The idea for this post came to us from something I read in a magazine. I read about a programming tutor service run by beginners. This service despite the fact that the tutors weren’t very experienced and still learning programming themselves ended up being more beneficial for the students because the tutors could relate to beginners. Sometimes masters forget how difficult it is to learn fundamental concepts as a beginner. I bring this up because we have just finished our first tabletop Kickstarter project. So even though we are not masters we wanted to show everyone how we make games and be available to answer questions. Even if you are a total beginner the questions and concerns you may have were the same things we dealt with just a short time ago. Also a lot of you know more than us, I know we aren't the first to post a guide (there's one sticked above this post)I think it would be cool to bounce ideas off one another. So with that being said what we are about to show you may not be the “right” way to make a table top game for Kickstarter but it’s the way that worked for us. Heres our proof.
In everything we have ever made, regardless of the medium, the story we are telling is the most important part of the exercise. This is where we suggest you start. Obviously gameplay is a big part of how table top games are judged but we believe constructing the narrative first allows you to create inspired gameplay that serves the narrative. A good example of this can be our game “Shibboleth.” The narrative for this game was inspired from two sources.
The first source was the product of a night time insomniac Wikipedia binge. When reading about the French Revolution a term kept coming up. “Shibboleth.” Throughout history in all different kinds of tragic events, whether they be war, or revolution that term continues to exist. Lurking in the background of so much sorrow. Shibboleth refers to any custom or principle that can distinguish a person as not belonging to the group. In history it was often used to identify if people were part of the revolution or part of the enemy group.
The second source was a film called “No Escape.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1781922/?ref_=nv_sr_1
It came out a year ago and tells the story of a young American expat family trying to escape from a country in the middle of a violent revolution. The idea of being hunted in a country and trying to escape to the border was really compelling to us.
We like to start the design process for all of our projects by creating a simple three point design brief. It can refer to the experience, materials, narrative, or even the retail cost of the project. Later on down the line as more things begin to happen and you find yourself reevaluating the project it is helpful to have a simple design brief to use as a compass. Here is the design brief for “Shibboleth.”
1. The game can be set up in one minute, taught in five minutes, and played in under 25 minutes.
2. The game needs to be a different experience each time.
3. It needs to be as much fun to win as it is to lose. (maybe winning can be slightly more fun)
So this is pretty basic stuff but it really helped us prevent problems during the design process like feature creep.
Feature creep- when more and more mechanics are added to a game until it either becomes too complicated or too bloated. (forgive me if you already knew this)
So where to start?
For us we like to write out all of our ideas onto a Microsoft Word document and then revise them until we have a sort of mission statement. Here's what we came up with for Shibboleth.
“Shibboleth is a five round micro strategy game for 2-4 players. In Shibboleth you play as a member of one of eight socioeconomic classes living in a city that is in the middle of a bloody revolution. In each round just like in each revolution throughout history there is a class that leads the revolution, a class that does the dirty work, and a class that is blamed for the hardships of the past. These three classes will be random each round. With 512 different possible combinations each revolution may be similar to events from history, or completely original. Players will have to use deceit and cunning to bide their time and escape to freedom, or turn on one another and join the revolution. Each round takes 3-5 minutes to play and is completely unique."
Then we start to organize things into a spreadsheet. I can post a link to the design document.
Basically this is where we started to list out the number of cards and what their abilities would be. This is the most fun part of the process, this is when you get to create the gameplay.
Is it ok to be inspired by other games when you are designing? Absolutely!
Part of the reason we wanted to design a “micro” game is because that’s what we we were playing with our friends. Games like “Coup”, “Resistance,” “Sushi Go”, and “Love Letter”, are great games that have a lot of replay value with a modest amount of game components. From talking to other game designers as well as artists in other fields it seems like every single piece of work we like has been inspired by something else the author liked. So the first piece of advice is it’s ok to be similar in idea, what needs to be unique however is the experience.
