Beside my actual-money-earning-work, and making games, I also run the Icel.me website, that host a variety of technology, gaming and geeky content in English and Hebrew. Among that content, I’m one of the hosts of the Hebrew show Game Burning Podcast, in which we talk about all the kinds of games we play- video games, RPGs, board games, etc. This week, beside out usual episode, we also recorded a short bonus segment about teaching new games, in which one of my co-hosts, Yehuda Halfon, talk about some basic rules he developed during his time as a games salesman and instructor.
With his permission, I’ve translated the relevant information to English, since it’s not only a good advice for every gamer, but I found it useful when conducting a playtest for a brand new game nobody but you (the designer) know.
1: the Instructor
Decide in advance who will instruct the whole group. In a playtest it will often be the design themselves, but in a more advanced playtest, let someone that has already played the game once explain it to the other players- it will help you determine how other players understand your rules.
No matter what, let them finish their explanation without interference. If there are any clarification to be made, do it after the chosen instructor finished their explanation.
Unless game setup is an important part of the game experience, do it beforehand. Some games, especially the heavier ones, can seem very daunting for a new player if they’ll see you sitting there for 45 minutes sorting cards and setting meeples. It’s best to prepare everything in advance.
For playtesting, this is not always the best idea, as you’ll need to test you setup instructions like any other part of the rules. But not every testing session require going over all of them.
First rule of game instruction, EXPLAIN HOW TO WIN (well, it came out the 3rd rule. but still!).
Next rule of game instruction, explain how to lose. This was important in our last testing session for Champions of Fate, as the role of the player deck wan’t explained to one of the player, which gave them the wrong idea about the importance of the deck.
5: Sequence of Play
Go over turn order as it is written in the manual or the player reference sheet of the game. It is a sound practice for any game but of course especially important for a playtest, when you’re not only checking if the rules are clear enough, but if the turn order makes any sense at all (trust me, sometimes you think it does, but it doesn’t). Each phase of the turn, explain what actions can be done and what they mean in the broader context of the game- i.e. how they help you win, or how they help you not losing.
6: Player Agency
Give players their required components randomly. In some games it’s done like that anyway (such as dealing Lord cards in Lords of Waterdeep), in some games this doesn’t matter (because each player is just represented by a color, and there isn’t any unique factor to consider), but if a game has any player roles, positions or special abilities, don’t spend time going over all of them for people to choose. After all players in the group was assigned their component, then go over with each player what the stuff they got means. In Champions of Fate, I just say to the players “you can pick the fighter, thief or wizard”, and since all of my playtesters are roleplayers, they kind of know what each class does anyway.
In a game with hidden information (such as the aforementioned Lords of Waterdeep), don’t worry about that in the first game. Let everyone show you their hidden pieces and ask about their special rules. It will probably also come up during the game, when a player is considering an action and asks “will my hidden card affect this decision?”. After the first run, you can try playing the game with hidden information as intended. Let the newer players consult the manual if they have specific questions about the hidden elements.
And lastly, be prepared to answer a lot of questions. Be courteous and patient.
Have other advice or comments? We’d love to see them in the comments below or on Facebook.