Tuesday 28 December 2010

The TLS test

Mark Hypolite writes:

Back from Essen and talking to the game designers there I got a golden piece of advice on game design – the TLS test. A good game should make you Think, Laugh and Swear. I liked this a lot so I started analysing this test in the context of games that I had designed and played. The more I think about it, the more I think that it is a good, rough guide to whether a game works on every level. The quantities of each element vary from game to game, but I believe that they all have to be there. 


All games require an element of Thought even that is only a simple decision on each turn. Chess is the archetypal thinking person’s game – there is no luck whatsoever, it boils down to outsmarting your opponent. Depending upon your ability it can involve many layers of thought:
  • Remembering openings;
  • Analysing threats and opportunities;
  • Identifying a strategy;
  • Responding tactically;
  • Applying psychological pressure to your opponent;
  • Sacrificing pieces.
If Chess moves were random, it would be no fun whatsoever. Depending upon the type of game that you playtesting you have to decide what the correct level of thinking and random elements should be. As a generalisation there tend to be less random elements of heavily strategic games and more random elements in children's games or family games. You might also want to consider what type of thinking you want players to engage in; should it be the type of multilayered thinking typical in Chess; answering questions; creative thinking, business decisions or guesswork? 


The basic reason that we play games is enjoyment; however players derive enjoyment from games differently depending upon the game.
Chess is not usually about laughing out loud (in fact that could be humiliating for the loser) however, it provides the wry smile that comes from a well executed plan, spotting something that your opponent hasn’t seen, or simply winning.
Absolute Balderdash encourages players to make up silly and amusing stories, so that the process of playing the game can be very funny. Players often do laugh out loud.
Dixit uses beautiful pictures and encourages lateral thinking to create a pleasurable experience for the player.
When playtesting ask yourself:
  • whether the players are enjoying the game;
  • why they are enjoying the game, and;
  • if the reaction was the one that you as designer intended.  
Identify the trigger points in the game for the positive reactions. For example in Chess, taking a piece or placing a King in check are two obvious pleasure points. 


Swear is the most controversial: it has to be distinguished from a game making you sulk, cry, write a negative review online or demand your money back from the game shop.
In games, as in sport or in a movie, the payoff (scoring a goal, getting the girl etc) has to be balanced by risk (conceding a goal, losing the girl). You either win or lose.
The Swear Test measures something different, do you care whether things go right or wrong? The Swear Test measures your emotional investment in the game. People who support a football team are more heavily emotionally invested in the result than neutral observers. A neutral observer becomes more emotionally invested if he bets on the result of the football match. If you do not swear (or at least feel like swearing) when things go against you, ask yourself, how emotionally invested in the result are you? Why are you emotionally invested? Or why aren’t you emotionally invested?
Some things that create emotional investment:
  • Creating plans or strategies;
  • Rivalry with opponents;
  • Game characters;
  • A compelling story to the game;
  • Historical or fantastical themes;
  • Great art work;
  • Making money ;
When playtesting ask yourself:
  • whether the players are invested in the game;
  • why they are invested in the game, and;
  • how you can create more investment as the designer. 

I think the designer with the 'golden' insight was Andy Hopwood of Hopwood Games. He certainly follows his own design philosophy with his excellent 2-player game, 'Mijnlieff'. 
- Rob Harris (www.playtest.co.uk)

Hi, for the record, this is indeed my approach to games design. Thanks for the article, I think you've hit the nail on the head with your thoughts.
For me the BEST games make you do all 3 AT THE SAME TIME! No mean feat.
Whenever I play any game I always watch for those moments when players are in "game heaven" and try to get a feel for what caused it.
The swearing bit can also be represented by phrases like "doh!" or a protracted "nooooooo", always best when followed by a small laugh of resignation. I even count a pulling of the hair or the "flop back into chair". It's a difficult one to explain but I think we all know what we mean.
-Andy Hopwood (Hopwood Games - www.hopwoodgames.co.uk)

Thursday 2 December 2010

Playtest @ Dragonmeet 2010 Report

The week before was a whirlwind of activity, but eventually we arrived at Kensington Town Hall at 9am on Saturday 27th November, ready to set up for Dragonmeet. The playtesting duties fell to Brian, Katarina and Rob as other members had work and family commitments. Angus and Neil, the convention organisers greeted us warmly and showed us to our spot, a set of tables in front of the stage in the Main Hall. We were in a great position for footfall and our neighbours were Leisure Games and Cubicle 7. First of all we put up the ‘Playtest’ banner and then rolled out the table covering, which although it was an end-of-roll cutoff turned out to be the perfect length. Phew!

