I recently attended my first Protospiel in Madison, WI. The event was a great environment for somebody looking to find players to test and hone their board games. I was pretty surprised to see a lot of wasted time at this event including some of my own time. I jotted down a few notes on how to maximize your valuable time during a Protospiel.
- Come with a prototype assembled. This lets you get into play testing games and networking right away. I saw at least 50% of people show up with unfinished business and spent much of their Friday assembling their prototypes.
- I will play your game if you play mine. There is value in networking but I saw a lot of people standing by their fully setup games waiting for players. It would have made sense for these people to just start playing other’s designs versus standing around for 3 hours doing nothing. Yikes!
- Improvement first, marketing second. Protospiel seems to be an event more focused on testing and improving versus marketing your game. However, you will have an opportunity to play test with people that came to playtest only as well as people that brought their own designs. It’s good to have a mix of both when gathering feedback. I do ask to collect players emails AFTER they play as a way to put more weight against somebody’s positive feedback. It’s also fine to bring some business cards as this is also a great networking event.
- Come with a play testing plan. Jot down a list of things you want to learn through your multiple play-tests. This will keep you focused on gathering useful feedback each test. Just thinking about this before you show up will help you arrive with a more malleable prototype that can be used to fulfill a broader test plan. Here are some things that might be pretty easy to tweak during a Protospiel without big component changes: How a player gets resources and how many, What a player does on their turn and in what order, Turn order itself and what dictates it, Combat mechanics and/or Combat resolution, End Game conditions, Hand Limits, # of actions,
- Design for ways to implement new ideas on the fly. One of the reasons I left the event early was that I didn’t think to bring spare components that I could modify to test new ideas. This can be as simple as a few spare blank cards with printed card backs. TIP: If you’re ordering parts from a website like The Game Crafter, always order a few spare cards with nothing on them that you can modify throughout the Protospiel. The events team DID provide blank components (cards, minis, tiles) but unfortunately I was unable to make do.
- Tell people what you want to learn BEFORE playing the game. This will help focus on providing feedback against what you want to learn. I specifically wanted to learn about combat in “Terraform” and focused my plays on a few different implementations of the combat. In the end I received invaluable feedback driving a large overhaul in the way I plan on handling combat.
- Have a list of feedback questions prepared. It’s super tempting to lead with “So – What’d ya think…” Be smarter than that and ask what you want to know. When I ask for feedback, I want to know 3 things. Did you have fun? Did your experience match the experience I was hoping to create? Should I keep working on this project? When seeking this feedback from players, use questions are crafted to deliver a qualitative response as well. What was the funnest part of the game for you? What about your play made you feel clever or powerful? What about your experience felt unfair? After receiving a qualitative response, always ask WHY a person felt or responded this way. Ask for feelings and experiences versus solutions. The Protospiel did provide feedback surveys but you will get more value from talking to people and noting their replies than having them fill out a survey.
- Always say thanks for playing and listen to feedback. Even if you don’t like the feedback or it doesn’t make immediate sense, there is probably a reason they are telling you something.
We have a Protospiel coming up in MN in January 2016 where I will be bringing two games and will report back with my learnings on bringing two games versus one.