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Subject: Designers Block-How do I get things rolling? rss

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Jeremy Peet
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Greetings!

O.K., so I have notebooks full of game design ideas, drawers packed with partially made prototypes, and loads of hand made graphics for cards/tiles/chits...yet no solid, play-testable games! I feel like I need to make a change my process of game design but I am not sure how to approach it. There are so many very smart and talented folks on BGG, I thought I would ask for suggestions on how to combat designers block. Are there any exercises out there for getting things rolling?

I thank you ahead of time for any ideas you might have!
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Kai Bettzieche
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Ask yourself:

What Do I want? (A wargame, a beat 'em up, a dungeon crawl, ...)

What limits do I want? (Limits are a necessity, since they are the framework of your game. Limits like "players' characters may only suffer 1-2 blows before they die; combat must be resolved by rolling this many dice / drawing that many cards; ...)

Do I want flexibility? (Like: a different map for each game, character creation at the beginning, ...)

How long should a game last? 5 minutes? 5 hours?

And just in case you don't know .. grab some dice, toss them and watch them roll - works for me most of the time
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Oliver Kiley
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Are your game ideas + notes just mechanical or thematic "fragments" or are any of them the basis for an entire game concept?

I often have lots of game ideas tumbling around, and its great to have a lot of ideas, but to get the first playable prototype out I'd suggest picking the idea you like most and pushing that until its playable; then you can make a further assessment about whether you like the idea enough to develop it further.

A few helpful starting points:

- I find it immesnsly useful, once I have a game concept in mind I want to develop, to make a short list of goals. These goals can include specific thematic or mechanical elements I want to include; they can relate to experiential feelings I want to create (i.e. tension or lots of conflict); and they can relate to basic parameters (playtime, number of players, amount of componetry, etc.).

- Use these goals to refine the concept and the mechanics your game will employ.

- Don't be too hung up on the distributions / balances / values / etc. of elements in the game (i.e. what stat is X, or how many of the card Y should be in the deck). The point of the initial prototypes is to make sure the game works at a structural level; i.e. players able to make choices that affect the game, the game progresses towards a conclusion/end-state, nothing breaks along the way, etc. After the struture works (and it can be refined plenty later on!) then one can worry about the details that makes the gameplay sing.
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Oliver Kiley
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Oh, and listen to this recent ludology podcast; it's a great primer on game design and the speakers are literally designing the game during the podcast; establishing their goals, discussing the mechanics / theme/ scope, etc. Very good listen:

Ludology Episode 37 - The Empty Box
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Mathieu Gilbert Tremblay
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It is in despair that I created a thread on this forum 4-5 days ago because I had the feeling that one my my project (WarTiles) had a lot of potential.

1) However, just like you, I was stuck at a certain point in development. Posting on this forum none only gave me the needed motivation to push this project alot further, but with the various comment I've got, I was able to create a very clean/professionnal looking mechanic for my combats.

I might say that I have the same problem than you, as my home computer is filled with many dozens of boardgames projects, some of them are well advanced and others are just some ideas in a Excel spreadsheet. But with the success WarTiles is probably going to have, you can bet I'll definitly credit a lot of people here.

So I would say as a first advice: get some feedbacks and be open to constructive comments.

2) Also, another problem I have is that I tend to go into the "huge and epic" kind of boardgames (those with a gazillion cards and mountains of chits). Streamlining concepts and trying to set the game's scope to a more reasonnable level is another tip I could give you.

3) Taking rules and ideas from 3 or 4 of your games and combine them into a much better game is something I've done many times.

4) When in doubt, start with something small but expandable. Accomplishing a project is very motivating. If you want to add stuff later on, do an reasonably sized expansion.

Well that's about it! Hope it helps! laugh
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B C Z
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An eagle who chases two rabbits will catch neither.
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David Sevier
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The way it usually works for me is that I take whichever idea sounds the most fun to me at the moment. I then sit down and start figuring out how it will play. It's usually pretty free-form, I'll just take whatever my starting point is and start asking myself questions.

For example, I'll use my current game, Clansmen.

It started with a basic theme: Building up a settlement on a frontier.

So I asked myself what that needed. I answered with buildings, people, and survival stuff like feeding everyone.

So I asked myself how I wanted to deal with food, thought about various games where you get food (Agricola and Settlers of Catan came to mind), and settled on a cross between the two. You'd need to have farmers getting food from tiles (like Catan), but that food would need to be consumed every season to keep everyone fed (Agricola).

