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Subject: When do you know you're "ready" ? rss

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Matt D
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So I've been hanging out here in the Board Game Design forum for a few weeks now because a couple of different folks said that I gave them really good ideas for things to do with their games. And for the past few months I've been cooking up a few half baked ideas.

What I am wondering is, when is it time for me to stop just sort of hanging out here and offering ideas to folks looking to brainstorm, to look down and actually work on something of my own? Do I wait until I have a whole idea, or start to put down these little germs of ideas and mechanics and try to forge them into something?

Or is there a market* for someone who just sort of hangs around and offers ideas to folks who are real designers just looking for a way to frame something they have?

I've played a ton of games, but I'm not arrogant enough yet to think that I can formulate a whole game. I guess my question is -- do you start by formulating crappy games until you get good at figuring out how to make things work, or do you just hangout with folks who are better and more experienced, and incrementally work yourself up to doing it?

I feel like I could sit down, lock myself in a room, and say, "You can't leave until you have a game." But is that how these things work?

* By market I don't necessarily mean to sell or be paid. I've given out all kinds of ideas and never asked for anything back, or payment, or credit, or anything like that. I just mean is it something that people find worthwhile to talk to...
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George Monnat Jr
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I think you can contribute and learn the process by helping others playtest and refine their games. If you develop a relationship, you might help design their next game.
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Juan Valdez
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Ze Frank addresses just this topic in "Brain Crack." (explicit)
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Matt D
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GeorgeMo wrote:
I think you can contribute and learn the process by helping others playtest and refine their games. If you develop a relationship, you might help design their next game.


Yeah, that's sort of how I've been leaning. Mostly it's been super unofficial - literally just tossing some ideas on threads on here. A couple of folks reached out and said that my ideas were really good and helped them refine their mechanics, so I feel I've got some good thoughts, but most of them are really just piggy backing.

Which brings up another question - if someone has an idea for something, and I think of a twist on it, is it stealing to start to work on something using that idea that I would not have had if I hadn't thought of it as a solution to their problem?

How often do established designers take on "apprentices" outside of just play testing and tossing some ideas in? I feel like I am ready to progress a bit beyond just play testing, but just don't know how to make that step. Just wait and hope to catch the eye of someone?

I'm not impatient, so if that's how it works if/when it happens, it happens. Just wondering if that is what I should be looking for...
 
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Ian Richard
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You won't know how to make games until you sit down and make games. It doesn't matter what games you make or how much you suck, just that you're doing it and you're actively learning.

I've professionally shipped board games and video games, chatted with the biggest names in both industries. Funny thing, none of us are actually "Ready", we just happen to work hard and hope this one goes well.

Seriously, one of the most successful board game designers I met said "I'm happy to answer questions as long as you know my answers are probably wrong" and another who said "I got lucky to start when I did, I don't know if I could have made it in todays market." Both designers, just about everyone here would recognize.

What happens in that you sit down, work a little bit at a time, and create a crappy project. Then another, another, another... and then you get a glimmer of quality. You'll work at that and it'll turn to crap and then you restart until heaven opens up and you actually pulled off a good game. Then you start all over.

Over time, you'll get better as long as you keep an open mind. Listen to playtesters, don't let your ego blind you, and be willing to learn from failures.

My experience doesn't make me design good all the time, but I can identify crap at an earlier stage. I waste less time, my gut wagers about which direction are pretty good and I have a fairly strong ability to read player bases.

It's hard work, it's draining, it's full of failure and disappointment. You're NEVER going to be "ready" for the challenges that lie ahead of you.

But I survived it, and I do it again every single day. Those people you admire? They likely do the same.

You can too, but you won't win from the sidelines.
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Alison Mandible
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hestiansun wrote:
do you start by formulating crappy games until you get good at figuring out how to make things work, or do you just hangout with folks who are better and more experienced, and incrementally work yourself up to doing it?