 The set-up went well and we had time for a quick hello to some old friends and a toilet break before the crowds descended. We had brought some game prototypes for playtesting, but were also keen that designers would respond to our pre-publicity and bring their own designs. The ‘Playtest’ games were Ladders, a card-based race game; Stack, a children’s card game and Labyrinth, a board game complete with revolving maze.

By 11.00am we also had several guest designers; Ian Macdonald with a fascinating design based on the Gods of the Ancient World; Graham Marsden with a great knockabout bar-room brawl card game and David Brain (the designer of Essen hit, Keymarket) with a whole bag of new prototypes.

It was pleasing how receptive the attendees were to playing the prototypes and offering their opinions on how they felt they could be improved. Some games were subject to blind-playtesting with only the rules as guidance, while for other prototypes the designer would describe the gameplay and then sit down to play with the visitors. Playtest feedback forms were on hand for designers and playtesters and provided a valuable reference to review.

There was just time for a quick sandwich break before we were meeting more people across the playtesting table. Miles Ratcliffe brought two games he is planning to launch through his own company, Chaos Publishing in 2011. His prototypes got a lot of attention, because of their superb graphics and playtesters were keen to provide him with useful feedback.

At around this time, Rob was whisked away to record an interview with Mark Oxley for the Control Geek gaming podcast. The playtesting group was discussed and his gaming background. Mark promised that with editing he could make him sound like a well-adjusted individual.

Just as we were beginning to flag mentally we remembered the bowl of sweets for the attendees that we had forgotten to put on the table. The sugar rush came just at the right time and drew a fresh batch of passers-by. The ladders race game had received a mixed reception from playtesters, but with a few suggested changes the set-up was modified and the overall gameplay greatly improved.

We offered entry into a prize draw for each playtester and designer with vouchers for Leisure Games for the winners. Thanks Andy for your help!
By the end of the day we had far more entries than expected and the draw was delayed while we had to separate and fold-up all of the raffle tickets. The eventual winners were Debbie Thompson and David Brain. Congratulations to you both!

Highlights of the day were seeing the enthusiasm of a young attendee while he playtested a card game and sitting down to play a prototype with David Brain themed on an event in modern UK history. It played very simply, but with a surprising depth of gameplay.

The convention hall closed at 6pm and 8 hours had seemingly passed in no time at all. All that was left to do was to pack up and head to the pub. It was a great first convention outing for ‘Playtest’. We learned a lot and met too many great people to list here. We look forward to seeing you next time.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Playtest @ Dragonmeet 2010

Just a quick post to thank everyone that turned out for Playtest @ Dragonmeet on Saturday. We met lots of willing playtesters and several game designers with interesting games. Everyone came together to play each other's games and generally have a good time. Thanks especially to Katarina and Brian who helped to make this event a success and to Angus for organising Dragonmeet.

More details to follow shortly.

Monday 22 November 2010

Playtest joins the UK Gaming Media Network.

We have joined the UK Gaming Media Network, which includes a lot of great UK 'blogs, podcasts and e-zines such as: 

That's my reading and listening sorted for a while.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Playtest at Dragonmeet 2010

We will be running a board game and card game playtesting event at Dragonmeet 2010 on Saturday 27th November. Check out the details on their website http://www.dragonmeet.co.uk/

Dragonmeet is London's Gaming Convention, held at Kensington Town Hall every year. There will be plenty of events, special guests, traders and a bring-and-buy stall.

If you have a prototype bring it along to be playtested and get some constructive feedback.

Or if you know what makes a good game sign up as a playtester and help develop better games.

There will be prize draws for Game Designers and Playtesters to win Leisure Games vouchers.

If you are interested in attending then contact Rob Harris at contact@playtest.co.uk

Look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Saturday 23rd October

After a day of playing and discussing new games, we sat down and playtested what we hoped would become the best games of Essen 2011. This week we were joined by Pete Burley of Burley games, the designer of SDJ nominated ‘Take it Easy’, 'Kamisado' and new game ‘Take it Higher’. Many suggestions also came from Pete’s demonstration team, sons Oliver and Jonathan and friend, Lawrence.
Games playtested were: Island and Dig.

