Board game design, like many things, is an iterative process. That means your speed of design is determined by how long it takes you to complete a cycle and how many cycles you have. In the diagram above, I’ve simplified this process to show that, by far, play-testing will be the majority of your development time. Although the “Pre-play-testing” time and “Post-play-testing” time can also be iterative, they aren’t nearly as dependent on external forces outside your control (play-testers) and therefore aren’t going to be as unpredictable or slow.
I should also say that since play-testers are usually unpaid volunteers (family and friends to start out with), you should do your best to honor their time by presenting them with something that already has some wrinkles ironed out. Not to mention that first impressions matter — you’re going to want them to WANT to play-test your game repeatedly because they had fun the FIRST TIME.
It has been famously quoted, “bad artists copy; good artists steal”, meaning that a good artist can truly make a work that inspires them their own. I would argue you don’t even have to be that talented to steal — as long as you have the passion and put in the effort to steal something thoroughly, it will become yours.
I have long experience in graphic design, especially with t-shirts. When I started, I was reluctant to to do anything that showed I was inspired by another artist. But once I got more experience and realized the work that inspired me was originally inspired by other works by other artists, I stole more freely.
It’s a little known fact that witches are not brewing potions and poisons in their enormous vats but root beer. Unfortunately, they’re not very good at it. Can you help? Brew up the best batch and win the witch as an enthusiastic fan of your great brew!
Objective: Attract the most witches to your yummy brews.
Here’s an overview of the game I’m working on for my HABA contest entry. My goal was to make something simple that young children could easily understand but that kept adults interested as well. I also wanted to stick to using the existing pieces with as little additional components as possible. Here’s an overview of the internal pieces I used and what I added:
6 witch meeples (3 green, 2 yellow, 1 red)
4 orange cat meeples
10 red frog meeples
4 sets of 6 dice — one set for each player
The objective of the game is to lure witches (or the cats which are just witches in disguise) to your perfect root beer brews, using magic to help things out along the way. Here’s a list of game features:
Simultaneous turns — no waiting
Dice rolling with no paperwork
100% language-free components so all you need is rules in each language
The children’s toy and game company, HABA, has a game design contest. For $5.00, you buy a collection of leftover pieces and make a game from the ones that inspire you. It’s likely still sold out although they’ve promised to put more up for sale. Check it out for yourself.
Here’s the rules. The gist is you send back a working game and they award a winner with a bunch of HABA products with the chance that your game may be published someday. With such a vague commitment on their part, they ask for no commitment from you that the game be exclusive to them after the contest ends. For myself, I thought it would be a good exercise and something I could work on with my son.
You can see my selection of HABA pieces above. The quantity was impressive but I was hoping for some unique dice. Also, it felt like all my pieces skewed on the younger side of kids’ game pieces. I have some ideas so I’ll be posting my game updates soon.
Are you participating in the HABA contest? What are you working on?
I did a fair amount of research to try to find similar games before I started designing the game I’m currently play-testing. It looked like my idea was unique enough. However, I accidentally discovered Cutthroat Caverns today. It’s the same as my idea in that it’s a card game, fantasy-themed, and has a “take-that” style of play.
It’s discouraging to have come this far and find something so close. Reportedly, it seems to be a longer playing game than you’d expect something like this to be. Since I’m looking to have something lighter and faster, I haven’t given up on my game yet; but this definitely takes the wind out of my sails. I’m also going to want to play CC at some point to confirm things one way or another.
Have you discovered similar games after putting work into a new game design?
One thing I haven’t seen many designers speak of is the importance of the game title. In any list of new titles, on Kickstarter, on BoardGameGeek, or on a review site, you sometimes have little else to make you stand out from the pack. Few designers seem to spend the required time to truly come up with something unique and attention-grabbing. Let’s look at some great titles and analyze why they are good:
Five minute Dungeon: Immediately you know this is a fast-playing fantasy-themed game plus you are curious to know: How fast is it really? How in-depth is the play? What does it look like?
Tiny Epic Quest: This gives you a very similar vibe to “Five Minute Dungeon” but promises a bit more with the claim to be “epic”. Don’t you want to know more?
King of Tokyo: This one is a bit more mysterious but inspires the necessary curiosity. Even if you don’t figure out it’s about giant monsters stomping on Tokyo, you want to know why does Tokyo have a king?