The third stage of playtesting is 'blind playtesting'. By this point you've an almost finished game and an almost finished rulebook. You provide this to people (ideally not friends and family - but people who can be honest with you) and let them learn the game from the rules - rather than being taught the game by you. You can either watch them, taking notes but not teaching them how to play, or for more un-biased feedback you can just send them a copy of the game and let them send you the feedback.
As usual, there are pros and cons. To get good feedback on the rulebook, the rule book needs to be nearly finished - it doesn't need final art, but it should have the diagrams and almost final layout. The playtesters are likely to provide feedback about the game rules too: They like it; they don't; what about changing this rule or that rule or the components. You'll have to be able to judge the feedback according to your goals. A lighter gamer might suggest something that makes the game simpler, and which makes the game much better in their eyes. A heavier gamer might suggest a change that makes the game deeper. Which do you use? Or neither? You'll need a pretty good idea of where in the market you want to position the game, and judge the feedback according to those criteria. Since this is something you'll likely do near the end of the game's development it's hard both to accept changes (you're happy with the game as it is) and conversely it's hard to stop fiddling with things. You need to be able to judge the suggested changes objectively against your criteria for the game (harder said than done) and draw a line under the game when you're happy with it.
Hopefully, at this stage you've got a great game that everyone loves. Be prepared for some people to hate it though. If you get negative feedback, you'll need to judge whether it's due to a flaw in the game, or just not the playtester's kind of game. Again, this can be difficult.
Want to find out what blind playtesing feels like? Help me playtest Sumeria. I'm looking for four volunteers, two in the US, one in the UK and one in Germany/Europe. It's a family euro-game so: simple rules, fairly deep gameplay, plenty of choices, wafer-thin theme. If that's not your kind of thing please don't apply, I don't need hardcore American gamers telling me it's rubbish because of a lack of plastic miniatures and dice-based combat!
What's in it for you?
- You get a prototype copy of Sumeria months before it's released
- You get your name in the rules as a playtester
- You're entitled to a 50% discount on the finished product
What do you have to do?
- Play the game a lot with your game groups
- Make a note of: who played, whether they've played before, who won, play time
- Provide feedback on the game (including suggested rule changes)
- Provide feedback on the rules - how can I improve the clarity and completeness
How do you sign up? Leave a note in the comments to this post stating which country you live in and why you'd make an excellent playtester. I'll pick the lucky recipients at the end of this week.