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How to avoid being blocked at content creation

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

I have this problem with all my design. The design process goes at follow (of course, the process is iterative):

  • Step 1: You have an idea, you take down notes. It's basically an exploration step, you might not get playable game idea.

  • Step 2: You put those notes into rules. They could be incomplete rules, but you have an idea how the game could be played at this step.

  • Step 3: You create content to be able to play test the game. This is where I am blocking.

  • Step 4: Create a prototype

  • Step 5: Refine the game until completed.

At step 3, this is the step where I should do what I call protorushing and start creating some content to be able to play the game.

For example, for my investigation game, I would need to design a few characters, many encounters, a demon, and a few other components to start playing the game. I don't have to do everything, but enough to be able to play.

But I have some kind of designer's block and cannot proceed further. From what I know, methods I know so far:

  • Use another game as a source of content: I Did this for eldritch express, by using arkham horror database. It's the easiest method, but not always possible.

  • Improvise: Good for limited content, but imagination can run out rapidly, and you might not explore the entire possibility space.

  • Chat GPT: This is a technique I am curious to try. I intend to use it only for brainstorming. Putting mechanics or stats on a thematic idea seems easier than doing the opposite (theme on mechanics). It could avoid trying to generate all stats permutation and slapping a theme to each combination. Making it less bland, and more fun to design.

  • Toy play + generator: Generate content as you play, this is another possible technique that use improvisation, but while playing instead of improvising in advance. Solo RPG generator tools could also be used to help.

Do you have other ideas on how to generate game content?

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Right now, I got a block too

So.... no.

Perhaps you can think of a minimum and maximum in certain ways. And then pick random numbers in between.

Or.... decide on a number of material you need. And simply distribute evenly.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
What works for me...

Firstly I have a bunch of games in different "phases"... For example:

  • Crystal Heroes is in Development and being reviewed as we switch up the mechanics and stats to simplify the game and make it more accessible.

  • CLUE Crimes is kind of stuck in a prototype phase because I cannot get any ART that would be conducive to the design. I basically need 25 pieces of art x 2 times (Day & Night). They need to be similar but be those two periods of a given day (1 on each side).

  • Quest Reboot is waiting for samples of the collectible cards to be made and shipped by "The Game Crafter" (TGC). That's scheduled to be made and shipped some time early April.

  • Battle Botz is also waiting for about 2-weeks to get the SAMPLE "Robot" cards to help with visualizing "the game" which ATM is undefined. I've gone back to the drawing board because I don't want to have a DECK and I want to have some kind of GAME... So I'm not sure about this one... The design is somewhere yet to be defined ... And I need time to see what may come of it!

Those are the FOUR (4) Designs that I am currently working on. Presently #4 is on-hold (for the most part) until I figure out some more direction. Game #1 is also in the midst of a "revision" and I am trying to figure out what works best and this includes using AnyDice to compute the various probabilities and to figure out what DICE will be used for the GAME...

What I find WORKS FOR ME(!) is that I take notes about the different games and then REVIEW them and READ them every now and then. This allows me to get back to a point in a given design "when I am READY"! How long that takes is undefined and varies per game and per the challenges and issues faced with it.

But sometimes I'll just rehash the OBVIOUS and take note of it... Like in a brain exercise say "Remember: KISS... for X..." And then that gives me some momentum on my future exercise.

An example to explain:

  • I spent about $50 on Dice from Chessex. Now while I did not NEED to spend ANY money ... I did it because getting dice and seeing them "generates ideas".

  • So now I got 5 colors of dice (D10 to be specific) and I want to run some NUMBERS on AnyDice to see what works.

  • I know you are going to say: "Why didn't you just go to AnyDice and start there...?"

  • And my answer is ... Inspiration is all about mentally connecting ideas in your brain. The Physical dice let me appreciate the LOOK and FEEL of the D10s and this has led me to THINK maybe it could be 2D10 instead of 1D20. OR even 3D10s depending on the distribution and so forth.

So you spend a few dollars to get inspiration whereby not working or designing in a Vacuum... Notes are important, but working on PROTOTYPES also helps and figuring out what the possibilities sometimes requires spending a few bucks to see what different tokens, dice, blank cards, etc. May bring you another step closer to finalizing your DESIGN/Game.

This is pretty much how I work it. Sometimes I LIKE to have ART for a PROTOTYPE because it helps me VISUALIZE what I am working on. Never will you see any of my DESIGN on "Blank cards" unless I am swapping out something and I need to see what the "card counts" look like or something similar.

