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Subject: Board Game Design for Dummies rss

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James Mathe
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So, last weekend I drove to Ann Arbor, MI with Matt Loomis and Dustin Oakley where we attended Protospiel.org. We helped a lot of designers with their games. On the way home we complained a bit about how at this and other events and in our Facebook forums we seem to repeatedly have to point out some very basic design no-no’s. So, instead of just complaining we decided to use the 6 hour drive back to at least jot down some notes to make a post. Now most of this applies specifically (and some only) to our hobby game industry.

http://www.jamesmathe.com/game-design-for-dummies/

If you got more to add, let me know and I'll consider it.

~James
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Nice!

And yes, we have a great desinger forum. A few of us can probably even sing.

I like the list of no-no's:

No roll and move

No paper money

No CCGs - Collectible Card Games

No re-used parts of classic games (ie, chessboard)

No "lose a turn"

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Kyle Mann
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Great list; should be required reading... A couple thoughts:

Quote:
Avoid linear dice rolls when possible

I would say this is highly dependent on what you're doing. Just being aware of the difference (and selecting the right solution) is enough.

Quote:
Also don’t allow the dice to determine critical game swinging effects. No one (not even the Ameritrash crowd) likes a game’s outcome on the last turn to be decided by a die roll.

Again this is dependent on the game and the die roll. A whole build up to one die roll is fine in context, so long as the players had significant input that brought the game to that point.
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Mike Watne
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This is a pretty solid list and some very good things to keep in mind for most designs. I will certainly be printing this and keeping it in mind while tinkering with my own designs.

I would perhaps restructure the list a bit to keep the obvious and highly relevant design pointers grouped near the top, with the the more cautionary tales reserved for lower in the list. For example, "Stealing from another player is twice as effective" is general wisdom that should be heeded by all designers, while "No Collectible Card Games" is much more subjective and should be taken with a grain of salt by designers who feel they can contribute to this otherwise tired model. I'm personally very excited to see how Serpent's Tongue handles their approach to the CCG model, for example, and while I would agree that the words "CCG" are an almost certain non-starter for me nowadays, the simple fact that I had to use italics when typing it means that it is not a global rule.

Long story short: It is all good advice, but it might be more constructive to sort it in terms of descending universal relevance to design.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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A lot of obvious stuff, but I hope those just getting their feet wet heed that advice.

One interesting (to me at least) opinion came at the end when you advise against limiting a game to 2 players or less than four. I can see the rationale, but I also can see exceptions to that. The 2 player "couples game" market is starting to pick up as is the demand for thematic 2 player duel games. I think it's because some gamers are having a hard time finding those big game groups or only get together once a week or month while the spouse/roommate/friend is always there.

It might not be a bad idea to get in on that market now and make the next Morels or Mage Wars Arena. Personally I see three vacuums waiting to be filled in hobby gaming today:

-next level couples game
-next generation of epic civ building games
-more thematic large player count (7+) games

At least that's what I'm working on.
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James Mathe
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Very true Adam... if you do a two player game make sure it is WIFE friendly. That's your audience. Know your audience.

One of the worse game designs in the world: TROUBLE - roll and move, player gets knocked back to the start, has to roll a 6 on a linear die roll to start up again... etc. But yet it's sold more then I can ever wish for. Point is know your audience and in our Hobby Game Industry it's a no-no.

Anyway, that comment was more about how marketable your game design is to a publisher. Not that 2 player or 3 player games can't work.

James
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Dan Blum
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Looks pretty good. The most important thing I would add is

"The game has to be fun to play the first time."

You touch on this to some extent (e.g., the ability to avoid pre-game decisions), but I have seen too many prototypes that just don't provide a great experience the first game. (I'm charitably assuming that they are actually fun if you've played a lot.) These are typically games that turn on tiny nuances in play; having nuances to discover eventually is a fine thing but you need something to keep people playing until they discover them.
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Mike Watne
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RPGShop wrote:

Anyway, that comment was more about how marketable your game design is to a publisher.


To be fair, quite a few of the pointers on this list are presented from the standpoint of designing a board game that will be attractive to a publisher. More specifically, a publisher who is in tune with the niche market championed at sites like BGG. I'm sure that a roll-to-move, player-eliminating, setup-determines-the-winner, CCG would be perfectly welcome to any large, multi-faceted publishing concern if you could demonstrate a demographic that would shell out money for it as steadily as people do for Trouble.

You really have two lists here: (A) Basic design considerations, and (B) A niche hobby publishing survival guide. Both are good lists and both aspects are essential to any aspiring designer who wants to rise beyond churning out print and play games. But it is a little odd to mix the two, as many of the publishing considerations represent the very types of "rules" any inspired design could (and often does) effectively break.
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Bryan Laird
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Saw this on Facebook tonight after a friend tagged me in it. It has me re-thinking some of the cards, that cause you or other people to lose turns. Glad I read this as I was about to start scanning stuff to the computer for beta testing, now I'm going to rethink and possibly make changes. Thanks for Sharing wish I could have made it to Protospiel.
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RPGShop wrote:
Very true Adam... if you do a two player game make sure it is WIFE friendly. That's your audience. Know your audience.


