Getting Ready For Protospiel 2015, Part 1

Protospiel events are big game design parties.  Most of the attendees are authors, carrying work that varies in completion from “heading to the printer” to “thought of it this morning.” Playtesters–people who attend to play and nothing else–will be milling about.  Publishers will be scouting for the jewels among the mass.  No matter what your role, everyone will be playing a variety of games, offering feedback, impressions, and suggestions.

Design events like Protospiel have become increasingly common both as stand-alone events and as part of a larger whole.  In the last year, Origins, Gen Con ( and BoardGameGeek.Con all featured “designer alley” or “designer/publisher speed dating” or both.  There are playtesting events scattered across the US and Canada.–check the main page at to find one in your area.  With so many around the continent, I cannot imagine how any designer could fail to attend at least one of these events.

There is a Protospiel event coming up here in Houston is March 13 – 15.  Another one right around the corner from ours is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin April 10 – 12.  There are even more this summer.

How do you get the best results from these events?  What are the secrets to success? Let’s take a look.

Successful playtesting comes in three parts–good preparation, good execution, and good resolution.  Today, will focus on questions of preparation.  On Tuesday, we will focus on what to do during the playtest.  Next Friday’s column will resolve resolution.

  1.  What is the most important thing to bring?

An open mind.  Each person you meet will have ideas for your game.  Some will take your game places you’ve never considered.  Some criticisms may make you uncomfortable. Take them all in.  Remember that their only wish is to see you and your game succeed.  Prepare yourself to that each person for her time and feedback.

  1.  What kind of game can I bring?

Protospiel events are primarily about tabletop game design.  Board games, card games and party games are the most common but Carl Klutzke did bring, test, and publish a roleplaying game.

Computer games are extremely rare, however.  For those, you may want to look into GDC (Game Designer’s Conference events.

  1.  How many times will my game get played?

The answer to this varies wildly with the event.  Some events are structured and plan specific schedules for each game.  Some are freeform.  In the case of the former, the number of plays is limited only by the time you have been allotted.  In the latter case, I find that my own games get played only once or twice a day.  Your mileage may vary however, as I often treat these events as a chance to get a peek at other people’s approach rather than a chance to hammer on my own designs.

  1.  How long should I expect each playtest to take?

Give yourself plenty of time.  Playtests generally run from 50% to 100% longer than the normal play time for the game.  Post-play feedback can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.  This means that your 15 minute card game will need about an hour to test and discuss while your 2 hour game will need about 3 hours.

  1.  I’m not that experienced at designing games. Will my feedback worth less than someone more experienced?

Designers need as much feedback as they can possibly get.  Come to the event with that firmly in your mind.  Plan to be honest.  Plan to be brutally honest.  Your honest feedback is priceless, no matter how experienced you are.

  1.  How nice should my prototype look?

When it comes to prototyping, uglier is usually better.  If you’ve invested a great deal of time making your game attractive, you may find yourself unwilling to make needed changes.  But you MUST be willing to make changes on the spot.  When a player makes an excellent suggestion, you are going to want to get that idea into play as soon as possible.  If that means altering, defacing or even destroying existing components—do it!

A good general rule is that you should be willing to take a sharpie to any component you bring.

  1.  Uglier is better?  Really?!?

Yup.  Experienced designers and publishers tend to view suspiciously any game which looks “too good.”  Several experienced designers have told me off the record that when a beautiful prototype comes onto a nearby table, they immediately head the other way.  Add to that the horde of horror stories among publishers who decided to give a beautiful prototype a try–and discover that the game was all flash and no substance–is astounding.

Keep your focus on core engagement and gameplay.  This will impress the people you meet much more than any flashy component ever will.

Before we sign off today, much gratitude goes to Gil Hova and Carl Klutzke for their help assembling this list.  They are Protospiel veterans and all-around solid people besides.

Our next set of questions get to the heart of good execution–what to do during a playtest. See you Tuesday!

If you’re an experienced Protospieler, what do you do to prepare for playtesting?  Do you have a question about playtesting that’s still searching of an answer?  Share with your fellow designers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, subscribe.  You keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


R&R Has Released a Great Family Game

A year ago, I wrote my take on the best games to play with non-gaming family.

R&R Games donated one of their new releases to a convention in Houston. When I showed it to a friend, he immediately told me how much fun it was.  And he was right.  Now,  Strike a Pose has jumped directly onto my top five list in its category.

A good game to break out when surrounded by non-gamers should have enough going on that you as a gamer don’t mind playing it but its complexity is not out of the reach of your non-gaming social circle. With this in mind, I contend that four criteria are critical:

(A) The rules needed to play can be taught in three sentences or fewer.

(B) The components teach (or at least reinforce) the rules.

(C) The victory condition can be stated in one sentence.

(D) The game must contain an engaging dexterity or social component.

Let’s take a look at Strike A Pose against these criteria.

(A) Can you teach Strike A Pose in three sentences?  Yup.

A selection of statues has been delivered to a museum.  The curator has a list of the statues in the shipment but they arrived unlabeled!  We will take turns being the curator, trying to identify all the other statues.

(B) Do the components of Strike A Pose teach or reinforce the rules? Yes, with a caveat.

The game comes with category cards, number cards and not much else. The main game component (if I may take a little bit of latitude with that term) are the players themselves.  Players work to manipulate their bodies into an example of their assigned role.

A friend of mine remarked that he’d seen the game being played from across the room, asked someone nearby what was going on and immediately understood once they gave him a rules synopsis akin to the one I gave in part (A). His response?  “Yeah, I see it now.  That makes sense.”

When we include the players themselves in the component list, I would say that the components do reinforce the rules.

(C) Can you teach the Strike A Pose victory condition in one sentence?  Easily.

Each round, the curator and each correctly identified statue get points.

Like many of the best games of this type, the real victory lies in simply having fun.   In none of my plays have we actually kept score.  We simply had a blast.

(D) What is the dexterity element in Strike A Pose?

In our effort to strike the best poses, we often found ourselves in ridiculously contorted positions.  And we had to hold these positions.  The Strike a Pose subgame is trying to figure out what each other player is modeling, all while holding your pose.  And did I mention that gaming doesn’t really do much for the core muscles? Strike a Pose may actually be a new form of yoga disguised as a game.’ve played Strike a Pose with three different groups so far.  In the last session, we roped in players simply by handing them a card and telling them the object.  There was angst and victory.  There was success and sorrow.  There were straightforward poses and there were contorted poses to do Escher proud.  And who would have thought that one of our group was a dead ringer for the muppet Grover?  In all, Strike a Pose is fun. And that’s all we ask of a party game.

Have you tried Strike a Pose?  What do you think of it?  What’s your favorite game for non-gamers?  Why? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.