Out of the games I listed the one our project is most similar to is “Love Letter.” In our game just like in Love Letter players draw a card and discard one each turn. Discarded cards have abilities, as well as point values that determine the winners of the round. Pretty similar right? Don’t get your pitchforks out just yet though because the experience of the two games is wildly different.
In Love Letter player’s either win the round out right or they get nothing for their efforts. The game is played until one player has won enough rounds to be declared the winner. However in our game players can receive points for a variety of different things and can even receive points after they have been knocked out. We found that this kept players invested in the round even after they had been knocked out. It also had a fun impact on the strategy layer as you are now trying to prevent other players from scoring points as much as you are trying to score points for yourselves.
Lets travel back to how the narrative ties into gameplay. Our game has 8 different card classes in it. Each card represents a socioeconomic class living in the city that is in the middle of a bloody revolution. Players must decide whether to turn one another in or focus on escaping the city to safety. We also wanted to add a unique feel to each round and each revolution. We did this by placing three random cards from the deck face up in the center of the play space at the start of each game. These cards are (in order from left to right), “The Leaders of the Revolution,” “The Minions of the Revolution,” and “The Hated Enemies of the Revolution.”
So a game could start with the Royalty class using the Working class to kill the Guerrilla class. The interesting thing is through the course of a round you could be a member of anyone of those classes. As a result your allegiance to the establishment or the Revolution will constantly change. At the start of a round you might have your heart set on escaping but halfway through you may start to consider turning in other players for the points you would be rewarded. We felt it fit the narrative theme of a city under revolution very well.
So if you asked us what our biggest influences were in designing Shibboleth you would probably be expecting us to say “Love Letter” but we actually drew more from Texas Hold em in creating the experience of the final game. Because all players “share” the potential for bonus points from the three face up cards it leads to motivated gameplay decisions that affect the entire table. A thing any person who’s played poker with friends can tell you.
When should we test the game? Immediately!
We used index cards and pen to make our first prototype of the game directly after we finished the first draft of our spreadsheet. We used scissors, pen, and 11 full size index cards and we were ready to go.
At first we each played two players to simulate a game of four people but as soon as we could we introduced the game to our friends and put it in the hands of real players. The important thing to remember is that the spreadsheet (or whatever you are using to revise the design of the game) needs to be constantly updated as you start to discover things about the game. The spreadsheet really shines for things like game balance.
An example from the “Shibboleth” design process was the re-balancing of the Scientist card. The Scientist ability will almost always end with one player being knocked out of the round. So after noticing how strong the card was we restricted the number of Scientist cards from 3 to 2 in the final game. Its very helpful to have a constant visual of the values, abilities, and card quantities of your game cards.
When do I know the game is ready to move on from the play testing phase? We felt like we were ready to move on after a series of successful blind play tests. A “blind playtest” is when you gather a group to play the game and then only provide them the game and the manual. No member of the development team is in the room and players must figure out every stage of the game using the materials provided. This is the best simulation of a customer playing your final product. If your game holds up after a few of these you are definitely on the right track.
How do I contact an Artist?
There are a ton of ways to do this I would recommend Deviant art over all other sources.
However, before we get into this I suggest you do these things before you contact an artist:
1. Build a gallery of 20+ images you want to inspire the look of the game. You can find these online and use them to communicate with artists using a clear visual language.
2. Create a design brief for each card that you want art for. For Shibboleth we wrote a backstory for each character, and described what they looked like, what they were wearing, and why the found themselves in this part of the city during the revolution. This really helped our artist design inspired characters and backgrounds.
3. Understand what you can afford. There is a reason our first game has 22 cards and not 120. Art is very expensive and it should be as it’s an incredible skill. In our experience artists tend to want to be paid per card, or per design. So if you have 20 cards you want art for and a budget of a thousand dollars you need to be upfront with your artist and explain that you can only pay $50 a card. If they say no don’t be a jerk, most artists work freelance and have a very good understanding of how much they need to make per job.
