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Kickstarter Guide: The Wonderful World of Playtesting

Kickstarter Guide: The Wonderful World of Playtesting

Playtesting is critical if you want to publish your game, but it is one of the more difficult elements of games development. So how do you go about it?

Firstly, start with press ganging your friends and family into playing your game as many times and as regularly as possible, this will shake out a lot of the initial problems. Having a game with a solo mode is always helpful because you should be willing to play your own game without having to plead with someone else.

It’s good to have a group of play-testers beyond the people you can emotionally blackmail. We’re lucky enough to have a local club which play-tests all of our games, so they’ve gotten pretty good at it Since lock-down, the play-testing has moved online to Tabletop Simulator. This is great for working out kinks and problem solving. For example, if you have an alpha gamer or someone who always plays a certain way it can help see how your game will play with those players, highlighting if your game is broken.

Blind play-testing is the most valuable but often the most difficult form of testing to get. It will show you if your game is fun for strangers, without the slight social pressure of you standing behind them saying “do you like my baby?”; it’ll also show if your rules are clear without you standing there explaining where someone has gone wrong. So, how can you get playtesters?

Try joining a local gaming club or if there isn’t one, start one. Any fresh eyes on your game is helpful and if you have a local community, they are most likely to be the ones who support you.

Next go to conventions. These can be expensive but most (particularly in the UK) have inexpensive demo areas or free playtest zones and this is where you want to start. It’ll help later on to have been to conventions to know the organizers, see what sort of size and footfall the convention has and to start to have a bit of a presence there. Most people go to the same conventions year after year and they are likely to recognize you from playtest zone to small booth to selling a successful Kickstarter.

Also, try making your game into a print and play or put it on Tabletop Simulator. As stated in the first blog, this is a very cheap way of getting your game in front of as many people as possible and has become almost the only way of play-testing while social distancing. If you have a digital version of your game, going on social media can be a good way to find play-testers. Boardgame Geek has a play-test guild and game design forum where you can find play-testers, otherwise, talking about your game on Facebook can not only build a following but help play test.

Play-testing can be a stressful process, particularly if it’s your first or only game. It’s always disheartening to hear someone say that they just don’t like any part of your game or give you lists of things that are “wrong” which can sometimes amount to them saying that they want your pirate card drafter to be a Cthulhu RPG. Try not to be despondent or angry and remember that people are just trying to help. Work out which advice is helpful, again this can be tricky, and try to implement it. Remember your game’s soul (in Concept – The Perils of Picking a Game)? This is the time to be double checking it; don’t change your game beyond all recognition just because some people want you to.

Just a quick note on play-testers. Do not ask them to sign an Non-Disclosure Agreement. You don’t need to, no-one is going to steal from you, and it comes across as insulting as play-testers are helping you and you’re basically saying you don’t trust them. Play-testers might want a credit in your game but will often do it for the love of board games. If you have a group, you could offer a credit, but buying a pizza and a few beers will often be enough thanks. If you’re at a convention’s play-test zone, people are shepherded to your table and have come to play-test something. Mostly, be enthusiastic and grateful, and always say thank you no matter how unhelpful someone has been because they have taken time out to help you.

So how have you found playtesters? I’ll be speaking more about it in my next blog on the World Wide Web of Social Media!

Tumble Town live on Kickstarter

1.       Tell our readers who you are.

I’m Carla Kopp of Weird Giraffe Games and Galactic Raptor Games. I used to be a software engineer and now I design, develop, and publish games. I currently live in Huntsville, Alabama with three cats and my partner, Nick. When I’m not working or playing games, I love to travel and explore! I do have a passion for video games and I’ve been playing through the Tales series of games for the past few years.

2.       What was the first board game you remember playing?

I know I grew up with a board game about money that wasn’t monopoly that I played until the box and board fell apart, but I can’t remember what it is! The first hobby board game I remember playing is Agricola, as I know it’s my friend Sarah’s favorite game. It’s probably not the best way to get into the hobby, but I really enjoyed playing and I’ve been hooked ever since.

