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Subject: What is your process when designing games? rss

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Michael Williams
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What is the steps you usually take when coming up with a game, do you just think of it on the spot like "hey i have a neat idea for a board game"
or do make it up as you go along? ect..ect

for me i think of a theme and then i go onto paint and think of a game mechanic, usually with cards. and i end up like this

current game im working on


When i hit a wall i usually start scribbling
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Dave Platt
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I wouldn't call myself a games designer but I have flirted with game design, both board and video, over the span of many years.
It used to be the case that an interest in something would spark a desire to make a game about that interest and all these games never really went anywhere.
My latest attempt has turned out so much better and I actually believe that it will be a game that people will enjoy and want to play again, but it's been designed in a very different way and a way that has had a good feel about it.
The broad idea was to make a game that was easy to play but also had depth. I started out with an idea of what components I wanted in the game.
Next was to combine these components together and come up with a loose theme, a sort of generic setting for the game.
Next came the big job of combining all these elements together with mechanisms and during this stage I was already thinking of a final theme and setting. One in particular kept coming to mind and as work progressed this particular theme just made more and more sense. So it sorta found its own theme.
The finalised theme then demanded elements be added to the game. These were added and the game was ready for prototype.
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Charles Ward
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Dave P wrote:
I wouldn't call myself a games designer but I have flirted with game design, both board and video, over the span of many years.
It used to be the case that an interest in something would spark a desire to make a game about that interest and all these games never really went anywhere.
My latest attempt has turned out so much better and I actually believe that it will be a game that people will enjoy and want to play again, but it's been designed in a very different way and a way that has had a good feel about it.
The broad idea was to make a game that was easy to play but also had depth. I started out with an idea of what components I wanted in the game.
Next was to combine these components together and come up with a loose theme, a sort of generic setting for the game.
Next came the big job of combining all these elements together with mechanisms and during this stage I was already thinking of a final theme and setting. One in particular kept coming to mind and as work progressed this particular theme just made more and more sense. So it sorta found its own theme.
The finalised theme then demanded elements be added to the game. These were added and the game was ready for prototype.


I fell in love with this post.
 
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Gary Selkirk
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An interesting thread, indeed.
I design historical strategy games. So, call me lazy if you want, but in reality, I simply work on the area of history I'm most interested in and have the knowledge and resources to design such games.
For instance, I choose a war, campaign, battle I'd like to see published. I start putting pen to paper and bristol board to work on the area of operations concerning the game. Next, I pull from my book shelves all the pertinent information regarding numbers of troops, locations and terrain. Time and space, movement and other details fall into place.
When I've done the exhausting research, I start making units, counters, blocks, plastics, whatever the game involves and fit that information into the time frame. This allows for details of the units themselves. They could be veteran, green and / or the numbers involved.
My personal experience in game design is from the time I put pen to paper to seeing the game published, takes about 2 years.
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Jeremy Monts

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I have about 2 dozen documents full of ideas/themes/etc

However, I'm not the primary designer on my team, so generally I get an idea/outline which may or may not include theme/mechanics, and then I toss it over to our resident expert.

He fleshes stuff out, and then we test from there.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Let's take one of the projects I'm working on now: My starting conception is that I want to address debt, deficit spending and portfolio composition.

The backing concepts are that:

- Players will start with nothing, will take on ever-increasing debt loads in order to start and operate companies.

- Debt will require ever increasing interest payments which will tend to be more than the revenues from the companies for much of the game (thus requiring borrowing even more money to pay the interest on the current debt, plus the now larger interest payments on the additional debt).

- This good-money-after-bad pattern will last almost the entire game.

- Debt is generally squishy...let's relish in that.

- The companies founded by the players will have variously different types that fundamentally alter how and from where they make money.

- The different types of companies will be in conflict with each other such that the success of one type comes at the expense of another, but that this is localised/contextual on the board.

- As a result assets in different company types will behave fundamentally differently. (How? What assets? Dunno.)

- As a result portfolio composition can viably vary widely. Specifically, no: "those are the best shares" and "player with the most best shares wins".

- Probably means no certificate limit.

- Players will end the game still significantly in debt, but hopefully their portfolio values and revenue streams will exceed their debt loads. Not enough to pay off the debt mind you, but enough to net a little positive.

- Scores and revenues will be low and the game will in general run continuously starved.

- This is assembled with 18xx-like details (trains, train rusting, shares, stock market, track tiles, that sort of thing).

So, the fundamental problem there is debt management against continuous capital destruction. Cool.

Now, how is that going to work? No idea. So, I mull it over, think about it while driving, while sitting on the toilet, as I go to sleep, as I wake in the morning, as I brush my teeth... How can I divide the asset-types? How can I put them in conflict? How come early money doesn't just dominate? Are their debt ceilings? Why are the assets different? Are interest rates private to the player or global or both? How do players fail? Those and ever so much more.

