Playtesting PBI

The most important aspect of games design, in my opinion, is play testing. What may seem a grand idea needs to be tested under fire again and again (and again) to iron out all the flaws. In fact, good play testers – who can be honest and objective – are worth their weight in white metal castings. If you ever write a game and are serious about publishing it, I heartily recommend using independent play testers as well, who have no direct contact with you. When it comes to games rules, you no doubt know what you meant to say, but is that what you’ve really written? Only someone who sees the rules blind can tell you that.

Martin Goddard of Peter Pig has always impressed me with the innovation and ingenuity in his games. With their Rules for the Common Man-series Peter Pig has proudly flown the independent flag the past thirty plus years, releasing on average a game per year. RFCM Rules include AK 47, Square Bashing, Hammering Iron, and Bloody Barons to name but a few. I remember our club used to have an annual pirate game using the original Pieces of 8 rules with 15mm forces and ships. Good times!

Last Saturday, I was invited by Martin to attend an open day to play test the latest version of PBI (or Poor Bloody Infantry), tentatively called PBI: Company Commander. So I journeyed to a secret destination somewhere near Yeovil to join up with the RFCM play testers.

Martin had set up four gaming tables where pairs of players fought each other using the new PBI rules. He kindly took time out from supervising the games to run me through a game. I’ll say briefly that the game is designed with an emphasis on infantry action. Tanks can be used in support, but its perfectly feasible to have an army with no tanks. There are clever mechanisms in play to make a combined infantry force with tank support struggle against an all infantry force.

Simply put, you need infantry to hold the ground and tanks are vulnerable without infantry support. Also, virtually any army can play any other on a level playing field: the victory points for these engagements are adjusted, so 1939-Polish could fight 1944-Germans.

As the games progressed, Martin would be called away to look at an issue which had arisen during a game. There was much scribbling and updating of the latest draft – now this was play testing in progress! It was evidently clear that Martin was listening and taking notes as the games progressed, which will ensure the final version of the new PBI will be that little bit more watertight.

I’ll do a full report on PBI: Company Commander in issue 72 of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy. It was certainly a fun day. And as I managed to blag a test copy, I’ll have to give these rules a go with my local gamers to see what they think. Yes, more play testing!

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