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Subject: Diving into board game design. A few questions! rss

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Dane W

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Greetings. Very recently my brother and I were going back and forth on ideas for a board game. We're both getting very excited and are doing a ton of research on how to proceed. I've been reading lots of resources on here as well as blogs and basically anywhere I can find!

I have a few questions I haven't found answers to:

1) We are planning on pitching to a publisher eventually, but our game idea is in the universe of a very popular franchise. My question is, will this be a deal breaker for publishers? I understand licensing fees can be very costly. Is this a non-starter?

2) How should we go about creating early prototypes? I'm thinking like the earliest internal testing, and early external testing. I'm sure its not wise to spend money on good quality pieces and art at this point, so what do most people do? Just draw a board on paper? White erase boards? What about components such as resources and meeples?

3) I read on here that you shouldn't be afraid of people stealing your idea. I'm OK with that, but I'm wondering if there are SOME things I should do to protect the idea? Or things to avoid when getting advice?

Thanks for the help! I'm getting very excited but am also realizing what a huge daunting task this will be!
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Paul DeStefano
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I am answering this as someone who has worked with Hasbro, WizKids and others. I did put all the flavor text on The Lord Of The Rings dice game for example, developed some Star Trek stuff and so on.

RabidPickle wrote:

1) We are planning on pitching to a publisher eventually, but our game idea is in the universe of a very popular franchise. My question is, will this be a deal breaker for publishers?


100%. Your project is dead before the start. If someone already owns the rights, you need to track them down. Second hint - if they have the rights they have in house plans. If no one has the rights - there's a reason.

If you publish yourself, then acquiring rights might be up to you if they do not already have a bind. Otherwise, just don't even go to step 1 on design.


RabidPickle wrote:

I understand licensing fees can be very costly. Is this a non-starter?

Yes. Except for tiny publishers. And they can only swing the tiny licenses. This is far more about contract negotiation and rights than games and lawyers will be helpful.


RabidPickle wrote:
2) How should we go about creating early prototypes? I'm thinking like the earliest internal testing, and early external testing.

Spend $0 for in house tests. This is money that will be lost anyway, so make it as little as possible.

RabidPickle wrote:
I'm sure its not wise to spend money on good quality pieces and art at this point, so what do most people do? Just draw a board on paper? White erase boards? What about components such as resources and meeples?

Just scavenge other games for the start.

RabidPickle wrote:
I read on here that you shouldn't be afraid of people stealing your idea. I'm OK with that, but I'm wondering if there are SOME things I should do to protect the idea? Or things to avoid when getting advice?

Protecting your work is the second biggest thing to scare publishers away, beyond working with a licensed product. They want ownership start to finish. Once you start doing anything like copyrights, they don't want the trouble.

RabidPickle wrote:
Thanks for the help! I'm getting very excited but am also realizing what a huge daunting task this will be!

It is indeed.
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JT Schiavo
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1) I would work with "inspired by" instead of "in the universe" unless you plan on pitching to a publisher that already has that universe licensed.

2) Most start with cards on paper, and whatever other goodies you can salvage. If you need a board, draw it on some cardboard or poster board. If you need tokens, use coins or bottle caps or paper. Print out your "cards" and sleeve them with cards from other games so you can play without having marked cards.

Personally, I do my card games on business card stock from my inkjet printer, but that only works because there is little to no shuffling in those designs.

3) You're probably "stealing" an idea without even realizing it. The important thing is to make your game the best it can be with clearly defined rules (including timing) and get lots of playtesting in to prove the concept works.

If you aren't comfortable sharing your ideas, go ahead and keep them to yourself, but if you ask for advice and don't provide specifics, the advice won't be very specific either.
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Dustin Culbertson
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I'm the same boat as you and I've been doing research regarding similar questions.

1) My guess is unless you pitch the game to a publisher who already has the rights to that universe it's likely a no-go.

2) I've been doing a combination of printing game cards on regular paper and then using sleeves to make them a little more usable. Game boards on paper and then having a buddy laminate them. Other bits I've been borrowing from other games in my collection. I did order a bunch of dice off of eBay for one prototype since I didn't have as many non-standards as I wanted (d4, d8, d10, etc.).

