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Subject: What do you think of first in designing? rss

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Carl Nyberg
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So, do you think of a game mechanic first and then the board and then the theme? Or do you think of the board first?

I think some people may agree that you can think of the theme last.
 
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todd sanders
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i always think of the theme first because i like to involve narratives in my games and be accurate if i am working with a historical theme. for my game about the Silk Road i read a lot of material.books.websites and did many days of research.
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Kevin B. Smith
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"Theme or Mechanics First" has been discussed in a few threads. You might want to scan back through the forum archives.

Basically, some designers usually do theme first, and some usually do mechanics first. Many designers can go either way, depending on which inspiration happens to trigger the actual creation of a design.

I don't remember the board coming up in those discussions. Perhaps it's not a big enough part of most designs. In fact, in many designs there is no board at all. To me, the board is just a tool to make the mechanics work.
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Jesse Catron
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Sometimes I come up with the theme first, other times the mechanics first. I think that either approach can be equally viable. Keeping the theme and the mechanics well integrated with each other so that they feel natural together is what is really important (imo).
 
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Carl Nyberg
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I was just asking because for my world war I game I'm designing, I picked the theme first, but then the mechanics had to be thought of in a such a way as to complement the theme (i.e. large losses of infantry in the war).

Once I had the theme and mechanics, I had to make the board to flow with them as much as possible.
 
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J C Lawrence
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I start with a problem. Then I work on mechanisms to iteratively solve that problem and a theme that might make those mechanisms more easily explainable, but I start first and foremost with the problem. What problem does the game express? Everything else, mechanisms and theme and art and bits etc are all in support of the problem, and as easily discarded and replaced as anything else. Only the problem remains unchanged.
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Scott Nelson
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Theme first works easier than mechanics first.
But sometimes the mechanics bring out the theme that "fits" perfectly.
Just depends on the game. Working a theme onto mechanisms can be a chore, because the mechanism wasn't designed for that theme.
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Ryan Allison
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bill437 wrote:
I was just asking because for my world war I game I'm designing, I picked the theme first, but then the mechanics had to be thought of in a such a way as to complement the theme (i.e. large losses of infantry in the war).

Once I had the theme and mechanics, I had to make the board to flow with them as much as possible.


Absolutely, I decide what theme I want to do, and then what mechanics fit that theme. Making additions to the board is easy, then more mechanics can be added to compliment other structures you have put in place.

As others have said it is difficult to dress mechanics with a theme afterward as they often dont fully support or flow with the theme. Choose a overall vision of the gameplay (which can change!) and put in mechanics that make the world you are trying to portray in a manner that is clear, balanced, fun, and works smoothly.

When I do think about mechanics before starting a design project I try to think about what sort of game I am going for: A long strategy board war game? A fast and simple card game? As you begin designing you will find you need to scratch one idea, change it entirely, or add in other mechanics or components to make it work. Thats the beauty of it as the creator is getting to revise and refine until you hopefully have the game you envisioned playing and one that others can understand and enjoy.
 
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Angelo Nikolaou
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Most of the times I think of the mechanic first. Especially given that at least three of my games were designed after dreaming them up and waking up at 3am with the complete game in my mind.

Finding a theme afterwards is sometimes hard and I have my share of pasted-on games.

 
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Andrew
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For me, it doesn't matter whether theme or mechanics comes first, as long as they are integrated with each other. Sometimes there's a situation I seek mechanics to express, other times I search for a situation that is modelled by an interesting mechanic. During the design process both theme and mechanics inform each other iteratively, so the question of which came first is pretty pointless.

Many games that were actually designed theme-first still have charges of "pasted-on theme" levelled against them (see the designer diaries of Endeavor for an example of how a huge simulationist design was progressively streamlined). Other games that have been described as "dripping with theme" have been built around an arguably anti-thematic core mechanic (eg Thunderstone, Elder Sign).

