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Working Backwards

5 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/22/2010

When designing a game, I following a bunch of different routes. The most common is:

1. Come up with a Theme (Ask: What if?)
2. Fiddle with ideas until mechanics start to emerge
3. Flesh out the rulebook and start playtesting on the boardgame equivalent of used napkins.

The Second most common is:

1. Mechanics
2. Theme (What does it seem like I'm doing?)
3. Same as (3) above.

At least those are how my more successful designs start. However, I have a fair amount of failed ideas, and these all start in a similar manner:

1. Remember a Really Cool Gaming moment
2. Analyze why I liked that moment
3. Isolate it and try to reproduce it in a new game
4. Fail

So, what do I think about this?

Now, this all stems from the fact that I only like to design games that I'd like to play. I think this is most of us. However, I've finally realized the problem from this last method: I'm basically trying to recreate a game that already exists.

The game that evoked that strong, fun feeling already exists. But what I'm trying to do is recreate the same feelings with a different set of mechanics. And this, unfortunately, doesn't seem to work very well. At least for me.

For instance, I'd love to create a game that recreates the hectic trading of Chinatown? I try some different trading mechanics and in the end, I have a game that's almost, but not quite, identical to Chinatown. Which, to me, means I've failed, because I'm trying to come up with something that at least feels new. (Although, I'll admit, its hard to come up with a game that doesn't feel "inspired" by something else, and that's completely alright.)

Has anybody else had luck recreating a game feeling like this? If so, how do you divorce the game feeling from the original game?

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I think you indirecly

I think you indirecly expressed my triangular theory of board game design: THeme-Mechanic-Feeling.

More details can be found here.

Look at the picture at the bottom of the article.

All design paths are valid, it depends on what you want to focus in priority.

Joined: 09/20/2009
Something in the middle of the triangle

In a few places I have read from people who design games more on a full time basis, audience, or "customer" is a central role, WHO you are designing for can have a large impact on the other three aspects you talked about. If it is a game for kids, mechanics, theme and the feeling(game experience) you are shooting for will most definitely be impacted. If the audience is gamers like you, that is valid as long as you cane make it broad enough to have an appeal outside of the people you directly game with, i.e. will people I am not friends with like this game. Again, all this assumes you hope to publish/market this game in some form.

Joined: 11/19/2010
Focusing entirely on your

Focusing entirely on your "failed idea" system, I think you're missing a very important step.

1. Remember a really cool gaming moment.
2. Analyze why I liked that moment.
3. Analyze a flaw with the system that created that moment.
4. Replace/Destroy the flaws in the system.

If you can't find flaws with the system that created your moment, I would consider that game "solved" so to speak. You can try to re-create that moment/concept in another game, but you either need to take away from, or add to the other parts of the game to make it truly different.

It's like the deck-building genre that is currently the biggest craze. You had Dominion start it, you had games that are similar to Dominion but slightly different. Now we're starting to see games that are still deck-building games, keeping that awesome element of the game, but moving from the victory points to win to more head to head combat systems.

So putting that into the steps:

1. Playing a deck building game.
2. I really liked comboing my cards together into an engine from a limited pool of choices.
3. I didn't really like that the majority of the game was a giant game of solitaire with little interaction.
4. Create more interaction in the game and possibly create a new victory condition.

Without 3 and 4, you don't really have a reason to play any other deck-building game, because you'll still re-create the awesomeness of building your own deck into a nice little engine that you like to see come to life.

It's not always easy to do, but that's the basic idea behind it.

Joined: 12/22/2010
And there's the rub...

You're spot on with the idea of "correcting the flaw". Most of the time, I'm trying to correct a "flaw" that isn't there, which I why I end up with a design that is no better than the game that inspired it.

My lesson? It seems my most productive designs are the ones that start with a mechanic or theme, rathering that trying to capture a feeling. Hopefully, my combination of mechanic and theme result in a new "game feeling" that I couldn't have predicted.

So far, I have had luck there. In the future, I'll start posting up some of more interesting designs for feedback.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Creating a game with the idea

Creating a game with the idea of capturing a feeling is really much more complicated, especially with a limited medium like board games, than any other approach. But with a lot of design experience, it can be done.

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