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Why am I unmotivated to playtest or solo play board games?

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

This is something I have realized recently. I am been excited to work on some game design ideas lately and made cool prototypes and when I am ready to playtest, I look at it and say Meh! I lack of motivation to actually play the game. It's like if the work was done and I did not want to go further.

Now that is very weird, because when designing video games or Mods it's actually the opposite. I am very excited to know if it's going to work. Sometimes too much and I have to force myself to stop playing to continue development. While for board game, it feels long, annoying, boring and gives me headache.

I talked with my GF about it and we tried to find the source of the problem. First of all, video game testing has 2 steps, there is first the debugging (does the game behave as it should) and the design (is the game fun and balanced) while for board games, you do not have debugging: Pawns will always move they way you want them to move. Unless you are testing special components like cube towers, stackable objects, etc.

So maybe the excitement comes from debugging testing, and when that would be done, I would still get bored at the design testing phase. Another elements is that board games are much more tight, so their design needs to be tested as whole and more rigorously. While video games would require much less game design testing.

Else board games could have longer setup time, mechanic resolution and packing at the end. In multiplayer games you will have to play all players. These are other factors that could make playtesting more annoying.

So this is the reason why I tried to focus on 4S games (Simple, Short, Small, Social) because not only it's easier to find playtesters, but it's also less painful and unmotivating to playtest.


Now we have pushed the reflection further and tried to compare it with board games I do not design. For example, why do I play board games, or what attract me in board games. The following answers came out:

1. Immersion: Being put in another person's situation and try to manage it (Secret Agent, company manager, Army leader, etc)

2. Strategy: Being able to make interesting strategic decision, but it must be closely linked to the theme to make sure it does not feel like a puzzle. The strategic decision must somewhat make sense with reality.

3. Social: I put some though on the abstract game Lumis and what makes this game very interesting is the partnership with the other players. In that case, the abstraction does not matter and social aspect takes the lead. 1812 is also an awesome game with a strong social aspect.

Now when playing board games as solitaire, it seems I have the same motivation problem then when testing games as solitaire. It's less worst because the game is actually complete and working. But for example, I would rather much play elder sign on my tablet than with my board game even if I have the expansion and can change the rules (stuff I cannot do with the digital version)

Now it's possible that I assume that board games needs to be played with other people, and when it's not happening, it feels odd. As a comparative example, I cannot watch a movie alone, I thinks I can count the number of times it happened in my life with my hands. Maybe it's because I was used to see movies with my farther, so for me it became the standard. So it could be the same with board games. I assume it must be played with people. Still I am not sure if training myself to play solo games could actually overcome the problem.

Else for video games, even when playing games where you don't have a direct opponent, you always feels that you are not playing alone. So video games create the illusion of additional players, it brings much more surprises as the player are not controlling the book keeping and AI mechanics.

The game is also much faster to play and sometimes it becomes much more simpler. For example, I played the digital version of Small World to realize this this game is somewhat very simple and I would even say dumb. It's just that when you play the board game version, the component manipulation and social relations gives you "Work" that makes the game look less dumb.


So I don't know if many of you had that situation before. Do you have suggestion on how to overcome this problem? Does doing more solo gaming would actually solve the problem?

Now I understand why people play solo, mostly to be away from electronic screen and to manipulate pieces. But for me it looks more tedious and I feel exhausted just by looking at it.

Thanks for any insight.

Joined: 02/15/2016
Competitive element?

Interesting point! :)

I very often feel just like you. It seems like the "design" part (which is more constructive) is always more interesting than the "testing" part.

I cannot give a definite answer to your actual question (I guess it differs from person to person anyway), but here are some (possible) explanations of this phenomenon that apply for me:

1) Competitive element: I think this is a major drive for most players (certainly for me) in any game: outwitting an opponent (or the computer) fuels my interest. Playing against myself feels stupid.

2) Personality: I have found out that I enjoy designing games more than I enjoy playing games. Following rules is less interesting than making them. The latter has a constructive aspect, which I personally enjoy very much.

3) Fear of disappointment: I have felt that once or twice at certain intermediate stages of a design. You have laid out some rules, but don't really know how they will work out in the game, so you are "afraid" to test them because they may force you to change basic parts of your design (and scrap a large percentage of it). That's often unconscious, of course, and not explicit.