3.       What’s your favorite board game? Why is it your favorite?

My favorite is so hard to choose! There’s games I like for different moods and to play with different people. I think if I had to choose one game I really liked playing, it’d be Wingspan. I love that it has simple actions that build on each other and I love the artwork. Engine building is one of my favorite mechanics, as well.

4.       Tell us about Tumble Town.

Tumble Town is a town and engine building spatial puzzle game set in the Old West for 1-4 players that plays in about 45 minutes. In the game, you’re trying to win over the townspeople by constructing buildings and placing them in the best locations. Each building you construct will give you either a one time effect, dice manipulation powers to help make future construction easier, engine building powers to make getting dice easier, or new end game scoring conditions.

I love that there’s so many different directions you can go in while playing and at the end of every game, you can be proud of the town that you’ve constructed, as you’re physically constructing the town out of dice.

5.       What was your inspiration to create the game?

Kevin Russ designed the game and his job as a photographer is to travel around and take pictures of landscapes. He really enjoys going out to the West the most and one day, he was playing with dice and stacking them when he realized the dice kind of looked like a building. That’s all the inspiration that was needed, as he then went out to make the first version of Tumble Town!

6.       What are the most challenging issues that you’ve come across in designing a board game?

Knowing when the game is done is sometimes super hard. You want to make the best game that you can, but the most important part of that is actually finishing the game so that people can enjoy it. It’s also about making a product and knowing when to cut or add things that I personally might not enjoy, but doing so despite that to appeal to a greater audience. For example, at one time the building card backs of Tumble Town were all unique and there was a lot of replayability there. I ended up making the card backs super similar to each other as it made it so each player didn’t have to reevaluate the card backs each turn when a new one came up and it really streamlined the design and lowered the time between each player’s turn. This choice made the game better overall, even though I did enjoy having the card backs be really different. It’s finding all the small changes like that that together can really elevate the game to be fantastic.

7.       What aspects of board game designing do you enjoy the most?

I love being able to create an experience to give to people that they can enjoy. It’s always amazing to see players forget about everything but the game that they’re playing, even if it’s just for 45 minutes.

I also really enjoy the problem solving aspect of improving a game design. You play the game, get feedback, and have to identify the problem areas of the game and how to fix them. There’s so many things you can do and they might or might not fix the problem and you don’t know until you playtest again and see what happens. I love the feeling of fixing things and slowly getting to an amazing game.

8.       What were some hurdles you’ve overcome, as a woman, to get to where you are in the industry?

I think part of being a woman is getting people to respect you and to actually listen to what you have to say. It’s taken years of me creating games that people love, going to conventions, hitting deadlines, and being in the community, but I think I’m finally starting to be someone that people know and trust.

9.       What has been the proudest moment of your career?

Everytime I get a finished game in, it’s always amazing. Being able to have that first proof copy in my hands is such a great feeling, as I can see all the hard work that I’ve done in physical form. It’s also been super great whenever I see someone suggest one of my games to their friends or even a few times when someone has recommended all of my games!

Another really great moment was recently when I went to pitch one of my game designs to another publisher and it only took a day to go from sending the email talking about my design to getting a contract. It was such a good experience to know that another publisher thought so highly of me and my design that they’d sign it that fast.

10.   Do you have any other board games in development or currently available that you would like to share with our readers?

Big Easy Busking is my latest game! It’ll scheduled to hit retail this summer, but you can order it from me before then. Big Easy Busking is an area control game for 1-5 players set in New Orleans where the players are street performers trying to hit it big. It’s super bright and colorful, just like New Orleans, and it’s also the game that I’ve worked on that I lose the most. This is because songs take time to play; one one turn you decide which crowd you’re playing a song to and the next turn, you finish that song.  If you’ve matched the mood of the song you’re playing to the mood of the crowd, you get a choice when you finish your song; either put in all the energy that the song needed and gain extra tips OR put in only a few energy tokens and redistribute the remaining energy among your band members. This means that players can make you think that they’re trying to win over one crowd, but they can then change their mind and go for a different crowd and you’ll have to try to compensate for that change.

