The Seafall Playtester Experience
An inside look at what we did. With absolutely no gameplay spoilers.
I playtested Seafall for 2 and a half years. To put that into perspective, that's as much time as the longest single job I've held.
And yet, here we are. Seafall is coming out soon and people are starving for more information. With the recent revelation that all the advisor photos are of actual playtesters (a huge honor), I wanted to share some non-gameplay-related info about the work we did on our end.
For me, it started with a visit from Rob Daviau to the home of my girlfriend (now-wife) Katie.
I had first reached out to Rob to first thank him for his work on Risk: Legacy, one of my all-time favorite games, and had ended the email letting him know that I ran a semi-regular 30-person board game meetup and if he ever needed help with playtesting, we'd be happy to assist. My expectation was that maybe he'd enjoy the email and delete it forever, but to my surprise he graciously responded and said he would love some help.
Over the course of a couple weeks, I put together a team from the members of my Board Game Fight Club and spent literally hours assembling the print-and-play packet. I also worked out logistics with Rob, who was going to be in town and offered to swing by if we could get all 6 of our schedules to sync up.
When the big day arrived, Rob walked us through all the rules and guided us through his expectations of what he wanted the game to be. By setting that vision, we all understood what he was looking for, and after learning all the rules we started playing.
During our first game, we had a blast! It's a little unreal to have an experienced board game designer ask for your input. Rob is extremely talented at getting to the heart of player behavior, and he would often ask us why we made a choice, or how we came to a decision.
For our group - a lot of the conversations revolved around combat. As a group of bloodthirsty board game savages, some of us immediately set sail to demolish the natives and terrorize each other's harbors, even going out of our way to get some sweet revenge and glory.
And for two hours, the game held up as we tried different strategies. Rob had noticed some things about our group though, and had enough time to sit in on another session if we were willing. We all agreed and went right to game 2.
What started was a game even more cutthroat than the last, finding us making strategic decisions that no game designer wants to see players make. As Rob watched, perhaps in horror, we turned his Seafall into a kill-or-be-killed bloodbath on the high seas. While fun for some of us, this did not exactly fall in line with the vision he provided.
And so after a 4 hour marathon game, we laid out what we loved and hated about Seafall. And Rob took home 6 hours' worth of observation time.
While he was reworking some rules, we played through two more games with the group, until 3 players decided they weren't able to continue.
Game 1 again
Then the process repeated. I found 3 more players and by the time we were able to get together, Rob had a new version of the game ready. Which meant a marathon session of printing and cutting things (thee things don't print and cut themselves). It's probably not a lie that I spent 2x the cost of the actual game printing out tokens and such.
Anyways, I decided to live-stream our game sessions to Rob, on the chance that he would be able to hop on the computer and observe. Occasionally he would join in as we were getting ready to play, and sometimes he would sneak in while we were in the middle of a game.
We also regularly posted long-winded writeups after every game, sometimes sharing our feedback with other playtest groups and talking through how our world stacked up to another in the (approximate) same place, and how their strategies were working.
One challenge of doing playtesting, especially with a game of this size, is to keep all the rules in your head when small things change from game to game. Even the name for things could be different the next time you sit down.
And that's to say nothing about playtesting a Legacy game. Say the starting advisors changed at some point. Your group would have to translate that old advisor into the latest version, and adjust to all the changes in between. It gets absolutely crazy. I absolutely loved being a playtester for this game, but wow, at some points it's a tremendous amount of work.
Perhaps our stories will be told
All this to say that playtesting Seafall was quite a process. From getting committed people together regularly, to printing and cutting hundreds and hundreds of cards, and writing up feedback reports, there is a ton that happens behind the scenes.
And we're just a single group! I know other groups have plenty of stories to tell. Just know that each of us who appear as advisors in the game put our hearts and a ton of time into playing this game and giving Rob the feedback he needed to turn it into something really special. Perhaps once the game has been out for a while we'll go in depth and share some of our stories.
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