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Design Tips for Newcomers

14 replies [Last post]
Squinshee's picture
Joined: 10/17/2012

I've been a member in these forums for over two years. I certainly haven't been the most active participant (I tend to dip in and out of game design for fresh air and added perspective for when I come back), and I don't have any published games under my belt, but I've learned a ton since I joined. This community is great!

I love seeing when new people join BGDF. I get a little nostalgic for the time when all of this was new to me. What I'd like to do is have this topic be a place where we post tough lessons learned, tips, processes, etc., that we've developed over the years to help our new members out.

I'll go first!

1) Less is more. In the past, if I had a problem with how my game was playing, my go-to solution would be to add something. A dice roll! A new deck! More abilities! Until eventually the game turned into a hulking monster of choices, systems, and mechanics that were brutally complicated and unfun. Find the essence of your design, then build around it.

2) Question everything. I've started with themes and concepts that I liked and would stick to it even if the mechanics I was using would've been better fit to another theme. Don't let your vision of your game prevent you from creating something potentially better. Because a lot of the time, your game will barely resemble your initial concept. And that's okay!

3) Playtest as soon as you can. I've had designs that I would playtest because I thought they were incomplete. I'd spend so much time making it perfect and when I did playtest it, it was a disaster.

mulletsquirrel's picture
Joined: 08/14/2014
Do you suggest starting with

Do you suggest starting with a theme, attaching a mechanic to it, and then analyzing what theme would better suit the mechanic? That would seem logical although a tough thing to do since (as humans) we become attached to our creations/ideas.

How would you deal with the change in theme without feeling that sense of betraying your original idea?

I guess starting with a mechanic would be the way to go here, although I usually am inspired by a theme when thinking of game ideas.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
4) Play a lot of games

4) Play a lot of games before you start designing

A lot of people first starting out have played a few games a whole lot. There's a really good chance the first few games they make will bear a striking resemblance to those few examples.

The more literate a gamer you are - the more you've played various games and looked at how the pieces influence each other and how certain mechanisms reinforce certain play behaviours or feelings - the more you have in your toolbox. And then you'll start imagining variations of combinations and twists that will all serve your design. A fresh synthesis can be revolutionary, and is more likely to catch on if players can mentally link it to play they are already familiar with.

Joined: 11/19/2012
5) You're not an artist,

5) You're not an artist, you're an entertainer!
It's easy to ignore play-testers who don't "see your vision" but it's dangerous.

When a game is released into the public no one will care what you intended. Your game will be judged based on their own vision of what it should be.

Those testers that didn't "get it" are the closest you'll have to REAL players and a valuable asset for development.

Keep in mind, sometimes it will be right to keep your own way. Just be aware that those testers are offering a valid point of view... so just LISTEN AND CONSIDER it.

6) Don't Waste Time!
Real-life has a time limit and you can't ever get more. Use it wisely.

- If you can test an concept with 30 cards, don't make 100 of them.
- If you find a flaw during a playtest... try to change it DURING the same playtest. No need to finish a play that has proven itself to be broken.
- Don't write down the full rules until they are solid enough that other people will be playing without you.

Review your processes to see where you personally waste time and make changes to improve. My strengths and weak points will be different than yours so use what works for you.

Tbone's picture
Joined: 02/18/2013
7) Let your ideas and mind

7) Let your ideas and mind rest when you get stumped.

I find myself taking time away from a game mechanic or theme to cool down and let my creativity rest in other areas. Sometimes even with other game designs. Dont ever be afraid to have multiple projects going on. Maybe put some on the back burner. I for one don't believe in dead ideas. If an idea doesn't work keep it as a refrence point. Notice your mistakes and remember what works and what doesn't.

I Haven't actually created a published game but I have created working prototypes with inspirational mechanics birthed from separation from the game designing process. You'd be surprised, it works in many other areas of life.

Ever have that time when you couldnt beat a level on Crash Bandicoot or super smash bros advance (oldies I know) and come back to it a month later and ask yourself "why couldnt I have beaten this before? That was a peice of cake..." same difference...

schattentanz's picture
Joined: 02/18/2014
Create what you love playing!

While you might try your luck at creating a game with a theme or with mechanics you are not comfortable with, I advise you not to do so.

Since you want to design a game, it is safe to assume that you also play games.

Think about what game/s is/are your favourite and design something similar, since you are familiar with the mechanics and (at least subconsicously) with how to balance them.

I, for example: I love skirmish games. Designing one, I got a Little bit carried away by creativity and went a ittle bit over the top with it, but - hey - it works and it is cool!

The other day I tried to design a civilization game - and noticed that this task is bound to fail for me, since I do not even have the slightest clue, what mechanics I could use and what I should ask the player(s) to do and so on.

So: do, what you love, and you will succeed.

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009

Lots of good advice above.

Play a lot of games *before* you start to design. That before is important. When you know games fairly well, playing lots of games may interfere with your design work. See

Design what you love: Once you become experienced in design, you should be designing games for other people, not for yourself. Unless you have very broad tastes!