However, you can get them to lower the price. Not by selling them on the “exposure” they will get from working on your genius idea. Honestly unless you're talking about lighting don’t even use that word. I wouldn't recommend equity in the game being part of your sales pitch either and make no mistake convincing an artist you want to work with is a sales pitch. So approach it like one.
Do your research: look at the art they enjoy making. Most artists post commissions, the things they are paid to make. Pay more attention to the things they make for free, their original works. These are the things that interest them. They enjoy working on those subjects or in those styles. One of the reasons we were able to afford our artist is because we picked a subject matter (1700’s urban city,) and a style (Classic Oil Painting) that she really liked working on anyway. So pay attention to the original work!
Sell them on the game Be enthusiastic! Make them think the game will be a big success don’t tell them that it will. We are passionate guys in general but when we talk about Shibboleth you can see the cartoon hearts in our eyes. Bring that to your work and it is infectious.
After you have your artwork go to a prototype website like gamecrafter or print and play and make the game. The moment you actually have a game you designed in your hands is absolutely surreal. Cherish it.
So you have your game and it looks beautiful are you ready to make a Kickstarter? No.
You need to establish a relationship with a manufacturer. Get a quote from them and have a plan of action you can present to your future backers. Understand that manufacturing is expensive, doubly so if you’re game is large and heavy. This is another reason we decided to make a small, light game.
Send your game out to be reviewed. There are a lot of famous youtube tabletop reviewers who refuse to review Kickstarter games. Who cares about them? There are plenty of smaller channels who are happy to do it. These are our friends.
Do reviews cost money?
Yeah they usually do. Just mailing your game can be expensive but some reviewers also want to be paid for their services. Again don’t be a jerk these people are providing a service. A lot of the smaller channels do this as a part time job or a hobby. If you can afford it help them keep the lights on.
We got our game reviewed by these wonderful youtubers:
They were all great to work with and I recommend you check them out. You can tell them the “Shibboleth” guys say hello.
Do you really need an animated commercial?
To quote Matthew Mcconaughey’s character from “Dazed and Confused, “Nah, but you’d be a lot cooler if you did.”
Animation is very expensive, it's also something all of the big kickstarters have. So how the heck could we afford it.
Well we did the following:
1. Reached out to art students- they are still learning their craft and will accept a fair rate that will be less than an established animator. (read: fair rate not peanuts)
2. Kept our design scope very small: We decided to commission a few background paintings from the animator and then use our existing game art to fill out the spaces. Combined with clever lighting and key frame animation manipulating our preexisting art we were able to do a lot with a little. The process was very time consuming but we are proud of the end result and glad we did it.
The best thing about this is in the time it has taken to create the relationships with the game reviewers and the manufacturers, as well as create all of the campaign materials we have designed two more games! It’s a really fun process and feel free to ask any questions about it. Also if you have any questions about the Kickstarter campaign design here is another link to our campaign.
We would be happy to show you guys how we made the graphics and what our design philosophy was. Please give us your suggestions too on other ways to design games for kickstarter.
George P.E., PMP, DM
Hourglass Realm D&D 5e Play by Forum (PbF) Campaign DM (we'd love to have you join us!)
U.S.S. Tautog (SSN 639) doing an emergency blow with me on it (see profile for details)
Andrew, welcome to BGG. That's a nice long interesting post, but you should post KS links only in the Press Releases forum.
I didn't mean to self promote. Could I upload it without the links? I just felt like I needed proof that I followed my own guide.
...124 to run fleeing from the mountain. ...125 to use a rope to climb the cliff. ...126 to quickly cast "summon stairs." ...127 to dodge under the falling rocks.
I didn't mean to self promote. Could I upload it without the links? I just felt like I needed proof that I followed my own guide.
Yup - it is perfectly fine to mention the name of a Kickstarter in the design forum, but not to post the link to it. Remove the links, and you should be good - though I see this has already been moved to spam.
- Last edited Tue Jul 12, 2016 9:23 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Jul 12, 2016 9:20 pm