about the universe forum commander Shop Now Commanders Circle
Product List FAQs home Links Contact Us

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Steve Cole's thoughts on playtesting.
Many people ask to playtest our games. Few of those who are given something to test actually report anything worthwhile or anything at all. Playtesting is hard work, and your gaming buddies may not be as enthusiastic as you are. Playtesting delivers a great sense of accomplishment, of making the game and the world better, but it's not really what anyone would call fun. It's also not a free ticket to insist on any changes to the game that you think are cool; your suggestions and reports will be considered along with those of other playtesters but you're not the game designer and don't get to change the game on your own whim.
Many players don't understand what playtesting is, or they do understand it but don't want to do THAT and want to define their role as something else. It's not proofreading. If you notice a mis-spelled word or a missing comma then you're welcome to report it, but that's not something you get playtesting credit for.
 Playtesting is not reading the rules by yourself and commenting on your gut feelings about how the game will work out when real people try to play it. You can certainly do that, but it's not playtesting, it's commenting, and anything you notice will, if the game designer thinks it valid, have to be tested by live gamers in a real game. One applicant recently said he'd been on the playtest mailing list but had never sent in a report because he wanted to wait for and comment on the final copy. That isn't how it works. For one thing, asking to be on the mailing list and never reporting is the way to never get picked for another project. For another, it's not really fair for you to stay out of the ongoing debates on rules developments then drop in at the last minute and argue with the designer about rules changes when nobody else is looking.
 Playtesting means you sit down with live opponents and play the game/scenario/ship multiple times, trying different tactics and then (after checking with the designer) multiple tweaks and changes. Playtesting means playing to the end (or until you find a game-killing problem) and then writing up a report and sending it in.
Playtesters must play to win, but they must also play to explore (which is why playing the game/ship/scenario once is nowhere near enough). We sent Star Fleet Marines to several test groups who all reported by "fine, print it!" but then one day Steve Petrick and I sat down to play it for fun by ourselves. We found out that the playtesting had missed, well, everything, and it took months to redesign the game and test it ourselves. 
Sometimes you do something that isn't the way the game is supposed to work just do see what happens. Decades ago I was working on a game an outside designer had sent in. I had tested it with live opponents and it was ready for press on Monday morning. Then at the Saturday game club meeting somebody said he really wanted to playtest something. I sat down with the finished game, expecting to simply evaluate his potential skills. He read the rules, read the scenario, read the little history article, then did something no one else had ever done. He spent the first turn shifting the Japanese Army to the north before moving west to attack the British. (The map was a very dense jungle and the Japanese attack involved sending part of their army down three roads through the wilderness. By shifting to the right, he had more troops hitting the north end of the British line, the place where all of their supplies and reinforcements entered the map.) The net result was a blowout, and the British were lucky to escape to Egypt. (We changed one hex on the map from clear to jungle and the whole "north shift" plan became unworkable. Further research proved that error on the original designer's map was why the Japanese didn't use the northern strategy in the historical battle.) That incident became part of how I trained playtesters from then on. If the scenario says the Klingons attacked Georgia, see what happens if they go around Florida and attack New Orleans!
The best way to get hired as a playtester (and by "hired" we mean you get a couple of free copies and your names in the book) is to start playtesting. Check the BBS for new projects, check the newsletters for new scenarios and new ships. Don't wait to be hired, just grab something and test it and tell us how it works. If we think you have the skills and the drive to stick with it, we'll start sending your playtest stuff the public hasn't seen.