I like working prototypes to be SEMI-FINISHED. Meaning yeah I know what the card is ALL ABOUT... It's just a matter of finalizing the DETAILS about what STATS I must use or HOW MANY dice I require or the layout of the cards can be improved, etc.

I could NEVER work like Jesse (@Stormyknight1976), he's been working on his Game Concept for YEARS and only conceptually. Yes he says he has done some playtesting... But overall, there are very few components completed in the THOUSANDS of index cards that he is working on for his DESIGN.

I can't work like that. I need something VISUAL the prettier the better. And I don't want crappy components, I want reasonable ones for my prototypes. So I naturally spend some money to make this happen and most of the time I use TGC and order dice from Chessex or Amazon (depending on what it is I want...), etc.

Again YMMV according to how you take notes and just sometimes WRITING the ISSUE in the notebook (actually WRITING it down) helps to unblock the mental process which can be related to the issue. They say the best way to remember something is to WRITE IT DOWN. And then RE-READ it at a later period to see how WELL YOU ACTUALLY REMEMBER your issue.

Sometimes it only requires a couple of sentences... Other times it could be a couple pages... It varies TBH (from my perspective).

This is NOT advice, just an explanation what WORKS for me!


questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011

My notebooks (or digital notes) are USELESS to most ppl. There are vague IDEAS to my thoughts about USUALLY OLD PROBLEMS with the corrected issue. So even if you had one of my notebooks (which I am switching to digital), it would be very pointless... You would probably say: "What is all this garbage about..."

Similar to my BLOG on everything is TEMPORAL and never up-to-date.

I don't do it to have a consistent product... That you get once the game is MADE and SOLD. Otherwise it's a whole bunch of BLAH about some game IDEA ... Or a concept, which makes you wonder?!

Maybe if you read every entry of my BLOG you could understand a bit MY HISTORY in HOW(?) the game EVOLVED over time. But that in itself is a pointless exercise because you really don't LEARN much about the FINAL PRODUCT.

Only a bit of the process is revealed and I DON'T share all UPDATES/Ideas I get ... So you would still be missing a lot between what you READ and what you will get as the PRODUCT.

So of course this means I don't MIND sharing IDEAS / Thoughts / Feedback / etc. Because it's all temporal and suits a specific purpose. And we all know that making money in the Board Game Industry is HARD, probably just as HARD as completing a DESIGN to a 90%+ so that you can make and SELL it...

I've said that before... I'm just explaining for good measure.


questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Also ...

It helps when taking notes to GET THOSE THOUGHTS "out of your head" and onto paper (or bytes). I find not only does this FRAME the "problem" or issues... It also allows for quicker resolution.

Take for example my 3D10s:

- Originally it was simply going to REPLACE a D20 with 2D10s. Fair enough simple change and the distribution is LINEAR (on AnyDice).

- So what if I made it 3D10s. Ok the distribution is a bell curve and it is mostly around 14 to 19 as a score.

- Then I thought: "Why don't I use one of each color?" Still 3D10s but you can RE-ROLL ONLY ONE (1) of the dice. The one fitting your type of Attack.

This comes to a conclusive end... Sure it means again a RE-DESIGN of cards ... But I like you can RE-ROLL only ONE (1) specific dice out of 3. It makes the game a bit different rather than rolling ALL 3D10s...

I've seen the distribution (Looks good), I've tested the rolls (Not too bad - will require an edit of the tiles...) and I like that you can RE-ROLL "something" as opposed to "everything". Makes it more logical and in a way, harder to get a specific score given that "1D10" can be rolled a few times.

It's LESS flexible... But MORE thematic. I like that!

So that explains a bit of how I went from 1D20 (boring as all heck) to 3D10s with a more thematic and flexible dice rolling technique. I'm sure Joe (@The Professor) will find something wrong with the 3D10s...

I personally like it better than 1D20. I honestly don't want it to be THAT SIMPLE. And this means that I can REFINE the "Nexus" card, instead of +1 Blue Crystal per Battle, you can get a ROLL BONUS of "+2 Blue" dice per Battle.

Cool beans... All seems good to me!

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Hmm... Not sure about that!?

larienna wrote:

Step 3: You create content to be able to play test the game. This is where I am blocking.

Step 4: Create a prototype.

For me I don't TEST before a prototype. I pretty much MAKE a "nicer" prototype and start DEVELOPING afterwards.

So it would kind of like:

Step 3: Create a prototype that is NOT final.

Step 4: Develop the game by playtesting the PROTOTYPE until you have something that WORKS.

Step 5: Continue to refine the theme, mechanics and overall game until I am ready for PROTOTYPE #2 (which is a usually more advanced has some more ART and is a much more POLISHED game...)

