What’s great about having a weekly playtest group is that you all get to know each other, know how to give each other feedback properly, and know how to respect each other’s time. You know what’s not great about having a weekly playtest group? It’s forgetting how difficult your game might be to first time players.

Sen and I had been designing a game based on the Mind MGMT series for quite a long time. It was a 1 vs. many game in which one player played the villain and everyone else was trying to catch the villain. Every week or every other week I’d show up to our group with a new version of Mind MGMT, incorporating feedback and suggestions from the previous playtest into the new design. Seems ok right? Well as my main group of testers played the game, they kept wanting more and more abilities to stop the one specific strategy that the villain tried this game; or the villain felt underpowered but would really like the ability to do this or that on their turn as well. So far this seems totally normal and what all designers do when playtesting and designing a game.

Then came our playtest outside of group. To make it worse, this test was at The Gathering of Friends and included Pandemic designer, Matt Leacock and others. What they experienced was a mind explosion – and not in a good way! There were so many things to keep track of and actions each side could do, that to them it was super confusing and daunting. They wanted to quit halfway through the game and I can see why. They experienced information overload and for a first time player it made it feel more like a chore and less of a fun experience. It was disheartening because I was excited to get Matt and the others to test the game, and now they’re walking away with a bad taste in their mouths. We were blinded by this immense learning curve because we kept playtesting with the same group over and over.

I’m curious to see how you would solve this dilemma. How can you ensure your game has an easier learning curve for first timers, but also find ways to offer depth and more options to those that are more experienced. Share your thoughts below and I’ll respond with how we actually did solve this challenge!

There is a check box beside each playtester name. Check this box if it’s the first time that playtester has played the game. If you’re tracking this on the Designer Progress page, then you’ll see how many different players have played this game. If you notice that the game has only been played by the same 4-6 players, then you might experience some difficulty creep like I did. Try to find more playtesters!