I’m also working on the Fire in the Library: the Card Game, which brings the press your luck and saving books of Fire in the Library to a smaller card game form. It’s going to hit Kickstarter later this year and I’m super excited about it, as it should be super portable, but just as fun and exhilarating as Fire in the Library is.

Kickstarter Guide: How to Pick Your Favorite Child – Which of your fantastic ideas is best to launch on Kickstarter?

Kickstarter Guide: How to Pick Your Favorite Child – Which of your fantastic ideas is best to launch on Kickstarter?

Now, there are games which are passion projects and games that are fun for your friends and then there are games with which to launch your budding business. All are valid but you have to work out which you want to do. Working out at this stage, before you’ve spent your money, what you want to do is very important. If you want to have a game which you made and can whip out at parties, then Game Crafter is a great place to do this. Think of it like a hobby, get the art and graphic design that you want, make it, play it, and enjoy but don’t expect other people to want to part with their hard-earned cash for it. For small scale production again, Game Crafter is great, or consider making it into a print and play and putting it into a few competitions, Boardgame Geek almost always has one running. This is a good place to hone your design skills but more on that another time. However, if you’re serious about starting a business or are willing to have 1000 copies of your game to sell for a few years, then crowd funding is a good way to go.

But which idea to develop? For your first Kickstarter you ideally want the one with the least components, the one that’s easiest to playtest, has the broadest player count, has the most approachable theme, least off-putting mechanics and most attention-grabbing components.

So, with regards to the number of components, this is a development skill. Every time you play your game consider if there’s anything you can get rid of, remember during production you are paying for every single card and counter, the fewer the better. This will also help keep your game compact both as a concept and literally. No-one likes a game where you only get to use half the cards before it’s over. Also, if you can keep your component types down this will save you money; once you’re set up to print one card five hundred isn’t an issue, but one card and one dice and one meeple are all different components that require different manufacturing processes. Additionally, remember that you’ll be paying for shipping; the box is the most expensive thing you’ll be paying for so the bigger and heavier it is the more expensive. 

Ease of playtesting might seem obvious but getting playtesters, particularly for blind playtesting, is difficult. If you can make your game on Tabletop Simulator that will really help. If you want to ship your game out to playtesters, again, remember that you’ll have to provide them with all the components at a reasonably professional level; playtesters are generally a forgiving bunch but if you’re sending your game off they’ll need it to be a bit better than the pen and paper version your buddies have been playing. Consider making a print and play as it can be freely shared around the world at basically no expense, however this will limit you on unusual components; playtesters won’t want to go out and buy an egg timer for example.

As to player count, if you have a party game with a count of 6-12 it won’t be a solo game and equally if it’s 1-4 it won’t play at 20. It’s mainly about having the widest player count your game can comfortably support. If you have one idea that’s a 2-3 player count or one that’s a 1-4, go for the 1-4. Solo modes are increasingly beneficial and ubiquitous, but this also means that backers are increasingly discerning of them, include it if possible, but only if you can do it well.

Theme can be a vital element of marketing. Try to avoid things like extreme horror as it will limit your market. Feel free to have something a bit niche, you don’t have to go for the ubiquitous pirate, zombie, anthropomorphized animals, but bear in mind that theme can limit you. Ensure, however, that your theme is worth more than it costs.

With mechanics there are a few things that will hamper a Kickstarter, for example player elimination and old-fashioned roll and move. I’m not saying you have to design a roll and write, but try to make the mechanisms as user friendly as possible. Finally, the components, having just one or two components that someone really wants can be a massive benefit. With our games we haven’t done this yet, our attention-grabbing thing has been mechanics and artwork; however, if you can have custom meeples or dice, or a playmat or dice tower, it can really help a campaign. You may end up spending a lot of money on components that won’t help sell your game, but if you can find a cost effective, eye catching thing that can really be a plus. See Jamey Stegmaier’s blog/games for more on this.

So, you’ve picked the game to be your first Kickstarter, congratulations! But what now? See my next blog on the next step, the wonderful world of Playtesting!

