SURVIVING THE BLIND PLAYTEST

This article first appeared on Steve’s Blood Work blog on August 28, 2012.

This past Saturday I had the pleasure (read ‘sheer terror’) to have my first board game design, “Specimen”, put through a blind playtest. What exactly is a blind playtest, you ask? A blind playtest is where the players play the game using just the rule book. There is no instruction from an experienced player. This type of playtest is actually a critical step on the path to releasing the game. Since I’m not planning on sending myself along with every copy of the game to teach people how to play, making sure that the rules are complete and make sense with minimal confusion is a really good idea. I should point out that I have never written an instruction manual before this, so while everything in it makes sense to me, to others, probably not so much.

Thanks to Eric Van Tassel (“Specimen’s” plucky Science Officer Franklin), we had two very experienced gamers arrive at Stately Cullom Manor at 11:30 AM. After brief introductions and a tour of my fanboy abode, I sat Alex Hunt and Jonathon Hagedorn down at the table with the board, several piles of counters, cards, dice and two copies of the rules and let them have at it. The three of us agreed that I wouldn’t tell them anything and they wouldn’t ask me any questions unless they were completely flummoxed.

Here is where the ‘pleasure’ began in earnest (mostly in my living room, but definitely earnest too). Alex and Jonathon began by reading the rule book cover to cover. Both were armed with post-it notes and pens and very quickly (Like page freaking one!) they began to make notes. It’s quite an experience to watch something you’ve spent basically the last three years of your life working on being picked apart and being powerless to intervene. It’s all for the greater good (the greater good), I kept telling myself. The game will only get better with this. So I sucked it up and went with it. I decided to try and distract myself from the vivisection going on at the table by watching the blu-ray of “The Thing” (the new version, not the Carpenter one).

By the time the film came to its happy, upbeat conclusion, Jonathon and Alex were well into actually playing the game. Now I got the pleasure of hearing little snippets of their conversation as they confer on game play and rules. “I believe that attempting to damage the ship costs 2 action points, right?” and things like that. Of course, it seems to me that the only bits of the conversation that I can make out clearly are ones that indicate that my rule-writing skills hover somewhere between ‘awful’ and ‘second grader.’ I’m fairly certain that not once did I catch the phrase “This is brilliant. Whoever wrote it is clearly a genius and should be standing in some sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at him” (Why am I the only one who has that dream?).

As this torture rolled on, I became convinced that at any moment the guys were going to announce that the rules are a mess, the game is a failure and my sense of home decor is questionable at best.

Fortunately the whole affair ended quite well. They both enjoyed the game. The rules as I wrote them are serviceable. Jonathon and Alex both put forth a lot of good suggestions for improvement and a few GREAT ones. Several sections can be combined. Several should be expanded. And several new ones should be added.

So, I think that we’ve passed that step. Or at least, didn’t trip and break our freaking necks on it. I’m now in the process of implementing their suggestions, and hope to have a new draft of the rules soon.

After that, I guess I’ll take a serious look at my home decor…

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