In a few months or years I'll have some set of ideas I think are fairly coherent and I'll start making spreadsheets and simulations, then components, then finding victims.
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oystein eker
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Close to my approach.

A lot of A4 papers, pencils.
Throwing down ideas. All of them
Use 3M postIt as cards.

Next - write a set of rules.

Make an extremely simple print and play version.
Save it in "1.ed" file.

Play it solitaire.

Add more ideas.

Save it in a "2.ed" file.

Repeat.

Reduce the rules down to a single A4 page.
Done by combining mechanisms, removing unnecessary ideas.
Going back to 1.ed to check your core idea.

Save it as 3.ed file.

Make a new very simple print and play game.

Play it solitaire. Check for major flaws.

Ask yourself:
" Yes -it works - BUT IS IT FUN?"

Now it is probably very dry. Go back to 2.ed, and carefully add stuff to make it fun.

Now the game 90% finished. Most of us has reached that level.

The last 9% is a very long boring polishing, playtesting period. We are fed up with the game, and it is collecting dust.

Finally, the very hard last 1% a huge obstacle that very few have reached - Finishing the game, ready to offer a playtest version to a publisher.



 
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Sometimes this, sometimes that…

Lately, I tried a very different design idea and came up with playable and fun games very quickly.
It's kind of a child of nomic game-development, but i call it Backwards-Designing.
I used this for a cooperative card-game and also a war-game with complex tech-tree, where i had no idea what technologies could there be and how the different tribes could be different.

I just started the game with blank cards or a blank tech-tree. Everything, I don't know at the moment is empty. I maybe design some cards, which I want to have as a benchmark or which I need for the game to start running. But I leave everything else blank. Then I start playing the game with myself (I often give those dummy players strategies "goes for X", "economy", "tech", "aggressive"…). Anytime, they cannot do something useful, I let them play random. Afterwards, I play, as if this random choice was the most intelligent and strategic decision the could have done. If I draw a blank card that way, I fill the card depending on the needs of the situation of that player. In short, you always design the saving grace.
Do not play the whole game that way! Just start playing and inventing on the way, but then … stop and start again. Are there too powerful cards or combination? Give them a drawback or condition. After 3 iterations you should reflect, whether you think it is interesting to play? Let it rest some days and try not to get too hyped. Find one or two friends, you can show it, whether they think it to be interesting too.
Being in the situation helps you find solutions for the players, which are tailored for the system (instead of pasted onto). It also gets your creativity flowing, what you can do. If you have a big army directly in front of your hometown, you just wish to have a card, which disintegrates them … or at least the half.


General advice:
Just try it out with material you have on hand. Try and iterate as much as possible before you are starting to prototype.
Goals help you a lot: player count, complexity level, age or target group, material, emotions…

Also: I think the games should be mechanics first, but often a story or theme helps me invent mechanics or find a spark.
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Michael Theiss
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clearclaw wrote:
Let's take one of the projects I'm working on now: My starting conception is that I want to address debt, deficit spending and portfolio composition.

The backing concepts are that:

- Players will start with nothing, will take on ever-increasing debt loads in order to start and operate companies.

- Debt will require ever increasing interest payments which will tend to be more than the revenues from the companies for much of the game (thus requiring borrowing even more money to pay the interest on the current debt, plus the now larger interest payments on the additional debt).

- This good-money-after-bad pattern will last almost the entire game.

- Debt is generally squishy...let's relish in that.

- The companies founded by the players will have variously different types that fundamentally alter how and from where they make money.

- The different types of companies will be in conflict with each other such that the success of one type comes at the expense of another, but that this is localised/contextual on the board.

- As a result assets in different company types will behave fundamentally differently. (How? What assets? Dunno.)

- As a result portfolio composition can viably vary widely. Specifically, no: "those are the best shares" and "player with the most best shares wins".

- Probably means no certificate limit.

- Players will end the game still significantly in debt, but hopefully their portfolio values and revenue streams will exceed their debt loads. Not enough to pay off the debt mind you, but enough to net a little positive.

- Scores and revenues will be low and the game will in general run continuously starved.

- This is assembled with 18xx-like details (trains, train rusting, shares, stock market, track tiles, that sort of thing).

So, the fundamental problem there is debt management against continuous capital destruction. Cool.

Now, how is that going to work? No idea. So, I mull it over, think about it while driving, while sitting on the toilet, as I go to sleep, as I wake in the morning, as I brush my teeth... How can I divide the asset-types? How can I put them in conflict? How come early money doesn't just dominate? Are their debt ceilings? Why are the assets different? Are interest rates private to the player or global or both? How do players fail? Those and ever so much more.