Your audience is "people who like your game". You can't define it before the game hit the shelves, and making stuff for a projected audience rather than making stuff you want to play is, for me at least, not desirable. (That's one of the reasons TV is the putrid toilet sink it is.)

On an aside, I'm a bit fed up about the "wife friendly" stereotype. What that that word mean in the first place? What *is* wife friendly?
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Danielle Goldman
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tool wrote:
Looks pretty good. The most important thing I would add is

"The game has to be fun to play the first time."

You touch on this to some extent (e.g., the ability to avoid pre-game decisions), but I have seen too many prototypes that just don't provide a great experience the first game. (I'm charitably assuming that they are actually fun if you've played a lot.) These are typically games that turn on tiny nuances in play; having nuances to discover eventually is a fine thing but you need something to keep people playing until they discover them.


I dunno, Agricola would never have been published if that were the case.

A game doesn't have to be fun to play necessarily - if people can recognize the potential for greatness out of the experience, though, that's what matters.
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Dan Blum
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plasmatorture wrote:
tool wrote:
Looks pretty good. The most important thing I would add is

"The game has to be fun to play the first time."

You touch on this to some extent (e.g., the ability to avoid pre-game decisions), but I have seen too many prototypes that just don't provide a great experience the first game. (I'm charitably assuming that they are actually fun if you've played a lot.) These are typically games that turn on tiny nuances in play; having nuances to discover eventually is a fine thing but you need something to keep people playing until they discover them.


I dunno, Agricola would never have been published if that were the case.

A game doesn't have to be fun to play necessarily - if people can recognize the potential for greatness out of the experience, though, that's what matters.


I had fun playing Agricola the first time.

I'm not saying that you can get all the enjoyment potential of the game on the first play, just that there has to be SOME reasonable level of enjoyment possible on the first play.
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Nagato Fujibayashi

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The fifth point, I find it so interesting(and correct...)


...and imagine I'm designing a "simulation" game myself at the moment. Weird.
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A few nitpicks:

* Your "If I can always spend $1 to gain 1 point or I can spend $2 to gain 3 points, I will never spend $1 unless I am forced to" overlooks the fact that this mechanism is used to incite liquidity, to incite commitment, and for other legitimate reasons.

* When you talk about "linear balance" I don't know what you mean, so it's possible a dummy wouldn't either. (Wait...)

* "Stealing from another player is twice as effective" is not generally true. It's true in a 2-player game; as the number of players goes up, the relative advantage of stealing goes down.
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Matt Loomis
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Nicolas Weiss wrote:
Your audience is "people who like your game". You can't define it before the game hit the shelves, and making stuff for a projected audience rather than making stuff you want to play is, for me at least, not desirable. (That's one of the reasons TV is the putrid toilet sink it is.)

On an aside, I'm a bit fed up about the "wife friendly" stereotype. What that that word mean in the first place? What *is* wife friendly?


Aren't you a person who likes your game? Wouldn't you be part of the target audience for your game? If your target audience is "people like me", then understand what that is, and understand the market for that group of people. No one said "Choose an audience that you aren't a part of, design for them."
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Matt Loomis
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Kaffedrake wrote:
* When you talk about "linear balance" I don't know what you mean, so it's possible a dummy wouldn't either. (Wait...)


Spend 1 to gain 1, Spend 2 to gain 2, Spend 3 to gain 3 is linear balance. Spend 1 to gain 1, Spend 2 to gain 3, Spend 3 to gain 5 is a curved balance.
I think "linear payouts" is probably more accurate, I will clarify.

Kaffedrake wrote:

* "Stealing from another player is twice as effective" is not generally true. It's true in a 2-player game; as the number of players goes up, the relative advantage of stealing goes down.


As long as you have a choice about who you're stealing from, it's always twice as effective. You will always target the leader, or in the case of being the leader, target the person who is in second place.
 
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shanniganz wrote:
As long as you have a choice about who you're stealing from, it's always twice as effective. You will always target the leader, or in the case of being the leader, target the person who is in second place.


I have 20 points, Bill has 19 points, Ben has 18 points. I steal 5 points from Bill. My margin goes up by 6 points.
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Kaffedrake wrote:
I have 20 points, Bill has 19 points, Ben has 18 points. I steal 5 points from Bill. My margin goes up by 6 points.


Yet Bill's margin went down by 10, and Ben's margin only went down by 5. I will concede that "always" isn't accurate when looking at a comparison to the relation of every player, but it is for the two people involved in the action.
 
