Step 9: Importance of Solo-Playtesting

You’ve got a prototype made and now it’s time to try it out.  The first person you should always try a brand new game out with is yourself.  If it’s a four player game then simulate all 4 players and play as each one when it’s their turn.  Play as if you had no knowledge of the other players’ cards or information.  This will give you a general idea if your concept is working.  Sometimes you don’t need to play the entire game to understand if something’s not working.

Santorini is a tile laying game we designed that involves shipping resources around islands on ships.  I wanted to make a tile laying game that had different rules on how you could match tiles together.  The first prototype allowed players to place tiles such that it covered up one corner of a tile already in play.

After solo-playtesting it I soon realised that this would lead to a riducolous amount of Analysis Paralysis (a state where gamers spend more time analyzing what they should do rather than playing – not good!).  Back to the drawing board! As mentioned in a previous post, this is why it’s good not to put too much effort in your first prototype.

Through Solo-Playtesting you will almost always find something about the game you can improve.  For Night of the Dragon players play cards to move their pawn in the direction they want to go – towards the mountains, desert, sea or forest.  When I printed out one of the first prototypes I realised I couldn’t fit the entire board on one sheet, so I printed each of the four land type areas separately.  When I cut them out and laid them next to the board I realized that we could add a whole new aspect to the game where players could rotate the world and have each land type area move one spot clockwise.  This ended up being a crucial aspect of the game that came from Solo-Playtesting.

The good thing about having a partner in designing games is that you always have 2 playtesters!  The trouble with our situation is that we’re on either side of the country, so we still rely on Solo-Playtesting before taking it to the next step.

-Jay Cormier

While Jay and I do a lot of the design together via the internet, we both engage in solo playtesting sometimes once a first prototype has been made – we will share the artwork and will each print and cut out a copy. Playing with yourself isn’t as silly (or explicit!) as it sounds. There are a ton of relevations you can have just by making the prototype and moving pieces around on the board. Jay’s example re: NotD is a good one because if he never made the prototype, we never would have come up with the very interesting rotating knives…I mean map…er…rotating map concept. I have to admit, though, that Jay is the king of making the prototypes and trying them out, moreso than I am. Some of it’s incompatibility of software. Some of it’s lack of time. But we always post our findings to each other via our forum and work through the issues with each other online.

There is honestly, however, nothing that takes the place of actual hands-on game play to really work things though. In playing things solo, you can work out many kinks prior to you bombard your friends and relatives with the inevitable call of “Hey, I got this new game I want you to try out…”; very rarely (exception: “The Dig”) do Jay and I get anyone else to play our games without at least one of us (or both) spending a ton of time playing though many many turns of a game to see if it’ll stick. So solo playtesting is a great step to ensure that what you unleash on an unsuspecting gaming public is at least worth their time and effort to come to games night!

– Sen-Foong Lim


7 thoughts on “Step 9: Importance of Solo-Playtesting

  1. I also think it’s worth calling out that solo playtesting is a crucial aspect of being respectful to your potential playtester volunteers, and making the most of their limited time. Especially for a game which requires 3+ or 4+ players, your opportunities to gather a group of volunteers together are rare and precious. If you spend a whole session of four “live” people working out basic design issues you could have figured out on your own, you’re losing out on the opportunity for them to have found the trickier, less obvious things in the later refinement stages which sometimes only another set of eyes can catch . . . not to mention frustrating the volunteers to a degree that they may not offer their time again.

    In a way, it’s like asking for someone’s help to proofread an essay, resume, etc. If you don’t proofread it yourself, first, your volunteer editor is going to feel a little used.


  2. Oh absolutely Matt! I have a blog post coming up about the game designers most precious commodity: the playtesters! Respecting them and their time will be huge in ensuring they remain playtesters for more than one playtest!


  3. Solo-playtesting is absolutely essential and I wholeheartedly agree that one should solo-playtest a game to death before proceeding with “blind” third-party playtesters.

    Although I am by no means published (I don’t have a lot of motivation to do so, but, you never know…), my process is this –

    1). Playtest all players (usually just 2) as brilliantly smart and “knowing” the other player’s move.
    2). Playtest one as smart and the other as random / not knowing the game.
    3). Playtest both as random / not knowing the game.

    During this stage, did the game “break”? Was there an invincible strategy? Was there a first-player bias? Did you “accidentally” defeat yourself?

    Solo-playtesting, for myself, also means going through the instructions and trying as hard as possible to reduce the instructions down to their bare minimum. Can a 7-word sentence be 5 words? Can 3 sentences be reduced into 1? I don’t necessarily try, at this phase, to alter game play – Just to take existing instructions and make them as absolutely clear as I can.


    • I like that process, Steve. One of the things Jay and I need to become better at is writing the rules. I tend to be very technical and Jay can take that and make it a bit better. But neither of us are concise. Thanks for your input. I will try the “reductionism” method of rule writing for our next game!

      Generally, Jay and I are both playing 2 hands each. That’s hard! But I don’t think I consciously try to lose or win – I just play as far as the rules let me. Maybe we should role-play a bit more to seriously try to break things, etc. – Good idea!


  4. Pingback: Этап 9: Важность сольного тестирования | Персональная страница Петра Черевко — сайт, посвященный обзорам бытовой техники, сравнениям кни

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