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Getting past the "80% Barrier" - Suggestions?

5 replies [Last post]
Joined: 07/29/2008

I'll admit it - I'm stuck.

I once again have a game design that is, as I sometimes call it, "80%." It's 80% of the way there towards being a 'real game.' It's 80% fun. It's 80% challenging.

But it's Not. Quite. There.

There is something missing. That final 20%. That one rule or that one change to the game board. Removing a certain type of piece or adding a type of piece... But I don't know what it is.

I'm just a novice; A guy that makes board games as the occasional hobby.

Here's a recent example of mine:

I've got a 5x5 grid. Two players can put down 1x1 pieces on the grid. If two or more pieces of the same color are beside each other (vertical, horizontal or diagonal), they can swap those two pieces out for an "L"-shaped piece of the same color that occupies 3 spaces. Once the board game is filled, the player with the most pieces wins.

I've been through countless iterations of this game. I've had a version that added 1x2 pieces; I've had a version of the game with limited numbers of pieces and you have to swap out (or "downgrade" as I've temporarily called it) a big piece for smaller pieces. I've had a version where the goal is just occupying as much of the board as possible. I've even toyed with a 7x7 version.

Each time... It's almost there. It... resembles a game. It doesn't entirely suck. And yet... It's not a game. There's a persistently strong first- or second-player bias depending upon the rule variants. Or there's a strong runaway effect. Or you find yourself adding "patch rules" to force the game to work that, in hindsight, just makes the game more confusing.

This isn't so much a plea for help as it is a question of how do others get through this predicament in game design; When a design doesn't bomb out immediately but also doesn't have that "It Factor" that turns the design into an enjoyable experience.

How often do other designers have this experience? Is this just for abstract strategy games or is there a version of this in card games and party games as well?

And what do others do when they encounter this? I'd be curious to find out because it is frustrating to have a game design that's "almost there" but you can't see why it's "not there."

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
I usually get stuck at 90% TBH.

And for me 90% means that the game is GOOD but NOT "polished". TradeWorlds was re-done by Mike (RIP) and he transformed the Card Templates, Design the Faction Logos, Made the Original "core" Box, did the Rulebooks (Layouts and content), etc. You'd be amazed how much WORK it is getting that last 10% done. And it is usually done by a Publisher.

Your 80% is more like 40% TBH. I'm not being cynical or anything. Because after you have a working GAME (50%), then you need to write rules, playtest with groups and then of course later blind playtesting with the rulebook and other groups, work out all the details concerning making of the game (publication and self-publishing are more steps required to bring a game into reality...)

So having a working game probably only accounts for 50% of what needs to be done.

There is still a lot of time, effort and monies that need to go into the making of a game until it is ABOVE 90%.

Now in your specific case (the 40% or your 80%) ... I get the feeling you are designing an abstract game like Tetris (from the description). The closest that I have gotten to designing an abstract game is my "Archon" game which has been re-vamped and I'm probably again at about 25% done with that design.

Do I get blocked? Yes. What do I do? I've got over a dozen Game IDEAS in the works, so I'll focus on something else ATM. I've got enough projects and/or products to keep me busy and of course I have tedious efforts like writing rulebooks and rules... Or working on a website that was supposed to be completed in Fall 2023... But we're Spring 2024 and still more to be done!

Plus I have stuff in publication to work on like SALES and selling games and products too. That also takes time and proving the process is still a wonder. I have yet to proof the business model and I obviously have more deals to make.

I get blocked. But usually further along in the process.

Also about 15 years ago... I struggled with making SUCKY games. I've learnt a lot over the years and even if some designs are not 100%... I can still say that they are FUN to play and they are NOT "broken". If your game is "broken" well then take a step back and work on something else.

Like I told another Designer: "If you have troubles, post on!" Don't work in a vacuum, share your issues... Sometimes just getting them out helps you to move on to better and newer ideas and/or solutions.

Cheers and best of luck(!?) with your game!

