I Have a Board Game Idea – Now What? Part 23: The Three Phases of Play Testing

Playing The Hackers Guild at Protospiel-MN using the newly printed components.

I recently participated in what was billed as a blind play test session of a friend’s super hero themed head to head card game. It was an interesting experience, but it quickly became obvious that the rules weren’t developed enough for a successful blind play test. I later found out that it was the first play test the creator had run of this current version of his game and gave me the idea of writing about what I’ve learned about the three phases of play testing.

Phase 1: Solo and core play testers

I am a strong believer of the importance of making a prototype of your new game idea as soon as possible. Having this prototype will allow the designer to start the first phase of play testing quickly, and will ultimately expedite the develop of the board game. These first play tests are best performed by the designer, the co-designer (if there is one), or a core group of friends and family.

The objective of these first play tests will be to determine how well your ideas translate into the physical (or digital) space. It will also start showing the developer whether or not the development of the game is worth continuing.

Phase 2: Designer lead play tests with volunteer play testers

The next phase of play testing will be where the designer will spend the largest amount of time and effort play testing their game. It will be spent teaching the game with as many people as possible, collecting feedback from the players, and then adjusting the game as needed based on the feedback provided. The designer may or may not play during these play tests. It is during this phase that digital play testing can be most helpful

The objective of these play tests will be to confirm development is worth continuing, and solidifying the game’s mechanics and rules. It will also provide the necessary raw data to help with balancing the game, and will help with the development of the board game design.

Phase 3: Blind play tests

The final phase of play testing is blind play testing. Blind play testing is generally done by outside 3rd parties, but can also be run by the designer. The core difference between the 2nd and 3rd phases is that the designer isn’t involved in teaching or clarifying the rules.

The objective of these play tests is to test and improve the clarity of the rule book. Very few, if any, changes will be made to the mechanics of the game during this phase.

Play testing is an integral part of the design and development of a board game. It is something that takes a lot of time and effort, but will ultimately make the end result the best it can be. Until next time, happy designing.

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