Insider 7/12/2010

Today, I’ve decided to talk a bit about the playtest process.

Before even jumping into that, though, it’s important to note that playtesting is heavy on the “testing” and light on the “playing.” Sure, playing games with new rules is a vital part of the playtest process, but such games contain more elements of an experiment than a competition. Where the goals of a normal game are hopefully (#1) have fun and (#2) win, the goals of a playtest game are (#1) test model balance and (#2) test rules interactions and clarity.

For WARMACHINE, HORDES, and Monsterpocalypse playtesting, the playtest process begins before players even reach the gaming table itself. Playtest army lists need to focus on really getting a good gauge of the models in question, and this can be a delicate art. Simply packing every random playtest model into a single list doesn’t allow a tester to gauge their ability very accurately, but playing just one new light warjack (for example) is not a good test either since the tested element could easily fade to the background. Finding a good balance is critical.

When it comes down to the playtest game itself, the winner and loser of the game really is not an important factor. Both players have won if they get good testing accomplished and arrive at helpful feedback, and both of them lose if they don’t. Players may not even need to play the game out to its conclusion to get a good gauge of the models they’re testing. There are all sorts of tips and tricks to try to improve the testing process, but the bottom line is pretty simple – playtesting must focus on testing the models in question rather than merely gauging player skill, dice luck, etc. After all, a warjack isn’t “underpowered” because a playtester mis-estimated a distance by a quarter inch, nor is it “broken” because someone happened to roll trip sixes on damage.

A playtest session doesn’t end when the game does, however. Without useful feedback, the best playtest games don’t mean a thing. Players should discuss their observations after the game and try to come to conclusions on the tested models. Good playtest feedback should succinctly, clearly, and objectively outline the strengths and weaknesses of the models as well as players’ assessment of the model’s current state along with possible changes they would recommend (if they believe changes are required).

All said and done, playtesting can be fun, but it’s also hard work. There’s a whole lot more to being a Privateer Press playtester than getting sneak peaks and playing around with new models.