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shanniganz wrote:
[q="Nicolas Weiss"]If your target audience is "people like me"


You miss the point. "People like me" don't exist. For instance, I'm amongst dungeon crawler lovers. Despite that, by designing a dungeon crawler, you won't automatically get me to buy it. So you can imagine your audience and what it likes. You will miss my tastes most of the time.

What's more, supposing "an audience" can agree on liking a game element, this element is something that has already been done. So do you want to do what has been already done because you imagine it would please the target audience, or do you want to do things because you, as a designer, find them resulting in a better game?
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RPGShop wrote:
Very true Adam... if you do a two player game make sure it is WIFE friendly. That's your audience. Know your audience.

Then someone needs to tell Advanced Squad Leader that it will never get successfully published.
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Nice list James - and comments from others. I wasn't able to attend protspiel this year, I also don't have any designs that I'm ready for that level of feedback on - although I'm shuffling 5 or 6 different ones regardless.

Anyway, back to the topic. Something I always remind myself is that "the scoring system IS your game." Games that are successful, in my opinion, do so because the boardstate and player actions generally have a clear connection to the end-game scoring. People bash Knizia, but his genius is in being able to use a cleverly, obvious scoring system to drive really interesting and interative gameplay.

You need to think about the scoring system front and center when designing a game - what are the objetives, how is the winner determined, etc... and then work back from there into the details of what choices and experiences you want players to face in getting there.
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James Mathe
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cbs42 wrote:
RPGShop wrote:
Very true Adam... if you do a two player game make sure it is WIFE friendly. That's your audience. Know your audience.

Then someone needs to tell Advanced Squad Leader that it will never get successfully published.


And while they are at it tell TLC that Zombies!!! is an aweful roll and move game and tell SJG to give up the millions they make on Munchkin as that bash the leader concept is poor design.

The point of this list is not to demand you follow every "rule" ... it was to stop people from going down the wrong paths blindly. Those games are exceptions onto themselves and not good game design - but they sold to their target market well.

James
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Nicolas Weiss wrote:

Your audience is "people who like your game". You can't define it before the game hit the shelves, and making stuff for a projected audience rather than making stuff you want to play is, for me at least, not desirable. (That's one of the reasons TV is the putrid toilet sink it is.)


I've worked in a number of different industries and you ALWAYS define a target audience. This gives you a clear direction of what decisions to make while designing the game. Making decisions around this audience will create a FOCUSED end product.

The problem with movies, television and video game's is the exact OPPOSITE of this. The numbers are too big, and the network needs a massive number of users in order to break even. So, they target "the masses".
They take these few traits to satisfy group A, and these ones to satisfy group B. In the end, no group is fully satisfied.

--

I'll be honest, I find the article a bit full of itself. I've worked in game development a long time and I've seen far too many things "Break the rules of good design" successfully. Following all the rules creates just as bad a design as

While I understand your intentions, I don't believe that things like "No roll and move", "No paper money", "No losing turns" etc are fit as "Rules". Depending on the designers intention and the players involved, those COULD be the best option.

There are no bad mechanics, only poor implementations.
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Nicolas Weiss wrote:
RPGShop wrote:
Very true Adam... if you do a two player game make sure it is WIFE friendly. That's your audience. Know your audience.


On an aside, I'm a bit fed up about the "wife friendly" stereotype. What that that word mean in the first place? What *is* wife friendly?


Hear, hear! Wives are gamers, too. No need to pander.
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shanniganz wrote:
Kaffedrake wrote:
I have 20 points, Bill has 19 points, Ben has 18 points. I steal 5 points from Bill. My margin goes up by 6 points.


Yet Bill's margin went down by 10, and Ben's margin only went down by 5. I will concede that "always" isn't accurate when looking at a comparison to the relation of every player, but it is for the two people involved in the action.

Some people may naively think that stealing is only as good as taking from the bank because they only look at the one player doing the action. You think that stealing is always twice as good because you're only looking at the two people directly affected. But both are wrong if there are other people in the game that you care about.

Extend the example: I'm playing against Alice and Bob. I steal a point from Alice because she's in the lead. Later I steal a point from Bob because he's in the lead. In total, I've stolen 2 points and increased my margin by 3 relative to both players. There is no way of interpreting that combination of actions as being worth 4 points to me.

You're also assuming that you can tell which opponent is in the lead, which is not always true.

You're also assuming that the thing you're stealing is equally valuable to all players at all times, which in an interesting game is unlikely. If the leading player happens to be pursuing a strategy that doesn't depend very much on widgets, then depriving them of widgets might be much less valuable than gaining widges for myself, or even less valuable than depriving a non-leading opponent of widgets (if their strategy is more widget-dependent and they're close enough to still be a serious threat).

It is important to know that stealing from an opponent is (under typical conditions) better than gaining from the game, but saying it's worth double is, at best, an overgeneralization.
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