Play-testing Pudding


When board game designers invite others to play a developing game it is called Play-Testing. Ask any board game developer, and they will tell you that play-testing 'plays' a critical role in the design process. In fact, it is an inside joke that games needs play-testing, hard-work, other stuff, and did we mention play-testing?

A good play-testing can help with mechanics, replay ability, fun factor, balancing, and many other key ingredients to a successful game. Consider the following: How long will the game last on average? How many players is it best suited for? Which part(s) feel over powered? What part was the most fun? What is the main hook that keeps you coming back? Play-testing can answer all of these questions.

When I started play-testing other game developer's games I was a noob (newbie). I really did not have a great feel for role that I was 'playing', nor did I understand what kind of feedback would best help the game developer. Now that I have over 50 play-tests worth of experience I feel that I have a better idea what I can do to better assist the game developer.

In my opinion the play-tester's role is to assist the game developer and not to win the game. The point is to think critically about the game elements and feelings experienced throughout the game play. In fact one of the more important things that a play-tester can do it tell you what they felt!
Here are some common examples of feedback from a novice play-tester:
  • "It was good."
  • "I liked it."
  • "Nice."

    Of course, all feedback is greatly appreciated! However, the above examples don't answer why or explain what. What made it good? Why was something fun? Here are some examples of better feedback:

  • "My favorite part was ______."
  • "The most fun I had was when I did _____."
  • "The game felt ______."
  • "I hated it when ______ happened."

I have been very thankful and blessed to have some really great play-testing role models and game developers to bounce ideas off. Here is some of the great feedback that play-testers shared with me about Electoral Barrage over the past 20 or so play-tests:
  • We would have liked to see some cards in the game to use and spend.
  • The game took a while to get to the fun part. Start the game at the fun part!
  • The game took too long to play. Shorten it. Remove rounds, lower meeple counts, etc.
  • I had AP (Action Paralysis) trying to figure out what to do. Give me some guidance. Give me a path to follow.
  • Really liked the cards. More cards!
  • The One Star (Red) states felt too insignificant to go to. Give me a reason to go there.
  • I played the entire game and never fully understand the Absentee Ballot mechanic.
  • More cards! We love them!
  • The character _____ is too strong. 

As a game developer receiving feedback I have learned:
  • Value their opinion and listen to all feedback and criticisms. However, don't let them steer the boat. It is not their game.
  • You cannot make a game that pleases everyone. Just make the best game that you can.
  • Play-testers are very generous with their time, but don't abuse it. Get in and get out. 
  • Don't listen as much to the words that they say, but more to the feelings behind them.

Thanks so much to everyone that play-tested Electoral Barrage so far! I look forward to many more. I welcome anyone to play. Please do not feel scared off!


  1. Great article Matthew! My one other bit of playtesting wisdom, gleaned from the experts, is: listen to your playtesters most to identify WHAT the problems are, and less to figure out HOW to solve them. When a playtester says, “you should add a deck of cards that does X,” they’re expressing that, for them, something didn’t work. Ask questions to find out more about what didn’t work or wasn’t fun and then use your own design skills to come up with the best solution. No one knows your game (and what might fix it or break it) as well as you do! Keep up the good work!


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