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Designing with Practicality in Mind (or "Being Realistic")

Jon Ruland
United States
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As a producer and designer for a very small publisher I have found that I am perpetually conflicted. The designer part of me keeps shouting "MOAR!!" while the producer side of me keeps screaming "LESS, STUPID!!" So why the conflict?

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Nothing is truer for startup designers and publishers who want to get their games into print. Components cost money. More expensive games means you need more people to buy them so that you can print more copies and get your cost per copy low enough that you can actually produce your game and sell it at a price that people are willing to pay.

We just recently finished the publication of our very first game, Gangster Dice. We had thought this game very small, but it actually turned out to be too big for our first game. Our first Kickstarter campaign failed horribly, thousands of dollars short of our goal. Our second campaign was successful and we just finished getting all the games to our backers, but we still posted a significant loss to do so (which had to come out of our own personal money).

Now, Gangster Dice turned out very well and we are all very proud of it. But our next games are going to have to be even smaller. As we go through the process of designing additional games we are continuously asking ourselves, "is this game small enough?" So far the answer has almost always been "no way", though we have recently nailed down two potential candidates for publication early next year.

So what is my point with all of this? It's that as designers we all have these grand dreams of making games that we really want to play and that other people will really enjoy, but the flip side to this is that the larger that game is the less likely it is to ever be published.

As designers we should dream big, but at the same time we need to be realistic. In the realm of components and artwork we should keep our games as small as possible while squeezing as much compelling gameplay as we can out of our limited resources. It's a difficult process, but limitations breed creativity.

"Resources are the enemy of imagination."

If there is no limit to our resources (i.e. we don't care how big the game has to be to achieve what we want) then we don't have any problems to solve. We just dream something up, adding components wherever necessary, and the game ends up as a giant bloated mess.

However, if we place severe limitations on our components we are much more likely to get the most out of those components as possible and come up with a fun, streamlined game. And from a player's perspective, components are certainly cool but they can become overwhelming very quickly. Many casual gamers will often be put off by the size of a game with lots of components and never give it a try.

I'd like to hear from other designers or publishers about their experiences with designing for practicality. Do you constantly think about component limitations when designing your games? Do you place component restrictions on yourself when designing a game?

How about non-designers? Do you prefer a game with fewer components or games that come with giant sacks of them like Fantasy Flight's games?
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