Gladius live on Kickstarter

1. Tell our readers who you are.

Hi Everyone! I’m Victoria Caña, a producer for Wizards of the Coast by day, and an award-winning indie game designer by night. Before I got into the games industry, I did work in a bunch of different fields: management consulting, marketing, ad tech, consumer insights, fashion PR, creative writing. Over time, my dreams changed, but I’m thankful I went on this exploratory journey to find my true passion: making awesome games that empower marginalized creators and players. 

2. What was the first board game you remember playing?

It was Slamwich, an educational dexterity game about making sandwiches (essentially Slapjack for kids). Another early board game I played was Diploma Dogs, which the box describes as “The game that makes learning fun!”. I think it achieved that goal for sure. You play as one of six tiny stuffed dogs with backpacks (Geography Dog, History Dog, Math Dog, Language Dog, Health Dog, or Science Dog). And, get this: when you answer trivia questions correctly you get to fill your dog’s backpack with bones and biscuits. How adorable! I loved playing Diploma Dogs with my sister growing up and I highly recommend it for families with young children. 

3. What are your favorite board games right now and why? 

My current favorite games are Kolejka (a game about fighting to get the items on your shopping list in Communist Poland), Rising Sun (an an area control strategy game set in feudal Japan), Rococo (a euro game where you play a dressmaker running a ball), Yokohama (a game about building a successful business in Meiji period Japan), and Just One (the fun-for-all Spiel de Jahres-winning party game). I enjoy many types of games and am generally down to play anything, but games with good reviews and interesting themes appeal to me the most.  

4. Tell us about Gladius.

Gladius is an award-winning board game of spectacle and sabotage for 2-5 players. You play as cunning Roman spectators trying to make the most money by betting on and rigging the gladiatorial games. Each round, players secretly place bets on competing gladiator teams. Through the skillful use of underhanded tactics, players can help and hinder teams to alter the outcome of each battle. The player with the most money at the end of three rounds wins! We’ve demoed Gladius hundreds of times at gaming conventions over the past few years, and I’ve noticed that people who like card games, video games, bluffing, and Rome have a very high likelihood of enjoying Gladius. We also attract a lot of people who like our game’s fun, lighthearted art style. 

5. What was your inspiration to create the game?

A lot of different factors came together that led to the creation of Gladius. First, my co-designer Alex and I met veteran game designer Stone Librande at the Tribeca Games Festival. He told us that if we want to be game designers, we should try to make a game out of cards. While thinking about what we should make a game about, we found inspiration from two different games. First, Domina, a video game where you run a school of gladiators. Second, Council of Verona, a betting and bluffing game themed around Romeo and Juliet. We love Roman History and liked the idea of spectating the gladiatorial games as opposed to being a gladiator. We also really enjoyed Council of Verona but wanted something a bit heavier. These different forces led to the creation of what we now know as Gladius! We’ve been working on the game for the past three years now and are excited for it to launch on Kickstarter on February 18. 

6. What are the most challenging issues that you’ve come across in designing a board game?

The most challenging issue when designing a game is picking a direction to push the game in. When we start with a design it can go a million different places depending on so many different factors: what you as the designer want, what newer players want, what seasoned board gamers want, what publishers want, what playtesters want. All these different opinions are in constant conflict with each other and choosing which direction to choose can be daunting. 

7. What aspects of board game designing do you enjoy the most?

I love the blue sky phase when there are no limits and you think of crazy ideas and get excited about how awesome they could be! I also enjoy the playtesting phase because seeing your game in the hands of players helps you learn about how to improve it. Through playtesting, you get to observe what parts of a game are working and which ones are not. On top of that, you get to connect with people face-to-face and meet new friends and fans. 

