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The Board Game Designer's Guide - Taking Your Game From Idea to Ideal

I'm writing this blog to help other board game designers avoid the mistakes I've made on my journey as a game designer. I'm sharing what I've learned to help you design better board games faster.

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Be Unique, But Not TOO Unique

Joe Slack
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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What makes a game stand out from the crowd?

There has to be something unique about it. Maybe a set of components, maybe a mechanic, maybe the whole look and feel of it.

If your game looks just like all the others out there, it will be more difficult to get attention, even if the game play is really good.

At the same time, if your game is SO unique that it looks and plays far different than anything players have seen before, it might just be TOO unique.

Players usually like some semblance of familiarity (for example, Century: Spice Road - some might explain this is like Splendor, but with upgrading of resources to meet your goals). If you push yourself to come up with something extremely different, it might work, but it may also evolve into something so complex that people can't quite grasp it.

Try adding something unique upon something familiar.

What do you do with your game designs to add elements of uniqueness?
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Fri Apr 27, 2018 5:53 pm
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Have you been Conned? :)

Joe Slack
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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Have you ever attended a board game convention (Con)?

I was at Breakout Con in Toronto this past weekend, and it was a blast!

I got to play a bunch of games that were on my "must try soon" list, like Codenames Duet, No Thanks, 7 Wonders Duel, and Vast: Crystal Caverns. All were a lot of fun!

But I also had the chance to do a lot of playtesting, both with other designers and gamers. I took seven games I had in progress (I know, that's a lot!), and actually got six of them to the table, some of them multiple times.

Not only that, I got to play a ton of other great prototypes from other designers. Many were fantastic!

I got some great feedback, and a couple of my games are now feeling much closer to completion than I expected.

I'm really looking forward to other Cons, protospiels, and other events later this year!

What Cons have you attended recently? What's been your experience with playtesting your games or talking to publishers?

www.crazylikeabox.com
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Fri Mar 23, 2018 4:14 pm
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Stick to your vision

Joe Slack
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While it’s true that your game will change quite a bit over time, there are some elements you won’t want to change. While it’s interesting to think about something that would take it in a very different direction, this would also make it a totally different game. It might be better to jot this idea down for now and possibly apply it to a new game concept in the future. For now, you want to stick to the vision for your game.

If your game isn’t going quite the way you want, try to identify and change what isn’t working. Just remember to know and understand what you will and won’t compromise on. You don’t have to change something just because somebody suggested it, even if it sounds like a cool idea. Remember your vision, and stick to your guns!

What do you do when a really great idea comes up but is far different than your original vision for your game?

Joe

www.crazylikeabox.com
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Thu Mar 1, 2018 4:18 pm
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The Resistance

Joe Slack
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No, I’m not talking about the game. Although it definitely a great one!

I’m talking about the resistance in all of us. The self-doubt. The pushback. This is the feeling inside that will make you feel like you just can’t do whatever you’re trying to set your mind to. Writers refer to this as writer’s block. It happens a lot in all creative endeavours.

The resistance is a term discussed in detail by Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art, which is a fantastic book that all artists, writers, and anyone in business should read. There will be times that you feel like you’re making no progress, or that you should give up. This is the resistance in action.

It doesn’t want you to succeed. It wants to maintain the status quo. Pressfield suggests, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlimited life within us.” We sometimes have to do the things that are hard or uncomfortable for us.

Giving up on your game, or anything else you do, is taking the easy way out. You have to be consistent and keep working at it every day to see it through to completion. “The best and only thing an artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration,” Pressfield states.

“But my game is no good,” you say. “What right do I have to create something new?” you ask. “There are so many other game designers who are way better than me.” If you’re feeling any of these things, don’t worry. It’s normal. It’s called impostor syndrome.

You may feel that everyone else is better than you, and question whether this is really what you should be doing. But remember, Eric Lang and Matt Leacock were also once unknown. Now they are famous board game designers. You can bet that they questioned themselves, especially early on in their careers.

You may not be an expert, but if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll be well on your way to becoming one! Just keep pushing ahead and know that your game is improving every day just because you keep showing up. Never give up and never give in.

What do you do when the are faced with resistance?
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Thu Feb 22, 2018 7:28 pm
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Point Your View Over Here!

Joe Slack
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Excerpt from the #1 best selling book, The Board Game Designer's Guide:

https://www.amazon.com/Board-Game-Designers-Guide-Process-eb...

Another thing you may notice when you play a variety of games is the use of different perspectives. Instead of just being able to play as the human hero, many games allow you to play on the side of evil, as an animal, or from some other viewpoint you might not expect. For example, what if you were to retell the story of the “Three Little Pigs” as a board game in which the player plays the role of the wolf?

You may also get ideas for re-theming a game. Put characters in a different world like a fish-out-of-water scenario. Bring characters out of stories from the past into the future, or vice versa. Take a common theme and place everything underwater, or in space. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

Games are also a great opportunity to allow players to take on roles they normally wouldn’t dream of. Allow players to take on the role of a villain or monster, instead of the typical knight in shining armour. Have players cast in the role of mob bosses, or some other underworld character.

A great example of this is Burgle Bros. This is a cooperative game where all players take on the role of thieves working together to rob a bank. This takes players out of reality and into a fantasy world where they can act out in ways that they would never normally even consider in the real world. This can be really exciting and appealing to a lot of players.

Taking on a different point of view can lead to some really outside the box thinking. A great example of this is Vast: The Crystal Caverns. This asymmetrical game allows players to take on a variety of different possible roles. You can even play as the cave! In the role of the cave you to try to swallow the adventurers before they can escape. This is a fantastic example of thinking in a really different way.

