Day 27: What’s the very best playtest-stage game your friends probably haven’t heard of yet? How long ago did you play it and how much better was it than the current version?

Okay, I freely admit this: one of my favorite things about small press gaming culture is the accessibility to the designers. I say this coming from the world of trad publishing, which typically constrains the supply of access so as to juice demand for it. Meet at a convention, maybe find your way onto a playtest list, maybe get to a first-name basis with a line developer, maybe get invited to an afterparty…ridiculous. Fake celebrity exists so writers can be underpaid, full stop.

I totally get that indie access is imperfect. I get that there are still gatekeepers and hoops and social skills and, yes, luck involved. I promise you it’s better than the alternative. It’s better for the fans, it’s better for the creators.

Haven’t really done that much playtesting in/for indieland, tbqh. It’s so very easy to burn out playtesters, and I don’t do it too often. Once or twice a year, maybe? I’ll also confess that it can kind of tire out my players to be relentlessly charitable with an early design just so the thing is playable for longer than 15 minute stretches. It’s work to do it well.

The “earlier edition was better” business is nonsense in my experience, although I’ve gotten whiffs of it here and there and it always strikes me as some annoying insider signaling behavior. The gamer version of “the live acoustic version someone recorded on their phone in a coffee house is so much better.” Games get better with each iteration; I can’t imagine one getting worse. Maybe an interesting but unnecessary subsystem gets cut?

Of the stuff we’ve playtested, the one I’m most excited to see developed further is Jason Morningstar’s STASI AW hack. It was pretty early in his experimenting with AW, but the outline of the game I think could be really terrific. I do love me some paranoid political bureaudrama.

5 thoughts on “Day 27: What’s the very best playtest-stage game your friends probably haven’t heard of yet? How long ago did you play it and how much better was it than the current version?”

  1. Thanks Paul Beakley! My secret police game still rumbling around and percolating.

    I’ve seen games that got subjectively worse from one edition to the next. The designer makes a choice that maybe reflects more current thinking on some topic that turns out to be fixing a non-problem. But that’s rare, and usually people prefer older editions because that’s what they learned and are comfortable with.

  2. You’ve seen about one million more playtest-stage drafts than I have! But I can totally see that happening.

    I’ll bet folks who were fans of Matt Wilson’s Galactic would be dismayed at the AWification of it.

  3. I remember being star-struck by designers when I first got back into RPGs in the early aughts; I was afraid to ask Jonathan Tweet for an autograph (my wife did it for me).

    And then I got into the indie games, and that slowly evaporated. The more I got to hang out with people who were making games, the more I realized they were, you know, people.

    I also like that making purchases now feels less like slavish devotion and more like, “Hey [person], I really liked your AW-hack/whatever.” And then we go have lunch or something.

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