Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Eight ways to start designing a game

So, you want to design a board game?! That's great! But how does one start to design a game? I admit, it can be a bit intimidating; but here are eight ways that you can use to begin creating your very own board game...

1. Start with the MECHANISM

Bag builder. Worker Placement. Dice Drafting. Press your Luck. Roll and Write.

The mechanism is the primary action that the player performs over the course of your game. A good way to understand a mechanism is to play other games! For example, if you are interested in worker placement, play several worker placement games. Learn what distinguishes a worker placement game from other types of games - research the systems and tropes found in these types of games. Then replicate it... And then start changing it to make your game different and unique from all of the other games.

A good way to do this is to combine a mechanism with two or three other mechanisms... there really is no limit to how many mechanisms you can combine, but remember, the more mechanisms you have in your game, the more complicated your game will end up being. Sometimes simple is better. There are literally dozens of types of mechanisms; a good list can be found here.

2. Start with the GENRE or THEME

What is Genre? For those of you old enough to remember Blockbuster video stores, VCR rentals were always categorized by genre: Horror, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Super-Hero, Romance, Drama, Thriller.  In my tabletop design class, I refer to this type of genre as "story genre" to differentiate it from "game genre" aka mechanisms. The great thing about starting with a genre is that there are many examples of each genre in movies, book, plays, comics, theater, etc. Just pick one and go!

Theme, on the other hand, is what the work (the game) says about the subject - "Crime never pays", "Greed is Good" or "Betrayal", "Love", "War" or "Revenge"  can all be themes for a board game design. A theme can also be applied to any Genre so you can have a science-fiction game about betrayal like Who Goes There? or a fantasy game about the necessity for civilizations to evolve like Small World.

Wikipedia provides a great list of genres here while you can find a great list of themes here.

3. Start with the STORY

Designer Jerry Hawthorne was inspired to create Mice and Mystics after he told a bedtime story to his young daughter. Designers Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews wanted to tell the story of the Cold War in their game Twilight Struggle. Both of these games started with the story - whether they were fictional or factual. The good news is, games can be about almost anything!

Board games are wonderful storytelling devices; after all, they use all of the tools that a storybook does: words, images, characters, and conflict. The classic three act structure and the dramatic arc offer game designers a strong framework that can be used to start designing a game.

Some games tell a "fixed" story such as The 7th Continent, TIME Stories, and Fury of Dracula. Other games offer stories with multiple paths such as Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, Tales of the Arabian Nights and Betrayal at the House on the Hill. What story will you tell?

4. Start with the TITLE

Titles are very powerful tools for the game designer. They can capture the spirit of a game immediately. A good title quickly and effectively communicates the story, theme or mechanism to the player from the moment they pick up the box. Looking for more inspiration? Here are some ways you can choose the title of your game:
  • Name it after a character or a place: The Batman Game, Merchant of Venus, Sagrada, Carcassone
  • Name it after an activity in the game: Twister, Kill Doctor Lucky, Acquire, Roll for the Galaxy
  • Give it a descriptive title: The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, Hey Pa! There's a Goat on the Roof!, Dead of Winter
  • Give it a "cinematic" title: Fortress America, Through the Desert, Shadows over Camelot, Fury of Dracula
  • Give it a purple cow* title: Qwirkle, Qwixx, Qwiddler, Farkle

    *A purple cow is the marketing concept of choosing a name which "makes your audience stop in their tracks and wonder why the title was chosen."

    When choosing a title, make sure you do your research first! Choose a title that hasn't been used before or isn't too close to the title of another published game. Don't worry, there are plenty of words (in many different languages) out there to use!
5. Start with the COMPONENTS

Components is the official board gaming term for the "bits", "parts" or "pieces" required to play a game. The good news is, you can make a board game from just about anything. I've seen designers create games using toy dinosaurs, magnets, foam guns, an actual bell, inflatable caveman clubs, dental dams and even lasers!

Using a component in a clever way can make for an appealing game. Interesting components will draw players in. Never underestimate the "toy factor" of a component. The shape, size and texture of a component can make a huge difference in how the component is used both in the game and by the player. The game Bootleggers uses standard wooden cubes to represent boxes of liquor - which look particularly thematic when they are placed in the backs of little plastic trucks!

Some games use unique versions of standard components to create new mechanisms and game play. The games Gloom and Mystic Vale both use transparent plastic cards but each in totally different ways. Try looking at an old component in a new way and perhaps you can invent something new!

6. Start with the PLAYER COUNT

Just like a comfy pair of slippers, game come in all sizes. Some are fast-paced party games that can accommodate a large amount of players like Pictonary, Pantone the Game and Cards Against Humanity. Other games work better with less players such as Ticket to Ride, Pandemic or Lords of Waterdeep.

