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Subject: Should beginners start with small games? rss

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M. Rubinelli
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A common advice for video game developers is to start by building Breakout or another equally simple game, delivering a properly tested and polished product, and only then moving on to something not much larger. Would-be novelists, on the other hand, are advised to start by writing novels instead of short stories. How about board game designers? If I wanted to make the next Twilight Imperium, should I start by designing a better Uno?
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Jakub Marek
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The best analogy I've seen around is, that board games are like sculptures. Some authors prefer to start with nothing and add material till they're done, other prefer to start with complete block and remove parts, till it's perfect.

Regarding the size of the work, I believe smaller games are somewhat harder to do properly as you need to grind the mechanics to the very core while at larger games, you can afford to go a bit en large here and there.

Also, at least from my perspective, it really depends how you like your games. Sculptors of gigantic statues won't be so good at doing miniatures and vice versa. You can easily find out, a lot of authors out there do mostly small games or mostly large games. It's very rare to see very wide and balanced library from the same author. Also preferring something means, you've got more experience with that thing as a consumer, giving you better perspective.

So, just as you wouldn't design a sci-fi or pirate game, if you don't like that theme, you probably wouldn't be so good designing a small or large game if you don't like it. Same for light/heavy, quick/long, etc.

Which is exactly why I may occasionally show up with something size of Citadels, but most of the time, I'll produce something closer to Arkham Horror.

That said, designing smaller games probably can give you some experience even for designing larger games, as knowing your mechanics is important.
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Carl Nyberg
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If you're just starting out, I would say, design a variant of chess as a start.
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Pas L
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No, UNO is crap.

Design the game you want to make. Just make sure you do you research and don't try and think you're smarter than all the designers who have gone before.
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Nate K
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I would say definitely start with something small. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew with your first project, and you don't know how much you can chew (and what your playtesters will tolerate) until you have designed something. So start small. And maybe try to design a solitaire game as one of your first few games--solitaire games provide designers with unique challenges that will stretch your abilities.

Plus, you definitely DO NOT want to try to create your magnum opus on your first attempt. You want to develop your skills before you design your pet project that will rock the world.

By the way, novelists are encouraged to write novels (rather than short stories or poems) because that medium has a different language to it. Things that work in short stories don't always work in novels, and vice versa. The story structures and character arcs are quite different. With other artistic mediums, though, such as painting or game design, the techniques that work on a small scale can be applied to a large scale.
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Jeremy Lennert
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New designers are often urged to aim small, because making an entire game is more work than you think, and your concepts usually turn out to be larger and more complicated than they sound in your head. Many of my early attempts died because I got stuck writing lists of stuff I wanted to include in the game and ran out of steam before completing various other necessities, and many others ended up so complicated that even when I played them we ended up just playing the opening and then getting bored because they were too fiddly and time-consuming.

However, designing a small game is in many ways harder than designing a big one. The amount of complexity you allow yourself is like a budget. If you have a high budget, you can pretty much buy whatever seems good at the time, and add more stuff in later if it turns out your first round of purchases didn't meet your needs. If you've got a tight budget, you need to make every purchase count, and spend a lot of effort figuring out the most cost-effective way to do whatever you're doing.

I also think it's useful to design games that you're excited about, because that's a powerful motivator, and you really need motivation when learning to do something new.

I would recommend:

1) Start by making variants for your favorite games rather than full from-scratch games of your own. I've never met a designer who said they didn't start out designing variants. (If you've made it here, you've likely already done this.)

2) Make a list of some ideas for games you'd like to design. Pick the simplest, easiest-sounding idea on that list, and then cut as many features from it as you can possibly stand.

3) However, once you start finding holes or problems in your design (and you will), allow it to become more complicated to deal with them. Later on, you're going to want to practice solving these problems without increasing complexity, but that's usually much harder, so for your first game just try the most obvious patch.

