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.
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?
I’m not talking about a literal gaming table. Specifically, what skills, life experiences, or points of view do you have that you want to share with the world that you can do better than anyone else? Here’s what I came up with:
Problem solving and system design: I have over 20 years of software developer experience that gives me the engineer’s perspective on board game design — how can I accomplish the design with the simplest, most elegant, and efficient design?
Graphic design: I have over 10 years experience in graphic design as a side gig. That, along with software user interface design, helps me create components that are clear and beautiful.
Storytelling: Although I didn’t follow through, I briefly had a creative writing minor in University. Dungeon-mastering, writing my own fiction, and being a voracious reader give me a wide gamut of ideas, themes, and experiences to share.
My relatively new interest in designing board games is partly from a realization that it combines so many things I’m interested in. What are you bringing to the table? What do you need to tell the world?
What games caught your attention, inspired you, or furthered your interest in board games?
For me, I have to start with Monopoly at a very young age — it was a game my older brother played with his friends and I would beg to play. They would eventually relent and proceed to rip me off every chance they could! Despite that and my repeated losses in that game (not to mention my subsequent realization of Monopoly’s many flaws), Monopoly has always been special for me.
The next major influence would be Dungeons and Dragons in high school. I dropped out of Geometry (even though I had a “B”) to add another study period in the library so me and my friends could play more D&D. Nothing fascinated me more than the world-building involved in being a Dungeon Master.
All of us who enjoy board games have thought at one point or another, “I could do this! Why don’t I create my own game?”. With crowdfunding and the growing interest in board games, it’s not a crazy dream. The question is, why? What are you hoping to get out of it? Even though I have some ideas, I’m still trying to figure that out myself.
Let’s explore those ideas together using this poll. You can select as many options as are applicable for you.