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The Siren Song of the Paper Cutter: Tips and Tricks from the Trenches of Paper Prototyping
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The Siren Song of the Paper Cutter: Tips and Tricks from the Trenches of Paper Prototyping

by Tyler Sigman []

September 13, 2005 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Super-Secret Clandestine Game Construction Resource: The Board Game Designer's Forum

Although I've shared some of my own tips on paper game construction, a great resource for other tips and opinions is the Board Game Designer's Forum: Truth be told, I avoid the site for the most part - not because it's not useful (it is!). It's just that there are so many good tips to be found, it can be a bit... distracting. Plus, I don't like to expose myself to a million other design ideas while I'm in the midst of gelling a design. It really is a good site, though.

Gathering it all Together

Organizing your prototype and containing it is important to make your life easier and also to make it portable. I use fishing tackle boxes and map/poster tubes. You can find little tackle boxes for cheap at the K-Marts, Targets, and also at certain unnamed ginormous superpowerful mega-corporations of the world that begin with the letter “W” and are based out of Arkansas - a strange state whose name is pronounced quite differently than appearance would seem to insinuate. (A name which is exceptionally confusing when taken in context with the nearby state “ Kansas ”, pronounced “Kan-saw” to some.)

Other Considerations: Looks Good vs. Tastes Great

The great Aesthetic Dilemma. Having a sexy prototype improves play experience. However, you might find you spend more time prototyping and not enough time playing. Also, making a stunning prototype might reduce your willingness to make necessary changes that would require you to dismantle your lovely creation.

Also, there's a school of thought that says “if they enjoy playing your terrible, ugly, lame prototype, then they will LOVE it when it is jazzed-up.” Well, that's how I rationalize it anyway.


“Playtesting - Let's Put Some Lipstick on this Pig and See if it Can Dance!”

Playtesting is a huge subject in its own - too big to cover exhaustively in this article. However, here are some key tips to bear in mind:

Have an idea of what outcome you'd like out of the playtest session.

This can be broad (“I'd like to see if the game is ‘fun,'” “I'd like to see what the flow is like.”) or it can be narrow (“I'd like to see how the game plays with 2 players,” “I'd like to put the psychic combat system through its paces.”). Whatever it is, just have a goal. Otherwise, you might have a waffling, undirected playtest session with no concrete deliverables or quantifiable outcome.

Be prepared to write.

Sounds dumb, but be prepared to record feedback, “bugs”, and data. It's easy to get so focused on getting the prototype made and set up that you don't focus on prepping to get the most out of the session(s) possible. If necessary, have an extra helper to act as secretary and record important information, so you can focus on administering the game.

Be prepared to adjust in real-time.

Almost every time I do a first playtest, I'm amazed by how different something in the game is from what I predicted. Also, even though I've gotten better and better and drafting rulesets, there's nothing like the first time you set up and try to play through a game - you are guaranteed to find holes in your rules. I'm not talking about degenerate strategies or anything fancy; rather I mean true show-stopping holes, like “oh, how does that work?” In any case, be ready to plug holes, make rules changes, and otherwise mold your game on-the-fly.

Case in point: I just finished up a prototype for a board game which involved a particular mechanic that I was quite proud of, one that I conceptually believed to be a huge part of the game. On turn 2 of the very first playtest, I realized the mechanic was 500% better in my head than in practice. Accordingly, I could instantly tell the game was going to be a bust unless I removed it. So remove it I did, right then and there during the very first playtest. The game immediately improved, and I realized it could stand on its own without the Golden Mechanic. Adjust on-the-fly.

Be impartial.

Playtesting is one of the absolute best things you can do for your game - don't corrupt the information you get by arguing with your playtesters. Listen to them. They aren't necessarily right, but they will provide honest feedback. They haven't been living inside of your head, and they don't know how great your game could be. They only know how great the game is.

“Know” your playtesters.

If your game is hard-core strategy aimed at the professional gamer, don't waste much time having a casual gamer play it and tell you how complex and confusing it is.

1st playtest vs later playtests.

A last thing: the 1 st playtest for a game is a whole different animal than later playtest sessions. For me, the goal of the 1 st playtest is to successfully get the game set-up and played through. It's like casting a wide net and seeing what kind of fish live in a particular stretch of water. Later playtests are hunts for specific fish.

Don't expect your first playtest session to be fun. You might spend the majority of your time just plugging hull-breaches and trying to keep the game afloat. There's an old adage in the kit-plane industry: don't schedule your first flight test to be a party or social event where all your friends and family come to see all your hard work pay off. Save that for after you've got the kinks worked out. Don't put any more pressure on yourself than necessary. Your first playtest session is about rolling up your sleeves and hopping into the ring. You might not be photogenic after getting drubbed by Clubber Lane for 10 rounds, so don't plan an evening gala.

Playtesting NDAs

Remember the legal forms. Non-disclosure Agreements are vital for all involved.

Review forms

The more you prepare for your playtest session, the more value it will yield. Preprinted review forms are a great way to get meaningful feedback from testers.

Yes, a lot of this is just like focus testing, so many of the same tips apply.

“A Victim...err ‘Assistant'... is Always Helpful”

Off to the Guillotine with Ye!

When it comes down to it, paper prototyping can almost always provide benefits to your game development that far exceed the effort, cost, and time involved. The worst that is likely to happen is that find you're well on-track with a good design. The best that could happen is that you prevent crippling changes from occurring late in the project. There might be no faster way to becoming a social pariah in your company circles than the words “Late Design Change.”

Much of prototyping is common sense, and can be boiled down to 3 easy steps: improvise, adapt, revise. So what're you reading this for? Get cutting!

“Infect the Towns of the World with Your Plague Prototypes”



Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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