Play Testing – For The Good Of All Mankind

Philae lander

If you’re in the play testing stage of your game’s creation, then you already know that play testing is hard.

It’s not so much the criticism. Criticism is great, especially deep, thorough criticism. That shows the player already cares about your game and really wants it to be great. And no matter how many hundred times you’ve played your game, a single play from a new perspective can lead to a discovery you might never have thought of.

It’s the lack of availability.

Finding play testers – is hard. As in trying to wake up the Philae lander hard.

Go to the board game night at your friendly neighborhood game emporium and most players are there to play a specific game; probably the one they just bought the day before and have been itchin’ to unbox!

With the long term goal of building a community of shared play testing – something along the lines of how BGG has become a sort of IMDB Pro of games – I make this offer:

I will be your play tester.

And give you a solid critique. What makes for a good critique? Glad you asked [see my next blog].

These are the sorts of games I prefer – strategy, adventure, a journey, family friendly. I am open to others. I can test 1 and 2 player games. No charge, happy to help.

Note – I cannot do print and play, because I currently do not have a trustworthy printer [seems to need recalibrating every 5th page!]. I can work with rules that can be read on screen [pdfs, etc]. And I cannot ship prototypes back. If you don’t mind mailing it, I will test it.

And that’s another part of what makes play testing hard; the expense. Shipping dozens of prototypes across the country can start to strain an indie’s budget.

So, I can’t help with the expense but I can at least make myself available, and that’s half the battle! Hopefully, if and when this community grows, a network of play testers will form and there will one in every town with a library [or a Starbucks].

Hey, a gamer can dream, right?


Let’s Build A Raft


Part of the reason I’m doing this blog is to add value to others in the board game industry and hopefully build a community.

But, because I am currently [as of this writing] in the play test/build the fan base/pre-crowdfund stage, the only value I can see myself adding is to create a place where people can:

– Share their ideas

– Offer and receive constructive criticism and feedback

– Note the steps we’ve been through and discuss what has/has not worked as desired

– Discuss the balance between Luck and Planning and Prep

And probably have a forum for venting – not at one another but at the process [as in can we stop sending everything through China?! Let’s get some home-grown manufacturing back!]

To see what common ground we already share, let me explain my situation. I started with very few [as in can count on 1 hand and still have fingers left over] connections, none in the games industry; zero social media presence [what’s a facebook?]; very little money to spend [$10s not $1000s+]; ALIEN CRASH SITE is my 1st board game; at the beginning there was zero fan base.

Now? About 6 months in, I do have a few connections [good people I’ve met at CONs or during play tests], some in the games industry; I follow and comment on a few blogs, tweets, and I have my own blog, a smattering of twitter followers, and a mildly active facebook fan page; ALIEN CRASH SITE has been play tested over 100 times and has begun building a fan base. Because the game has been getting an overwhelmingly positive response I am able to rationalize spending more $$$.

I imagine there are hundreds of you out there in the exact same boat [don’t be shy, say hello!]. So join me and see how it turns out. Fingers crossed!

Another reason I’m doing this blog is – and this might be just a little bit of wishful thinking – to build something, some place – like an internet – where a person such as myself [and you, too] can find prices for artwork, rulebook writing, custom miniatures…

If only play testers grew on trees!

And that’s where the next blog comes in.

Writing Game Rules – A Recipe

Nice and clear post about rules – which are often not very clear, but usually nice, except for when they give you a paper cut and when that … wait, what did the article say about being concise. Oh.

Fairway 3 Games, LLC

There’s no magic system or formula for writing good rules for your games. Each game has its own quirks, its own vocabulary, its own gameplay.  However, I’ve found that there is a general pattern to how you can think about rules. I’ll call it my recipe.

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Holiday Matsuri is my new buddy.

The folks at League of Gamemakers often talk about attendance [as a designer/publisher] at CONs in a very positive light. And they are absolutely right. In a LONG three days we managed to get a ton of new fans and made a lot of new friends. Some of them not quite human it seemed ;p  Check the quick vid post on the fb page:

One thing in particular stood out – everyone, and I mean everyone, was nice, polite, cheerful…it was a great experience.

AND, to top it off, ALIEN CRASH SITE garnered some AMAZING scores at the event:

Overall fun = 9 of 10

Likeliness you would play it again = 10 of 10

Likeliness you would buy it = 9 of 10

Likeliness you would recommend it to a friend = 9 of 10

These are AVERAGES! A majority of the scores were 10s across the board! If ACS were on Metacritic right now it would be in the “Universal Acclaim” category!

These are the sorts of scores we’ve been getting since iteration 2! The only thing ACS needs now [besides professional art] is to get in front of a lot more people, so more people know about it. With numbers like these, I can say with confidence that if someone plays this game, they will like it. In most cases, they will LOVE it!

Truly amazing. And gratifying.

