…and Double Blinders; The Players Don’t(Stand Alone).

This post is a direct continuation of this post, unlike most posts which build indirectly on what has come before(Yes, reading this blog in order helps greatly). Seems like there'll also be a surprise third post in this series, though I'm unsure if it'll be next or one after, since the next two posts build on one another!

So, when playtesting it's important to test the mechanics on their own, to see how they work, rather than how your interpretation of them makes them work.

So, the players you play with will dictate a lot on how the game goes, you play the game, but so do they. When you play a game for fun you'd rather play a game with people you know, so you can gel as much as possible with them and collaborate to create a fun enviroment.
But what about when you play a competitive game, and especially when playtesting one?

I'll begin with several stories, taken directly from the First Post on this blog:
"..(In M:tG)Another instance was of me creating a deck specifically for multiplayer. But rather than have a deck which hurts multiple opponents to my benefit, I've created a deck based on "Fear Factor". The deck made use of Pestilence, a card which hurts all players and characters equally. I told the others so: "You don't attack me, I may or may not use it, you attack me, I use it and everyone, including you, suffers". It worked, no one wanted to lose, so no one attacked me, letting me watch with glee and mess with everyone as I saw fit. This was an especially good choice for me as I am often the "Strong Pick" and thus marked for execution early on, more on this later…

…Enter Settlers of Cattan, a classic if I ever saw one. I've first played Settlers of Cattan in a convention, where the three other players knew one another and I knew none. You may think that I had the disadvantage, that they will unite against the unknown, the outsider, and will only later turn against one another to finish business. That was not so.
People who know one another mark each other as "Strong" and "Weak", "Ally" or not. They assume that the opponent they know to be strong must be stronger than the unknown. So I used it to my advantage, as two of the friends united I offered an alliance to the last remaining player, and dumped him the moment I got what I wanted from him, trusting in my own capabilities. His friends later would not ally with him for he allied with me, leaving him alone, as I was, but much weaker.
Towards the end the other players noticed my burgeoning kingdom and decided to ally together in order to stop me. This was too little and far too late. Their pooled resources could not stop me…"

I believe you should play with people you know, whereas Dave Michael, author of Legends of Lanasia, believes otherwise. Dave, I'm inviting you here to explain in the comments why you believe you should play(test) (competitive?) games with people you don't know.

When you play with people you know who is a danger, you know why they are a danger, you know who will betray you.
I play Worms with my cousin against two computer enemies, we always agree to squish them first and only then turn on one another, but when that "Sweet Hit" calls, and since no one wants to get hit first we turn on one another, but we always know it'd come…

Sure, you don't fully test the system, but the system only builds example conflicts, situations for you to clash. There must be some conflict between the active agents in order for conflict to actually occur. This is often done by human nature, expectation and the need to prove oneself's as winner.

Sure, you know what others plan to do and what are their weak spots, but that doesn't mean you won't fall again, like Charlie Brown and the Football, or me and my cousin. You know the others' weak spots, but so do they know yours.

It is considered "Bad Sports" to bring outside occurances to the game, but let's be frank, much of the conflict inherent to competitive games actually comes from the friction between the players. Why create artificial conflict when there's real conflict to be drawn upon so easily?

You want to test the system, you don't want to create conflict between players. You want to test the game, you do not want to test the situation between players, just use it as a tool.
You have winners and losers, and those feelings add on to the next time you play.

I believe you should play competitive games with people you know.

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7 comments on “…and Double Blinders; The Players Don’t(Stand Alone).

  1. Dave M says:

    Hi!
    Well, I am a moderate. And what I was trying to say is that a “good playtest” will involve both. If you only play with a limited group of people (even if that is a huge group of 12 people or so) then your tactics will only evolve to counter their strategies and tactics. And their strategy and tactics will only evolve to match your strategies and tactics. The whole thing becomes inbred.
    And if you only play with strangers, they can’t keep you honest.
    So, what do I suggest? Do both!
    That’s right, bite the bullet, playtest it with your friends, playtest it with strangers and then playtest it some more.
    Dave M
    Author of Legends of Lanasia (Still in Beta)

  2. Guy says:

    I don’t like this attitude. Of course it’s best to playtest(and play!) with both strangers and people you know, but given between the choice of either, one or the other, which would you choose?

