This last month or so has seen a whole bunch of playtesting activity. Playtesting is what you do when your game isn’t yet ready for publication/release/whatever your final intention for it is – so you run an unfinished version of it and ask the people involved to feed back to you on what they thought of it. Plus it gives you a chance to test out timings, any technical aspects to the game, and so on. Playtests can range from very raw (seeing if the rough idea even works at all) to basically complete (the last final polish before readiness is declared). My work is about games, so that too requires a fairly-well-evolved playtest cycle and procedure, but I didn’t have any of that just recently: this was all hobby gaming material.
Women on the Test
So first was a test of Women on the Verge…, which is a short chamber larp for six women players, one of whom also facilitates. This was a ‘blind’ playtest in that the designer wasn’t there to explain how to play the larp – the players had to work it out themselves from the written instructions. It’s unusual (in my case, anyway) for this to be the structure for the first test of anything – usually I’m present myself, so the instructions don’t have to be complete as I know what I meant to happen. But because of the nature of Women on the Verge…, I couldn’t be involved: someone else had to interpret my untested thoughts. Which they (and by ‘they’ I mean Stiainín Jackson) did, fantastically well, and it sounds like people had a good time and liked the look of the larp. And hardly any changes seemed to be required, which is always nice. Huge thanks to everyone who took part! Hopefully this’ll be getting released later in the year: and it’s running at Consequences at least.
Phasers to Test
Next I helped Rei Hampden-Turner playtest the chamber larp The Prime Directive. This Star-Trek-themed trial game was for a dozen people and needs two GMs, so I was holding up the other end for Rei. I really enjoyed this, although (or perhaps because) it isn’t at all the sort of thing I would write myself – I don’t know much about Star Trek, for a start. The idea is that half the players play a Starfleet crew who have violated the Prime Directive in some manner, and the other half play the inquisitors who are trying them and also the NPC natives of the planet where it happened. The incident itself is undefined at the beginning but takes shape through a series of improvised holodeck reconstructions of the events of the encounter.
It was huge fun and the players enjoyed themselves. There was quite a bit of time over-run, with some elements of the game taking much longer than we’d anticipated. And there were a few suggested tweaks to the setup and the scene construction process. But overall a real success. The Prime Directive should be running (in two slightly different formats) at Nine Worlds and also at Consequences.
Then moving from larp to tabletop, I’ve been playtesting Nemesis 382, a storygame from Pelgrane Press written by Alex Helm: and this time I actually got to play. This is also about a spaceship crew, but a long way from Star Trek. They’ve just woken up from 20 years’ travel towards a black hole. Now they have to decide whether to go into it or not. What might lie beyond? Why is each of them there on the mission? How will they cope with the bizarre space–time phenomena that accompany their approach towards the event horizon?
We were playing this via Google Hangouts, rather than around an actual table. It was the first time I’d tried this devilish technology, and it mostly worked pretty smoothly and well. Certainly a lot better than Skype for multiple video. And the game was great! – clever idea and well put together. We fed back some thoughts about ways that the structure and the story were working together, which hopefully will have been helpful. Nemesis 382 should be coming out later this year, too, in an anthology together with When the Dark is Gone (raved about here for some years now) and Rise and Fall (raved about here more recently).
Playtesting is a vital part of the design/publication process for most games, not just those that are coming out commercially. If you look back though this blog you’ll see playtest-related posts for dozens of different game ideas – larp, tabletop, card, board, party – some of which got released, some not. As a player, it’s a fantastic chance to play an exciting new game, and to help (hopefully) turn it into something even better. As a designer, it’s a great opportunity to see early what people think of your baby. It’s important to be pretty thick-skinned, of course, as sometimes they just hate it: or even if they like it, they critique in such a way as to make you realize that they want important things changed. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they aren’t, or they were just a bad fit with it. I should probably post at greater length about the philosophy and practice of playtesting at some future point…