In a few months or years I'll have some set of ideas I think are fairly coherent and I'll start making spreadsheets and simulations, then components, then finding victims.


So like Year of the Dragon.
This will be a fun game.
 
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J C Lawrence
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paperemail wrote:
So like Year of the Dragon.
This will be a fun game.


Closer to Age of Steam if nobody ever made profitability...and with more debt, rather less money and no disasters, just continuous economic hardship.
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Gary Tanner
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For me, it varies.

Sometimes I want to design a game.

Sometimes a game wants to be designed.

If I want to design, I come up with a theme, then gradually build the mechanics around it, being sure not to let unnecessary things creep in. It becomes something I work on for years to get it fleshed out and streamlined.

If a game wants to be designed, I feel a strong push of inspiration, lock myself in a room for days at a time with no real contact with anyone else. Sleep is sporadic, eating is rare, and when I open the door, I have a solid game, with components, fully ready for playtesting.

The frutrating part is that those frenzied designs tend to have less, if any, re-working needed and are better received than the ones I put more time and effort into.
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Paul Tavener
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I sometimes get inspiration for a new game by combining two existing games. Just recently I have been playing SPQR great battles from history and decided I wanted to extend it into a campaign game. Looking around I couldn't find anything suitable but I did find Mighty Empires, totally incompatible but containing the framework I needed.

So this is the germ of my idea, totally rewrite one game to fit the other. It will take months and then probably be kicked around for months or even years more but what comes out at the end will have no relation to Mighty Empires. Mighty Empires will just act as a scaffold for the development.
 
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alex bermudez
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The way I do it is pretty stupid. I'd had an idea floating in my head for years, and watching a playthrough of another game gave me the spark of inspiration and theme focus to get me excited about it and start working on it.

Now, since I wear all the hats possible in my design team of one, any of these things happen in whichever order I'm more inspired to do at the time:

Work on writing down rules and mechanics.
Work on finished artwork (boards, cards, tokens, everything).
Work on component designs (cards, icons for cards, etc.
Work on the story.
Playtest.
Work on diagrams to explain stuff in the rules.

I bounce around all these things depending on my mood at the time. Once I get bored/burn out one one part, I'll take a break or hop onto one of the other aspects.

One of the dumber parts is that I work on finalized artwork straight away without doing any concept stuff beforehand. This sometimes bites me in the ass when I change an aspect of a card, let's say, and I have to go back and redraw stuff.

Being the designer, writer, artist, creative writer, is a boon and a curse at the same time. I don't have to pay anyone to do anything to my game, I approve all the artwork I make before I even make it, and can change the rules on the fly in playtesting and say "this is how it is from now on!" and it's for real. The curse is that it takes a crapload of time, and I often sit and wish I had the money to pay someone to do a bunch of this stuff for me.

The above list of things I go back and forth on is actually pretty accurate on how I started my latest game. I went to final artwork pretty early because I'm a very visual person and it helps me to see the components.
 
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Dave Platt
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ex1st wrote:
Dave P wrote:
I wouldn't call myself a games designer but I have flirted with game design, both board and video, over the span of many years.
It used to be the case that an interest in something would spark a desire to make a game about that interest and all these games never really went anywhere.
My latest attempt has turned out so much better and I actually believe that it will be a game that people will enjoy and want to play again, but it's been designed in a very different way and a way that has had a good feel about it.
The broad idea was to make a game that was easy to play but also had depth. I started out with an idea of what components I wanted in the game.
Next was to combine these components together and come up with a loose theme, a sort of generic setting for the game.
Next came the big job of combining all these elements together with mechanisms and during this stage I was already thinking of a final theme and setting. One in particular kept coming to mind and as work progressed this particular theme just made more and more sense. So it sorta found its own theme.
The finalised theme then demanded elements be added to the game. These were added and the game was ready for prototype.


I fell in love with this post.


I'm intrigued. Why did it strike a chord with you?
 
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Carl Nyberg
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I always start with a theme, and try to make mechanics that work with the theme.

I have a vanilla fantasy game that is totally different now than when I started. I changed the battle mechanics umpteen times.

I have a WW2 game where I have also changed the battle mechanics umpteen times.

Of course, the only way you find out if something works or not is to playtest. I try to playtest in my head as much as I can, because my friends aren't always available.
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1) a theme and mission/goal, or a concept will hit me

2) I think of mechanics and rules.

3) I work with deign of components, think of ways to use the art and layout of them as a way to facilitate the mechanics for players.