But what happens if you have no one to play with at all? Then design a solo game! Solo games are very popular right now and more are coming out all of the time. Games designed for a single player include Friday, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Robinson Crusoe while multiplayer games like Mage Knight, Massive Darkness and Scythe offer robust solo play modes.

7. Start with A "MOMENT"

Game designer Eric Lang asks “What are some key moments that make the players feel awesome?.” Think of a moment that you want the player to experience while playing your game.

It can be the rush of pleasure from gaining a pile of resources, the thrill of the tide of a battle turning, a sense of dread from the inevitable appearance of a horrible monster or the sting of betrayal. Capturing these moments will help give players great memories long after they've finished playing your game.

8. Start with an EXPERIENCE or MOOD

Game designer Catherine Stippell had an uncle who is blind, but loved to play games. She asked herself "What if the tables were turned and we as sighted people had to adapt?" as she tried to capture that experience, she created the game Nyctophobia.

By focusing on creating an experience for the player - making them feel powerful or helpless or hunted - can be a great starting place for a game design. Then search out the mechanisms that will help you create those feelings within the players.

9. Start with the PUBLISHER'S NEED

Designing a game is a lot of hard work and effort and you want to give your game the best opportunity to succeed. Rather than create a board game that will be a "hard sell" why not hedge your bets and find out what game publishers want?

On many game publisher websites you will find their submission guidelines. A publisher might list what genres of games they are looking for. They might ask for a game to be a specific player count or take a specific amount of time to play. They might even specify the size of the box required for the end product. By designing to the publisher's specifications, you might have a great chance of getting your game published!

Contests are similar way to start. They will give a criteria such as "design a two-player game" or "design a game that fits in a tin of mints". These design restrictions actually help a game designer focus and concentrate on the essentials of the game. You can find board game contests all over the internet:  at sites like Board Game Geek, on Facebook pages like the Board Game Design Lab or even at printers like the Game Crafter. Good luck!

I hope that you have found these suggestions useful. The best advice I have is, no matter how you decide to design your game, the most important thing to do is START! All the best of luck to you with your new game design!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Well, Hello There.

You might have noticed that a little time has passed between my last blog entry in June and now, which is November.

Here's what I've been up to.

I was laid off from my job at an awesome LBE VR company (LBE stands for Location Based Experience, VR stands for Virtual Reality and company stands for... you know.) which kicked off a nice bout of depression that I had to stuff down as I went on interviews because no one wants to hire a mopey game designer.

However, as a result of all of this interviewing I learned a thing or two about myself and the industry. The first is, most of these people out there seem REALLY UNHAPPY about their jobs. And if they are unhappy, I think I would be unhappy too. I don't need that. I have my own f'd up brain to keep me unhappy, I don't need work to do that for me either.

Secondly, I have come up with a new credo for myself pertaining to work and that is: "Anyone who isn't thrilled to be working with me, doesn't deserve to work with me." I have worked for all types of people and most of them were d*cks. I'm tired of making money for d*cks. I want to make money for (well, myself) people who are genuinely nice people and who are happy to be working with me. Anyone else can go kick a bucket.

I did find some contract work with a cool little video game company and that helped a little. They are great people and the kind of "not-d*cks" I enjoy working with and for.

Other than that, it was a tough summer. However, my friends at the New York Film Academy offered me a position which I accepted. So I am back teaching classes and also doing a few other things as well. I am teaching a "writing comic books" class which is starting to refuel my design to create a new Bedbug comic. I don't care if anyone else cares, I want to do it for myself. Which is the other thing I learned over the summer. Don't worry about others when you are creating something, if it is good, it will find a home.

There was also some other bad stuff, a fire that almost burnt up my house (it didn't), a friend who was killed by a gunman (so senseless) and several other friends who's loved ones are suffering from or dying from cancer. As a cancer survivor (you don't "fight cancer" you just survive it or you don't) I feel bad - not just for their loss and pain, but as someone who has survived it. Cancer surviors feel guilt from this all of the time. Like we need one more thing to feel bad about. :(

I doubt if anyone will read this, but if you do, I guess my message is "don't be a d*ck" and "show compassion to people going through bad stuff" - it only takes a little bit of effort to not be so self-centered. Give it a try.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Gen-Con 2018 Board Game publisher's List


 Gen-Con is coming!

I don't know about you, but I can get overwhelmed as I prepare for Gen-Con. I'm starting to plan out my schedule for the show and I'm trying to determine which publishers to try to arrange meetings, which would be a good fit for my games (you should never pitch to a publisher who isn't a good fit!) and this year, I want to find out more from the publishers about what they are looking for

However, I didn't even know who was going to be at the show! How was I to learn this? My first thought was to check out the Gen-Con website's interactive map but it's actually kind of hard to navigate for this kind of information.