I hope I have given some useful insights...

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Sidebar: prototyping

I find the most "tedious" task in Game Design is "Prototyping"!

I can spend HOURS working on a Spreadsheet or tinkering with a Text Document about one of my designs.

BUT when it comes to *physically* MAKE/PRODUCE the game - it's usually a MAJOR hurdle/obstacle.

IDK why this is?! Perhaps it's because it involves printing and cutting, or even earlier using Illustrator to create temporary cards, etc. The whole process is LONG ... Just the cutting ALONE can be really difficult.

This is the part of Game Design that I "dislike" the most.

When the design is MADE, I have no problem sitting down and playing a few rounds to see what I think of the game. Most of the time, my end-result is: the game SUCKS!

This may be another reason I hate prototyping also. It takes abstract ideas and forces them into reality which I then test only to figure out that the "great" ideas I had - actually SUCK!!

So maybe I dislike prototyping because it's all "manual" work. You've got to get the design into a *physical* form and then testing will tell if ALL THAT TIME YOU SPENT was "worth it" or not! And seeing as usually the game SUCKS, most of the time the time was wasted for nothing.

Or I got too involved with the design only to realize that it SUCKS in reality.

It kind SUCKS to find out that the "brilliant" ideas you had about a game turn out to be either "boring", "overly complicated", "not do-able", etc. Maybe that's another reason why I hate prototyping!


Joined: 12/25/2012
Unfortunately, everyone

Unfortunately, everyone experiences a lack of motivation somewhere in the development process. You just have to power through it. Otherwise your game will never be done.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to combat it:

1. Pump yourself up. I will listen to my favorite music album (Dragonforce) and enjoy a nice cold beer while I'm doing what is the most tedious chore for me, prototyping. This makes the experience more enjoyable.

2. Look at the bigger picture. Realize this is just one step of an overall goal, and that you aren't going to enjoy every part of the process equally.

3. Do it with a friend. I know your concern is about solo playtesting, so avoid it as much as possible. Maybe a friend will playtest with you if you provide a pizza and beer.

Tedthebug's picture
Joined: 01/17/2016
You mod games, I assume you can you code?

If you can code, have you looked at making grey box prototypes digitally? This could combine your love of debugging with design. Programming a competitive AI could be difficult but I have heard, not seen for myself though, that some of the digital game resources like tabletopia & tabletop simulator can let you script actions so perhaps they are useful to you.

I came to tabletop design from making a paper prototype of a digital pass and play game, there's no reason why people can't do digital prototypes of board games. It will certainly help with all the number crunching for complex games & speed up testing when changing values & checking what the flow on effects are throughout the game.

adversitygames's picture
Joined: 09/02/2014
I used to have this problem.

I used to have this problem. I can't trace back exactly how my thinking changed so that I became engaged in testing my games solo but I have a hunch.

I think the change in my thinking here is a deeper understanding of the importance and value of testing. When I test a game I'm looking for conflicts, errors, thinking of new features or broken features.

I have more of a method/plan for what I'm doing, I'm not just playing it, I'm studying it and comparing my ideas of what the game *should* to what it *is*. It's a great opportunity to see some surprising consequences of design choices.

Whereas with a video game it's pretty easy to test it just by playing it like a normal game, it takes less creativity as you don't need to run the algorithms yourself - the machine does it for you.

Joined: 10/13/2011
lots of great suggestions

lots of great suggestions here...personally, I find my mood usually dictates what I can get done design-wise. Some days I feel creative, some days I want to play, some days I want to cut and sleeve test cards.

Since a single game is usually only in of the above stages at a given time, I tend to work on multiple games at the same time. Each game takes a little longer to develop, but I am rarely idle.

Good luck with your designs!

cyruseli's picture
Joined: 10/01/2011
This is a really interesting

This is a really interesting subject and something I definitely experience, but never put a finger on it. I have, countless times, let my games die before even play testing them. It becomes a vicious cycle where I don't feel like testing it alone, then I get tired of the idea in general, and move on.

