BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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Play nice. Test nasty.

El Tres de Mayo, by Francisco de Goya

Our weekly playtesting and game designers’ get-together in Cambridge had a good start to the year on Tuesday with the genuinely grand total of 8 designers in attendance. This week including such design luminaries as TerrorBull Games’ Andrew Sheerin, newcomer and designer of Convoluted Adam Brooks, and a coterie of other sparky, creative and generally fun-to-be-with tabletop game designers. If you’re one of those, and in the Cambridge area (or don’t mind the journey on a wintry Tuesday night) do get in touch.

Any designer will tell you that putting a new prototype on the table in front of new players is often a daunting proposition. An audience of game designers only makes this worse, because they will typically start questioning your design choices before you’ve started playing (or even finished getting all the components out of little plastic bags). This is entirely to be expected, absolutely necessary and just as it should be, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.

Playtesting needs to be a brutal, challenging, revolutionary, transformative event; if it’s not you’re probably not doing it properly. Or, at the very least, you’re not making the most of the opportunity.

The fantastic thing about sharing this experience with other designers is that no-one minds if you change the rules halfway through, start a game without really knowing how it’s going to end, unilaterally jettison some key part of the game without warning, or simply stop when everything falls apart.

After all, if your game is exactly the same thing at the end of a playtest as it was at the beginning, what’s the point?

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