Back in August, Dan, Michał and I started up the Newcastle branch of Playtest UK. In the beginning we expected it to just be Dan, Michał and I, the three of us were all designers, all struggling to get our designs tested enough. We advertised it in the local FLGS, Travelling Man, and at Newcastle Gamers and as a result it grew.
We've now got a hardcore of five designers, excluding Michał who moved to London in the New Year. A few extra people come along occasionally, mostly from Newcastle Gamers, but sometimes from Travelling Man and we once had nine attendees! Despite the relatively small numbers I really find it an invaluable resource in my game design efforts and I've been meaning to post about it again for a while. I play my games most weeks, either at my Games Night on Thursday with friends from work or during a lunch break in the office. It's great, it lets me try things out and fail fast, quickly iterating my designs. But the monthly sit-down with a group of other designers has led to so many step changes in the quality of my games that it's made a huge difference.
This week was the latest meetup, on Tuesday night at The Bridge Hotel from 6:30. The usual five of us were there and four out of five of us had brought games: Alex had a couple of copies of his brand new two player game of bank robbery: Swag, Blag and Goons; I'd brought Zombology and Codename: Vacuum; Dan had three games: Mainframe, Samizdat and his entry in the UK Games Expo redesign competition and Paul T had half a prototype of a new idea he'd had. We started with a really good discussion about Paul's half a prototype, he explained how he thought this part would work and then some ideas he'd had about the rest of the game. The discussion led to a whole bunch of interesting ideas and I particularly liked Alex's question:
"What's the funniest thing that's going to happen in the game?"
After discussing Paul's game we played a few games of Alex's game, two side by side games, played twice each. Considering how new it was it was a remarkably stable game, with some interesting ideas and neat mechanics. We followed those four games with another discussion before moving on to three games of Zombology. About which I feel slightly guilty, since at the last meeting all we played was five games of Zombology, so it should really have been Dan's turn, but time was tight and Dan's games were longer games and Zombology is dead quick. People seemed to enjoy Zombology quite a lot and in the ensuing discussion we discussed some small tweaks to further improve it. I'm going to try to get them done this week in time for Beer and Pretzels next weekend, but my parents are visiting this week so I might well struggle to find the time. After that the focus has to be getting the blind playtesters' copies ready for them. Exciting times once again :-)
I've found the Playtest sessions really useful, so I'm delighted that it's spreading its wings further afield. It had already reached Cambridge before we started up and since August it has since also spread to Brighton, Cardiff and Leeds. I just hope the other designers find it as useful as I do.