Prototype PenPal Program

Post by: Grant Rodiek

UPDATE: I’m leaving this up so others can read, but this program is no longer active.

One of the greatest challenges facing me and many others as designers is the lack of testing. Great ideas will take a game only so far. Consumers and publishers are first and foremost interested in GREAT GAMES, not great ideas. There are some outstanding programs to help designers with this.

UnPub brings designers together for a day of honest testing and feedback. Alas, it’s on the east coast and I’m here in California. Board Game Designers Guild of Utah does this with great frequency, but is in Utah. Protospiel is the grand daddy, but I have a hard time spending vacation time and money for 4 days of testing. It’s what I want, but not necessarily what my finances and life want.

I was walking to the bus last night and thinking about how I want more feedback on Empire, but it recently cost me $120 to send 2 copies to 2 people. I thought about how I wanted to play the 6 PNPs in my inbox, but didn’t really have the time or components to build and play them. Then, I realized that it’s quite simple to do this remotely. Why not borrow from UnPub and Netflix and the United States Postal Service to deliver the prototyping event directly to one’s home?

Today, here, I’d like to get everyone involved! Let’s create a long-distance relationship built upon dice rolling and clever card play. Let’s become… Prototyping Pen Pals (this name is awful, but I loved the alliteration, which I should note is the trap of bad writers).

Here’s how it works:

  1. telling me you want to participate
  2. Tell me how many games you want to provide
  3. Provide me the shipping address (I’ll keep all of this private)

Once I have enough people…really, 2 for starters (me and you!), we’ll ship each other a prototype. We will then play this prototype a few times, provide feedback, input, suggestions, and more. Then, I’ll give you an address and  you’ll pass the prototype along. Over time you’ll gain outstanding blind test feedback from enthusiastic people and it’ll only cost you one game and the cost to ship it to the next one on the list.

The games you can submit to this will have a few simple qualifiers. Firstly, make sure the game works. The game needs to be in at least an alpha state, perhaps even a beta state. The goal of this program is not to tell you the wheels fell off your car, but to identify the tiny, less obvious problems that keep a good game from being a great game. Please test a little before you send this to your peers!

Secondly, please do the bare minimum to build a prototype with essential pieces. If you have cards, put them in penny sleeves with common magic cards so we can shuffle them. Or use index cards or something we can shuffle. Please use labels, not handwriting, so that it’s possible to play. I recommend sites like The Game Crafter, Superior POD, ArtsCow, or DriveThruCards, but that isn’t required. We know you’re on a budget. But, at the very least, make it better than flimsy paper.

Playtesters will play your game at least twice and will fill out, at minimum, a simple survey with information on the game. But, ideally you receive pages of notes on your rules, game play, and more.

That’s it! I intend to do all the paperwork for this, which includes keeping track of members, identifying the next recipient in line, and even gathering feedback if desired.

Let’s do this! and we’ll get going!

45 thoughts on “Prototype PenPal Program

  1. I love the idea. Honest. I just need to get one of my prototypes stable enough that it wouldn’t change during the mailing cycles. :-D

  2. I agree. This is a great idea. I’m not quite ready to release Opening Day yet but will be soon and would like to participate.

  3. A large number of The Game Crafter users have a group set up that does this. It works pretty well for us. Good Luck!

    • I got my start in the TGC community (don’t hang out there much anymore, but still use them for protos). Glad to see such a thing has emerged. It’s such a basically decent idea that I wish I’d thought of it sooner.

  4. I am definitely interested. I think I could send out my Trade, Travel and Takeover game. Also The Scariest Street once I get it tuned up a bit more.

  5. I wonder if this will lead to more ultra-minimal, easy-postage games like Love Letter. Games that can fit in an envelope with two stamps. Hm! That’s an interesting design challenge there.

    • I would hope for that! Honestly, if we can get a decent community such things are possible. Do you plan to participate? I for one would love to test Belle of the Ball AND get it more exposure (though you have a huge audience already!).

      • Yup, I plan to participate, though I think Belle of the Ball is pretty tested out at this point. It’s pretty solid. Can’t hurt to give it another go!

          • Well here’s the question: I send a prototype to get tested and get feedback. I make changes based on that feedback, then release a new prototype. That prototype gets feedback, I make changes, etc, etc, etc. When is the process done? If every prototype will get feedback, when do I stop making changes?

  6. I would like to join this program, too. You can send me an email.

    Another way of easily testing a prototype is to make a module for the Vassal game engine. Then people can actually do it online and you don’t need to send out any parts.

  7. Ooh, great idea! I have a group that love to try new ideas. (And they’re sick of hearing about mine!)
    Plus I could use all the feedback I can get about Gentlemen Thieves. I’ve got a new batch coming from TGC in a couple weeks and I’d be happy to send one off.

  8. whoops my client isn;t installed properly seems to me like you have to send me the mail instead

    Anyway i was thinking, any indication of the geographical location of the playtesters, i would be interested in joining but if it turns out i am the only european then thinks can get uite costy quite fast

    • So, you’re the second European. I fear it’ll be too cost prohibitive for the north Americans to send you things, but I’ll link you up with the other European. Hopefully you guys can be the start of a larger European group? Email me at grant at hyperbolegames dot com.

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  17. This is wonderful. I like the idea that we all become satellite hubs for cutting down cost of shipping and expanding our playtesting.

    I’m down.

  18. btw, I’m in Ontario Canada. So if there are any other playtesters/PPPs in Ontario or Canada, I think shipping here will be less than $45. Not a terrible cost considering we’re all paying it forward.

    Kudos on the idea and fingers crossed that this project becomes a huge success.

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  24. Amazing idea !!!!! Can I join just as a playtester for now or do I need my game to be ready right now ?? I’m still maybe 5 weeks away form my prototype to be ready to be sent out but I wanted , if needed , help others with my feedback , please let me know .

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  28. Sign me up. I need some fresh eyes on a couple of games in very late stages of design development….and more than willing to return the favors.

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  34. Hi Grant,

    Great blog. I came over here after seeing a tip to it by Jamey’s blog at Stonemaier. Just reading the pen pal system, and digging the concept. Are you still doing this program?

    Peter Vaughan

    • Unfortunately I’m (quietly) winding it down. It hasn’t been very successful. You can email me if you want to discuss how to get your prototype out for testing and such.

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