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When David Runyon isn’t managing Harrisburg University’s library, you’ll probably find him immersed in a board game or role-playing game.

Runyon loves gaming so much he has even helped develop role-playing educational games at HU. And, last year, he was selected to playtest Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game products.

Fantasy Flight Games turns to playtesters to make sure rules wording is clear and people have fun playing their products, as well as identifying problems in their design.

HU Librarian David Runyon is pictured with Star Wars X-Wing products he was selected to playtest by Fantasy Flight Games.

Runyon recently shared the backstory on how he became a playtester for Fantasy Flight Games, a labor of love for any game enthusiast.

Q: Can you tell me how the play testing opportunity came about?

A: I saw the names of some guys I know (people I regularly play against casually and in tournaments) listed in the credits of a product. I asked them how they managed to get involved with playtesting, and they put me in touch with the right people.

Q: What exactly did you test out? Tell me about the process? How long it took?

A: I’m under a nondisclosure agreement on this, so I can’t talk much about the process. I can say that I was a playtester on the just-released X-Wing Second Edition, Wave 3 products wave of products Sith Infiltrator, Vulture-class Droid Fighter, ARC-170 Starfighter, Delta-7 Aethersprite, Z-95-AF4 Headhunter, TIE/sk Striker, Servants of Strife Squadron Pack, and Guardians of the Republic Squadron Pack.

Q: What do the companies that had you play test the products hope to gain from this?

A: Their goal in this process is to make sure players understand the wording the designers used and have fun flying the ships, as well as identifying problematic combinations that would make elements too strong for their points cost. It’s really all a “second opinion” and refining process for the designers to use, and it’s parallel to the alpha and beta testing that video games undergo.

Q: Why is this something you were interested in pursuing?

A: There are a few reasons why I found this interesting. First, I get an early look at upcoming expansions for a game I really love to play. I also get to deepen my understanding of game design and development, something I’ve formally practiced both on my own (Star Wars Collectible Card Game, Star Trek Collectible Card Game, and original designs) as well as for Harrisburg University (2014-present: IMED 290 designer & instructor, SimGlobal co-designer & co-instructor, Inuksuk matrix game design support, US Army War College playtester and matrix game facilitator, “Lemon Merengue” Pi Day 2019 mystery escape game co-designer, etc.). Third, it’s a great way for me to support the game in a tangible way, beyond just buying products. 

Q: How does this benefit Harrisburg University/Students?

A: Like I mentioned above, I do a fair amount of game design & development as part of my job at the University. However, I don’t have as much experience on the testing side- something this playtesting opportunity addresses. As an example, for our recent Pi Day mystery game, we ran a playtest to see if there were issues with how the game played and how we explained it. We made several tweaks to the design and the instructions based on the data gained from this test, and in the end more than two dozen students played and enjoyed it. Part of Harrisburg University’s culture is centered around games and gaming, so improving my own game-focused skills means I can do a better job teaching, helping, and playing alongside our students and faculty.

Q: Is this something you plan to continue doing? For how long?

A: l will do this as long as Fantasy Flight will let me!

Q: Could this lead to other opportunities?

A: It already has. My family has done some playtesting on an upcoming board game called “Nerd Words” (which just launched on Kickstarter) and I hope to be in the rotation for future X-Wing products from Fantasy Flight Games.

Q: What does it take credential-wise to get involved with this? Why would you encourage others to do it?

A: For X-Wing, it doesn’t require any credentials beyond a good knowledge of the game, time availability, and signing the NDA (and sticking to it). If there’s a game you love, or a company you want to support, ask if they need playtesters. It’s also a fantastic way to “see behind the curtain” of game design.

Q: Any takeaways from this that you would like to share? What did you learn from doing this?

A: I’ve learned a lot about the game design and testing process. It takes dozens of tweaks both large and small to hit on a good release, and playtesting is a good way to “crowdsource” that work. I’ve learned about the process- design, test, redesign, tweak, test, repeat- and how it yields a finished design. I’ve also improved my abstract thinking: the playtest material we receive rarely has a solid connection to Star Wars material we’re all familiar with, so we have to think really broadly about how a given ship, pilot, or upgrade fits in with a larger faction or playstyle. Finally, it’s made me a better player generally, which is a really nice reward in itself.