Then I expanded out from there. It became a tile-based game with Exploration and resources. You need houses to help keep your people healthy in winter. You'd have to deal with Raiders attacking.

And then I started thinking about how the players would interact and decided to do a hybrid worker placement system. And that fleshed out what the player could actually do on his turn.

From there is was a continuation of that process. A series of questions: How do I do X? How do I resolve Y because of X?

And eventually I had a playtestable game that I subjected my gaming group to. laugh
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Sen-Foong Lim
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We find that designing to constraints really helps get things from the brain to paper to playable prototype. We'll use an arbitrary 24-card/tile limit and make a game from that. My design partner is much more tactile than I am and has to move the pieces around to see how they interact. My downfall is that I spend too much time thinking about the balance, etc. - Mezmorkl is correct that you only need to get things roughly right to make a prototype.

Expect there to be changes.

The quicker you can get an idea out of your head, onto paper, and then into your hands in a tangible form, the closer you will be. You may find out that everything you thought worked in your head does not in reality. But that's better than not knowing, because now you can move on to your next idea. Or refine this one. Whatever you choose, it's progress and that's many steps better than where you are now, as it stands (literally and figuratively).

Best wishes! It's a fun ride

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Jeremy Peet
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schattentanz wrote:
Ask yourself:

What Do I want? (A wargame, a beat 'em up, a dungeon crawl, ...)

What limits do I want? (Limits are a necessity, since they are the framework of your game. Limits like "players' characters may only suffer 1-2 blows before they die; combat must be resolved by rolling this many dice / drawing that many cards; ...)


In retrospect I can see now that I have often been developing ideas that are too open ended to finish. I haven't been setting limitations for the game structure so the notes just keep rambling on and on.
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Carl Nyberg
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I also think of games just by watching dice roll. For example, if I roll a D6, I think "the infantry just rolled a hit" or a D20, "the wizard just rolled above the dragon's armor", etc. Then I start thinking, what will the board look like? What kind of cards do I add?
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Sen-Foong Lim
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At some point you just have to start making a game. Once you figure out what it is you're aiming to do (a miniature-based game, a euro-style cube pusher, a dice game, a card game, etc.), set out to make your first prototype as simply and as efficiently as possible.

Letting things stew in your head for too long gets you caught in an almost Analysis Paralysis type situation (contrary to your title bar!).

I had a teacher who told me that she figured out why I never finished a lot of projects (I went to a special school for the gifted lucky me) - it was because I had made them so perfect in my head, that anything I actually produced wouldn't live up to my expectations.

I was 12 at the time she told me that so, it was kind of like water off a duck's proverbial.

27 years later, my design partner, Jay, introduced the aforementioned "Game in 24 cards" concept and our productivity has skyrocketed. We are able to make and test our game theories out quickly, keeping ideas that we like and discarding those that don't work for the game we want to make.

So, in order to break out of your design AP, you need to grab a Sharpie and some cardstock, stop thinking, and, to paraphrase a certain shoe company's motto, just make it!

Get something into your hands that you can manipulate and feel, that you can affect in the real world in terms of movement, relative position to other pieces, etc.

It'll do you a world of good to get an idea out of your head and onto the table.
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Jeremy Peet
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Mezmorki wrote:
Are your game ideas + notes just mechanical or thematic "fragments" or are any of them the basis for an entire game concept?


I would say that most are in fact "fragments" bundled around several incomplete game concepts.

For instance: An old idea that I have revisited is one that originally started as a hung cockroach game. The basic mechanic was centered around a pile of cards called the "trash heap" where "bug" tokens were moved on top of to claim the cards and earn victory points, cause "events" such as the dreaded landslide, or give players "special" cards to play against other players. Now I have made tons of prototypes for it and rewritten and changed the core rules so much that It resembles the trash heap mechanic of the game. laugh

The bug game became just too big for me to put together!
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Jeremy Peet
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Mezmorki wrote:

- I find it immesnsly useful, once I have a game concept in mind I want to develop, to make a short list of goals. These goals can include specific thematic or mechanical elements I want to include; they can relate to experiential feelings I want to create (i.e. tension or lots of conflict); and they can relate to basic parameters (playtime, number of players, amount of componetry, etc.).

- Use these goals to refine the concept and the mechanics your game will employ.

- Don't be too hung up on the distributions / balances / values / etc. of elements in the game (i.e. what stat is X, or how many of the card Y should be in the deck). The point of the initial prototypes is to make sure the game works at a structural level; i.e. players able to make choices that affect the game, the game progresses towards a conclusion/end-state, nothing breaks along the way, etc. After the struture works (and it can be refined plenty later on!) then one can worry about the details that makes the gameplay sing.


