The Nine Phases of Game Design
Mike Compton
United States
Lawrence
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As of this writing, I am still an aspiring game designer with my first major project approaching completion (I'm currently on phase 6 of this continuum). In a few days, a group of people like myself will be meeting at Game Night Games in Salt Lake City, Utah to begin the innaugural meeting of the "Board Game Designers Club of Utah" ( http://www.gamenightgames.com ).

In anticipation of this meeting, and as a fun project, I've been doing some thinking about the general process board game designers go through to arrive at a finished product. So, I humbly submit this geeklist as my perception (at present) regarding the actual process a designer goes through with a game project. Please feel free to comment - especially those who are already recognized game designers.

Note: I also believe that there is an obvious "pre-phase" an aspiring designer should go through in that one should play a lot of games that are already out there on the market to get a feel for which mechanics have already been presented, how well they have been developed, and which themes are already out there (ex. if I'm working on a train game design or a game with an Egyptian theme it had better be one awesome game cause there's already a bazillion of those kinds of games out there).

Update: Well, in this introduction I stated how I was on stage 6 with my game. That was incorrect. I only thought I was on stage 6. I have since had to go back several stages and completely redo the theme and overhaul a lot of the economic mechanics. I'm learning more and more how, just when a person thinks a game is about to be "done", they hit a snag that sends them all the way back down the ladder. What's more, often minor problems are merely the tips of icebergs and it's only through major overhauling that minor problems can be eliminated. Sigh...oh well...that's just the way it goes.
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1. Board Game: Brainstorm [Average Rating:5.66 Overall Rank:12229]
Mike Compton
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-Brainstorming

-Beginnings of either theme, basic mechanics, or both
 
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2. Board Game: What Happens Next [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked]
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-Beginning designs: many ideas considered and written down for further testing

-Small prototyping (very simple pieces, perhaps a basic printed board)

-Beginnings of some minor play-testing for various ideas
 
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3. Board Game: Extreme Action Subtraction [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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-Medium prototyping (some generic pieces, more refined board layout)

-Play-testing begins to reveal loopholes and potential breaking points of the game system

-Lots of experimentation - typically major adjustments to the game take place in this phase (such as a change in theme or a major change in mechanics)

-Many ideas will be tested and many will be discarded

-If the basic game idea is not working, it will generally be in this phase that the project is abandoned.
 
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4. Board Game: Loopin' Louie [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:727]
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-Game beginning to take shape: Theme and Basic Mechanics are somewhat in place

-Many loopholes and breaking points have been discovered and compensated for but many more have yet to be discovered

-Beginnings of a working, organized rulebook (instead of just personal notes)
 
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5. Board Game: Shape of Things [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
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-Game mechanics and theme are nearing completion

-Major loopholes and breaking points have been discovered and compensated for but minor ones may still exist

-Play-testing begins to take on specific purposes (such as trying out extreme strategies simply for the sake of testing potential loopholes or breaking points)

-More formalized prototyping (beginning to acquire more theme appropriate game components)

-Continued work on rulebook
 
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6. Board Game: Star Fleet Battles: Commander's Rulebook [Average Rating:7.35 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.35 Unranked]
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-Game mechanics and theme are now complete

-Play-testing of the rulebook - how its worded, terminology used - now becomes a focus (i.e. can someone take your rulebook and your prototype and understand how to play the game without you being there to teach or answer questions)

-Perhaps employment of an artist for a final prototype
 
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7. Board Game: First Contact [Average Rating:6.12 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.12 Unranked]
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-Final prototype with play-tested rulebook completed

-Contacting of publishers begins
 
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8. Board Game: Wings: The Air Mail Game [Average Rating:4.40 Unranked]
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-Prototype(s) sent to publisher(s) for consideration
 
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9. Board Game: And Now For Something Completely Different... The Board Game [Average Rating:3.83 Unranked]
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-Final adjustments from publisher

-Game formally published
 
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