Playtesting is hard work

by Derek Turner

Playtesting is one of the most crucial points in the design process.  It is where a design is truly tested and refined and the hard work of fixing problems bubbles to the surface. You would think I would be prepared for the intensity of the process, but it often catches me by surprise, as I always seem to forget just how exhausting playtesting really is until I’m in the midst of it.

I ran a blind playtest for a fellow designer’s game earlier this week. and I was bushed by the end of it. Then again, including an hour of reviewing the rules, setting up the game, playing the game, and evaluating it during and afterward, it was a fairly intensive four-hour process from start to finish, which I suppose I should have expected.

It did get me thinking, however, about the nature of playtesting as part of the design process and just why it is so tiring. Sure, it is hard work, but I wondered if there was something more to why it is so intense. Here’s what I came up with.

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Lessons learned from Link’s latest Legend

AKA: “What I learned about tabletop game design from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Derek Turner

I have been a fan of The Legend of Zelda since its first inception thirty years ago. I fondly remember exploring 8-bit Hyrule with my dad when I was in my early years of grade school, burning every bush and bombing every pixelated square on every screen in our attempt to find and map out every secret we could find. So to say that I was excited to play Breath of the Wild is a bit of an understatement; in fact, I would posit that I have been more excited about this Zelda game than about any since the series expanded into the third dimension with Ocarina of Time almost twenty years ago.

I am around sixty hours in to Breath of the Wild, and I have completed over half of the narrative of the game (or so I figure from what I know at this point). I have been spending a lot of time on side quests and exploring the map of Hyrule, and I know that I have a lot of game left to play, but I would easily rank it as one of the best games in the series and possibly of all-time despite how much of the game I have left to discover. I cannot ever remember a game that was so immersive and in which it was so easy to lose myself for hours at a time.

Despite the fact that I have come nowhere near to completing the game, I feel like I already have experienced so much and that, even were I to stop playing it now, that I would rank it as one of my favourite games ever. In addition, I have realized that I have learned a lot from the game that I can connect to the world of game design, particularly in regard to board games. Here, then, are the five (spoiler-free) lessons I have learned about board game design from Breath of the Wild.

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