This is immensely helpful, thank you!

I think I have been so focussed on the balances/values/elements of the game that I have bypassed the basic structure part.
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Julian Jimenez
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Definitely set limits like Kai said. This is often what I do first. I work on the limits of the game, then how to work core mechanics. Theme is often the very last thing I worl on because I find that theme can cloud judgement on what makes fun mechanics since you start to think of too many ideas related to the theme.

And when I have trouble getting the main idea spark for limits and mechanics. I often take a deck of cards and just start making layouts, flipping cards over, imagining what each one might represent, combine them in different ways, etc. Just to see if I can do something fun and enjoyable with them. Then I go from there. I often do the same with dice , chess/checker pieces, and/or graph paper. Just to get ideas.

I also often seem to determine how to lose the game before how to win.

Posting rules and design ideas here is often a good idea. Just don't be discouraged if you don't get much feedback. I don't tend to get much feedback from most of my posts usually, but I get at least some and the project usually ends up finished. I've still yet to make proper bgg entries for my games though. Gotta get around to doing that.
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Jeremy Peet
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senfoonglim wrote:
At some point you just have to start making a game. Once you figure out what it is you're aiming to do (a miniature-based game, a euro-style cube pusher, a dice game, a card game, etc.), set out to make your first prototype as simply and as efficiently as possible.

Letting things stew in your head for too long gets you caught in an almost Analysis Paralysis type situation (contrary to your title bar!).

I had a teacher who told me that she figured out why I never finished a lot of projects (I went to a special school for the gifted lucky me) - it was because I had made them so perfect in my head, that anything I actually produced wouldn't live up to my expectations.

I was 12 at the time she told me that so, it was kind of like water off a duck's proverbial.

27 years later, my design partner, Jay, introduced the aforementioned "Game in 24 cards" concept and our productivity has skyrocketed. We are able to make and test our game theories out quickly, keeping ideas that we like and discarding those that don't work for the game we want to make.

So, in order to break out of your design AP, you need to grab a Sharpie and some cardstock, stop thinking, and, to paraphrase a certain shoe company's motto, just make it!

Get something into your hands that you can manipulate and feel, that you can affect in the real world in terms of movement, relative position to other pieces, etc.

It'll do you a world of good to get an idea out of your head and onto the table.


This is such a gift, thank you so much!

You are absolutely right, I have design AP! I have to admit that I am a bit of a perfectionist and tend to dwell on the ideas to long rather than the tactile aspect of design.


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Jeremy Peet
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Brewtal_Legend wrote:


I also often seem to determine how to lose the game before how to win.


This is brilliant! I really like that.
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Oliver Kiley
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Brewtal_Legend wrote:
Definitely set limits like Kai said. This is often what I do first. I work on the limits of the game, then how to work core mechanics. Theme is often the very last thing I worl on because I find that theme can cloud judgement on what makes fun mechanics since you start to think of too many ideas related to the theme.


Everyone's process is different, but if you have a theme in mind for your games, the theme can function as a limit, a source of ideas, and a check for the integrity of your game concept.

A risk with considering theme is that it can be tempting to add more detail to satisfy the theme for themes sake. You need to make a determination on the appropriate level of abstraction for thematic elements, and like you say, keep a focus on mechanically what is "fun."
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You've probably already been doing this, but what I have found to be a good roadblock destroyer is telling someone about my game. Sometimes I have the opportunity to talk with a fellow gamer, but usually it's my wife or my father, neither of which are big gamers. But they know it's important to me to talk about these things, so they listen.

I go on to explain my game's theme, inspirations, mechanics, etc. Often my ideas (in my head or written down) make sense to me, as I can imagine what I'd like the game to be, but I haven't figured out how to get to that point. Talking out my ideas helps me hear what I'm saying and realize that there's a problem or a loophole here or there.

Then I can go on to continue with my notes until I get to the next roadblock.
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Sen-Foong Lim
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More good comments from Mezmorkl and colmustard21. To expand:

a) Focus on fun. If you do, you'll make a good game, no matter what. If you figure out what the most fun part of your game is (for you) and do everything in your power to support that through other mechanics, you will, in effect, cut loose all other mechanics that *don't* factor into the fun. That's how we trim the fat off a lot of our bloated projects. It sounds like your "Trash Heap" game could use some of that.

