks R.C. Bell?
Snoop Bell! Talk about DRY
Snoop There's a Cheapass game/book called Captain such and such... anyone know what I'm talking about?
FastLearner Nope, don't know what you're talking about.
Snoop Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack
Snoop Anybody read that? It's really an interesting read
FastLearner No. Interesting read, eh? I'll have to take a look.
Snoop Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack is a book of rules of games that didn't get published by Cheapass. It's written as a "fictional" account.
FastLearner I note that the playing time for Chief Herman's says "about 3 days".
Snoop good insights for Cheapass-type games. Really entertaining, and a great value at $5
FastLearner I'll have to grab it at that price, then.
DonovanLoucks Anyone read Milton Bradley's biography? I've been considering that one for a while.
Snoop MB's bio? Didn't know it existed. Neat
FastLearner Weird. It has some good insights?
DonovanLoucks He's buried out in Springfield. George S. Parker is buried in Lynn. If you're looking for some graveyards to haunt...
Joe_Huber Must admit - graveyard searches aren't among the top things on my to-do list...
DonovanLoucks Bummer. I've done many of them out there. We don't have such nice ones here. Mt. Auburn in Cambridge is gorgeous.
Snoop maybe I'll go spray paint Joe Huber's name on the tombstone
FastLearner Great idea. Be sure to misspell it, though. Much funnier.
FastLearner Hueber, maybe.
Joe_Huber Huebbert, if you want to capture all the common errors...
FastLearner Sweet!
DonovanLoucks MB's bio is called It's All In the Game by James J. Shea.
Snoop is it at Amazon? I see It's All in the Game by Engelbert Humperdink
FastLearner It doesn't appear to be in there
DonovanLoucks Published in 1960.
DonovanLoucks MB's bio is called It's All in the Game, by James J. Shea.
DonovanLoucks Awesome.
DonovanLoucks I also have both of Desi Scarpone's books which are chock full of photos of old games.
DonovanLoucks I've probably got about 6 linear feet of books on games.
FastLearner Wow, amazing.
DonovanLoucks But I'm no more done with my game design as a result of having them.
FastLearner G'night all.

Torrent's picture
Joined: 08/03/2008
Chat Transcript: Playtesting Stages

Any update on the SAZ/GDG mailing list idea? I am really interested in whatever mailing list they have. And while I CAN read German, I would like to see some stuff in English too.

I have a question for the main part of the chat too. When do you usually produce your prototypes, and at qhat quality in what stage? I mean, I know you have to have these prototypes to do prototypes, but at what point does scribbled numbers on index cards just not cut it? And at what stage do things look like when you do send stuff to publishers? I think I remember seeing a link to a prototype board of Balloon Cup on BGG somewhere. What stage is that in along the playtesting road?


Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
Chat Transcript: Playtesting Stages

I generally put far too much work into my prototypes - I rarely bring hand-written index cards to a game anymore. Although my tokens still get printed onto bits of paper and blow around on the board too easily... (but they're still printed tokens :))

I must confess to buying a couple of games solely to raid them for pieces though. You can never have enough coloured barrels or cubes, and I'm too lazy to paint them up myself.

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