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Subject: Lessons Learned as an Aspiring Game Designer rss

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Franks Body
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Such an excellent and honest post. I can't disagree with any of that. I fell totally into the trap of over-developing the art and the look of my game before I had a solid enough game play. It's easy to get carried away - especially if you (like me) are doing the art yourself.
But designing games is fantastic. What better reward than having people want to play your game, get involved in your game and enjoy it enough to keep coming back for more.
I love it - my second and third are on the way.
Keep designing!
Oh - and playing!
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Adam Trzonkowski
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Great article! You've hit on a lot of solid tips.

I'm also a "one project" guy. It is the only way I can stay focused.
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Carl Nyberg
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These points were helpful for me, too. I have four designs that I'm working on right now- it would probably be better to focus on one of them.
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Lanthar Illumen
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Great article! A lot of good advice here.

Focusing is great, but don't neglect other ideas and designs! I am primarily working on just one game, but have the next two planned out. Whenever I get ideas or "inspired" by one of them, I take the time to write out notes as soon as possible. I've found doing that has helped me not only to remember the flashes of inspiration about whatever, but reading those notes over and over helps me to identify the theme/core mechanics, and keep the game more focused.

I would almost rank #4 higher up - playing other games literally saved my current design (adapting a core mechanic and concept from a different game) and the way cards were played in another inspired the second one. Both of my planned games are wargames, but the second example was inspired by a non-wargame boardgame.
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Jake Staines
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MicroStack Games wrote:

1. Stay Original and Organized[/b]

...

Also, make sure your idea is yours. Don't just try to re-theme an existing game or make a small change to it. After I started my own design and asked for feedback, people mentioned some similar games to my own. So I looked into those games and played quite a few, but it felt like I was beginning to draw on too many aspects from those games while getting further away from my own design. I'm now working on moving back in the other direction.

While I'd agree with most of your points, I think the whole "originality" thing is largely fretted over for no reason by most people.

Yes, taking an existing game and just re-theming it is not by any stretch of the imagination "game design". But at the same time, bear in mind that those mechanisms, balancing factors etc. are in those other games because they work. Pretty much every game is built upon a foundation of other people's games, and there's nothing wrong with it in the least. Striving for originality for the sake of originality is a shortcut to failure. Change your game because the change makes it better, not because you want to differentiate yourself from something.
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Sen-Foong Lim
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Good stuff!
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Maybe if looked at from the p.o.v. of an architect...they design buildings the way game designers design games.

Buildings are all made from the same types of common materials...brick...steel...granite.

The same way games are built from common mechanisms and mechanics...area movement...bidding...deck building...worker placement.

Now look around at how many ugly buildings there are and then look at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater...all built from the same basic building blocks but the vision of the designer is what sets them apart.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallingwater

(EDIT: dying keyboard replaced...and shortened to p.o.v.)
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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Excellent reading for any first-time game designer! I started myself half a year ago and learned the same lessons.

1. My first game (Nova Suecia) started exactly like yours: with an original idea that drifted towards other successful games. Well, there is a reason those games are successful and that is that the elements have been tuned to perfection. It's one thing to get inspired by other games but another to assume that they will work in your game as well.

2. In the beginning, my head burst with ideas that I wanted to get into the same game. When I learnt to shelf ideas that didn't add anything to my current game, I could return to them in later games, refine them and even combine them in new games. (My mid-game Mare Balticum builds on several earlier games.)

3. I did most of my early playtesting in spreadsheets. That helped me to simulate and document different scenarios to get a solid gameplay. When introducing other players, I found it good not only to absorb all feedback but also explain the reasoning behind aspects of the game. My first testers were Puerto Rico fans and suggested making the game more similar to that. The result was a game that was worse than both my original game and Puerto Rico.

4. Just like writers read other books, designers should play other games, not only to learn about mechanisms but also to learn about the feelings that a game invokes. When I encountered the Resistance games (like Avalon), I was intrigued by the uncertainty created by the hidden agendas. The result was the latest game Knights & Damosels, a game attempting to create similar feelings but with completely different mechanics (collect cards from unknown sources).

5 & 6. My favorite communities are boardgamegeek and the designer community at The Game Crafter. Initially I only recieved inspiration but (hopefully) I've now started to give back and inspire others.

7 & 8. Collaboration is my next step so anyone interested (preferably with better art skills than me) may contact me.

9. Often games and game mechanisms reflect the world so many non-game skills can also be useful. My history interest inspired my early themes and my test profession helped me come up with test techniques.

10. Art is my weak side but I didn't let it prevent my game ideas. The use of simple symbols and free art helped me focusing on other visual aspects of the game, such as making the "interface" of the game as accessible as possible (clear text and numbers, components fit for the game purpose etc.)

Once again, thanks for sharing your lessons and good luck with your game design!
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Glenn McMaster
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Great article. In my limited puttering with design, I'd add the following to the original 10 points -

1. Stay Original and Organized

Try focusing a subject less travelled or one absent altogether in the market. If you are thinking about a game on WW2
Eastern Front, or a game about a technology space race for Mars, keep in mind the former has been done to death, while the latter hasn’t.

2. Focus on 1 Design at a Time


Have several designs going at once, but always make one your main effort. Games progress at different paces – 80% of your progress happens in 20% of you time. Count on your subconscious solving some design problems for you, (the solution will appear fully formed in your head one day), but this can take months. Spread that 20/80 around a bit rather than suffer long periods of frustration and downtime with one game, (which can be discouraging). Mechanics in one design might be a solution in another – never hesitate to transplant your own ideas between your designs.

Let your draft rules bloat out to 20,000 or more words, but if your target rulebook is to be 10,000 words ‘all in’, then that’s where you must end up when the game is completed.

3. Playtest as much as possible


Use a graphics design program and Excel to whip up your initial prototype. No matter how incomplete, get something into Excel and start solo playtesting quickly, even with entire subsystems of your game unresolved or even absent. Play, revise, restart. When you’re to the point of completing the game solo in Excel without making major revisions to it, you’re ready for playtesters. And since your game was designed in Excel, you can now playtest via email too.

5. Get involved in the design community


Being a playtester for a published designer is a good way to do this.

9. Read, Study, and Learn


Design games about topics you have a strong understand of and shy away from themes that you don’t know as much about. Your familiarity with the topic will quickly cause your design to ‘balloon’ in rules and chrome well past your complexity threshold – this is good because now you have more game material then you need. Your intrinsic understanding of your topic will then allow you to hone down your bloated prototype into a solid game engine that models the fundamental principles core to understanding the topic you are theming.

10. Don't Over-Invest in Artwork


Part of staying interested in your design is puttering with the artwork. Go nuts when you’re stuck on design problem so have some down time, but stick to your Excel game and don’t bother printing out a hard copy. When you’re ready to playtest, remember that having a game copy with some bling to it never hurt the feelings of any playtester.
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James Mathe
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MicroStack Games wrote:
5. Get involved in the design community

This is a big one for me. The design community here and on sites like BGDF and r/TabletopGameDesign are great. There is a wealth of information available and helpful people too. Branch out a little as well! Twitter and facebook groups are great too!

For those of you who don't know... we have a VERY active and helpful table top game design group on Facebook with 4000 members. You can join it here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/GameDesignersGuild/

James
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