  3. I agree with dave. But supposing that you can’t playtest the game with both people you know and those that you don’t, there is probably no universal answer. I’d say it depends what exactly you want to playtest.

    Playtesting the game with your own group lets you see how it’s most probably going to be played in the future (since most people play mostly with a more or less closed group anyway). You can examine the interactions between people in theit full scope.

    Playtesting with unfamilliar players means that there are practically no emotional factors. There are also no certain assumptions about others way of playing. Consequently, such playtest should be rather free of judgement-clouding factors. It’s good if you want to examine the interactions within the game itself, not between people. Also, as dave pointed out, it’s more probable that someone comes up with strategies you wouldn’t think of in your own group.

    And there is always a need for outside playtests (unfortunately…). Without them, the game will never be fully playtested.

  4. Dave M says:

    Hi!
    lol, of course you don’t like my answer Guy. You and I had a long convo and you pretty much told me that you thought I was full of crap, lol
    The reality is that one is not better than the other. Yes, some players will do well in both kinds of groups and other players will do poorly in both kinds of groups. But, to test the SYSTEM, you need as many people as possible to look at it.
    Pretend that our games are software. Its not a big stretch really, we are just giving people programming instructions instead of machines. So, just like software, when you test it in house, you have different priorities and dynamics then when you do an open Beta test.
    Why? Well, there are lots of reasons. People you know can do the following:
    Look for your preferences in the rules and in play
    Can’t always be 100% honest, because they have to deal with the fallout if you don’t like what you hear
    Know your shorthand and the meanings of your own quirky expressions
    Know you and your play style
    Probably want to see you succeed

    People you don’t know can do the following:
    Can be 100% honest
    May not care if you succeed
    Can look at the material objectively
    Take your materials at face value

    So, you say to me, that that is a BS answer, but I’m going to ignore that provocation and ask you this:
    In what way would it help your design to only do one or the other? How have you made a terrible design decision by deciding to use one mode of playtesting? How does it serve your game and your interests to ignore one group over the other or even to prefer one group over the other?
    Really, they both have their own insights and their own advantages, and I feel like the only way to really understand what is good and/or bad about your design is to get a good healthy mix of both.
    Now, playing a game for fun or playing a game to win, there are strong preferences and you should follow those preferences, but that’s different from playtesting, no?
    Dave M
    Author of Legends of Lanasia Still in Beta)

  5. Guy Shalev says:

    Heh, I plan to speak on a later time about disagreeing with someone does not mean their idea is not valid.

    I call that answer BS because it’s obvious and doesn’t answer the question. Suppose in our fictional world you could only play(test) with one group, which would you do it with? Especially a competitive game.
    Note I also speak of playing a game, not merely playtesting it.

    Also, I want to know which you think is more important, which your answer evades.

  6. Dave M says:

    Hi!
    lol, I really do feel like you are just baiting me. lol
    I mean, you complain about an open-ended answer, but you give an open-ended question…
    “What group of people is more important to play with, friends or strangers?”
    How do you define important, and important to who? And important in what capacity? Is it more important for making money? Having fun? Discovering game balance issues? Making new friends? Keeping old friends? Spreading the good word about games you like? These are all important and sometimes competing priorities.
    In the realm of playtest I wouldn’t advise using just one of these groups. If you can’t, for whatever reason, playtest with both groups of people, then you probably shouldn’t be desgigning a game, lol
    Which do I prefer? Well, my friends of course. I know I’ll have fun hanging out with them, even if the game is total crap. But that means that getting an objective understanding of how fun the game I am designing is will be more dificult. But I would not fool myself into thinking that they can be totally objective about my design and the game play we shared.
    Dave Michael
    Author of Legends of Lanasia (Still in Beta)

  7. Guy Shalev says:

    I’m trying to “Bait” a straight answer from you, no just. I’m posing a hypothetical question and you keep evading it. Your answer is very wide open, my question is wide-open purposefully. You tell me what it’s more important for.

    Now, when playing a normal Competitive Game, why would you play it with people you know and people you don’t?

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