Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Dr. Wictz List: 9 Board Game Prototype Problems

In light of the success of early access in video games, I wondered if board game players are willing to pay to play a board game before it has been finished.  To give you an idea of the joys of playing a brand new, untested game that has yet to be tested by anyone (including the designer), I have constructed a list of common experiences for a first prototype play testing.

1.  The rule book has rules that contradict each other.

2.  There isn’t enough physical money for players to play the game.

3.  There are parts included for the game that are not mentioned or explained why they are there.

4.  The game designers tells you to ignore a rule of the game when it becomes inconvenient.

5.  Play testers discover the game is either unwinnable or is decided after two moves.

6.  The game pieces, board, and anything else glued together becomes unglued.

7.  The spaces on the board are too small for the pieces.

8.  There is no standard iconography, and the rules miss some of the icons.

9.  There is a disagreement between players on what constitutes “winning the game.”

If this calls to you, I am sure we can arrange to build you an untested game to share these moments with you, for a price of course, say $50.00.


  1. This seems like a list of problems encountered on a first blind test, not a first playtest. Honestly, if any players complain about iconography on a game's first test, I usually tell them to ignore it and move on. Early playtests aren't about graphics and layout; they're about fundamental issues with the game.

    Here are "events" I usually see on my first playtest of my games:

    * The players find that the theme and the mechanism clash severely.
    * The players are confused about what to do, because the game doesn't properly reward "winning" behavior.
    * The game stalls because players don't have enough of one currency.
    * There is too much/not enough interaction to make the game interesting.
    * The game ends unexpectedly because the endgame condition got triggered too early.
    * Incredibly blatant runaway leader/fallaway trailer.

    The first four are extremely important, as they form part of the game's "core engagement" (if you're unfamiliar with this term, check out this excellent post from Kevin Nunn:

    The last two are more balance issues. Honestly, I don't care about balance in the first few playtests of my game; I'm more concerned that I'm hitting my core engagement. Those are really fundamental fixes, and they tend to throw balance way off. So my first concern is that the core of the game is "fun"; then I worry about getting balance right.

    Most of the issues in your list are graphic/presentation issues. Those I don't really worry about until balance starts to settle. Heck, I usually don't have a rulebook until late in the process; it's enough work just changing rules from playtest to playtest!

    So for me, if my board starts to be unglued during the first playtest of my game, that's the *least* of my worries! I'd rather deal with an unglued board early on than struggle with core engagement late in the process.

    1. I would like to respectfully disagree with you on several fronts.

      First, you mentioned that these sound like problems found on a blind play test. No, no they don't, I could not imagine sending my game out for a blind play test with any of these things not already well past resolved.

      The current game I'm involved in has had three people sit down and play through the opening phase three times. I stopped the play test after the first round and fixed what was wrong, then I went back and re-tested it and found some issue in the second round, we sat down again after resolving the issue and have made it through three rounds without any problems and it's as smooth as a baby's butt.

      All this in less than a week, tonight we will finish the first play test and then I will be able to track data sheets.

      The only area I'll agree on with you is that there isn't enough player interaction, that was an issue I ran across after just two rounds of the second play test. After fixing it we began the third play test and are still on it now.

      I've already got the expansion pack designed.

      My priority is to have a game so fundamentally sound that the publisher will have too difficult of a time unwinding it.

      If we can divide the play test into four categories, prototype, Alpha, Beta and Gamma tests. The Blind Play test begins at the Alpha stage personally I would not send out a game to blind play test which had any issues at all.

      I would like to ask you a question though. Do you know of or are aware of questionnaires to ask the blind play testers?

    2. Have to agree, you need to find play testers who enjoy playing games. Avoid people that are more attracted to shiny baubles than problem solving, as well as those intent only on winning.

      Also, take some core mechanics for specific play testing if possible. You do not need a full game, just do a few rounds of whatever mechanic you want to test. If people have fun playing there might be a game there, if it quickly gets boring it should probably not be a core mechanics of a game.