Developing Great Scott! – Part 6: Always Talk to Strangers

July 8, 2015/ 1 0

This post marks a milestone: there have been no major changes to Great Scott! since the last time I wrote about it. Wonders will never cease.

I thought I’d make a short post with a playtest report for the current version of Great Scott!. The good people at Lincoln’s premier comics & tabletop games store gave me some table space at one of their weekly boardgaming nights, and I spent four hours watching people play the game.

I think that it’s vitally important to get games playtested by people you don’t know, and who won’t mind being honest with you if they have a problem with it. Friends and family are probably the worst people to show your work off to, in any endeavour. For proof, I refer you to the car-crash auditions on TV talent shows. When Simon Cowell rips those poor people a new one, it crushes them because everyone else around them constantly tells them how awesome they are, when to any outside observer they are clearly not. There’s obviously an element of tact involved in being genuinely honest about your opinions, but it is possible to be critical without being rude. Cowell knows this, but it makes for better television when he’s obnoxious to people. Don’t follow his lead though – he only gets away without being punched in the face because there’s security guards and cameras everywhere. Other outcomes are available.

Playing a game with people you know is absolutely fine in the early stages of development. They’ll (hopefully!) be more forgiving if the game is badly broken or needs a lot more work. But when you’ve fixed all the obvious problems and have what you think is a working prototype, then you need to spread your wings, ignore the golden rule we all learned as kids, and ALWAYS talk to strangers!

My method for last week’s playtest went something like this:

  • Give the players the rules and the game.
  • Watch them play.
  • Take notes.
  • Don’t talk until the game is over.
  • Get feedback.
  • Repeat.

That’s it. I spent the time while they were playing to observe and take notes, and let them figure out any problems by using only the rules sheet I’d given them. Thankfully, I’d had the rules pretty thoroughly worked over beforehand by some helpful folks from the Card & Board Game Designers Guild on Facebook, so there were no real problems in that department. I timed how long each group took to learn the rules and start playing, and I timed each round of the game. In my notes, I recorded any confusion about the rules, and what parts of the game seemed to work well and not so well.

I think the playtest went swimmingly. Nobody really obviously disliked the game, and everyone who played it seemed to have a good time. Witty banter occurred. I won’t bore you with a ton of stats, but I boiled down all the feedback into an approval percentage of 86%. The “Fun” category was the highest at 92%, with “Game Balance” the lowest at 83%. I’m taking these numbers with a pinch of salt because of the small sample size. I’d be more confident if I had 100 completed feedback forms that told me the same story, but these results are an encouraging start.

I also found that the game took an average of 5 minutes to learn, and 10 minutes per player to complete a game. That’s bang on the target I was aiming for time-wise, so that was another positive.

Although I didn’t interact with the players until after the game was over, this wasn’t a truly blind playtest. I was sitting right there, and it might have skewed the results in my favour. I did tell everyone not to put their names on the feedback forms, and to give them back to me folded so it was all as anonymous as possible, but it’s still conceivable that bias could creep in. Like it or not, it’s much easier for us to criticise something honestly when its creator isn’t sitting three feet away.

I’ll be heading out to other games nights as often as I can manage for the next few months, and in the meantime I’ll work on getting the art & design finalised. I’m fairly sure at this point that the game won’t need any major changes to the card layouts, but since I’m doing all that stuff myself, it’s not the end of the world if things do need tweaking again.

I’ll probably go a bit quiet on these development blog posts for a while, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say after I get to the magic 100 feedback forms.

Laters, taters.

Dave Clarke

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Dave Clarke is 44 years old and lives in Lincoln, England, with one dog, too many cats, and just enough humans. He is the least talented member of an unpopular punk rock band, and sometimes has dessert for dinner.

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