ARTICLE: It’s Quite A Difference

Martians_cov_propozycjaYes, I know, I know. I am obsessed with testing. I’ve written a ton of articles about this already. I spend huge parts of my seminars on design talking about playtesting. After all, this is an important part of the design process.

Here I am today, once again, talking about my recent playtesting sessions. This time—surprise!—I was playtesting First Martians.


It was Thursday. Rindert and Corina were able to playtest First Martians for the first time. I explained the rules of the game and of the particular scenario, sat them with Szymek, one of my trusted playtesters and I left the office. I had some things to do.

[Yes, me, the guy who claims he watches and attends every single test of his games. I just left the office.]

I returned after two hours. Szymek was as white as a sheet. ‘Ignacy, I screwed up. We forgot about Low battery rules. This is the special rule for this scenario, I totally forgot about it. They won, but it was easier without this rule. I am very sorry. I screwed up.’

‘You were not testing. You were teaching them the game. You will playtest tomorrow,’ I said with a smile. I didn’t care about this gameplay. It was not a test. It was not playtesting. It was just playing the game. I didn’t care about small details like making the game easier or harder and such stuff. I was preparing the real test.


The real test took place on the following day. I set up the game and put a new scenario on the table. ‘Today you’ll play a different scenario,’ I said. ‘The question I will ask you after the game is simple: Was it different from yesterday’s gameplay?

And they played. My employee was with them the whole time, carefully observing the whole game and the players’ reactions.

Next day I asked them: ‘Was it different?’

‘It was very different. It felt really different.’ Rindert said. Corina confirmed.

‘After playing the first two scenarios, are you eager to see other scenarios and to see what more there is in the box?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ Corina answered without hesitation.

Generally I don’t trust playtesters. They tend to lie a lot. I called my employee and asked for the report.

He confirmed what they said. They acted differently, they were focused on different aspects of the game, they felt different emotions. These two scenarios were different enough.

The goal of the playtesting session was met.
The answer to my question was given.
I could prepare another test…


Many times I’ve heard young designers saying things like: ‘We playtested the game 200 times.’, ‘We had 300 playtesting games’, ‘We’ve been playtesting for 3 years.’

It’s not about numbers. It’s not how many times you played the prototype. It’s all about questions you asked. It’s all about the goals you had set for a particular gameplay. It’s about objectives you met in this particular playtesting session.

Each time a designer sits to playtest a game, he needs to set a goal for the test.

Otherwise he is not playtesting; otherwise he is merely playing.

It’s quite a difference.


We are bookworms. Movie maniacs. Story addicts. We grew up reading Tolkien, Howard, Herbert, Dick, Lem… We were watching Willow, Blade Runner, Never Ending Story, Robin Hood…

And yet, we don’t write books… we don’t make movies. We don’t make those things, because we make games. We make games that tell stories.