Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Game Design Exploration 2 - Printing and Testing the Games

This is the third part in a game design exploration based on the game Love Letter*. The activity would work well in any language arts or social studies class.

Be sure to see the previous posts in the series:

In this stage, students will test the games. They might play their own game or just play each other's games. You could even incorporate revisions and further playtesting. It all depends on how much time you want them to spend on this. Details follow below.

Note that this post draws heavily from what I wrote in the playtesting stage of my first game design exploration from last year.

Is everyone ready to proceed?

If a class is working through this design activity, at this point each group of students should have redesigned the Love Letter game to fit the lesson content. At the very least they should have done the following. (All of this is explained in the second post in this series.)
  • Chosen a theme for their game based on the topic studied in class
  • Created a title for their game
  • Written a short introduction about the game
  • Redesigned the cards and changed them on the template found in Part 2 of this series.

Optionally, the groups might have designed additional rules and components for their game.

Making the Cards

In the previous stage of this activity, students revised a template to create new cards based on the Love Letter game. Before they can test the games, they'll need to produce some cards they can actually play with. One way to do that is to print on card stock, but I've found it's easy to see through most card stock I've used over the years.

Whether it's a first draft or a late stage prototype, here's the method I've been using lately. 
  • Buy some card protector sleeves like these, found on Amazon.
  • Put an old playing card or some other game card in them that you won't need. This keeps them stiff enough to shuffle.
  • Print your cards on paper and cut the cards out. (Or for first drafts, you might just write them by hand on slips of paper.)
  • Slide those paper "cards" into the sleeves.
Here's a short video that I created for students that shows how I use this process with early and late stage prototypes.

If the groups added rules for additional cards or components, all of those pieces need to be printed and cut out or gathered as well.

Depending on how much time you want the class to devote to this playtesting experience, groups could make two or more copies of their game so multiple groups could play them at once.

The importance of playtesting and revision - the iterative process in game design

This testing and revision stage of the game design process is essential. It can be fun and rewarding or sometimes very frustrating! It's often the heart of the creation process and it will probably take more time than all other parts combined.

Being so important, students need to see it. With limited class time, though, it is likely you will use it in this activity only provide some exposure to the concepts and a chance to have fun with the designs. Tell students it is important when making any type of game, but remind them to really test and improve their game they'd need to work on it a lot outside of class.

Keeping that in mind, tweak the following outline and resources to fit your needs.

Groups test their own games

Game designers often play their own games first, just to see if the creations even work at all. At this stage, each group should play their game at least once.

After playing, students should discuss these questions:
  • Did the game work as we intended?
  • Did we find anything (good or bad) that we didn't expect?
  • How much do we think other groups will enjoy our game?
  • What changes could we make to improve the game?
Depending on how much time you have for this design exploration, students could rework their cards. Simple changes might be handwritten right on the cards. Significant changes might require students to actually alter the cards in the original Google Drawings they made in Part 2 of this activity.Of course, that would require them to print and cut out more components.

If time doesn't allow a students to make all the changes they want to, remind them that they can improve the game as much as they want on their own.

Groups test a game designed by another group

For this part of the activity, each group will play at least one other group's game. Ideally this will be "blind playtesting", meaning the groups will play the games without additional assistance from the game designers.

The game components should already be created by now. Game introductions and possibly new rules need to be printed (or shared through Google Drive) so groups have everything they need to learn and play the games.

Along with these materials, give each group a copy of this Game Playtesting Sheet. It provides questions for before and after playing the game. 

Additional considerations

  • Give the groups time in class to read and discuss the Game Playtesting Sheets that test groups filled out for their game.
  • Groups could test games from more than one group if possible.
  • Students could take their games home and have other people play them to get more opinions.
  • Have a class discussion (possibly virtually) at the end of this stage so you and the students can look for patterns on what worked best in the games.
  • It would be ideal to get test groups from a class that did not go through the design process themselves. In other words, they would likely be unfamiliar with Love Letter, so the whole experience would be new to them. This requires the designers to put a lot more work into their written rules.
In the next post (and final stage of the activity) students will reflect on their game designs and the design process.

*Love Letter was designed by Seiji Kanai and published by Alderac Entertainment Group. I have permission from the publisher to use their game as I have in this exploration. Please consider supporting them by buying a copy of the game that your students can play as they learn the basic rules.

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