Today we would like to introduce Koen Hendrix who knows all about why Playtesting is so important when creating a new board game:
Tell us a little about yourself…
Hi! I’m a Dutch guy who immigrated to Liverpool over 6 years ago. I live in Kirkdale and work in the Baltic Triangle, and I love board games, both playing them and designing them. I’ve managed to professionally publish a card game called “Dragon Punch”, and I’ve got a few more ready to be published. Apart from gaming I spend my time web designing, climbing, and trying to raise a kid.
What’s ‘Dragon Punch’ all about?
It’s a super-quick super-tiny fighting game, inspired by video games like Street Fighter. Each player has 7 cards in their hand, which are various attacks, defenses. and special moves. They all have different attack speeds and hit locations, and you try to outwit your opponent by choose the right move at the right time. As you get hit, you gain more powerful moves. First one to knock their opponent out twice wins!
Because the entire game is so small and is played with all cards in hand, you can literally take it anywhere and play it anywhere. You can play it on the bus, at a festival, standing in line for a roller coaster… or in a roller coaster, for that matter. Although I haven’t tested that.
How did Dragon Punch become so successful?
I like to think it was because it was such a fun little game — like a smarter, supercharged version of rock-paper-scissors — and most reviewers seemed to agree with that. The great art contributed a lot too. But mostly its tiny size made it really cheap, and that definitely helped to bring in a lot of people in.
Why is Playtesting so important?
In the first instance, because all game ideas are great in your head. But as a German general once said, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”. Only once you literally put your cards on the table and try to play your idea will you discover whether it actually works or not. Or rather, which parts work and which parts completely fall apart. It’s not uncommon for your first playtest to end after the first round!
After you’ve beaten your original idea into a playable shape, you need other people to stretch your game to its limits and see whether it still works as intended. You try to answer questions like, do people understand the rules easily? Is there drama, is there a sense of achievement? Is there a good balance of uncertainty and skill? Is waiting kept to a minimum? Are there interesting decisions all the way through? Are there multiple viable strategies? Is there enough variety in repeated plays? For more social games it might be more about whether the social interactions — like arguing, acting, bluffing, lying — are interesting and fun.
At the end of the day, you simply want to have a game where complete strangers play it and go, “That was awesome! Can we play it again?”
How do you come up with an idea for a new board game?
For me, it’s quite different between theme ideas and rules ideas. For game rules, I tend to get ideas by just playing games or watching video play-throughs of them. I try to discover how the game’s mechanics work together to create interaction and interesting decisions, and if I like something I’ll try to create my own variations on those systems. For themes it’s the opposite: I try to find fresh themes from outside the board games world, such as video games, TV, children’s books, anything. I tend to look for original or silly themes, something that would make the game stand out on the crowded board game marketplace. There are already too many games about battling armies, or fantasy dungeon crawls, or pirates… but none about planespotting, or kids pretending to be superheroes, or about dinosaurs on bicycles (I think).
It’s also important that the theme isn’t just a pretty backdrop, but immediately provides some interesting decisions that the gameplay can be based upon. For example, I recently watched Planet Earth 2 on TV, and loved the piece about how langur and macaque monkeys thrive in Indian cities. That’s an original setting for a game, and it also provides some mechanical ideas: macaques versus langurs suggests a team-based game; there could be a territory-control mechanic with some areas providing more food than others; there could also be a push-your-luck element in trying to get the most food… lots of possibilities!
Can you share any details of your upcoming designs?
Sure! I’ve recently co-designed a card game about Roman sea traders, which combines push-your-luck and set collection mechanics. It’s currently being playtested, and my American co-designer will be pitching it to a publisher soon, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for that.
Another thing I’m busy with is “Bennets & Bonnets”, a game about dressmaking and outfit-assembling set in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice world. Each player tries to look their best for a series of balls, but of course you also have to study, and your sisters might just steal your best bonnet. Mechanically it’s a card drafting game, similar to Sushi Go, with a few extra twists thrown in. This game just made it to the finals of the UK Games Expo’s “Wyverns’ Lair”, which is like Dragons’ Den for board games! If you’re at the UKGE on Saturday afternoon, you can come and watch.
Of course you can play these (and more) at our next Playtesting evening at Sugar & Dice, on June 1st.
Do you have any top tips for aspiring board game designers?
Start creating something! It doesn’t really matter whether it’s an adaption of an existing game, or something completely new, or whether it’s full of copyright-infringing art. As with any creative hobby you might take up, your first creations won’t be masterpieces. Enjoy the creative freedom, don’t be precious, and just start flexing your game design muscle. If you have specific questions, you can find various friendly places online where amateur game designers gather. Game design can involve a lots of disciplines — math, art, design, writing, history — so shouts for help are common.
I would also advise aspiring designers to start small. It is awesome to dream of big world-spanning games, with a massive board, 300 cards and 200 miniatures… but creating such a mammoth is harder on every level: Writing the rules will be harder. Crafting a prototype will be harder. Getting people to test it will be harder. And successfully publishing it will be far harder. So I’d suggest to cut your game design teeth on some smaller games first, making it easy to iterate through different ideas.
And if you prefer a face-to-face chat, I’d be more than happy to talk to you too 🙂
You can find, like and/or message me (please do!) on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MostMons
You can buy Dragon Punch on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dragon-Punch-Level-99-Games/dp/1936920565
And of course you can find me at Sugar & Dice’s Playtesting evenings, next one on June 1st.