4) Aim to sit down and actually play the game as early as possible. It doesn't have to be balanced or fun, just go through the actual steps that a player would do. This will often reveal essential bits that you've overlooked. (I once sat down with my brother to try out a combat-based game and only then realized I had never created a formula for calculating damage dealt.) Notice this means that any features that aren't necessary for stepping through a gameplay example should be de-prioritized until you reach this point.
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Hilko Drude
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Something from my own experience: My friend and I started designing a game around 1995 or 1996. It was too big, and it isn't done. While we are occasionally working on it, it might remain unfinished for a while to come.
But whenever I think about this game in detail, I seem to come up with an idea for a smaller game - some of these ideas have been published by now, others might be in the future. Meaning: I cannot focus on just one project, because ideas come when they come. So whatever you plan to do, at the end there might be an entirely different game (or more than one).
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Pas L
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Antistone wrote:
I would recommend:

1) Start by making variants for your favorite games rather than full from-scratch games of your own. I've never met a designer who said they didn't start out designing variants. (If you've made it here, you've likely already done this.)


IMO this is the best advice here so far. Why? Because you get to play around with something that interest you, and motivation is vital if you ever want to get anywhere, plus you get to then test what you're done and work out why it does or doesn't work, and then understand more about why the original design might have been put together like it was, and appreciate the elements of that design that you took for granted before.
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Nate K
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Antistone wrote:

1) Start by making variants for your favorite games rather than full from-scratch games of your own. I've never met a designer who said they didn't start out designing variants. (If you've made it here, you've likely already done this.)


I... actually don't think I ever did this. Unless designing cards for Magic: The Gathering counts? It does seem like good advice, but if it's a common step, then it may have been one that I missed.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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kurthl33t wrote:
I... actually don't think I ever did this. Unless designing cards for Magic: The Gathering counts?

I'd say that counts. My most memorable early variant was designing powers for Cosmic Encounter; cards for Magic seems pretty similar in principle.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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I'll say this part first: You don't want to get burned out on your first project.


But my best advice is this: start out by playtesting someone else's game. Preferably, be a part of a larger team of playtesters.
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Austin
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This is an interesting thought.

First and foremost, I think you should start designing a game you're interested in making. There's a lot of learning that comes with your first design, and it can be frustrating when things simply aren't working or if you just need to scrap a large portion of the game and rebuild it. If you're working on something you're passionate about, that process will be so much easier to accept and be more meaningful because it's something you care about.

That being said, I think your first design should also be realistic. If you start off with something massive like Twilight Imperium, you'll likely face a lot of complications. There's many more moving parts in a larger game, so it can be hard to isolate what exactly isn't working with the gameplay during a playtest. That goes into a whole different issue, of finding people to commit to an early playtest of a large scale prototype game.

My gut instinct if you want to design a large game, would be to narrow in on one of the gameplay elements that you really want to explore, and build a middleweight game focusing around that. If you get comfortable with it and think it's fun, you could expand that into a larger game, or continue designing the middleweight.

Sorry if I started to ramble, hope that all made sense!
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Stijn Hommes
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For writers, writing a short story when you really intend to write novels is like practicing to bake cookies when you really want to bake a pie. They're two very different things.

Still, I do recommend beginning writers to write a couple of short stories because they teach you to be concise and not to overwrite. More importantly, it gives you the chance to experience what it feels like to finish a project. Since finishing things is something a lot of creative people struggle with, I find it important to finish something small, to get the feeling before committing to larger projects.

I would apply the same line of thoughts to game design.
Design something small to get through all the steps. Finish something. And use what you learned in larger designs.
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Koen Hendrix
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Antistone wrote:
However, designing a small game is in many ways harder than designing a big one. The amount of complexity you allow yourself is like a budget.
I agree, and would add:

Big games give you lots of playing room for your imagination and your ideas to go wild. It's not until later that stuff decisions get hard. Small games give you less room to faff about -- everything counts, most decisions are hard. This sounds nasty but is actually good for getting a project finished.

So I'd say if you want to finish your project, start small.

If you want to just have fun and go wild designing it, go big!
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