All posts by Mike Chipman

Playtesting Your Game

In my last post, I introduced my design project, Heartland. With any new board game design, there is a large amount of playtesting involved. Playtesting gives the designer insights that he or she can’t see on their own. As much as you may think your game works, most of the time it will fall flat during the first few playtests. After many other tests, a polished product begins to emerge. There isn’t a particular method to playtesting. I’ve adopted a sequence that has worked for many other designers in the past.
 
First, there needs to be a short period of testing the game for “fatal flaw.” Many designers call this the “insanity test” for the game. After initial creation, I made errors in the game that made it unplayable or “broken.” “Broken” is a term used by gamers to denote game mechanics that don’t work, or work too well. In my initial tests of Heartland, the fur-trading mechanic was too strong. It was so strong that to compete, you had to play that space every time. We adjusted mechanics and tested again. You continue with this until you have something to show to others.
 
The next phase is a time of playtesting among folks you know well, but aren’t invested in the game. The goal for this phase is to weed out things that may seem confusing or unnecessary. Because I’ve been so invested in the game, everything makes sense to me. Yet, during my first playtest of this nature, a friend asked a good question. He asked, “So, you explained it, but I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be going after.” That’s good info. Something needed to be clearer. I’ll continue to weed these inconsistencies out until the game is ready for a wider audience. I’m currently in the middle of this stage.
 
The next stage is “blind” playtesting. This stage involves giving a prototype of your game to a group of people who have shown interest in your game. They take the game, read the rules, and play it a few times, taking notes. You may even ask them to video the experience. This is the real test of a game. It mimics the experience that future game owners will have when they open their game for the first time. This is the process I look forward to the most.
 
Are you interested in blind testing my game? Please let me know. I’ll be looking for testers by the end of the Spring.

Heartland – A Board Game Design Project

Decades of drought have made life hard in America’s “Heartland.” Hard times can bring opportunity. Five once-depressed cities now search for a ray of hope.

With that sentence, I embark on a new project: designing my first board game. Several things inspired my new game idea. The place I grew up – America’s Heartland – gave me the lion’s share of that inspiration. The hard-working people and the beautiful countryside were my muses. Though I’m from the Missouri’s Bootheel, all the Heartland’s people see the world in a way that has always impressed me
 
My board game will be about survival after a time of difficulty has come upon the land.  Droughts have caused water to be scarce, so states must ration it, and sell it, to the highest bidder. The cities then decide how they will use their resources. Will they farm and feed their people? Will they gather and prepare for more hardship? Will they sell their goods to prosper? These are questions the player has to consider as they play the game. 
 
I’m currently playtesting the game, which I plan to write about later in the week. If playtesting goes well, I’d like to have a marketable product by the end of this year. After that, I’ll test the waters among available publishers. 
 
Publishing a board game has been a dream of mine for some time. I’ve been creating games since I was a boy, and this is an extension of that same spirit. To see this come to life, I’ll need the help of my friends from the Heartland. Would you like to see a game about the area you live? Do you know someone who would be into this? Tell them about it. Subscribe to my blog, and have others do it as well. I plan to give regular updates on the process along with my normal posts about gaming with your family.
 
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas about this project. Please share in the comments section below.