To check the strength of your heart, your doctor may attach wires to your chest, hook you up to all sorts of monitors, and sentence you to a vigorous run on the treadmill. The idea is to see how far your heart can be pushed to its limit before it shows signs of fatigue. This is appropriately called a stress test. The reason to undergo a stress test is of course to address and fix any problems when the body is under extreme conditions. If you are healthy under extreme conditions, you are healthy when you are going about your daily routine.
ISN’T THAT WHAT WE WANT FROM OUR GAME?
If the game holds up even when someone is trying their hardest to play unbalanced and break it, then it will play smoothly under normal conditions. The stress test form of playtesting is quite a bit different, and more difficult, than simply playing the game over and over again, but the results are significant. And the process may even be fun!
Now, I have to admit, I am personally not the one to perform this. I’m the type of gamer who likes to experience every aspect that a game has to offer in one sitting. If the game is a breakfast buffet, I bring a plate with an egg, a bacon, a sausage, a strawberry, a pancake… you get the idea. And now we’re both hungry. But you can’t do that when stress-testing a game. You need to wolf down a stack of twenty pancakes, without even a drop of syrup to help it slide down! (not recommended if you need to undergo an actual exercise stress test…)
SET UP THE STRESS TEST:
- Rope in as many playtesters as you need for the game (if your game is 2-4 players, it’s recommended that you repeat these tests for each player quantity).
- Identify your victory condition(s).
- Assign one player to choose one path to victory and dedicate all decisions and resources to the pursuit of that path.
- The other players should do their best to be “control players”–that is, play a relatively balanced, “normal” winning strategy.
LOOK FOR SIGNS OF THE GAME’S HEART FAILURE:
SOME PROBLEM AREAS TO INVESTIGATE:
A SLOW “TRICKLE” OF VICTORY POINTS/RESOURCES
– some games offer a way to get points or resources outside of the main mechanic. It’s intended to be “compensation” for making a choice or playing a card that isn’t obviously advantageous at the moment, or the player has nothing else good to play, but make sure it itself cannot be a viable way to progress, if that’s not your intent.
– If any of your scoring math involves multiplication (or more significantly, squaring), those numbers can get out of control very quickly.
– is there any way for someone who’s not in last place to tap into the catch-up mechanic? What if last place is only slightly behind first place?
PLAYER COUNT SCALING
– “take three gold from the other player(s)” might be reasonable in a two or three player game. But what about your four- or six-player variant?
Well! That certainly got the blood pumping! Why don’t you give your game a Gatorade and some Saltines while we keep talking. Unfortunately, I can’t prescribe how to fix any issues your stress test finds. This only serves to highlight problem areas. You’ll have to sit down and make the necessary changes yourself.