An even bigger problem for me is making prototypes, then working on the game design without testing with those prototypes. So then if I do test, the whole time I'm like "well, this isn't even the most current version of the game."

I think solo testing is really good in a lot of ways and I definitely need to get pumped up and do it. Although, on the other hand, I think it makes ANY game too much of a chore to play when you have to make every decision, so I think it is purely for trying mechanics and not actually useful for getting a feel for how the game plays, or game length or anything like that.

Now I feel like I should get off my ass, and then get back on it and do some solo playtesting :)

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Quote:An even bigger problem

An even bigger problem for me is making prototypes

Personally I love prototyping, Possibly because I like doing manual work and because you clearly know when something is finished. Last time I put 2 weeks on my europe map, I was excited to finish it so that I could finally play it. But motivation stopped once finished.

I can spend HOURS working on a Spreadsheet or tinkering with a Text Document about one of my designs.

As for designing cards and other stuff in a spread sheet, I really hate it because I neve know which value or ability to assign to stuff and make sure it's very unique and does not conflict with the rest of the game. I tried to impose myself restrictions by using more numerical stats than text ability to make it easier to measure and compare. It worked average so far.

Do it with a friend

One of the problem with paytesting with people is that they will play your game once because your game is competing against all the other games out there and people do not have the time to play twice the same game. Now this is a reason I wanted to put more focus on solitaire game, but if I have issues with solitaire play as a board game, that might not be a good objective for me.

If you can code, have you looked at making grey box prototypes digitally?

I was working on a similar project but I had to take a break for the summer. The goal was to make hybrid board/video games by keeping advantages and discarding problems of both type of games. I am not sure If I'll have the time to work on it during the next year considering I need to go back to school, but if I do, I could possibly make my first release next year.

Since a single game is usually only in of the above stages at a given time, I tend to work on multiple games at the same time.

We all do that, it's essential to our sanity.

Thanks again for your comments. It seems I am not alone in the same situation.

The Professor
The Professor's picture
Joined: 10/25/2014
Get a developer


I suggest you find a Developer who can take your game, play-test it and provide critical feedback on the rules. Additionally, they should be equipped to have your game blind-playtested by a series of small groups from which he can garner additional feedback. These Playtest iterations take time but they'll offer a wealth of information which should inform your decisions moving forward.

As a Developer, my goal is to provide as much added value to the game in terms of rules (clear, cogent, and comprehensive), game play (accessibility and balance), and fun.

You've received some outstanding advice thus far...good luck.


Rimmsolin's picture
Joined: 12/13/2013
I can definitely sympathize

I can definitely sympathize too. What creative person in any medium doesn't slog through something?

My tips:
-Work on what can, when you can. Forcing creative writing when you're not feeling like writing will just exhaust you more. Same with prototyping, designing, Photoshopping, etc.

-Set deadlines with a single, clear goal. (This is why game jams work so well). Specifically put yourself on the line to playtest with a group by X date and invite them so it's official.

-Take a break. Play a game. Go to the pool. Read a manual/book/blog. Get the ideas flowing, pump up the motivation, then at that moment sit down to play. Make it an endorphin reward cycle, not a chore cycle.

-Get on a schedule of regular design meetups, playtest groups, conventions--every 2-3 weeks if you can. Nothing like feeling part of a design community and sharing tips to keep up the motivation. Even a regular game group can help.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Quote:I suggest you find a

I suggest you find a Developer who can take your game, play-test it and provide critical feedback on the rules.

It's currently too early to be presentable to real people. I would do this in the near end of a project.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
In response to the OP

Aside from prototyping taking a LONG time... I usually only design CARD games... So this usually means a bunch of cards and a few parts (maybe a couple dice, some markers, etc.)

So playtesting a Card Game is probably easier - we're so used to playing solo games like "Solitaire", etc.

The experience to me is something like playing a Video Game: often gamers play the solo experience first and then move on to online play... I didn't say "always" but OFTEN.

No board of "simulating" where players will "expand their empire", etc.

And I have three (3) "Card" Games in the works... So I will want to playtest those soon - or an expansion! :)

The Professor
The Professor's picture
Joined: 10/25/2014
okay...well, good luck!

Good luck with the current iteration!

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