Rob Harris' Design Notes
I thought I would try the new prototype of my card game Dig (working title) as I was really interested in how Pete and his sons would experience the changes I had made since they last played it in June. The new prototype individualises the artwork for each player and everyone seemed to enjoy this aspect. I am still a little unsure of whether to make the graphical design realistic or more cartoon-like in appearance. Consensus seemed to suggest that a mix between the two approaches might work well. The basic gameplay remains the same as before just with an added theme and some action cards. After several games, the Burley playtesters were enjoying the gameflow, but had suggested improvements about the action cards. A quick re-write of one card and discarding another seemed to help the game. Importantly everyone was having fun disrupting each other while trying to build their strategy. It was interesting to play with playtesters who were very game-literate and realised how a good game should work. I was a little worried that the beginning seemed to feel repetitive and drag a little if players took too long over their turns. At this early stage sometimes it feels as though the player has little control over the eventual outcome. I don’t think that casual players would mind this much, but it might put off more thoughtful gamers. Pete came up with a great mechanism to create some more conflict in these early stages and I am very excited to work out how this will affect the gameplay. As we packed up, Pete also came up with some very interesting ideas for the final name of the game. It has made me think very carefully again about how I will present the game and also which gaming demographic I am trying to reach.  

Playtesters: Jonathan Burley, Oliver Burley, Pete Burley, Katarina Harris, Mark Hypolite and Lawrence.

Sunday 17 October 2010


The Playtest (London) group are on their travels.
The next meeting will be at the Essen Spiel 2010 on Saturday 23rd October.

Games to be playtested:

Dig (working title); the 4th prototype of a family card game design for 2-4 players (Rob Harris)

Island (holding title); new prototype of board game design for 2-4 players (Mark Hypolite)

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Sunday 3rd October

On Sunday we met at the Old Star pub and quickly got down
to playtesting.There were only three for this first session,
but the ideas flowed as easily as the beer and several games
took further steps into their adolescence. Often small, gawky
and broken-voiced steps, but forward movement all the same.
Games playtested were: Ladders, Dig, Island, and Riposte.

Rob Harris' Design Notes
This meeting of Playtest was the perfect opportunity to try out two family
card games that I have been prototyping for the last couple of months.
The first one, Ladders (working title) is the most recent and unrefined.
It had only been tested once before. The following points came up during

* The difficulty in picking up the cards, which is necessary for gameplay.
Hopefully some of this will be solved with rounded corners.
*Whether to add a top and a bottom border to the playing area.
This would mean more cards, but would it make the game surface easier
to see and understand?
*Mark suggested perhaps players could have an extra piece, which would
allow them to block other players' moves.
*The gameplay could easily be extended to 5 players. There would be
minimal need for extra components, but perhaps it would be less fun with
more downtime and more randomness.
*Even though I had actively avoided it during development, because I
thought it would create more of a memory game dynamic, Mark suggested
having several types of cards. This would add variety and a much-needed
reveal and suspense to the gameplay.
*We discussed possible names for the game and established a favourite.

Overall the gameplay is fairly solid, but quite bland at the moment.
I have got plenty of new ideas to put together a new prototype and see if it
creates the fun that I am aiming for.

My second prototype was for a family card game called Dig (working title).
This game has been playtested several times by many different groups.
I have established that the gameplay works. This playtest was very useful
in identifying how to present the graphical approach so that it was colourful,
full of character and clear. I want the game to be language-independent and
it is the little graphical touches that can often point the players in the
correct direction. The gameplay still stands up well and the card art and
iconography seemed to work well with all of the playtesters. There was
enough positive feedback to follow this artistic direction and create a more
complete prototype.

Mark Hypolite's Design Notes
At this first session we did a 3 player test of my family game Island (working
title) and I ran through a discussion session with Rob on Riposte (working title),
a 2 player duelling game.

As time has passed I have realised the value of discussion sessions on game
ideas. My initial tendency was, once I had the idea, to leap straight into the
prototype and playtesting. However, it is amazing how much a simple 1 hour
discussion, with an experienced gamer, can aid you to head off problems and
challenge your idea of the game before you invest time and make unnecessary
errors. It makes you ask questions like:

* Can you clearly articulate and explain the rules of the game?
* Is the person attracted by the theme of the game?
* Is he or she excited by the prospect of playing the game?

I think that it is a good idea to write and draw an outline of the game idea,
then discuss it with somebody before investing too many hours in making the
prototype. Among the many positive points that I got from my discussion with
Rob, he helped me to identify potential problems with the system that I had
devised for each players’ actions, leading me to revise it. So playtesting has
begun even before a single card has been printed!

Friday 1 October 2010


The next meeting of the Playtest (London) group will be on Sunday 3rd October 2010
at the Old Star pub opposite St. James' Park tube station.

Games to be playtested:

Ladders (working title); the 2nd prototype of a race card game design for 2-4 players (Rob Harris)

Dig (working title); the 3rd prototype of a family card game design for 2-4 players (Rob Harris)

Riposte (working title); preliminary prototype of card game design for 2 players (Mark Hypolite)

Island (holding title); prototype of board game design for 2-4 players (Mark Hypolite)