I Have a Board Game Idea, Now What? Part 20 – 3 Lessons Learned From Using Tabletopia for Digital Playtesting

I am a huge fan of digital prototyping and play testing using Tabletopia. It is usually one of the first things I bring up anytime anyone asks me about developing The Hackers Guild. I’ve mentioned it a number of times on this blog, and after a suggestion on Facebook from another member of the Indie Game Alliance (IGA), I thought I would share with you some of my experiences with the platform and 3 lessons I have learned along the way.

Lesson 1: Understand what Tabletopia is and isn’t

Before you start using Tabletopia, it is important that you understand what Tabletopia was designed for, and how games and setups work. Tabletopia is an online sandbox that allows you to put game pieces on the table and have basic interactions with those pieces. Rule enforcement depends on the players understanding the rules.

Each game on Tabletopia is a collection of prefabricated game pieces, and images of the components unique to your game which are rendered into game boards, tokens, cards, and dice. The games are further broken down into individual setups, where each setup is a unique collection of the games pieces. Common uses for setups would be different player counts, and different game difficulties. For example, if your game had a different setup for 2 players as it does for 3 and 4 players, the you would be able to create a two player setup and a 3-4 player setup.

Tabletopia allows you to further categorize your setups as either regular or premium. Regular setups are free to play, while premium setups require a paid subscription to play where part of the monthly fee the players play for access gets paid to the designer of the game

Tabletopia runs on a two part subscription model. Each account has access to the playground for playing games and the workshop for creating games. Each part has a three subscription levels including a free and two paid levels. The following tables show the breakdown of what each level of each category gives you access to.

Player Pricing

Workshop Pricing

Lesson 2: Tabletopia isn’t perfect and the community is still growing

It is important to remember while using Tabletopia that it has only been out of beta for just over a year. Its feature set continues to grow, but is still somewhat limited when compared with other digital sandboxes like Tabletop Simulator. Some examples of these features include being able to search decks of cards, alignment grid on the surfaces/tables, an advanced physics system to allow actual rolling dice and flicking of objects, and being able to interact with the objects in other player’s hands. That said, the graphics are a lot crisper leading to nicer looking games, and the majority of the controls are fairly intuitive.

Some common “bugs” that I’ve come across:

  • Cards and other items randomly disappearing, or not showing up for all players – placing the card in your hand and taking it back out will often resolve this
  • Players showing offline in the lobby even when they aren’t – refreshing the lobby will usually resolve this
  • Avatars of players that join the game after it starts not showing for all players – players unable to see all avatars leaving to the lobby and rejoining the game will usually resolve this
  • Occasionally die faces will change after dice are picked up – This seems to happen most often if the die is leaning on the edge of a mat or token, but really all you can do is keep an eye out for it

Probably one of my biggest frustrations with Tabletopia is it can be like pulling teach at times to find players to play your game with. You will definitely find it easier to bring the players to your play tests as opposed to hoping you’ll find some just kicking around. They do have a Discord server and Steam group to help facilitate finding other players, but Tabletopia has no were near the community behind it that Tabletop Simulator does.

Lesson 3 – Tips on getting the most out of Tabletopia

Game client

One of the biggest attractions for me to Tabletopia was that it was free and could run in a browser, which meant that there wasn’t any software to install in order to play. The fact it was free also meant that it was easier for me to get one off players to join my game. Tabletopia has further expanded its cross compatibility by added a steam app and support for iOS devices. Players now have the following options when playing on Tabletopia:

  • Firefox
  • Chrome
  • Internet Explorer
  • Safari (Mac only)
  • Steam app (Windows only)
  • iOS app (very limited game selection)

I have found that the best player experience for Windows users is the Steam app. If players must use a browser, Internet Explorer seems to work the best for Windows users and Safari for Mac users.

In game voice

Tabletopia doesn’t yet have in game voice chat support, but it is apparently on the list. They do provide access to a Discord server for this purpose though, or it is free to create your own. Like Tabletopia, Discord can run in a browser, but I have found that you will run into fewer issues if you download and use the stand alone application. Setting you audio input and output settings (cog next to your name -> Voice and Video) to a specific device rather than leaving them set at “Default” seems to solve most audio issues.

While I haven’t tried it, Tabletopia says they support in game chat using the Steam voice system provided all players are using the steam client

In game controls

Tabletopia’s in game controls are fairly intuitive, and a tutorial of how to use them is provided when you first join the game. I have found that controls most players have difficulties with include:

  • Stacking cards or tokens – the secret here is to hover your hand icon over the stack you want to add to and wait for the stack to turn orange. Once it is orange you can let go of the mouse button and the objects will stack. You have to have a stack created prior to being able to add additional objects.
  • Drawing cards from a deck – the secret here is to not let go of the mouse button after clicking on the deck and while you move the mouse to the side. If you let go of the mouse button then click again on the deck and move the mouse you will end up moving the whole deck

Here are some other controls I’ve found useful while playing:

  • Scrolling your mouse wheel over a deck, stack of tokens, or bag will allow you to remove multiple objects at once
  • Holding down shift and dragging your mouse pointer will allow you to select multiple items. Holding down shift while you click each object will also accomplish this.
  • Clicking the spacebar while hovering over an object will zoom into the object and make it easier to read

Working with the Workshop

The biggest tip I can give here is to remember that once a game lobby is created none of its assets can be updated. If you update the game assets, you will need to close and recreate any game lobbies. Also, remember that your game setups need to be published each time you make a change before those changes will be applied.

Well today’s post was a little longer, but hopefully you will now have a better understanding of Tabletopia and getting the most out of using it for digital prototyping and play testing. If you have any questions, please ask away in the comment section and I will try and help you to the best of my ability. Until next time, happy designing!

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