The Proper Care of Your Playtester

[We’re giving our Renaissance Gamer, Brent, the week off. Fear not he’ll be back next week. But for today enjoy Debra’s thoughts on “The Proper Care of Your Playtester” -dc]

One of the unsung heroes of gaming has to be the playtester. Both the kind that helps game creators make their dreams a reality, and the kind that help a reviewer discover whether games are really worth playing. Good playtesters aren’t always easy to find, and once you have them, they should be treasured. The following guidelines will help. (And I hope this will also be good advice for general Game Night parties too.)

Be Honest:Explain in advance that you want to play your game(s) for the purpose of review. People will react better to you insisting on playing this new, unknown game if they understand why. If you know something about the game already, don’t try to hide it. Be honest: “This game is a little lame with two players, but I want to see if it’s better in multplayer”; “my other friend didn’t like this game much, but that might just be because they don’t like zombie games.”

Be Prepared: Yes, it’s true. It can be fun when you and your friends break the seal on a brand new game together. But things will go a lot smoother if at least one person has actually read the rules. If you want that unboxing feeling, consider having one session for everyone’s first reaction. After you learn the rules and do a little research, you’ll be more ready for a play session later.

It’s also important to have your gaming space prepared too. Don’t try to play a full-sized board game on a TV tray; on the other hand, don’t try to play a small, intimate game on the biggest table in the house. There will always be one or two things that a publisher forgets to include in their game, try to have them around. A pencil and paper for keeping score; a dice tray to keep you from having to pick them up off the floor. And it’s always a good idea to have a computer or smartphone nearby, so you can check the internet for rules disputes.

Be Generous:Just because they are your friends, and just because you are playing games, doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to want to help you for free. If you offer to buy lunch, a snack, or even just their favourite beverage, it will go a long way to make them feel appreciated. You can call it bribery, or incentive, or good manners. If your game session is in someone’s home, suggest potluck; and make sure that you bring something good. If you are meeting at a tabletop cafe, offer to pay for their seating fee, or to buy the first plate of appetizers. Even something as simple as offering to drive someone to an event can mean a lot.

Not every appreciative gesture has to cost money. Did one player get really excited about a particular game? If it’s not an essential part of your collection, why not offer to let them keep it? Ask if anyone wants to suggest a new game to play or review. It doesn’t take a lot to make everyone feel like they are part of the team.

Be Patient:Sometimes things happen that are completely out of your control. That game that says “half hour playtime” on the box ends up taking 90 minutes. You bring a game all the way to another city, only to find out that the instruction book is at home. You bring your bag of games to a convention, and their “gaming room” is dedicated to console games only. The game session has just begun, and someone needs to leave because of an emergency. All you can do is, as the saying goes, keep calm and carry on.

If you have more than two failed attempts to play a game all the way to the end, put it aside and try something else. If one group of friends doesn’t like a particular game, save it until you are with a different group. And, most important of all, if at any time whatever you are doing isn’t fun anymore, Stop!

Be Kind: You can’t force someone to play a game. Well, you can, but eventually they aren’t going to like you anymore. If someone tells you they don’t want to play, or they decide that playtesting isn’t what they expected, respect their choice. There is no reason to be mean to someone for not participating. Unless that person happens to be your spouse. Then you have a legally binding document that says you can bug the Dickens out of them for not being supportive of you.