I have let designs sit for as much as four years before going back to them. (That doesn't count some games I designed more than 30 years ago, that I've gone back to.)

If you start with mechanics and later attach a theme, you're almost certainly making what is essentially an abstract game. The alternative is to make a model of something, that is, start with what you want to model ("theme" if you wish), then choose mechanics that make for a good model.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Document your Playtests

Write notes on every playtest session you hold, however brief. This goes even for solo playtesting. There are a couple reasons for this, off the top of my head:

  • You learn from past mistakes, learn to keep what you liked, learn to ask yourself (and other playtesters) useful questions about your design, and finally you can keep track of new ideas
  • It helps you keep a routine. I've personally used the "Game Journals" feature here at BGDF for one of my game designs, and it's definitely kept me focused and motivated. I can look back at my progress, and either new ideas emerge or I simply become inspired to play "one more round."
EpicGollum1499's picture
Joined: 11/26/2013
Play lots of games before designing?

On playing loads of games before you even start to make a few of them, the designer of the popular game Dead of Winter (Isaac Vega) only played games for a few months before he started designing...and he's got a full time job at Plaid Hat Games! It's good to make sure your idea hasn't been done before, but sometimes NOT playing every single game out there helps you think of creative and innovative ideas.

Gabe's picture
Joined: 09/11/2014
Watch and read game

Watch and read game reviews.

Thanks to Tom Vasel, I've been able to learn about hundreds of games. I've learned how they work, what makes them good or bad, what makes them fun or not, what type of components are better than others, which mechanics work well together, and tons of other little details that have made a huge difference in my game designs.

In the grand scheme of things, I've only played a very small percentage of games, however, I can tell you about hundreds because of all the reviews I've seen. And I think there's a ton of value in that.

Joined: 05/05/2014
Make Mistakes

Seriously. The first board game I made was a complete mess. My theme was incredibly strong, but my mechanics were vague, unbalanced and not at all fun. I spent a lot of time and effort on components and not enough time and making the GAME.

I basically made every mistake a beginner makes. And that is fine. I moved on, took what I learned and made a better game. And from that second game I learned even more and have applied that to a third game. Tomorrow I'm play testing this third game and it could be a train wreck, but I know for sure it will be fun. I haven't made the same mistakes that I did before, but I would have had I not been through the experience.

Book learning is fine, but humans tend to learn by doing. Embrace the mistakes because if you pay attention they will make you stronger.

Any design that doesn't player eliminate you only makes you a better designer.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Mistakes happen, where you expect them the least.

First of all, I am a complete amateur. Nonetheless here is my advice.

If you make a (mechanics) mistake that completely destroys your game in general. To a point where you want to give up and throw your game away.

Don't give up!
I wandered around with the feeling I did something wrong in my game. After 6 months searching, I finally found the problem. The very core of my design mechanic was flawed.
It took me another 6 months before I found a way to correct my mistake. And it saved my game.

When you have the feeling something is wrong. Always take into action:
- What is the mistake? Check out your entire game if you don't know yet.
- How did I create the mistake in the first place? Make sure you have been taking notes your entire design process. Good things, but also the bad things.
- Take a look at "What where my other options back then?" Perhaps another option is possible. Perhaps you have gained enough experience with your game that you now can choose the better option and perhaps modify it.

Then work from that.

Of course you need to alter other aspects of your game too when needed.

Word Nerd
Word Nerd's picture
Joined: 02/02/2012
Is This #10, then?

Everything is a game, if you look at it that way. When something in your life strikes you as funny, or odd, or mysterious, or engaging in any way it. Maybe it will be a stinker...maybe not. Just play with whatever life gives you, and wait for the magic to happen.

Word Nerd
Word Nerd's picture
Joined: 02/02/2012
Is This #10, then?

Everything is a game, if you look at it that way. When something in your life strikes you as funny, or odd, or mysterious, or engaging in any way it. Maybe it will be a stinker...maybe not. Just play with whatever life gives you, and wait for the magic to happen.

knightshade's picture
Joined: 02/08/2013

I as well have no published games. Many VERY solid concepts. My future game "knightshade" has evolved so much that it might as well just be the thematic setting. It's a theme I really like and when designing other fantasy games I always seem to incorporate some.

My advice would be:
- Keep it simple!
- Keep it fun!
- Consolidate mechanics wherever possible

I'm currently giving a civ game a go. I'm actually designing something to play while I wait for the Kingdom Death Kickstarter to get to my door. O.o
So it has male and female "dwellers". It is actually more of shared nightmare between a bunch of "dwellers" but you just don't know until you beat the game.

I've changed this so many times...
I usually go at a design idea real hard for a couple weeks or month. Then get another idea and work on that. I eventually revisit the other games and things are much easier.
It's easy for a play tester to notice what is "clunky" but often much harder for a designer... revisiting things puts me in that mindset because after a month I generally lose my "flow" of inspiration..

Parting advice... don't try to force mechanics. If it doesn't fit, move on... you can't get a square peg in a round hole... ;)

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