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Game Testing During A Pandemic

Game Testing During A Pandemic

playing board games, game night, Seaport Games

Game Testing During A Pandemic

My passion project during COVID-19 has been designing new tabletop games. My first project was a music-themed board game Be A Rockstar.  As I mentioned in my previous post on inspiration, I have been testing and revising handmade versions of this game.

Like many of you, I had no access to friends and family outside my household during the COVID-19 lockdown. My new game desperately needed playtesting from others.

How do you test a board game during a pandemic?

easy button, Seaport Games

Pre-Pandemic Game Testing Was Easy

The best and cheapest informal game testing opportunities can be the most fun. I enjoy game night at a friend’s house or host a game night, go to a play testing Meetup in town, visit a pub or coffee shop that hosts a game night. Some brick and mortar game stores even host game testing events. More expensive game testing might involve attending a gamer convention.

I thought it was hard to virtually test tabletop games in early stages of development. I had no digital art and I’m not an artist or graphic designer, so I was really limited in my ability to get anything on the virtual game apps like Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia. I didn’t even realize I could take digital pics of my game components and use those for the virtual game apps. Over time, I’ve come to learn that there are plenty of ways to virtually test a game.

In the mean time…

game and package delivery

Game Testing By Mail

The only thing I could do was to mock up the game using a blank game board and box, with color sticky notes for board spaces. Then I put all the board and game components in the white game box: 3×5 cards, dice and play money borrowed from an old Monopoly game, printed rules sheet, and player tokens I’d scavenged from other games. I even printed a game testing sheet so friends could log some feedback.

The game was packaged and sent by USPS to several friends and family members. I knew this process would take too much time, but I gave it a try. I offered to Zoom into game play sessions and was available by text or phone call for any questions, but none of my attempted game-testing-by-mail experiments were very successful.

failure is learning, fail to succeed faster

Failure Was Success

The little feedback I got showed the game idea was fun. I expected this because my friends and family members are musicians or music lovers. I learned which game elements they enjoyed most and which rules and mechanics needed work (most of them). The game was too complicated.

In this early stage, I really needed to be present during the game test to quickly answer questions and offer help while trying out different game play options in real time.

I also learned the game was going to take a lot more time and much more testing to get to the point of being worthy of an artist and graphic designer.

Despite the failure of my attempts to get the game tested by mail, I really did learn a lot about the process and about my game. This positioned me to make tough, but needed business decisions on Be A Rockstar.

reality check

Reality Check

Be A Rockstar needed much more play testing. At the time, COVID was still raging throughout the country and there was no vaccine available.

I sent request for quotes (RFQs) on prototype production and full offset printing production to manufacturers in the USA. I quickly learned that small indie games made in the USA would not be profitable.

I sent RFQs to several Chinese manufacturers to get a sense of what the budget needed to be.

The game has too many components: Main game board, box, rulesbook, 80 cards, 26 mini cards, player tokens, dice, score pad, etc. The cost to have one prototype of the board game printed and shipped was well over $100 which seemed expensive at the time.

Even when ordering in bulk to reduce costs, I learned the freight charge to send the games by container ship would cost close to the amount to manufacture the game!

My first Kickstarter campaign needs to be successful, the product needs to look professional, and the budget needs to be affordable. The timeline of getting my first board game ready for a crowdfunding campaign seemed unmanageable.

The more I learned about developing and manufacturing a board game, the more I realized this project was bigger than I could manage properly for my first attempt.

So I pumped the breaks on the board game.

startup business pivot


Fortunately, I was also designing a new card game.

Three components are much easier to manage than twelve. All that is needed is a deck of customized standard-sized playing cards, a rule book, and a box. A card game is much less expensive to prototype, mail, and get manufactured.

Card games are less expensive for potential customers and backers, too.


Marge Rosen

Marge Rosen

Game Designer


Marge owns Seaport Games, an indie tabletop game design studio and publisher. View other posts by Marge

Inspiration for a New Game

Inspiration for a New Game

My favorite part of designing a new game comes at the very beginning.

For my board game Be A Rockstar, I started with a theme I have a deep knowledge of – music.

All I needed was some inspiration, cardboard, a pencil, sticky notes, index cards, and a good eraser. Handmade games are fun, cheap, and easy to make.  The image below is a very early example.

hand drawn game design components, early game concept, Rockstar Board game,

Handmade Game Board and Components

Take your creative spark, the inspiration for the game, and run with it! Jot down a word or two that makes the game sound fun and exciting. The word that conjures up that feeling for me is “rockstar”. Sketch the board, cards, and other components.

Then think about the goal of the game. Will it be last meeple standing or most points or something else?

What game mechanics do you like? Do you prefer the traditional board game where players roll dice and move tokens or miniatures? How about set collector or deck-building card games? Game maps for dungeons?

If the mechanics bog you down, keep it simple.

Seaport Games, beach, corgi dog, inspiration

Sources of Inspiration

The inspiration for a new game can come from anywhere. Think about your favorite place or hobby. Trains and travel were the inspiration for the hit game Ticket to Ride.

There’s no shortage of animal and pet-themed games such as Wingspan which features birds, cat games Calico, Isle of Cats, and Magical Kitties , and dog games (there’s even a new Corgi Butt game coming soon).

Many people are inspired by being in nature. If you love the great outdoors, here are some new board games inspired by natural habitats: Cascadia, and Keystone: North America.

I bet you can name several games based on dragons, monsters or aliens, magic and wizards, space travel, and sci-fi themes.

What game or theme inspires you?

custom modification, handmade map for Teraforming Mars, Seaport Games, JD Stark

Customize and Modify Your Favorite Games

Take an existing game (simpler the better) and play it. Then tweak a rule or two and try the game again. How did game play change? Did it work? Do you like the game better?

As kids, we modified existing games all the time. We customized house rules to Monopoly, used handmade player tokens, and re-imagined game maps for Risk which kept the games fresh and fun.

The image above is a custom, handmade map for Terraforming Mars.

Start with something you know. What games have you played that are now more fun after you changed an element or rule? What games do you already own?

Have fun messing with game rules and test things out. If you start with a card game, try combining rules from two different games into one new game. It could be a glorious disaster and a complete failure of a game, but you’re sure to have fun being creative and you will learn a lot in the process.

I’d love to hear about the board games you have customized and your source of inspiration for a new game.


TOP PHOTO CREDIT: Marge Rosen, Seattle, Washington.

Marge’s Game Blog

Marge’s Game Blog

The Pivot

I am a professional musician who lost a year or more of gigs and bookings, and maybe a career, to the COVID pandemic. When I’m not playing music, I’m playing games. With lots of time on my hands, I’ve been playing A LOT of games. Card games, board games and video games.

I’ve backed many musical crowdsourcing projects for friends and colleagues in the past, but recently I’ve been looking for new, fresh games. I found some really fun projects to back on Kickstarter. It can be a great way to help support independent creatives like myself.

As a lifelong games enthusiast, I’ve created handmade games, adapted existing games, and dreamed of creating new games that are fun and entertaining. I have a music-themed board game idea and it seemed like a good time to fuse my two passions: Music and Games.

What does it take to go from a board game idea to a professionally produced product that I would be proud to share with friends and family?

How is a game manufactured?

How do I run a successful Kickstarter campaign?

Will this new endeavor be a startup business?

Then how do I get my game sold at games stores or online at Amazon?

Could the startup grow to a full time business to provide me and my community with living wage jobs?

Follow along as I explore, work, stumble, learn, and answer these questions while I create a game.

PHOTO CREDIT: Carolyn Caster. Marge at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington, pre concert sound check.