Undeterred, I dug deeper into the web (OK, I Google'd) and I was able to find a great site at Living Dice.com that had links to all of the exhibitors at the show, however this list, while comprehensive, included everyone at the show, including a vendor who sold adorable Owl Bear stuffies.

I took a few days (really, it took three days) to go through the list. I only listed publishers who produced board games, not those who exclusively made miniature games (like WarMachine or Warhammer 40K) and not companies that only made role-playing games (not that they aren't great companies - I am only focused on board and card game publishers). And I didn't list game-manufacturers who also sold games like The Game Crafter. 

In addition to the company, I listed their booth location number at the show. I would have liked to have gone into more detail about the games they make and their published titles, but at least it's a start.

Also, any publisher marked with a * only had one game list on their site, which implied to me that they are less likely to publish someone else's game... yet.


  • Academy Games : 2748
  • Adam's Apple Games : 2663
  • AEGIS Combining Robots : 3060*
  • Albino Dragon: 122
  • Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG): 701
  • Alter Reality Games: 2501
  • Amigo Games: 2763
  • Ankama Board Games : 2753
  • Anvil Eight Games: 320
  • APE Games: 1739
  • Arcane Wonders: 1249
  • Archon Games: 460
  • Archon Studio: 2544
  • Ares Games: 335
  • Artana : 1159 
  • Asmadi Games: 2229
  • Asmodee Digial: 2509
  • Atlas Games: 1407
  • B&B Games Studio: 259
  • Bananagrams Inc.: 2015*
  • BANDAI: 3023
  • Bezier Games: 431
  • Big G Creative: 1656
  • Big Potato Games: 2105
  • Blacklist Games: 2907
  • Blood & Cardstock Games: 120
  • Blue Orange Games: 1813
  • Brain Games: 2205
  • Braine Games: 2050
  • Breaking Games: 2329
  • Brotherwise Games, LLC: 1639
  • Buy the Rights: 554*
  • Calliope Games: 1901
  • Capstone Games: 1559
  • Cardboard Dynamo: 2768
  • Catan Studio: 823*
  • Cephalofair Games: 250
  • Chaosium: 829
  • Cheapass Games: 1823
  • Chip Theory Games LLC: 2927
  • CMON 415
  • Coffee Cake Gaming: 2958
  • Columbia Games: 273
  • Corvus Belli Infinity: 241*
  • Crafty Games: 1929
  • Cranio Creations: 2005
  • Cryptozoic Entertainment: 609
  • D-Verse NEXUS: 2959
  • Daily Magic Games: 264
  • Days of Wonder: 1619
  • Decision Games/Strategy & Tactics Press: 3018
  • Deep Water Games: 272
  • Devious Weasel Games: 1130
  • Devir Games: 2639
  • Diemension Games Inc: 3065
  • Dodeca System Games: 363
  • Dude Games: 2807
  • Dust USA: 3035*
  • DV Giochi: 2707
  • Eagle-Gryphon Games: 163
  • Eggertspiele: 2935
  • Et Games: 565
  • Everything Epic: 2923
  • Exodus The Trading Card Game: 2944*
  • Exploding Kittens, LLC: 2643
  • Facade Games: 2856
  • Fallen Dominion Studios, LLC : 3057 
  • Fantasy Flight Games : 809  
  •  FASA Games : 1929 
  •  Fireside Games : 2455 
  • Floodgate Games : 249  
  •  Flying Frog Productions : 941
  • Flying Meeple: 2315
  • Force of Will: 2469
  • Formal Ferret Games: 2770
  • FoxMind: 1908
  • Free League Publishing: 1455
  • Gale Force Nine: 629
  • Game Salute: 2315
  • Gamelyn Games: 2945
  • Games Workship: 2619
  • Gamewick Games: 2918
  • Gamewright: 2100
  • GCT Studios: 2821
  • Genius Games: 171
  • Gigamic: 1913
  • Gold Baby Games: 165
  • Golden Bell Studios: 2860
  • Golden Egg Games: 319
  • Goliath Games: 2507
  • Gorilla Games: 2606
  • Grail Games: 30
  • Grand Gamers Guild: 2007
  • Great Northern Games: 2511
  • Green Couch Games: 2108
