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playtesting lessons learned

3 replies [Last post]
Joined: 01/28/2017

So we did our first trip to UKGE at Motley Sprue with a focus on testing The Potteries and Knossus : Enter the Labyrinth ( and a bit of Ludus Magnus and Spies with Bowties.

Games went down really well but we also learned a lot through hardcore testing like this so I thought I'd share my top 10 and see if anyone else has top tips to share too:

1. Playtesting from 9am to 6pm is absolutely exhausting. I don't care how much you love your game, keeping your enthusiasm up that high for long periods really drains you. I hid in the cafe at least twice to get a breather!

2. Don't go easy on your playtesters. The very first test I had, I tried to play badly to give the playtester a good game, and win. Stupid stupid me. It ended too quickly and they gave me shonky feedback saying it was too simple, too luck based. I learned that lesson and played aggressively after that and got much better feedback - and lost as much as I won as I'm not the most patient, tactical player!

3. Learn how to teach your game. I got my "patter" down pretty quickly and it became so formulaic that I ended up completely rewriting my rulebook to match this format. Hopefully it will feel as natural to a blind tester as it does to a group I'm teaching (I will feedback on this)

4. Don't feel like you have to accept or debate every bit of feedback. Quite often I'd get "interesting" suggestions which I just wasn't sure about. I would make sure I understood the suggestion, and why it was being offered and then deliberately make a decision later. Some of the suggestions were amazing (and one I actually put into playtest the next day and am moving forwards with it). Some were great just not fitting with the intended theme and others were interesting but not right for this game. And thats ok. I appreciate the suggestions because all of them made me think.

5. Have feedback cards. I made a little questionnaire on business cards which were super cheap to do with questions on one side and contact details on the other. Only issue was having to tell people to turn them over to add email addresses. These helped me remember some comments later as well as giving me nice aggregate scores to judge how well the game was received.

6. People don't like leaving emails - I need to find a nicer, less "spammy" way to ask or a way to incentivise people to join our mailing list. We're the least spammy company in the world (mainly because I hate writing marketing stuff and would rather spend my time on game design) but people have a totally reasonable fear of being bombarded by crap so need to find a way through that.

7. Encourage your playtesters to be brutal - good feedback is nice but harsh criticism is more useful. Think carefully about how you word the questions to get useful feedback. (I'd love to hear other people's questions)

8. Have someone else on the stand who can teach your game. Watching someone else teach the game and play it is an invaluable exercise in itself and highlights things that you might miss otherwise. Shut up when they do it - let them do their thing!

9. Try different combinations of players. Knossus is a 2-4 player game so I deliberately played with groups of 2,3,4 players to find out how it plays at different sizes. There are very different dynamics at play and even things like "do I have enough cards in the deck" change with group size.

10. Enjoy your game. If you don't enjoy it, I guarantee noone else will. If you are struggling with it then the game isn't fully designed yet. After nearly 100 playtests I still love playing Knossus which genuinely surprises me a bit!

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
That is a nice list.

Point 3 has a special place in my heart.

Point 6 (suggestion)
How about creating a website/blog and hand out little cards that direct to that website? People who liked the game can visit the website.
And on that website, you can make a "contact me" page.

Point 9
I like to pit players against each other. Noob vs Noob.
Winner can fight me. But this set up depends on the game.

The Professor
The Professor's picture
Joined: 10/25/2014
All very good!


I found all of your points to be of some value and I agree along a spectrum on all points. All of our play-testers receive a one-pager which hits on the ABCDs of my design or development, including Accessibility, Balance, Clarity, and

Accessibility has to do with the ease by which you can get the game to the table with other gamers and non-gamers alike. Remember, all games need not prove accessible to all gamers. There's no chance you're getting Terraforming Mars or Great Western Trail or even TAU CETI on the table with brand new gamers. There's far too much that's okay. If you want it too accessible, you have Monopoly. That's not to sound pejorative, it's the's going to be accessible to anyone.

Balance has to do with real or perceived balance. If there are multiple paths to victory are they all similar or at least provide the perception that they're all similar. If so, you've struck a good balance. If someone can figure out your game" like a Rubik's cube, it's not much's simply solvable.

Clarity has most to do with rules. Are they clear, cogent, and comprehensive. Are all of the rules clearly written and have you provided enough details and examples for other sto follow. Do the rules follow a logical pattern from set-up to maintenance phase. Finally, are they they include everything reasonably expected in the rulebook.

That's it Great list.


ljdp's picture
Joined: 07/04/2012
Something I've discovered to

Something I've discovered to be really valuable, and surprisingly few other designers use this, is to use the audio recorder on your phone to record the whole session. I put it in the middle of the table and it's pretty good and catching everyone, plus it also acts as a timer! Don't forget to keep recording after the game is over and people are talking about the game and saying feedback.

Then in a day or two I can listen back to the recording with fresh ears. I might even get a tripod in the future and try video recording every playtest session.

And it goes without saying that you should ask permission from the group first before you record anything.

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