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When you have a design in mind with a particular theme or mechanic, how much time and effort do you spend looking into other similar games?

Do you ignore the other games and develop everything yourself?
Do you look at as many similar designs as possible, picking and choosing what you think works and doesn't?

I can see arguments for both approaches, so I'd like to hear what others think.
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Subhan Michael Tindall
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I look a lot at other games, if for no other reason that there's a good chance somebody else already designed the game I'm aiming for, which kind of makes my efforts moot.
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Kevin Nunn
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Ideally, I would like to play every game two or three times at least in order to fully assess the design's successes and its shortcomings. In this way, my design could build on those existing successes while also overcoming its shortcomings. Ideally.

Realistically, time constraints defeat this ideal. Most of these games will get a glance and little more.

No matter how busy my schedule may be, it is essential to play any game whose mechanisms sound similar to my own. This gives me the opportunity to ensure that my design does not reinvent the wheel as it were.

For instance, I was in late-beta development on 1955: the War of Espionage when friend-and-often-playtester James Spurny received his copy of Twilight Struggle. Noting the similarities, he called me up and we played Twilight Struggle the next day. Knowing what had already been achieved helped me make sure that my 1955 would have a voice of its own. A few months later, I was even fortunate enough to chat with Jason Matthews about the similarity between the designs.

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Ianthe Phagocyt
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I usually only read rulebook, but only when I need ideas for a new game, and take note of interesting theme, mechanics, or components, and to make sure I won't repeat those. Otherwise I will design everything myself, as it helps me understand easily why this mechanics is in the game.
 
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Nate K
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I might look around a bit to see what others have done, but most of my research will be into the subject matter, rather than how other games have translated the subject matter. When I designed Derelicts of Sin: Heresy, for example, I did not spend a lot of time looking at tile-laying games or solitaire dice-based games. Instead, I read a lot of interactive fiction and classic science fiction; I wanted to recreate the feeling of old text-based adventures set in a sci fi universe.
 
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