Theme/mechanics decisions are usually more questions of emphasis rather than stark choices between them. For example, in Chaos in the Old World Tzeentch chases after Warpstone but in the Warhammer source material, he has no special connection to it. This thematically unsupported connection is nevertheless intended to allude to Tzeentch's affinity with magic.

On occasion mechanics themselves become part of the "theme" (both The Ares Project and Puzzle Strike aimed to emulate the mechanics of particular video games).
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Joe McDaid
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What got me designing my games was a comment by a friend after playing Las Vegas, or something like that. A game with gambling and trading.

His comment was something like..'why do they even have trading in these games, no one ever does it cause it's never worth it for anyone to do so'

So my goal was then to make a game where it wasn't only an advantage to trade with players, but necessary to do so. Didn't work in my first one. Definitely working with the one I'm currently working on.

But I think that's something important when you want to make a new game. Making it thematic, important, having fun mechanics, important, but it also has to be able to do something people can't get elsewhere.

So, first thing I think about is what can I do that people haven't done, or haven't done well, so far.

Cause let's be honest, some of us wouldn't have got so interested in designing games if we didn't play one and at the end of it go..'I could have done that better.'..:3 And of course weren't happy with just making house rules..
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OHMS Gaming

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Theme first here... Even when it comes to specifics like factions for Wasteland we had a rough idea for the faction (cannibals) and then decided on how we envisioned them. From there we wrapped the ideas with mechanics and then put a pretty bow on top of the whole package (named them Wendigo).
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Nate K
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My main goal with game design is to use games as a vehicle for story-telling. So I start with a story (or "theme") and attempt to build mechanics that can guide the player through that story.
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Levi Mote
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I decide if anyone other than me and my friends would want to play the game as I nail down the theme and the mechanics. So my answer would involve Marketing and viability as well.
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Tom Russell
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Generally, I begin with my theme, but the mechanics are never far behind because I gravitate towards themes that are also systems. Because games are to some degree systems themselves, it's not a case of trying different mechanics until I find the mechanics that fit my theme, or trying different themes until I find the theme that fits my mechanics. They both kind of arise simultaneously, intertwined, because generally the system I'm trying to recreate suggests the system that would best recreate it.

Of course, making those mechanics balanced, working, and fun is a whole 'nother matter entirely.cry For example, with Prepotent I wanted, in a streamlined/abstract/playable way, to simulate horse-breeding, and more specifically, the idea of "prepotency"-- of being dead certain that this horse will always pass Trait X onto its progeny, without error. The mechanics of the non-random breeding system, that each horse would have four trait cards and each new horse would inherit its traits from some mixture of its parents', and that that mixture was always predictable by the player, this was in place very early on and was suggested by the theme. But the first few tests, the system was too confusing. Then, it became possible for players to breed horses that were worse than what they started with. Well, that wouldn't do. The system was changed to always trend upwards, but then some players found that traits they liked using, and excelled at using, were being dropped for "better" traits that they didn't like or use as well. The final system that was developed in working with my publisher gives players far more agency, which in turn actually hammers home the larger idea behind the theme, of the human species' unique ability to adapt nature to suit our needs and desires.

I believe it was Henry James who once said, What is theme but the determination of mechanics? What are mechanics but the illustration of theme?

Or something like that, anyway.laugh
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Max Holliday
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All the game design's I've been working on lately, I've started with a simple mechanic and how that would work with a theme. Then I build up a complete mechanic to complete the game. As the whole mechanic evolves sometime I change how I look at the theme, so it's a very back and forth for me.

When I started working on Eaten by Zombies! I started with the idea of a deck builder where you lost your supplies(cards) that you had been gathering. When do you need supplies? Of course during the zombie apocalypse! Adding zombies lead to more refining of the 'idea mechanics' so that the game fit more & more back to idea of the zombie apocalypse. With the zombies the whole game would play completely different.

So for me, mechanics feeds the theme and theme should work to feed the mechanics.

Max
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Nate K
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Just stumbled upon this article which I thought was relevant.
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David Sevier
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I usually start with theme first and then go for mechanics, although I have a few game ideas which started with mechanics first and then had a theme attached to them.

