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40k Goatboy – Games Workshop and Playtesting

4 Minute Read
Jan 17 2012

Goatboy here again and I finally got a chance to crack open the White Dwarf I buy every month (I am a completist and no matter what I like to look at minis).  I got a chance to devour Jervis’ Standard Bearer this month.  Hmmm…

It was an interesting read as I felt it gave a good look into game design. Pretend game design is a hobby of mine as I always like the nuts and bolts behind the rules we all like to use and abuse and these types of articles give a good look into the hobby.

I still read about Magic the Gathering and I always love the articles by Mark Rosewater. They look into the background of the game and give a good idea on how ideas go from rules to actual game play mechanic in a way that is refreshing. This “behind the curtain” aspect is really interesting as it answers why some things leak through and others problems are caught and fixed before they get into grubby player hands. So with that in mind it was neat to see Jervis basically concede to that with this article.

In the article he stats that designers do not make good players most of the time. There are some exceptions (Looking at you Mr. Sideburned Zombie – Phil Kelly) but for the most part a designer is not a good player. His reasoning was pretty spot on as I feel those guys who build rules don’t always see how the rule will work versus how they think it should work. This is interesting as we all know how flaky some occasional GW rules can be. Heck this weekend was a nice long list of arguing on how Mind Shackle Scarabs work. Still this idea is an interesting one.

I think the designers care about creating an event. They have an effect in mind and have to figure out a way to get the effect to happen. This creates rules which might not always be clear because all the designer cares about is what happens at the end and not how it starts.

The player looks at how to start the event. The player wants the event to happen but the process to get there is more important then getting the actual event. If you can control and know the process you can always produce the event. This is when the numbers/math comes in and has the players creating spreadsheets of effective units and other nonsense they learned in the swamps of Florida.

Now this isn’t saying either way is bad. It is just that while we both want the event to happen, one is concerned with creating it and it being balanced (designers) and the other is with controlling it (players). This is where the rules make or break a game. This is why playtesters that fit both sides of the game work best. In the article, Jervis talks about having a group of playtesters that help find these loop holes in the game. He also says that a lot of them have trophies and other bits of nonsense that signify that they are king/queen dice rollers.

So this comes into mind that as much as we think the playtesters are not doing their job. Who let Psychotroke grenades through? Why is the Wolf Standard only 10 points when it should be a bazillion? These questions come into mind as we continue to abuse the game rules right now and find the little holes and rule breakdowns that constitute “good or bad” players.

Do I think myself and some of my other gamers would make better playtesters? I don’t think so. I think we would most likely do the same thing as others. I like to dabble in rules design so my issue would probably come into the heart of the rule versus the actual rule. I would want a rule to work like this, think the rules wording is correct, and watch how the wrong inflection breaks the rule down.

Others would probably want things to be too good as one army/design becomes their pet. In a lot of ways I think the playtesters are doing as best as they can. They probably number in the tens or hundreds at best, while the rest of use are in the thousands. That is a lot of games being played and we hit all aspects of the rules while the testers might only get a few. Plus the testers are going to be probably playing the spirit of the rule instead of play the wording of the rule.  That’s what happens when you get access to designers, you quickly learn to read things their way, and can lose objectivity.


Still I would love to be a tester. This game has obviously taken up a better part of my brain and having a chance to help shape and build it would be an awesome experience. I am sure if I got into that aspect of the game I would probably get worse as I became more and more concerned with creating cool events instead of building the blocks to own the event to my advantage.

~So what do you think makes a perfect playtester, and what is missing from Games Workshop’s playtesting program?

  • This Week in 40K Podcasting – 1/06/2012 – 1/12/2012