That's pretty much my direction and I also continue journaling and taking notes all the while doing more playtests and refining specific ASPECTS of the game.


Note #1: I usually continue with Step 4 and develop the game further and continue to polish the game such that I have a much improved prototype which leads me closer and closer to the 90% rule. Which means that once I feel that I've hit 90% ... It's time to seek third-party help (an independent Developer or even a Publisher).

That's what happened with "Tradewars" which because "TradeWorlds" after Mike took the game that I had made and made the extra 10% to finish off the product.

Although I had input, Mike did a LOT of "Graphic Design" work to IMPROVE the overall card Template and produce a cleaner set of cards for the game.

Again not working in a vacuum helps. Getting another person's opinion helps. etc.

Joined: 07/29/2008
My own problems

I don't know how to solve the "What do I name one of my characters?" phase of board game design because I concentrate on abstract strategy board games. The closest that I can relate to your situation is naming the board game itself which I am, admittedly, horrible at.

I know my own design workflow enough in order to know that I have two roadblocks of my own: "Initial design" and "Make a better prototype than one that a six year old could create" phases.

My philosophy in board game design is simple: I'm not good enough to constantly make board games. I've long since accepted that I'm not a 'factory.' Others can stub their toe and create five complete (and completely different from one another) board games in a single day; I can't. "Quadra" was my first board game in a long while and, for all that I know, may be my last one.

My recommendation for getting over the "What do I call the demon character?" problem is to do what directors do for movies that are in-production: Get a temp track, a temp voice or whatever. Stanley Kubrick used classical music as a temp soundtrack when making the movie "2001" and loved it so much that he ditched the actual one that he was supposed to use.

For me, just getting a board game to work and work well is the challenge. Does it fall into first- or second-player bias? Is there "runaway player" syndrome? Are there ties? Is there an unstoppable strategy? Have I inadvertently created "patch rules" (rules that appear 'out-of-the-blue' and are designed to quickly and unartfully fix a problem with your game, such as "the second player can only jump two spaces and not three every seventh turn because... I don't know... Magic!")? Does the board game naturally resolve itself or can it dissolve into repeating patterns?

I can't tell you how many board games fail this stage and the endless amounts of frustration as a result.

My "make a better prototype than a six-year old can make" is another horrible one. Beyond making a cardboard prototype, I have no real fabrication skills. I know that I should eventually invest in a 3D printer or a laser-cutter but, once I do create a game that actually works, that passes the proverbial "smell test" and looks like it has survived the massive solo-playtesting that I place upon it without crashing and burning... I'm psychologically done with it and I have at least 15 other non-board game creative projects to get back towards completing.

Again, in summary, I'd just use temp names, temp setting, colors, etc. until the mechanics are solid and then worry about font types and names and things like that.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I am already taking notes,

I am already taking notes, reading everything, and putting it in a rule book draft. When I have those rules I want to test, I need content, not rules.

For example, I have a Vampire Survivor concept to implement as a deck building game. I made some card cycling tests with regular cards. But if I really need to test the game, I need cards, therefore monsters, equipment, spells, etc. That is the stuff that is hard to design.

Even abstract games have content. Take for example dominoes, there is a choice on how they distribute the numbers on the tiles.

Prototypes can be ugly, especially at early phases, I don't care. This is why it`s called a prototype. Scavenging components is a classic method in prototype design.

My hypothesis, is that if I have thematic background, it could make it easier to design the content. If for example, you give me a list of monsters to put on cards, It might be easier to put stats on those monsters. On the other hand, if I just want to put stats on blank cards, it could be more complicated.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Let me clarify a bit...

So take "CLUE Crimes" ... It requires 25 3.5" x 3.5" Game Tiles for the various locations around "Camden County" (Which in real life is near Philadelphia) a Tribute to my Developer (@The Professor).

#1> 25 Game Tiles were bought BLANK and UV Coated to Dry-Erase/Write on them. I know when the time comes to replace those tiles with ART and Graphics, it's going to cost twice (2x) the monies since I already bought tiles... But that's okay the locations in "County" are already DEFINED and I know what I want as ART for the various Tiles.

#2> I needed Pawns for the various characters and Police. I searched AliExpress and found the Pawns that were mixed and had 100 or so Pawns even if I need like only a dozen (12) or so... But they are "nice" and it let's me design the Suspects in the Game. There are nine (9) Suspects and three (3) Police Investigators (total 12 Pawns).

#3> Here is MY BLOCK: I need a BOOK or MOBILE APP to explain the steps taken by the Police and Prime Suspect during the "Manhunt" Phase of the game. I'm not sure how to approach this and LIKE YOU, it requires about ~900 mini-scenarios which play out for the Players in the game.