Pretty much just depends on what my inspiration for the game is.

It frequently ends up a bit circular, though. I may start with one or the other, but as I develop an idea out I may find myself changing mechanics to fit better with a theme or tweaking a theme to fit mechanics.

For example, I have a card game I'm working on that started out as a duel between wizards. At one point in the design we realized that it'd be more interesting if all of the combat moved clockwise. It made for a much more fun game, but then it ceased to be a duel. So I went with the power flowing idea and it's been transformed into wizards trying to take control of a vortex of magical energy.

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Fel Barros
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If you are a first-timer, like myself, you should asset your purpose. Very few people are full-time game designers and as such, time is a restraint here.

Ask yourself what is your goal? Do you want self-publish? Make a game that will go on BSK , make a prototype and then try your luck at CON's and such? Or are you just doing an intelectual exercise and you only want one copy for yourself and your friends to play along?

That's very important because it'll make a huge impact on your restrictions. You can't make a 200-plastic-minis game if you want to self-publish. Nor you can go for generic-themed fantasy if you wanna try your luck at CONs.

What kind of mechanics, theme and everything else will be determined by what's your aim as a game designer.

Cheers,

Fel
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Kirk Monsen
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Both

I think of a sudo-theme and sudo-mechanics at the same time. I then develop one, then the other until they mesh together nicely, changing either as it suits the situation.

-Munch "it's neither the chicken, nor the egg" Wolf
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Charles F.
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My interest lies in designing simulations. How to model the real world in a game.

As such, the subject ("theme" is too weak a word) always comes first.

Though it may not manifest itself in its most specific form. For instance, lately I've been musing about a "people power" game, i.e. a game that models essentially non-violent grassroots action. But I haven't yet narrowed it down to what particular scenario I might attempt to portray. Serbia 2000, Egypt 2011, Philippines 1986, GDR 1989, Iran 1978/79, Wisconsin 2011, etcetc There are lots of interesting people power struggles worth giving a game-treatment.

Some are easier to simulate than others. Some, like Serbia or Ukraine had distinct pre- and post-election phases that were very different in nature. Others involved actions vastly different in length and scale: from 100s of dissidents to millions of protesters, from events moving at a snail's pace to every day and hour bringing momentous changes.

Indeed, any people power movement has distinct phases at which events transpire at entirely different scales. Take Egypt: It didn't just explode in January 2011 into a huge mass movement. There was an important formative phase before the protests in the streets.

How to portray such very different phases in one game is one of those specific challenges. Challenges you seek to meet by finding the right mechanics.

And that's what interests me: How do you translate real world events into a game model - into game mechanics?

I find it an incredibly challenging and exciting task. For often you need to reach a deeper understanding of events that you'd otherwise ever reach.

For how does society work?

That's a huge question! If you're not satisfied with superficial answers.

As a result, we're talking of a lot of research. One that, in this case, delves into multiple academic disciplines.

Nor am I confident I'll ever UNDERSTAND say Iran's 70s society. What forces had what weight and impact... Kinda has me wish someone else would tackle the subject! For I don't even have that sort of understanding of society I live in!

But hey, I like widening my horizen by reading. Approaching diverse subject with a game designer's mind, i.e. how to model a given subject, allows me to take a lot more away from my reading material. So that in itself is a reward - irrespective of whether anything tangible will come of my efforts.
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Charles F.
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bill437 wrote:
So, do you think of a game mechanic first and then the board and then the theme?


As many posts in this thread illustrate, it all depends on what type of project you're talking about.

As I related in the above post, I'm in the midst of a process that - in a way - is not quite as clean a theme vs mechanics decision as I initially described it.

1) I want to design a people power struggle game.
2) I have certain ideas how to generally model such struggles.
3) I seek a particularly scenario that broadly suits those notions as to how one might model such a movement and presents no inordinately difficult complications.

Still very much a "theme"-driven process. But thoughts on how to model events are also informing my scenario-selection process.
 
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Nate
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I just think about the royalties. whistle
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