3) print components, refine, repeat
 
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David Brain
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clearclaw wrote:
Closer to Age of Steam if nobody ever made profitability...and with more debt, rather less money and no disasters, just continuous economic hardship.
I'm sure there will be a niche market for this. Too many of my designs start out this way, and then my playtesters beat me up and remind me that most players really don't want this. Even Year of the Dragon has to skate on some very thin ice.
That's not to say that some players do like that, but you have to work hard to persuade them. Then again, you mostly move in 18xx circles, don't you? (That's not meant to imply anything!)

As to the original question - I have no idea. I tend to find myself writing an entire ruleset first, sometimes before I even sketch anything or mock up cards, because that way I can sort-of play the game in my head as I go along, and see if it makes any sense.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Scurra wrote:
Too many of my designs start out this way, and then my playtesters beat me up and remind me that most players really don't want this.


Happily, I design the games I find interesting, without concern for popularity or possible sales.
 
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David Brain
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clearclaw wrote:
Happily, I design the games I find interesting, without concern for popularity or possible sales.
Oh, sure. I don't design anything I don't find interesting either; why would one?
 
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J C Lawrence
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Shrug. Certainly some designers seem to limit themselves to what they think others will like.
 
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when i design a game i start just with the idea, a very vague and open idea like "a game about cia or fbi agents", or " a game about wizards battling".
then, on my phone, i write down what would be cool to have in a game with that idea, different mechanics specially Then i let the idea rest a couple of days. After that i pick it up again and think about a way to put together all mechanics i had thought and new ones into a single game. I correct, delete, and create new ideas and so on. I keep doing that and creating examples of cards (just in text) until i feel i have a playable game. After that i create a rough prototype and start testing it.
 
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xchikyx wrote:
when i design a game i start just with the idea, a very vague and open idea like "a game about cia or fbi agents", or " a game about wizards battling".
then, on my phone, i write down what would be cool to have in a game with that idea, different mechanics specially Then i let the idea rest a couple of days. After that i pick it up again and think about a way to put together all mechanics i had thought and new ones into a single game. I correct, delete, and create new ideas and so on. I keep doing that and creating examples of cards (just in text) until i feel i have a playable game. After that i create a rough prototype and start testing it.


I do that too, but in multiple files, to keep myself organized. I go on google images a lot to find an inspiration of the aesthetics and save hundreds of pictures either on phone or a folder.

Then i never get the idea done because prototyping is too hard. Will try tho!
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Ian Parmenter
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The one I'm working on right now came to me in a dream. I had a dream about playing it, woke up, and wrote down what I could remember.

The next day I looked at it and said "Wait... that wouldn't be fun at all. But if you took this bit out, and changed this... and maybe added this..."

I spent about a month going back to what I had written on the weekends and debating on if it would be fun or not, if it was broken or not.

When it felt ready, I used some business cards and tokens from another game (X-Wing Miniatures -- they may give you enough tokens to field every ship you own simultaneously, but really, after Shield Token #25, you're probably good...) and made up a prototype. (Okay, not just business cards and tokens... I spend ten bucks on office supplies for scissors, stickers, and some glue and cotton balls).

Prototype complete, I had some friends play it a couple times. Some other people play a couple times. Tweaks to the rules were made, but impressions were very favorable. Nothing major needed changing.

Which brings me to here. I've had a 'polished prototype' professionally printed. Should arrive any day. If it looks good... start recruiting some playtesters in other parts of the country, ship them a copy, and see what they think.
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will regan
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This was my first board game, but I start every game with the same tool, LucidChart.com. Doing many video games, I'm used to developing state machines, etc, and Lucid is perfect for this kind of thing.

I spent about 4-5 hours on Lucid for my current project, www.LandsAndLore.com Worked out many many details - down to individual card roles, amount of each card, alternate uses of cards, etc.

Once this was complete, the total vision was copied piece for piece into corel draw, where I set up two decks that were almost symmetrical, and some maps. Then I sent them all to the printer at theGameCrafter.com.

When the game arrived, I played it.

Since then, I've gone through about 5 different versions. This process may sound extremely expensive, but through game development, I learned that it's important to arrive quickly at a workflow that looks like your endgame sooner than later, to avoid scope creep.

I think I've spent over $300 on the game, but every time I show up with the game at a shop, it's drawn a lot of compliments because of how much practice I've had with the printing and the iterations of design I've done.

Just today I ordered another revision based on feedback, due to arrive by end of week!

 
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patrick mullen
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clearclaw wrote:
Shrug. Certainly some designers seem to limit themselves to what they think others will like.


If you are able to design something others like, you are doing well in my opinion. It almost reflects better of them if they can do so while not finding it interesting.

Clearly not the common case.

And of course, designing what others like is very different from designing what you think others will like
 
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