I can say that for every other type of creative work I know about, the answer would be the former, because of this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbC4gqZGPSY

I haven't finished a game yet, but it sure seems to also work that way to me. I pride myself on making good suggestions when acting as a playtester or developer, but creating something out of nothing, even in the partial form I've done it so far, is a whole different skill.
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Matt D
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grasa_total wrote:


I can say that for every other type of creative work I know about, the answer would be the former, because of this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbC4gqZGPSY

I haven't finished a game yet, but it sure seems to also work that way to me. I pride myself on making good suggestions when acting as a playtester or developer, but creating something out of nothing, even in the partial form I've done it so far, is a whole different skill.


Pretty well expressed thought -- thanks for linking that video.

I guess what I really am trying to figure out, moreso than whether I am ready to dive in, is whether I should. Do I work to try to design games just to say that I am a game designer, or do I just sort of hang out and help people with ideas to make their games better, and wait until I have a truly stellar idea of my own?

I'm not in it to make money; I know that game design is really about passion for what you do, and that the financial rewards beyond simply repaying sweat equity only come to the very small select few. But I feel like I'd like to contribute something, at the end of the day, for that sense of pride.

I don't know. Maybe my thoughts on what to do are about as poorly formulated as the various ideas I have for game mechanics.
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Ken Lewis
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You will usually know you are ready to design a game because the ideas you had "cooking" usually coalesce into something that demands more attention, and the more attention you give it, the more readily the ideas start to flow, to the point that the game will almost seem like it is designing itself.

The design might not be awesome or innovative, but it will start you down the path of designing your own games where each game you design will help you gain the experience you need to make the next game you design even better.

I have several files of games that I have created just because I got an idea that demanded my attention until I felt it was complete. Some of these I think are good enough to seek out additional playtesting on and others I just think are ok and keep them around as a potential source for inspiration or something I may try to develop further later on.
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John Swanson
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My short answer is, you may never know if you're really 'ready'. Design is incremental, and in my experience, the only way to get results is to start with something.

hestiansun wrote:
do you start by formulating crappy games until you get good at figuring out how to make things work


This an excellent way of describing it. When I have an idea for a mechanic, whether general or specific, I can usually think it through cognitively and assess whether it has some basic merit. Play-testing is still required to get a true 'feel' for something, but my instincts are built on a foundation of not-so-great prototypes.

And I'm guessing even the most successful game designers rarely begin the design process with a best seller.

hestiansun wrote:

I guess what I really am trying to figure out, moreso than whether I am ready to dive in, is whether I should. Do I work to try to design games just to say that I am a game designer, or do I just sort of hang out and help people with ideas to make their games better, and wait until I have a truly stellar idea of my own?


If you enjoy it, do it! There is nothing wrong with wanting to have your name on a game. And I don't think you have to choose, either. Work on your own game(s) if you want, but don't stop helping others.

And good luck!
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Rob Harper
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hestiansun wrote:
I guess what I really am trying to figure out, moreso than whether I am ready to dive in, is whether I should. Do I work to try to design games just to say that I am a game designer, or do I just sort of hang out and help people with ideas to make their games better, and wait until I have a truly stellar idea of my own?


It depends on what drives you. If you really want to make games, then you can pick up tips and tricks by watching or discussing, but the only way you will really learn to make them is by doing it. Come up with any crappy idea and just make a game. Learn from the experience. Get better.

If you wait for the stellar idea, then you won't have the skills to implement it properly if and when it comes. Start working on the skills now.

If you just like to be involved in the process, then that is really cool too. Read threads, add your comments and suggestions, help out, and that is awesome and great. Maybe later you'll decide that you really want to work on your own games. Or not. Either way you will have contributed to the community (you may even get a rulebook credit here and there!).

But I'll say it again: if you want to make games, then get on with it and make a game, even if it is just tic-tac-toe with special power cards, or a chess variant. You'll almost certainly learn a lot. And, frankly, the ideas are the easy part, it's the implementation that is what really counts.

Good luck!
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nat tact
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If you wait to feel like your ready then you will never actually be ready. It's like standing next to water but never swimming.