Thanks to Matt Holden of the IGA for allowing me to share space [in exchange for slave labor, but worth it]!

First hand edumacation.

In my effort to be of help to others just starting out in the board game designing/publishing world [aka noobs, of which I am a proud member!] I have some info that might make life a bit better for my brethren.

We’ve now taken ALIEN CRASH SITE to its 2nd CON, what I would consider our 1st ‘good size’ CON, and the lesson I took away from the experience was – as a vendor, do not go alone!

I had previously considered going to a CON on my own [to play test and build up the fan base for ALIEN CRASH SITE] and – now especially – I am so glad I didn’t.

So many variables come into play – booth space turns out to be ‘miles’ from parking, the hall is scheduled to close at X but someone decides to extend that by 4 hours [or 24 hours!!], hall is scheduled to open at Y but actually opens 2 hours early, the hall is not secured until 3am…

As my Chinese friends would say, Aiya!!!!

So, a partner, team, squad, would be super helpful. At least then you can say, “I’ll handle this fire, you take the next one [and goodnight].” Changes come up that throw any schedule right out of the window. Had I been alone, I would have passed out.

What about you? How was your first ‘good size’ CON? Did you [as a vendor] go to your first CON alone? I’d love to hear how it went!

Imagine if you will.

Beijing recently released its 2nd red alert for smog.

Many people may find it hard to imagine what that is like. But try to picture a really foggy morning [where I live we had one just a few days ago, it lasted almost to lunch]; the kind where you can’t even see the trees alongside the road, or in your backyard.

Now imagine that that’s not just moisture.

Imagine that’s it’s poisonous fumes. Because really, that’s what it is.

And now imagine that it doesn’t go away – all day. And then the next day. And the next.

After the first day your eyes are watery and constantly itch. By the second day your throat develops a tearing itch and your tongue has a nasty aftertaste all the time. You run a finger down your face and the tip gets covered in grime. Which is also going right into your lungs.

By the third day people are dying.

I know what this is like first hand. I lived in Singapore for several years. Every year, Indonesia burns huge swaths of forest and the smoke crosses the short distance to Singapore and blankets the entire [tiny] nation. While I lived there, there would be weeks when it was deemed unhealthy to be outdoors – WEEKS!

China is a LOT bigger than Singapore, and Indonesia. It’s not hard to imagine just how big a problem this has become – and WILL become.

How does this relate to games and The BarclayMotive? The overall goal of The BarclayMotive is for it to be applied to personal and commercial vehicles. It has 0 exhaust and 0 emissions – and unlike electric vehicles, it does not simply ‘transfer’ emissions to a local power plant. Right now it is only at a size that will work with a small scooter motor. And the games? ALIEN CRASH SITE is finding a lot of love from those who play it. Hopefully it will find a lot [and I mean a whole lot] of players. If it is successful financially I have other games that will follow. A majority of all net profits from my games will go straight to The BarclayMotive, to get it fully up and running.

If I were really good at X, Y, or Z, I’d be doing that to raise the money needed. But, as it turns out, I seem to be really good at designing [at least one] very fun, very satisfying board game[s].

Everything I do [and have done, for the past several years] is in order to make The BarclayMotive real and available for everyone who wants it. With ACS I may have [finally] found my path to raising the funds I need to do just that.

Now imagine a world without red alerts for smog. Or any alerts for smog. Or even any smog at all. That’s the world I am working towards. Wanna join me?

Baby steps toward world change


Jamey Stegmaier has a great [no, really great] blog about kickstarter that is super helpful for folks considering crowd funding. So full of good info it should really be called a Blogopolis. But maybe I’ll TM that for myself ;p

Thanks to said blog – in particular this blog exists. And, though it was touched on in that entry, I’d like to take one item a bit further. What to do if your blog is ‘dual purpose’ for want of a better term?

For example, my brand new blog. Jamey suggests “write what you’re excited about”. For me that will be the horrid pink layer of toxic air lingering on the horizon but also the latest great reviews from play testers of my new board game [ALIEN CRASH SITE]. Two very unrelated items – at least in most people’s eyes I would think. So what to do? 2 blogs? 2 blogs?!?!?!

So, maybe I have an answer, or at least an answer that will work for me.

Since these are things that excite/upset/awe me – single, little ole me, 1 person, I think 1 blog will be enough. It may be a bit of a mish-mash, but maybe this is how I learn to come up with useful headlines. A single blog that encompasses things I get excited about. And since the #1 thing I get excited about IS that ugly pink layer [hello China? Can you read this from across the street?] I will say up front that a goodly portion of any net profits from all games I make [now and in the future] will go directly to erasing that poison from our skies. But that’s another post ;p

I would love to hear from you about my take. This is my first entry, so there’s plenty of time for me to be shown errors in my thinking from those who have been down this road before.

Michael Barclay