What role would you like to take on in a game? What’s something you’d never dream of doing in real life, but would like to do vicariously through game role play? Can you design a game where players are a building or inanimate object?

Let me know what different perspective you've taken or want to take with your game?

www.crazylikeabox.com
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Thu Feb 1, 2018 6:38 pm
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20/20 Vision (for your game)

Joe Slack
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Toronto
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Excerpt from the #1 best selling book, The Board Game Designer's Guide:

https://www.amazon.com/Board-Game-Designers-Guide-Process-eb...

It’s important to know from a fairly early stage in your board game design what the vision is for your game. Once you have this figured out, you’ll want to write it down, so you can always refer back to it. When you have to start making hard decisions about what to cut or change in your game, you will use this as your compass. In this way, your game will retain its “soul.”

You want to figure out what the key elements are for your game. What’s your game about? Most importantly, what are the feelings and experiences you want players to have when they play your game. I’ll go into this crucial aspect of your game in more depth shortly. For now, think about what parts of your game you will not waver on. While other elements may be added and removed as you’re going through the process, you’ll want to hold firm on the aspects you won’t compromise on.

Always remember that it’s your game. Ultimately, you make the final decisions about what changes and what remains in your game.

So, what's the experience and feeling you want players to have when playing your game?

https://www.crazylikeabox.com
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Fri Jan 26, 2018 3:06 pm
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Your Game - The Next Step

Joe Slack
Canada
Toronto
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Excerpt from the #1 best selling book, The Board Game Designer's Guide:

https://www.amazon.com/Board-Game-Designers-Guide-Process-eb...

When you're designing a game, you have to put in the hard work. You have to be able to focus on what needs to be done next.

One trick I’ve found that keeps me on track is noting down my next step after I’m finished playtesting, or am done working on a game for the moment.

The next step should be tangible and actionable, like “playtest starting with seven cards each rather than five,” or “figure out a way to speed up each player’s turn,” rather than something generic like “work on this game.” That way, the next time I sit down to work on it, I don’t have to waste time thinking about what needs to be done. I just look at the next step and keep moving ahead.

It doesn’t have to be the same aspect of the game every time you embark on it. You can really work on any part, such as brainstorming names, playtesting, trying out a suggested idea, or anything else to move your game forward. You must make sure however, that whatever you’re working on is aimed at improving the game, not just wasting time (like spending hours online looking for the perfect icon – yes, I admit I’ve done this…).

So, what's the next step you're taking with your game?
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Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:16 pm
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Best Seller

Joe Slack
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Wow! I can't believe it.

The Board Game Designer's Guide became a best seller in it's first week!

I've heard so many stories from everyday people who enjoy board games but never thought of creating one until they read my book, and from people who had designed a game but put it on a shelf somewhere because they didn't know what to do with it. They now have the knowledge and information they need to take their game to the next level!

It's available on Kindle on Amazon and the paperback version will be coming soon!

https://www.amazon.com/Board-Game-Designers-Guide-Process-eb...

All the great feedback has got me thinking about some really big goals for this year, including running my first Kickstarter campaign and going beyond my book to help other game designers.

So, what are your board game design goals for 2018?
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Thu Jan 4, 2018 9:25 pm
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You're Like a Scientist!

Joe Slack
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Excerpt from The Board Game Designer's Guide - being released December 2017. Sign up here to be notified when my new book is released: https://tinyurl.com/bgdesignersguide

As a game designer, you’ll always be testing new ideas. Think of yourself as a scientist. You come up with a hypothesis, such as “my game will play better if players are allowed to do four actions on their turn instead of three.”

Then you test this to see if your hypothesis is true. If not, no big deal. Just go back to the previous version or try something new. That’s what game design is all about. Test, test, test. Each test will bring you closer to a finished game that people are going to really enjoy.

Try playtesting your game with new people. Ask for feedback on a specific aspect of your game. If the group is willing, see if you can try it one way, then another, then maybe a third way, and so on, until you’ve figured out the right formula. New people have new ideas, so there’ll always be something additional to ponder.

Talk about your game with other people. It could be with friends, board game enthusiasts, or other designers. This will generate more ideas and possible solutions for any challenges you are facing. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck. Talk it out. Keep your game moving forward.

Remember that your game is getting closer to completion every day. As long as you keep putting in the time and effort, your game will keep improving, and more and more people will be asking when they can buy a copy. That will definitely keep you motivated to make this effort a priority.

Are you stuck somewhere in your design process? What works for you to get out of this and keep moving forward?
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Wed Dec 6, 2017 3:20 pm
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Should You Design Your Game By Yourself or With a Partner (or Partners)?

Joe Slack
Canada
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Ontario
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Excerpt from The Board Game Designer's Guide - being released December 2017. Sign up here to be notified when my new book is released: https://tinyurl.com/bgdesignersguide


Is it better to partner with someone or go at it alone?

As with just about everything, there are pros and cons to whatever approach you take. If you make your game all by yourself, this allows you more flexibility, control, and the ability to work on this whenever you have the time.

Having a partner on the other hand, will help keep you accountable and split the workload (which is especially helpful if each of you has different skills that will help make the game even better). But this will also mean splitting the rewards.

So what’s the best approach? That’s really up to you.

Just because you create your first game on your own, doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate with somebody in the future, or vice versa. You can always try out both approaches, and you may have to work on different games with different people before you find a good match.

Whatever you decide, always keep in mind that it takes many people to make a great game. You may be the designer, but you must also rely on playtesters, other designers, and whomever you work with along the way to get your game published, to ensure that your game isn’t just good, but the best it can be. It really does take a community to make an amazing board game.

So, what approach are you taking with your current game (or games)?
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Wed Nov 29, 2017 2:51 pm
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