In board game design you're not going to drown, but you might make something that doesn't work.

My suggestion is to start with easy "gateway" game. Something that takes less than 30 minutes to play and doesn't have a ton of rules. The first game that I made had simple rules, the next game was a little more complex.

As far as I remember on my first game I made the game and played it a few times and then it just wasn't fun anymore. So I waited a few days until an idea came to mind.

The main thing is to try and fail.

 
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Craig Stockwell
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I find there are similarities -- as well as differences -- in how everyone arrives at creating finished, ready-to-pitch games (whether they ever pitch to publishers, or not).

One set of quick, pithy advice bits:

* It's never too early to start designing games
* Playtest with yourself, then family/friends, then strangers, then remotely/blindly
* Fail quickly, iterate often (i.e.: don't retain bad ideas, a.k.a. "murder your darlings").
* Every game you design will teach you things -- whether you just take it to early prototype, or all the way to finding a publisher for it

James Ernest, self-deprecatingly, has said, "I've designed over 150 games; I never said I've designed over 150 GOOD games".

Related, here are three things which can greatly improve your design skills --

1. Play more games
2. Read/watch/listen to established designers (books, podcasts, web shows)
3. Interact with established designers (BGG, for example *g* -- which you're already doing)
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James Arias
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I'm just a hobbyist as well (not planning to quit my day job ).

For me, my motivation is usually wanting a particular type of game, but instead of finding one title that scratches the itch, I find several games that each have 1 or 2 interesting features (mechanics or bits). So I start thinking of how to synthesize all those features into the "perfect game for me", and sometimes this results in a few eurekas mixed in with personal spin on the concepts I'm leveraging.

Going thru this with a dungeon crawler / dudes in a corridor concept and a sci-fi dudes on a map concept.

Synthesis is STILL hard and I can agree with the comments on start simple, try, fail, learn, iterate until it starts to feel and flow right.

The community here is great for ideas, feedback and critiques, even if just lurking on the design discussions.
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Alex Houghton
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This is a great question!

Regardless of anything else, keep this in mind:
It doesn't have to hurt. Making your first board game doesn't have to be a daunting, serious process! You're going to make a lot of mistakes and that's okay. It's normal, you'll learn, and you'll want to make more mistakes games.

If you find yourself getting distracted with a the mechanics or themes of a game in your head, you're ready to do something about it.

Remember all of those people you've been giving advice and ideas to? They want to help you now.

And if it ends up sucking (first iterations tend to), no harm done. Either go back to the drawing board or go back to "offering ideas". You're not going to be trapped as a "game designer" from the moment you start. Please help me I can't leave.
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Greg
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I'm just a novice and have designed a few games partially, and several fan made Expansions and variants.

One tip: set up a very small subset of your game and design those parts first. For instance, if you have a good idea for combat, and you want that to be the driving force behind the game, the interesting choices and freshness of the mechanics. Make what you need to test a single instance of a battle. Then you will know if the game will be good or if you need to work on it.

I made the mistake of trying to design the whole thing at once only to find that when I got to a certain aspect, it was crap. So I wasted a whole lot of effort making other cards and stuff.

I think you get better and better the more you design. My motivation comes from wanting to pull together concepts and mechanics from all my favorite games and put them into one. I want to make a game that I could see myself playing forever.

Once you print out that small subset to test a certain portion of your game that is the most important, and if it actually works, things will just start clicking from there.

The game I am designing right now literally just fell together so well that I hardly believe I designed it. It also helps a lot if your game is easy to solo so that you can just test it yourself over and over.

Last tip: Totally write the background story to your game first. I can't tell you how much easier it is to design a game if you have a fully fleshed out background and world from which to riff off of before you plunge into the design.

This time around, I believe that is why my design is working out. I wrote a long background and setting to my game and it feels more alive now which has greatly influenced my inspiration, motivation, and quality of the design. Of course I'm doing an epic Fantasy Adventure board game though. But I think this can help with just about any game design. You become more invested when you see the world you are in and how it works. My 2 cents.
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Phate999 wrote:
Last tip: Totally write the background story to your game first. I can't tell you how much easier it is to design a game if you have a fully fleshed out background and world from which to riff off of before you plunge into the design.