8. What were some hurdles you’ve overcome, as a woman, to get to where you are in the industry?

The tabletop industry has come a long way, but it is still so hard to be a woman designer let alone a player. People still give me weird, skeptical looks like I’m in the wrong place when I go to game stores, events, and conventions. Sometimes people think I’m an “assistant” and only acknowledge my co-creator, who is a man, as a designer when we’re both demoing the game. And worst of all, I’ve had to overcome bullying. My sister and I were bullied by a high-profile game designer who was judging a game design contest we were in a few years ago. He made fun of us and our game in front of a live audience, and he didn’t do that to any of the game designers who were men. To top it all off, right after the judging panel ended, half of the audience came up to us one by one to apologize for the judge’s behavior. That’s how we knew it was really bad – it was so bad that complete strangers in the audience felt compelled to apologize to us for bad behavior they witnessed.

9. What has been the proudest moment of your career?

In addition to making a great game, one of the goals for Gladius was to help my co-creator Alex get into the games industry. In a surprise turn of events, Gladius ended up helping me get a job in the games industry. I was a management consultant at Deloitte before I became a producer at Wizards of the Coast, and honestly, it was a great transition because I spent all my free time designing and playing games anyway. I had just never thought that I could be in the industry because of the imposter syndrome I feel as a woman of color. I’m so proud and happy to be here because now I can show other women of color that they can make games too! 

10. Do you have any other board games in development or currently available that you would like to share with our readers?

My co-designer Alex and I have a few other prototypes that we put on hold to work on Gladius: Red Cliffs (a wallet game where you play a strategist during the pivotal battle of China’s Warring States Period), Hot Takes (a party game/liar’s dice hybrid about dishing out hot takes and guessing your friends’ stances on them), and Dim Sum Rush (a game about eating the tastiest and cutest dim sum).

Kickstarter Guide: Concept – The perils of picking a game

Image result for kickstarter logo

This series of blogs will set out to give first time, small scale tabletop games designers practical advice on how to take your game from initial idea to fulfilling a Kickstarter. It’ll focus on Kickstarter for two reasons, one, it’s the crowd funding site that I have experience with, and two, it’s the main one used by game developers.

So, who am I and why am I talking it you? My name is Jenny and I’m part of a husband and wife team that runs Man O’ Kent Games, set up in 2018. We currently have two successful Kickstarters, SSO and Moonflight, and have two more planned for this year (2020). As such, I’d like to share with you all the things I’ve learnt in hopes that it’ll give you the best head start.

The first thing to consider when developing a game is which idea is the best to start with. Most game designers have lists and lists of ideas; now this may not be true for you, maybe you only have one idea which you’re passionate about. But how to develop that idea and take it to the next level?

Firstly, play as many games as possible of the mechanic you want to develop. This is not only fun (who doesn’t want an excuse to buy boardgames for research?) but will help you problem solve through development, and check to see if your idea has been done already. If you find that it has this is not a barrier to creating it, you might just have to find a new angle.

If you have a mass of ideas, first make 3-5 of them into very basic prototypes, I mean stickers, old bits of card and meeples/counters harvested from other games. We have a box full of bits from old games just for creating prototypes bought from charity and Pound shops. This prototype will sometimes throw up issues or design problem that will make it easy to cull your list down. If you only have the one idea this advice still stands, get it made and written up. This will help you think about it in real game play terms rather than just as an abstract thing.

So, you have a comically shonky prototype, what’s next? Play it! Play it and re-write it and play it and re-write it as much and as often and with as many different people as you possibly can. Playing it as early as possible will let you know immediately if your game idea is fun. This can be a bit soul crushing when you realise it’s not fun but you have to move on. Sometimes it’ll seem fun to begin with and like it really, really, no honestly, really will work but it just won’t. Again, soul destroying especially if you’ve spent half your evening shouting “why won’t you work!” but again you just have to move on.

Assuming that your game is fun and initially working there’s one important thing to consider. Have a nugget which you don’t want to compromise on; your game’s soul. It might be a theme or a mechanic it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, right it down and whenever you have a major re-write or are struggling with the development, check that piece of paper and make sure its still true. The second important thing to consider is that everything else is up for grabs. If it’s a worker placement, for example, then you can’t be precious about the theme, otherwise your neat fun idea will become an unruly mega beast which will be nigh on impossible to make.

Now you have a prototype, what’s next? See my next blog on how to pick a game to Kickstart.