3) Jamey Stegmaier (stonemaiergames.com) has mentioned before (and I assume others have as well) that there are lots of ideas out there and you're likely not the first person to come up with a mechanic or a theme before. The key difference is actually taking that idea to execution. I think in general this community is much more interested in a) making their own ideas happen and b) helping others get their ideas off of the ground.

My initial takes have been this is a great place for idea bouncing and constructive feedback!
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Rob Harper
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RabidPickle wrote:
1) We are planning on pitching to a publisher eventually, but our game idea is in the universe of a very popular franchise. My question is, will this be a deal breaker for publishers? I understand licensing fees can be very costly. Is this a non-starter?


It might not be a deal breaker, but you're safer to assume it will be, and design the game independent of the IP. (I guess you could later on pitch it with a comment that the game could easily fit with this IP if a license could be got.

Does this IP already have games made for it? If so, you probably only have a chance pitching to someone already making games based on it, and that could be tricky.

Quote:
2) How should we go about creating early prototypes? I'm thinking like the earliest internal testing, and early external testing. I'm sure its not wise to spend money on good quality pieces and art at this point, so what do most people do? Just draw a board on paper? White erase boards? What about components such as resources and meeples?


Initially, hand write on index cards or something, use that white erase board. Borrow components from other games in your collection. I do that sort of thing, and have also acquired a good collection of random cubes, meeples, coins, and other components, but plundering other games is really useful.

Quote:
3) I read on here that you shouldn't be afraid of people stealing your idea. I'm OK with that, but I'm wondering if there are SOME things I should do to protect the idea? Or things to avoid when getting advice?


I am not a lawyer. At all. Not even a bit. If you want to know the ins and outs of intellectual property, ask someone who is qualified.

That said, I figure that if I post about some of my projects here, and blog about other bits, then I have at least ammunition to embarrass someone who rips me off in this very small industry where just about everyone knows each other. And the projects I am working on now are not my best; they are yet to come, and when I get to them I will be better at it because of what I am doing now. I think it's very unlikely I will be ripped off, but if I am, I just need to keep moving on.

Quote:
Thanks for the help! I'm getting very excited but am also realizing what a huge daunting task this will be!


Good luck, and enjoy the journey!
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Dane W

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Geosphere wrote:

100%. Your project is dead before the start. If someone already owns the rights, you need to track them down. Second hint - if they have the rights they have in house plans. If no one has the rights - there's a reason.


Thanks so much for your reply.

So just to clarify: If my game idea was some Star Wars game, I'd have to find who currently own the rights to make Star Wars games? Which would be Fantasy Flight currently, correct? Or a Harry Potter game, USAopoly just released Hogwarts Battle so they own the rights to Harry Potter?
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Paul DeStefano
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Well, if it were Star Wars, it's FFG and they don't accept outside submissions. You will find that the case for most big licenses and companies.

It's more efficient to have staff than a freelance designer for licensing usually due to the amounts of approvals and revisions required by the originator.

For example, games based on The Hunger Games are not allowed to include killing or imprisonment. Really. That requires some in house redesign when you get hit with that.
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Robert Wesley
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Does your PLAY as either RISK or Monopoly? H-U-G-E "sales" for theirs then! cool
 
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Craig Stockwell
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Hello Dane -- you've already heard some good advice here, but I'll add what I can ...

1. Non-starter, BUT -- you could re-theme your game. If it's set in space, but about exploration, choose a new setting -- it shouldn't be indivisible from the very popular franchise. If I made a game about Firefly, there's no reason I couldn't spin it as Steampunk Traders & Explorers. Star Trek? How about wizards, druids, and sages sailing a fantasy water planet, encountering scattered islands, and dealing with issues during the journey?

An unknown designer maybe has a 1:1,000 chance of getting their game signed; an unknown designer making a licensed game maybe has a 1:1,000,000 chance of getting their game signed.