I have been thinking of making the "CLUE Tokens" which are chipboard and about 1" big ... I will get to designing those soon enough.

But like you "The HARD stuff" can be FUN if you take it one step at a time. For example I have nine (9) Suspects. That means my BOOK (or APP) will be divided in NINE "Chapters" one for each Suspect.

In the short term, the GOAL is to complete ONE (1) CHAPTER for one Suspect. And then as time goes by, either hire a WRITER (which I've done for TradeWorlds) or do it myself.

The real BIG issue is designing a MOBILE app versus a BOOK. TBD. But for now I can design the BOOK and see how that plays out.


But yes it can be a challenge to COMPLETE the Book with all the elements. For one, it will take a lot of creativity and for two, it will be a lengthy process. However it is what it is... If I can HANDLE it myself, I don't need to involve a writer...

Don't get offended... But I think you get stuck with TOO MUCH thinking and NOT ENOUGH doing... You think about the game, it sounds amazing, the ideas are all clever ... But you have NO GAME, only ideas. Then when it comes to making a prototype with everything in it... You find it HARD. It may not be hard in my opinion, instead I say it requires WORK and REFLECTION. Nothing comes from doing nothing. Everything worthwhile requires EFFORT.

Same goes for DESIGNING and DEVELOPING games.

It takes time and EFFORT and you can schedule a time EACH DAY (like 1-Hour) to work on said prototype and cards to get you moving along. Setting time aside is good, because you have time to reflect and bring the elements closer together. And I would strongly suggest having a THEME when creating the prototype rather than an Abstract Game.

This will help (as you say) FOCUS the content creation around a specific theme. And in you are working on a Vampire Deck-Builder, one character could be Count Dracula and another can be Van Helsing. The rest is up to imagination but with these two (2) CARDS or CHARACTERS ... You should be able to imagine more during each one of those HOUR-SESSIONS.


questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Here's what I mean

For "TradeWorlds": I designed all the cards for the "core" game. And then when I figured out that I could use three (3x) times any given card, I cut it all back by 2/3 of the cards. I still have an Spreadsheet documenting all the EXTRA cards that I cut from the game.

For "Quest AC": I designed over 60 different cards that I wanted. I approached this ONE (1) Quest at a time focusing on the different cards for each Quest. I did this for all original TEN (10) Quests. For my Quest Reboot, I created from those ten (10) Quests, SEVEN (7) for the Reboot.

For "Crystal Heroes": I designed 8 Units, 2 Lords and 1 Nexus. The goal was to lower the cost to making a final product since the ART is expensive and I only have limited funds available. I had designed about 20 pieces in total for around $2,000 CAD.


So you see I DESIGN, I PROTOTYPE and I find ARTISTS to do ART towards getting a more FINAL product. If you never find the time to work on your game... Well then you'll never get anywhere in terms of FINALIZING any one of your concepts!

I know it takes a lot of effort. Why do you think I make this MY JOB??? Because unlike most people who design ONE or TWO games, I'm already like on my SIXTH (6th) game but each one in various phases. Two (2) have been completed and the rest are being worked on...

All props to you for finding clever ideas... But you need a GAME to ensure that the ideas ACTUALLY WORK. And if they DON'T you need to REFOCUS and DEVELOP the game which means taking that prototype and mixing it up to solve your issues.


questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Just as a follow-up

For "Tradewars", I had 15 Starships, 15 Weapons, 15 Crew and 15 Tactics. That was 60 "core" cards and 4x for the Factions. Then I realized that instead of 15 different types of Starships, I could have only FIVE (5) (5 x 3 = 15!) And so this helped a LOT to reduce the amount of ART (to 1/3rd) and also reduce the cost to produce said art.

But I still have an old Word Doc with the ART information which contains 60 different and UNIQUE cards. Then I had to design scenarios, there were three (3) in the "core" game...

So around ~70 cards to START with. That's still a lot but comparable to Quest AC.

It's definitely NO JOKE to invest time and DESIGN everything you need for a game. That's why I was suggesting maybe an HOUR each day to sit down an flesh-out a few cards or components or even rules/ideas.

That way you'll find that you are moving forwards even if you don't want to do it on any given day. It's like my nightly meditation routine: sometimes I don't feel like doing it. But I know it helps me ... So sometimes I just grin and bear it... And do in anyways.

Could be the same with one of your designs: Given a pre-allocated time slot you actually sit down and make an EFFORT to spend time creating or expanding your prototype and/or assets required by one of your games.

Cheers @Eric ... Hope you find the inspiration you need to propel you forwards!


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