Using Smartphones For Playtests

Lately, I’ve been playtesting Zeppelin Armada, a card game being developed by Evil Hat & Jeff Tidball. I’ve playtested some other stuff for Tidball, including Fantasy Flight’s Horus Heresy. I like playtesting card & board games. And over the years, I’ve refined my process for being able to give decent feedback — and they all involve smartphones. Having a quick internet-enabled camera & voice memo device has been super useful.

Here are some really simple tips for how to capture more information during play with your smartphone. Some designers will be happy to take media, in which case this is of direct benefit. But for those who don’t — and that’s understandable, given that there’s only so much time in the day and multimedia takes more time to digest and index than text — it’ll still help you do up playtest reports.

Cameraphone For The Win

When a weird rules situation or other situation comes up, I take out my phone and take a picture of the problem. This helps me catalog the issues that came up in play, so that later when talking about the game or compiling a playtest report, I have a visual record of what issues we had.

Now, that isn’t always enough. In the last game, we took a picture of something early on and I had forgotten why. So next time I do this, I’ll also keep some note paper nearby, marking it by photo number and a note, like:

(1) order of operations?
(2) needs iconograpy
(3) does it cancel or just nullify damage?

Know that these notes are shorthand for me, not something I’m going to email to the designer. (I might email a very weird situation that comes up at the table to the designer, in which case I’ll snap a few pictures and note “(x) email to Jeff.”)

Note the Initial Game State

This is a new one, a result of the last game of Zeppelin Armada I played. I wished I had taken pictures of each person’s initial state, because you get some random cards at the beginning. That sort of data could be useful in playtest reports for games where that can vary. Such things color the play to follow.

Debrief With Voice Memo

These days, smartphones can easily take voice memos. If your playtest has a questionnaire with it (and it should), go around and record everyone in the group answering each question. You’ll get cross-talk that’ll generate more thoughts than if you just went home and wrote it up based on recollection of the post-game conversation.

And if your playtest doesn’t come with a questionnaire, allow me to riff of the Zeppelin Armada one for some basic things to ask:

Date you played:

Names of all players (as they would like to be credited):

How long did the game(s) run?

How did the game end?

Did you try out the alternate rules/victory conditions? How did that go, compared to the regular rules/conditions?

Did any eliminated players wind up sitting around for a un-fun length of time? About how long was that?

Was there lots of table-talk during play, a moderate amount of table-talk during play, or little to no table-talk during play? Why do you think that was?

Which parts of the game were the most fun? Why?

Which parts of the game were the least fun? Why?

Were any particular rules or cards confusing? Which ones? What was confusing?

What else should we know?

Some designers will happily take your recorded debrief (and others even recorded actual-play). Some only want a text debrief. Some will take the audio but still ask for a text debrief. What’s important for you, as a playtest coordinator, is that you’ve captured information. So even if the designer doesn’t want the audio file, it’ll help you give what’s asked for.

Not an Excuse to Slack

Just because you have all this captured data doesn’t mean you get to slack off. Do your playtest report up as soon as you can. Otherwise, your data points won’t be fresh; even if you’re able to vaguely remember what happened, you’ll have lost some of the emotional context that would also be useful data.

Hope this helps, and happy playtesting!

– Ryan