Note #1: I have a real neat GAME that has been developed and designed with real nice art and all... And I don't have the finances to "SELL" it. What I mean is that the game is far too LARGE for me to finance the making of the game.

And since I'm about an Average (4/10) Graphic Designer. I don't have the Eye Candy skills that a good or great Graphic Designer has to make a sexy KS-Page and to sell the concept via a Video and so forth...

So that's why "Crystal Heroes" is on the Bench: can't afford to make it a REAL SELLABLE GAME! Too expensive for my blood. Now if I had a Publisher, I could really take that game to the next level and have sellable product for at least like 8 years... Or so I say the Publisher would have product to sell for at least 8 years! Me, I cannot finance everything and there is a need for more Graphic Designing too!

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
All the time

I have this all the time.
In fact, when designing wargames, you never reach 100%.

Everytime when I hit a 100% playability, regardless if it is for public or not, a playtest always shows; legal cheats, loopholes or mistakes aka imbalances.

For me, finding these have become part of the game.
I never forget my first playtest.
I used the wrong design rules in the first place.
Sparing you the details on this.

And right now, I am trying to fix glass cannons that cannot get cover behind other units.

I could add a rule. But it would make the game more complicated.
I could change my design rules. Then the complications are only for me.

It feels like going into circles, right?
Try to get a spiral.
Maybe overdesigning will help. Then start cutting in the design.


Ps. Have you tried getting the L shapes outside of the 5x5 grid. Thus L shapes can exit the playfield by one third???

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013


larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Welcome to the club I guess

Welcome to the club

I guess you have what I call a working game. It's playable, but it's not complete, solid, balanced, fun, etc.

The more you advance in your game design, the more detailed the modifications will be. Small changes that makes huge differences.

Now, my recommendation would be to use automated computer testing of some portion of the game, or your entire game, if you can find someone with the skill to do so. The idea is to generate statistics you can use to analyse the behaviour of your game to make more intelligent modifications.

You could analyse sub portions of your game and try to generate statistics, to determine if that sub portion is balanced. You basically play that sub game repetitively.

Else, I would say, take a break, work on something else, give it time, and ideas and solutions will come it.

If you have access to many players, playtest your game, gather comments, this could help you identify more bugs, get more ideas from suggestions, etc. When you have all the data you need, you can then try to fix your game.

When you have a complete working game, it's easier to playtest and collect data.

Joined: 07/29/2008
I kind of suspected that

I kind of suspected that there is no "one answer" to what is functionally the game designer's equivalent of "writer's block."

However, it just seems to be a cheat to just "work on something else." I'm sure that it works and I do that, too, but I always wondered if the professionals or the prolific game designers had a system that they used or a process when they reach a point in their game design where they go, "Huh. Well that didn't go quite as planned...". It just seems like such a waste to put an aspiring game idea down with the knowledge that the design may NEVER work or that you may never even pick it back up.

The closest that I have ever come to finding a system to overcome "game designer's block" is actually a business exercise more than anything else and involves "killing your children" (not REAL kids, obviously). The theory goes that the best business executives can pivot very quickly when something is not working because they are not 'married' to any one idea. For example, if the company sells umbrellas and umbrella sales are down, they pivot to selling mops even if the company has sold only umbrellas for decades.

And, therefore, I always try to identify the "children" in my game designs that I don't want to kill because I may need to kill them in order to get the game made. The more that you don't want to kill a 'child,' the more likely that it is that 'child' that is holding your game back from working.

And, of course, the problem is that you don't want to kill any of the children because that's the whole point - They are your kids and they are all fabulous in your eyes! And then there is the added wrinkle of the whole "George Washington's Axe" riddle (if you take an axe and you replace the handle and you replace the blade, is it still the same axe as before?) in which you lose the identity of the game itself for the sake of merely publishing a game.

As for the suggestion about partially pushing pieces off of the board... That is the basis of another stalled game design that I have!

I may eventually post the 'rules' for this one just out of sheer frustration. Anyway, if anyone has any more insight, feel free. Thanks to everyone who has posted thus far.

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