  • Greenbrier Games: 637
  • Grey Fox Games: 2401
  • Griggling Games: 123
  • Gut Bustin Games: 1236
  •  HABA USA: 1907
  • Hammerdog Games: 634
  • Happy Games Factory: 175
  • Hawk War Games: 2141
  • Haywire Group: 2006
  • HELVETIQ: 2956
  • HEWN: 2723
  • Hit 'Em With A Shoe: 3058
  • Holy Grail Games: 2859
  •  Hot Metal Games: 1552
  • IDW Games: 158
  • IELLO: 129
  • Indie Boards and Cards: 2447
  • Inside the Box Board Games: 2857
  • Inside Up Games: 1456
  • Jasco Games: 2119
  • Jason Anarchy Games: 2448
  • Jellybean Games: 2953
  • Junk Spirit Games: 2656
  • Kess Co.: 2865
  • Keymaster Games: 2445
  • Kingdom Death: 3003*
  • Knowledge the Game: 2861*
  • Kolossal Games: 3004
  • Kosmos: 2648
  • Lay Waste Games: 2831
  • Leder Games LLC: 3043
  • Level 99 Games: 2149
  • Lightseekers: 555*
  • Lone Shark Games Inc.: 2735
  • Looney Labs: 1651
  • Lucky Duck Games: 3054
  • Luna Games: 2960
  • Mantic Entertainment Ltd: 835
  • Master of Wills: 2965*
  • Mattel Games: 349
  • Mayday Games: 2101
  • Meromorph Games: 2646
  • Mindclash Games: 1739
  • Monolith Board Games: 2830
  • Mr. B Games: 2342
  • Myndzei Games LLC: 112
  • Mythic Games: 3033
  • Mythical Eras of War Games, LLC: 1839
  • Nauvoo Games: 2009
  • Ninja Division: 2627
  • North Star Games: 2311
  • Odam Publishing: 1238
  • Odd Bird Games: 271
  • Oink Games: 2561
  • On The Lamb Games: 464*
  • Paizo Inc. 403*
  • Pandasaurus Games: 3047
  • Party People Games: 175
  • Passport Game Studio: 2535
  • Paw-Warrior Games: 2504
  • Peaceable Kingdom: 1805
  • Pegasus Spiele: 2013
  • Pelgrane Press: 1317
  • Perplext LLC: 466*
  • Petersen Games: 1261
  • Plaid Hat Games: 1537
  • Plan B Games: 2935
  • PlayMonster: 453
  • Pointy Hat Games LLC: 3061*
  • Portal Dragon: 3062*
  • Portal Games: 1850
  • Pretzel Games: 1850
  • Prolific Games: 269*
  • Queen Games GmbH: 2527
  • Quined Games: 1556
  • Rather Dashing Games: 1437
  • Ravensburger: 2113
  • Red Raven Games: 2659
  • Renegade Game Studios: 2209
  • Resonym LLC: 1803
  • Restoration Games: 151
  • ROXLEY: 531*
  • Rule & Make: 2535
  • Set Enterprises Inc.: 2208
  • SFR: 2025
  • Skybound Games: 2841
  • Slugfest Games: 1849
  • Smirk and Dagger Games: 1743
  • Soaring Rhino: 2961
  • Space Cowboys: 1719
  • Space Unicorn: Battle Over Cupcake Mountain: 2755
  • Sparks Games: 553*
  • Sparkworks: 2315
  • Spellforge Games: 1259*
  • SpinMaster: 2727
  • Spy Alley: 2110*
  • Starling Games: 2315
  • Steamforged Games: 2827
  • Steve Jackson Games: 2827
  • Stonemaier Games: 3019
  • Stronghold Games: 2019
  • Studio Woe: 3015
  • Summon Entertainment: 1256*
  • Surfin' Meeple LLC: 2201
  • Table Forged, LLC: 2540
  • Tasty Minstrel Games: 1337
  • The City of Games: 2765*
  • The Witchborn: 1938*
  • ThunderGryph Games; 2862
  • Thunderworks Games: 2954
  • Tudor Games: 2955
  • Tuesday Knight Games: 2051
  • Twilight Creations Inc.: 323
  • Twin City Games: 1906*
  • TwoGether Studios: 2667
  • University Games: 2208
  • Upper Deck: 1205
  • USAopoly: 137
  • Van Ryder Games: 2731
  • Vesuvius Media: 2558
  • Victory Point Games: 2315
  • Warcradle Studios: 3027*
  • We Have Issue! Publishing: 1940*
  • Weta Workshop: 601*
  • White Wizard Games: 2741
  • Wildfire LLC: 1355
  • Winning Moves Games: 237
  • Wizkids: 217
  • Wonderment Games: 2855*
  • Wyrd Games: 1129
  • XYZ Game Labs: 2962
  • Z-Man Games: 1429
  • Zafty Games: 157
Whew! That's a lot of publishers! I'm sure at least ONE of them would be willing to talk to you about your games.

Fingers crossed and see you at Gen-Con!