The SoCalPlaytesting Yahoo group currently has a membership of 126 of which approximately 20 to 25 members meet regularly a least once a month and sometimes twice a month.

The group consists of publishers, published game designers, yet to be published game designers and gamers in the Southern California area. In addition to their monthly play testing sessions they support Strategicon’s three 4-day conventions near LAX through demo’s of their published games and play tests of their latest prototypes. Also, the group has organized and sponsored two Rio Grande Game Design contests at Strategicon’s Gateway conventions; as well as Protospiel West Events at the Art Institute of California in Santa Monica and later at Strategicon.

In May of 2007, Travis Ball and Mike Nickoloff founded the group with this description:

This is a private group created for the planning and discussion of playtesting sessions in the Southern California area. This group is for designers of boardgames, focusing on ‘Euro’ or ‘Family’ games, and the playtesters who wish to participate in the design process by helping designers test their designs.


Clockwise from Travis Ball (in ball cap at head of table), David Mines, John Magnerum, Darren Lauritzen and Mike Nickoloff – Burbank, CA.

Initially sessions were held in members’ homes but not on any kind of regular basis. By the middle part of 2008 there was a short period of no meetings. Then the early part of 2009 Martin Hagvall took the lead and sessions started again. With the group membership at a little more than 25 we had less than 10 regulars; however, meetings at different members home began to consistently be held monthly.

A credit system was set up and tracked to encourage members to not only have their game designs play tested but to play test other’s game designs as well. During 2009 the play testing sessions coordination transition to myself and David Mines. Due to the consistency in monthly sessions and the prototypes to be tested being dictated by the members’ Credit scores earned, membership and participation has been progressively growing up to today.


In 2009, Mary Couzin and Nate Scheidler of Chicago Toy & Game Fair got a commitment from Rio Grande Games’ Jay Tummelson to a one-on-one sit down presentation of game designer regional finalists at the fall Toy Fair.

Jay agreed to commit to publishing a game from the group of finalists. SoCalPlaytesting group got the opportunity to sponsor & run the LA Regional Rio Grande Games Design Competition at the 2009 GameX convention. The competition was held in two parts. For the first part the designer each made a short presentation of their games to a panel of judges. Then in the second part judges selected a group of games to move forward to limited time actual play presentations.

Aaron Smith’s Old World New World was chosen as the LA Regional finalist and arranged his own travel & lodging to the Chicago Game & Toy Fair and was provided a Fair pass. The finals were very competitive, but Aaron stated that it was a friendly & constructive experience. Even though he did not get a commitment for publishing, Jay did encourage him to pursue his game design. After a few years of further play testing and modifications, Victory Point Games published Old World New World.

In 2010 SoCalPlaytesting again sponsored and ran the LA Regional Rio Grande Games Design Competition. We implemented some changes in response to the experience we received from the 2009 Competition. Eric Burgess of Boardgame Babylon pitched in and was primarily responsible for having a panel of notable judges from the gaming community.


  • Tom Lehmann, founder of Prism Games & Race for the Galaxy on his resume
  • The Looneys, Andrew & Kristin of Looney Labs
  • Tom Jolly, “Wiz War” & League of Gamemakers
  • Jeff Siadek of Gorilla Games Battlestations
  • Mike Nickoloff, COO of Third World Games & Sorvent, Inc.
  • Boyan Radakovich of Shifting Skies Games and currently Producer of Tabletop with Wil Wheaton
  • Seth Jaffee of Tasty Minstrel Games
  • Chris Taylor of Zero Radius Games
  • Mike Tan, designer of “Strum Europa” from Academy Games
  • and Sebastian Sohn, Contributing Editor of Play This Thing

Story Time , designed by Dan Nelson was LA Region finalist in another highly competitive collection of games of which Jay committed to publishing four; however, Dan’s was not one of them. In 2011 Jay felt he could not accommodate anymore new games and did not commit to a design competition.

Here’s a link to a BGG Geek List of the 2010 LA Region entries:


I could only find one remaining document of the two Protospiel West events that SoCalPlaytesting group was involved with. The first was organized by Travis Ball and Mike Nickoloff with Martin Hagvall, an instructor at the Art Institute of California, securing a weekend use of a large room at the Institute. It was opened to non-members of the play testing group with most of the prototypes which were play tested provided by members of the group. A plus was being able to draw gamers from the student body of the Art Institute.

The Protospiel West event at Gateway 2011 was a more organized activity as a side event of the convention. This event featured both a Q&A with a panel of Guest Speakers and two days of scheduled prototype play testing. Blue Panther Games, LLC sponsored the event and Eric Burgess a Strategicon coordinator arranged for the Guest Panelists. Preparation notes indicate that those panelists included Kevin Wilson (Strategicon – Guest of Honor – Fantasy Flight Games), Steve Jones (Blue Panther, LLC) and Alan Emrich (Victory Point Games). The event was modestly successful.



SoCalPlaytesting group is located in the Los Angeles area and is blessed with not only a large pool of game designers to draw from but also a large pool of gamers. Starting a new play testing group in such an area is much more promising than a more isolated location. That’s not to say you can’t start a group in a less fertile location, but it will take a lot more effort to reach likely gamers. There are groups that use Print and Play (PnP) to distribute prototypes and collect feedback on their play tests. Face to face play testing is the best but you have to work with what you’ve got. Visit a lot of gaming online forums and search for play testing opportunities.


Set up regularly scheduled play test sessions. It’s best to not go longer than a month between sessions. In our group we try to schedule our sessions on either the last Saturday of the month or the next to the last Saturday. We poll the members to see which is best for them. Also, try to be consistent with the location where the play test will be held. Currently our group uses two venues and again we poll to see the preferences. We have gamers coming from Simi Valley which is about 41 miles northwest of LA; a gamer who comes from Victorville which is about 84 miles northeast and some from Orange County to the south of LA. Here’s what one of our members recently said: “This group is a great resource. I’m sure I would not have made the progress I have if not for the structure of the meeting once a month giving me a constant context for my next iteration
as well as all the feedback and learning from testing the other games in the group.”


You must have an atmosphere of the constructive criticism in the play testing group. There is no place in a group for “PERSONAL CRITICISM”. The game designer has to be prepared to hear issues about their design that are not working or not fun to play. Play Testers must be prepared to have their suggestions not implemented by the designer. For a play testing group to be successful there must not be any needless, hurtful comments. Use discretion when giving or receiving feedback.