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

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Playtesting: Get your hands dirty


Over at Gallimaufry, friend and fellow game designer Matt Dunstan has written up a report of the very first playtest of our new collaboration, a mercurial beast of a game that we have called Trinity. As Matt points out, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ playtest, and although the version of the game we presented (and our unwitting playtesters endured) is a far cry from where it needs to be, by no means was the playtest a failure.

At the same event — the monthly Playtest Meetup in London — I also got in another play of my own prototype Aegea, with, of course, another set of changes. The design is far more mature than Trinity, but no less in need of playtesting. I was very pleased with how the game ran, and the new texture created by the key change I was principally looking to try out. Mission accomplished?

Hardly. I think I can legitimately claim that the core game idea has always been appealing — there’s a little boat; you move it around; it’s cute — and further that for the past few iterations it has been something more: a ‘good’ game. Good, yes, but not finished. Good, but neither wholly connected nor wholly resolved. Good, in exactly the same way that so many games are, but not more than that; not — whisper it! — great.

You might think — if you were prone to absurd rhetorical flourishes — that some games must be born great, and some must have greatness thrust upon them. But I’d be dubious of any designer claiming to be one who can regularly achieve the former, rather than one with hands regularly bloodied by the folly of the latter. I make no such claim, and if I did you’d be right to scoff. And if you did, then I’d scoff right back.

If achieving greatness was just a case of waiting long enough for the arrival of a happy accident, if it were that… simple — well, we’d all be doing it, wouldn’t we? Greatness is not only an act of will, but one of force.

Get your hands dirty, then we can talk.

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