How long a game is can often determine how fun it is. Is it 1-hour fun? Is it 15-minute fun? In our game design "guild" (for lack of a geekier word - Cabal? Consortium?) we were working on a quick-paced real-time recognition/card playing game. We all said, after playing it, that we'd rather play it many times over at a shorter time span than one time at even 5 minutes longer. Games have a tendency to overstay their welcome sometime. The amount of time invested into learning a game must be worth the fun that is drawn out of the game in the time it takes to play it.

In our 24-card model, we will often say "This *needs* to be a much bigger game!" and work on expanding it. But sometimes, we find that the game, even in 24 cards, is just about right in terms of fun had versus time spent learning/playing. Cost/Benefit ratios and all that, right?

b) Talking about your game is quintessential to the design process, IMO. Games are meant to be played between people, even those so-called "multiplayer solitaire" games. We often work on figuring out how to pitch a game to a publisher, but colmustard's idea of talking to friends about your game is good too, because you've got to capture the interest of the game-playing public as well. If, by doing so, you can generate some interest from people who know the lingo/field, that might help you figure out what ideas to focus on / link together.

We collect our ideas on an on-line forum and go through them all maybe once a year - it's amazing how many of the ideas we've had over the past 3 years have made it into prototype form, if not a fully actualized game. We'll just talk to each other about what tickles our fancy. We'll read our list of ideas to other designers in our group (The Game Artisans of Canada), and see what sticks.

Games do not exist in a vacuum and neither should designing them - you should seek feedback on everything from initial idea to final product as much as you can. Your vision drives the design; feedback helps guide it.
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Cardboard Edison
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You might find this useful:

The importance of discipline and setting priorities when designing games

http://cardboardedison.tumblr.com/post/19485403778/the-impor...
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Sen-Foong Lim
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Here's another (self-serving) blog suggestion, if you're so inclined:

http://inspirationtopublication.wordpress.com/

or www.bamboozlebrothers.com

It details our design through to publication process, step-by-step.
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Donnie Clark
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Breaking the prototype barrier has been an issue of mine as well - I think most everyone has encountered it in one form or another as they get started.

My solution to this so far has been to force myself to move the prototype along at least a little bit every day. As previously mentioned, I can't stay too focused on balance and values - just throw in some "meh, looks good" values and get the key components produced. This keeps the idea moving towards a physical prototype, forces me to deal with some low hanging design issues, and presses me into setting the more involved ideas aside in a design document. If I keep the machine moving, I don't have time to keep redesigning or adding new areas until I have tested the basic game play.

Just one step, every day. Minimum.
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For me the answer is a design partner. I picked the best gamer I know, my arch rival on every game night and good friend. The person I wanted to design a game with was the other person at the table always digesting game mechanics and thinking on another level from the normal gamer. The mojo of two heads working through problems and dead spells has always served us well.

Also, I will agree 100% on getting a quick and dirty, ugly, functional prototype together and play that bad boy until the proto wears out. Sharpies are cheap. Cards are cheap. Printer paper and labels are cheap. Burn em up.
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Jeremy Peet
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Mezmorki wrote:
A risk with considering theme is that it can be tempting to add more detail to satisfy the theme for themes sake. You need to make a determination on the appropriate level of abstraction for thematic elements, and like you say, keep a focus on mechanically what is "fun."


This is so very true, one can be so dedicated to the theme that the design is forced and in turn the quality of the mechanics may suffer.

I really like the idea of keeping the game "fun", this is after all the key element of gaming (for me anyway). I feel that designing with fun in mind is absolutely important. Sometimes by trying to make a game "awesome" or to have it follow a nifty theme the "fun" part of it may become secondary.
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Jeremy Peet
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senfoonglim wrote:
Games do not exist in a vacuum and neither should designing them - you should seek feedback on everything from initial idea to final product as much as you can. Your vision drives the design; feedback helps guide it.


I have to tell you that you are so very good at sharing this information, you have great ideas.

I can see that seeking feedback from initial idea to the final product is essential. By seeking feedback throughout the process you can avoid design pitfalls, AP, and inefficiency.

You are very very fortunate to have a design partner to work with throughout the design process! For me finding someone like this has been challenging to say the least. My regular gaming group has little to no interest in game design and/or working with rough prototypes. Where I love them dearly and would love them to be a partners in design I don't think they are creatively motivated to design anything. I have tried to get other friends interested and have even posted on BGG with no success...So I have been creating in a vacuum for some time now but I am determined to keep working on designs because I love games to much!

After reading the suggestions from this post I have decided to make a bigger commitment to posting ideas for feedback on BGG.
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