Jorge Zhang

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Should I play my own game?

Hey everyone! Today I wanted to discuss something that has been on my mind recently, which is my policy on playing the game with other play testers. I will usually sit out when getting others to play test my game for three main reasons:

  1. Avoid influencing strategy
  2. Easier to observe
  3. Avoid skill disadvantage

One thing I have noticed when play testing with other play testers is that many people will tend to follow the strategies that I use when I am playing. I think that this is a bad thing because it reduces the amount of experimentation that players go through when playing a game for the first time. A good example of this is a play test I had where my friend found a combo that effectively broke the game in a play test. Clubs used to have recurring effects, and so he was able to repeatedly use the old effect of Hypnosis Club to effectively prevent me from ever getting a turn. I was playing in this game, but I feel that this is an exception that proves the rule in the sense that he had purchased Hypnosis Club from me in order to discover this combo. Part of the reason it is important to play test the game is to reduce the bias of the game designer, and so if the other players are using my strategies it makes it a bit harder to find out how other people would naturally be playing the game.

Another reason I prefer sitting out is that taking notes is invaluable to making later adjustments to the game. When I am also playing, it is difficult to keep track of time, or corrections to cards that need to be corrected. This is because I need to focus on my own turns and strategy, and it is easy to forget that the purpose is to get feedback to correct the game. Related to this note, there are times where something I never considered comes up and a temporary solution is needed because it is not addressed in the rulebook. A good example is a recent play test where someone considered purchasing Caffeine Pills. The card allows you to draw an extra card at the start of every year. However, this didn’t make sense since we were playing with a card draft. If you draw an extra card at the start of the year, would you keep 2 cards and then pass 3 cards to your left? Or would you draw an extra card at the end of the drafting? We decided on the latter option, but because I was playing in the game I was inevitably biased with this ruling.

Finally, I feel like I have an advantage in that I know what all the cards do, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about strategies and what cards are “good” or “bad”. This gives me a large advantage over most people, especially newer players. This is a good time to talk about my philosophy when introducing someone to a new game. I play games to the best of my ability against new players because I feel that intentionally making bad plays does not help teach the new player how to play the game, or make strategies. I also feel that it could be taken as disrespectful: winning against someone who isn’t really trying just isn’t rewarding. This however, comes at the expense of turning people away from cool games. It isn’t fun to be completely snubbed by someone who is much more skilled. Back to playing my own game, this presents a real conflict of interest! I feel like if I intentionally lose, then I could potentially make someone else like my game more at the expense of some ethics and maybe them feeling like I was just trying to make them happy. However, if I play to win I might make them not like the game so much. So far I’ve decided to try to not think too deeply about this whenever I play, and just pretend I am playing a board game that I didn’t make. I’ll also sometimes go for random wild strategies that I just want to try out, even if I don’t think it is actually that good of an idea. It’s definitely weird territory and something I consider before deciding to play my game. All this being said, I’ve also been known to regularly lose at my own game against other players, even when I am playing at my best. This goes back to my bias as a designer: I play cards in the way I intended them to be played, which is not necessarily the best way to play the game.

There are obviously benefits to playing my own game with other people though. I feel that it helps when I can discuss my thought process with other players at the end of the game, allowing them to critique my thinking and give me new perspective. It also gives me a better sense of what it feels like to play a game- how the components feel and the general timing. It also is fun to play, so I enjoy play testing when I can. My policy right now is to only play against people who have played before, to reduce some of the negative side effects from skill difference while keeping these positives.


What do you think? Am I overthinking this? When, if ever, should I participate in play tests with other players? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to subscribe if you enjoy this content!


Also, bonus picture from a recent play test! I got some useful feedback from this one- such as that it was somewhat difficult to accurately track RP every turn, clarification on serving detentions, and a couple of comments on some cards!

© 2020 Jorge Zhang