This time around, I believe that is why my design is working out. I wrote a long background and setting to my game and it feels more alive now which has greatly influenced my inspiration, motivation, and quality of the design. Of course I'm doing an epic Fantasy Adventure board game though. But I think this can help with just about any game design. You become more invested when you see the world you are in and how it works. My 2 cents.


I'm with you here. I started my dungeon crawler design with a detailed background going back thousands of years for my fantasy world, with the history and politics and culture that goes with it. It really helps when making cards, skills, gear, loot, etc., as you can make them thematic from the beginning, rather than trying to shoehorn them into something undefined.
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I agree with what a couple of other people mentioned. I started out by posting game player aids on BGG for a few games, then wrote a few variants for a game and posted them.

It was noticed by the publisher. So when I approached them with a game idea that builds off of their existing series, they gave me a contract. I spent two years designing the game, and went through 3 major revisions with great feedback from the publisher. But now the game is on Kickstarter and is getting published.

So a couple of things helped for me. Getting experience by creating variants for existing games. Designing a game using an existing game series core engine so that I didn't have to start from scratch. And being under contract to actually create a game! The contract was a big motivator to complete it.
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Matt D
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Thanks guys, I really appreciate all of the advice.

I think for now I'm going to design the mini-elements that I have been thinking of (in some cases just small mechanics), until I come up with an idea for a theme to tie it together. No harm in having components around that some day may get used as part of something. I know a lot of Hollywood scripts have that -- literally a scene or plot point might be written for a movie, get cut out at the script stage, and then show up in a later totally unrelated movie. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad.

I have two theme ideas that I am tossing around, but it enough to go on. I don't feel that "Carcassonne but with a twist" makes for a compelling new game. I have an (IMO) awesome idea for a mechanic, but I haven't yet been able to think of how to trigger it -- closest I come is using Carcassonne as a starting point.

So I'll keep working mechanics, and the suddenly I'll have my "put my chocolate in his peanut butter" moment.

Great advice all around. I love having this community to come to for help, and I'm sure once I have some actual ideas...you all will be there then too.
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You know the old saying, "If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it?" This is similar, but different. If you are asking the question, "Am I ready to start designing my first game?", the answer is:

Yes, you are ready.

We look forward to seeing your work.
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hestiansun wrote:
But is that how these things work?


As in any creative endeavor: things work however they work for you.

I know people who sit down with a spreadsheet and end up with a game. I know people who sit down with one game and tweak it until they end up with another game. I know people who sit down with an idea scribbled on a napkin and end up with a game.

I also know people who wait for inspiration to strike and end up with nothing. What I'm trying to say is: attempt to design something. Anything. Anyway you feel is comfortable to you. Just start doing it and you'll learn what works for you, and what doesn't.

Remember, there are no rules, only guidelines...
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Like anything in life, how do you know if you are good at something or not? by trying. What happens if you fail? keep on trying if you are enthusiastic about what you want to do.

Never give up on a hobby or interest, or wanting to turn something into a reality. We have all created crap board games for sure at some stage, or thought by heck that was awful. But that's one way of how we get better, by failing to learn from those fails so we can rise up to be better at what we are doing. What's important is how many times you rise, not how many times you fail.

Just because you have not created a board game yourself does not mean you cannot share ideas and suggestions on other peoples designs. We all have different opinions on what might work and not work well. One suggestion is for yourself to play lots of modern games and gather as much information about them. Perhaps join one of the playtesting groups in your country and that will help you gather further insight.

Never be frightened to share you ideas on this forum and gather constructive feedback.

Read lots of useful blogs around board gaming such as:

http://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter/lessons
https://pixygamesuk.blogspot.co.uk
http://geekandsundry.com/6-must-know-game-design-tips-from-t...
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