2. Generally, all testing is done on hand-written or home-printer-produced cards & boards. For resources and meeples (as mentioned earlier), scavenge from your current collection. Or buy something cheaply. I know several designers who use change for money counters (who doesn't have pennies, nickles, and dimes around somewhere).

Now, that said, when you go to pitch to publishers ... then you might consider expending the effort (and money) to have a couple nicely-made prototypes printed. I've used The Game Crafter and been happy -- there are several other reputable options out there as well. The best-looking prototype won't sell a subpar game; a great game will sell on handwritten cards. If you're in-between, maybe it'll help get you more consideration. =)

3. It takes so much time and effort to turn an idea into a pitch-ready game -- and basically everybody who can do so is working on their own stuff -- that there's no reason to protect yourself.

I'd make an exception: if you've hit upon something really, truly revolutionary (e.g.: Richard Garfield with MtG), it might be worth protecting. And then, you'd have to have the money to pay a patent attorney to research and file. If you're 100% convinced your game is revolutionary, touch base with someone you know and trust (but who's not a friend or family member)(but is a designer, podcaster, frequent game-player, store owner, or publisher) and show them. If they're 100% convinced it's revolutionary, find a third person. And a fourth. If all five of you are sure -- maybe it's time to drop thousands to make that patent happen.
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Dane W

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toon_ace wrote:
Hello Dane -- you've already heard some good advice here, but I'll add what I can ...

1. Non-starter, BUT -- you could re-theme your game. If it's set in space, but about exploration, choose a new setting -- it shouldn't be indivisible from the very popular franchise. If I made a game about Firefly, there's no reason I couldn't spin it as Steampunk Traders & Explorers. Star Trek? How about wizards, druids, and sages sailing a fantasy water planet, encountering scattered islands, and dealing with issues during the journey?


Hey Craig, thanks so much for your reply. After reading the comments in here I've definitely given up on the franchise idea. It was for a Harry Potter game. A kind of worker placement game. There really seems to be a void of good Harry Potter games! I'm not even a huge Harry Potter fan but I'd play a good worker placement HP game in a second! But we've already got almost two pages of brain storming for basically the same game with a bit different theme.

I'm very thankful for everyone's time and words to me in here!
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Paul DeStefano
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RabidPickle wrote:
After reading the comments in here I've definitely given up on the franchise idea.


Wise man.

Best of luck on your project!
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patrick mullen
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Two words: pizza boxes. You are probably ordering the pizza for those long nights designing anyway. Great source of cardboard as-is for a board, or cut up for markers. It's just the right thickness for tiles too. (The boxes from the place I order from are white, which is a plus)

Worker placement in a school sounds like an interesting combination. Good luck!
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Dane W

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saluk wrote:
Two words: pizza boxes. You are probably ordering the pizza for those long nights designing anyway. Great source of cardboard as-is for a board, or cut up for markers. It's just the right thickness for tiles too. (The boxes from the place I order from are white, which is a plus)

Worker placement in a school sounds like an interesting combination. Good luck!


Ooh great idea! Except I don't need any more reasons to get more pizza...

And thank you! A bit more about that: the workers will be the "students" and instead of using them to acquire resources, you will place them in classes/libraries and they become the resource. No idea if that will work yet but its something we're hammering out!
 
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mark w

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Some things that have come in handy in my design adventures.

School glue thinned with rubbing alcohol(50/50) can be spread with a wood glue roller on to cereal boxes for attaching printed sheets. I find the paper does not bubble if you thin with alcohol. 28 to 32lb paper is preferred but regular will work. I stack the sheets with wax paper between them and put a book on top to let them dry. *Spray glue or labels are better but cost more.

Thrift a few games like risk for resources, trivial pursuit for cards to use as backers in sleeves and boards from both.

Blank dice off amazon + a sharpie for marking the symbols and a dry erase marker to erase the sharpie off when it is time to change them.

T square and an exacto for cutting out bits. Always cut away from yourself follow that rule and you will be fine

The game crafter is great for parts like meeples and other bits you have a hard time thrifting. Plus when ready you can print a nice prototype if you choose.

play a bunch of games

check meetup.com to see if there is a design group in your area if not consider starting one perhaps.

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