Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2.13: So you've decided to design a game?

D had the Ticket to Ride tournament this past week at Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends.  There were 16 competitors, and in the first round only the top eight would proceed into Day 2 of the tournament.  D took 9th place; while I'm proud to say she even made it this far, as her older brother I am required by law to point out that this makes her the first loser.  Regardless, she apparently had a great time, and met some fun people, and has continued to spend a good amount of time mocking me.  On the other hand, she and Danny are now even further ensconced in the boardgaming hobby, so in reality, I win.  

Neener, neener.

I mentioned in last week's post that many gamers add or alter the rules to games they play, or even go so far as to design their own games.  Well, me too.  On the last one. 

I'm not actually sure how much information I should be sharing right now, though as I approach a final product I'll be happy to chat it up as much as possible.  So, instead, I'll discuss a little of the process so far.
I've heard, and believe, the saying, "Ideas are cheap."  Creativity usually isn't the hard part of doing something, but working from concept to product is where the difficulty lies.  I was contemplating making a fun game with simple rules, and decided a dexterity game was the way to go (remember this?)--with only a limited number of pieces I was hoping to create something that I could produce myself from home with little capital.  Within two hours I had a playable set of rules, and had contemplated a dozen ways to make the pieces I'd need.

Here's where I had difficulty.  I wanted the game to look a certain way, and really loved the idea of having wooden pieces.  I tried three different methods to make this work for a playable prototype, but all required a ridiculous amount of labor and materials which would ultimately be too expensive.  After smacking myself in the head, I realized I needed to just make a playable prototype--it didn't need to look good.  I did, however, take a recalled a suggestion from Adam (the demo team Organizer for Clout Fantasy years ago)--use artwork, any artwork.  It probably won't be licensed (you can worry about "real" artwork when your game is finished), it doesn't even need to be associated with the card/tile/whatever.  The idea is that it provides a visual cue for the piece, and allows you to track changes to this piece.

Next, playtesting.  A lot of playtesting.  In my mind the game was perfect, a finely tuned mechanic and set of rules that would produce an excellent play experience.  Okay, that's not true--anyone who has designed a game will tell you that playtesting is required, as situations you never would think of occur, and often require fine-tuning or an complete overhaul of your game.  After our first playtest I realized the concept was decent, but made some on-the-fly changes to the rules for the second game.  And the third, and so on.  This is why you want inexpensive, reproduceable game components; be prepared to repeatedly scribble new changes onto boards and cards. 

Here's where having friends willing to play your game comes in handy--if you can make a few copies of the game to test, and can get reliable data from your friends, you don't have to spend all your time playtesting your game.  This is also helpful in that you won't be present when your game is in other people's hands (for instance, if you plan on selling it)--you can't explain all the rules, so your game has to be able to represent itself.

We're still playtesting whenever possible, but we'll move ahead to the next possible option.  Your game has been heavily playtested, it's now clean, the rules are well written, and you've decided you want to make it available to others.  Your choice, self-publish, or sell the game to a publishing company.  My personal plan is currently to self-publish the game, which means I have to make and assemble the games myself (requiring a little capital and a lot of time), and I'll have to do all my own hype and promotion.  I'll be using Boardgamegeek.com heavily for promotion; with the large community there, and since I'm probably only making 200-300 copies of the game, I'm hoping I'll be able to sell every copy--hopefully at a small profit.

The other option is selling the game to a publishing company.  This requires footwork, getting the game into the hands of the appropriate people at these companies, pitching the game to them, and providing playable copies.  The advantage is the decreased amount of time necessary (I'm not assembling games), and greater promotion potential both for the game and myself, but has the disadvantage of my game potentially never being published.

Of course, it is possible to merge these two efforts, and that is probably the direction I'll be going with this.


No pictures of my own game on this one, but as I approach being done with the game, I'll be sure to get all that stuff up here.  I even have a name for my game now, thanks to Danny.  Even though "Game without a Name" had a nice ring to it.


  1. ...and I hadn't even heard of this 'til this post. Nice.

  2. This is a relatively new development. The rules were written down a month ago, and the prototype was only recently made. I'll make sure to get one to you--or at least get some plays in.

  3. If you haven't already, you might want to reach out to Michael Mendes of Tasty Minstrel games... he's successfully self-published and blogged about it quite a bit. He might be able to give advice or event help you.

  4. Kevin: Thanks for the suggestion--I've glanced at his blog a few times and have played Homesteaders (great game). Every little bit of information helps.