Category Archives: Game Design

Different Approaches to Game Design

I’ve been messing around with half a dozen designs lately and I seem to be stuck on each and every one of them. The only design that is making progress is a co-design with a friend of mine. So I’ve been thinking about mixing it up to try some different approaches to designing game. Today I wanted to present four approaches that you can use as a starting point. I am going to try each of these four approaches over the next month and see if I find inspiration.

Theme First

One of the most popular ways of starting out a game design is to choose a theme that you think is interesting.

This is a wide open way to design. You could choose to design about paratroopers rescuing chickens stranded on Antarctica. You could design about scuttlefish escaping sea urchins.

Going Theme First allows you to choose whatever you want the game to be about. Once you’ve chosen the theme you can then begin to consider the mechanics that might fit with the theme.

I personally like Theme First design. I like to picture myself immersed in the theme wondering what ways I can bring the theme together and make it feel like a grand experience.

Mechanic First

This is probably the other most popular way of designing a game. The designer might come up with a really interesting way to play a game. This could be a new component, a new way of using a component, a new combination of mechanics, or other things that haven’t been done before. Or you could pick a mechanic that has been done before and add a twist.

Once you’ve figured out your main mechanic and made it playable you can try to figure out what type of theme might fit with your mechanic.

This way of designing assures the designer that their game will utilize a gameplay mechanic that they like.

Scoring Condition First

This is a lesser used way of designing games. Some abstract games are designed with the scoring condition as the driver for the design.

This is essentially a specific variant of Mechanic First design, but with the end-game in mind. Designers choose how they want the scoring to work. Then they will fill in the design with the mechanics and slap on a theme if necessary.

This is something that I’ve been wanting to do but have not found a scoring condition that I like enough to build a game around.

Component First

This is a tough one to do because most designers don’t design around a “final product” type component. But there are times when a designer may make a game from the components that they have available.

When designing component first you would often choose a component or components that you really want in your game. Then you would choose a theme or mechanic that will work with those components.

This can be pretty awesome if you have a great component in mind. If you want to go with this approach it is probably best to be innovative and use either new components that haven’t been used in games before or to utilize existing components in new ways.

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There are, of course, other ways to get started with a game design but I think these four ways are a great starting point to get you thinking about your game designs. If you have other ways that you think are important, please share them in the comments section. Thanks for reading and have a great Thanksgiving (If you are in the US) or a great weekend around the rest of the world.

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How To Make A Quad-fold Board

When designing games it often becomes helpful or necessary to have a quality prototype, which often includes a quad-fold board. There are easy ways to do it, like taping a few pieces of paper together. And there are more difficult ways to make them. I usually only make them when I would rather have it fold to fit in a box. Today I want to share my method for producing a decent quad-fold board for your game design purposes.

Components

Here are the components I use when making a quad-fold board:

  • Matte board (I buy bulk scrap matte board at Hobby Lobby since it is so inexpensive)
  • Photo Paper (I use Kodak Glossy Photo Paper)
  • Glue Stick (Or adhesive of your choice)
  • Tape (I prefer masking tape)
  • Rotary Cutter (I use this one)

The methods in this article are based on the fact that I have a 12 inch rotary cutter that cannot cut through two pieces of matte board at the same time. If I could cut through two matte board pieces at a time then I would probably use a different method.

Methodology

My assumption here is that you already have artwork you’ve created. If you have the artwork ready, then here are the steps I follow to make my quad fold boards…

Print the Artwork

When I work with larger sized images I usually print them from either MS Publisher or MS Powerpoint. Publisher will require you make a larger template, but that is pretty easy to do. When you print this way you will print on several sheets of paper.

Once they are printed I will cut off the white margins for all the interior edges that will join up together. You can see an example of the cut photo paper above in the image with the glue stick.

Glue the First Two Pieces

Depending on whether you want your board to fold with the artwork out (unusual) or inward (common) you will either have to do one or two of these procedures respectively.

As I mentioned earlier, you will do this once if you don’t care that your artwork folds outward. If you prefer your artwork to fold inward, then repeat this process with the other two pieces of your quad-fold board.

Before moving on I always like to check how smoothly the board folds. Here’s my example:

IMG_6571

Completing your Board

With a set of two pieces taped together you are now set to complete your board. This step is pretty simple. With all four pieces laid out, flip them all over together. Make sure they go into the correct places when flipped. You don’t want to flip them where they are but rather flip them and swap them horizontally. Before I start I put a piece of tape in the corners that line up in the middle of the board. This helps me know that I have the pieces together the right way.

IMG_6572

With them in the correct locations, all you need to do is apply two more pieces of tape as seen here:

IMG_6573

Completed Quad-Fold Board!

And there you go! You now know how to make a quad-fold board for your game designs. Just keep in mind that if you would prefer the artwork to fold inward then do the “Glue the First Two Pieces” process twice. Then flip them and use only one piece of tape on one of the seams.

Here’s is my completed board for this article:

And here is the quad-fold board I made for a high quality prototype of Scoville using Joshua Cappel’s artwork:

Another Option

If you are not equipped with printing capabilities or if you would prefer to not do this on your own, then feel free to utilize The Game Crafter as they can create a quality quad-fold board for you. You just upload your artwork in the correct size and pay a little money and they’ll make your board and mail it to you.

They have the following options available:

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So how do you make your quad-fold boards? Do you use a different method? I’d love to hear if there is a better way (I’m sure there is).

Game Design Process Update

Hi. I’ve had an incredibly busy year with many things not related to board games. But I just finished some reading I had to do and now I find myself with a snippet of free time. So today I thought I would provide an update on my game design process.

My Game Creation Process

Ye olde Game Design Graphic

But to do that I wanted to adjust my graphic a little. In the past I have used the one on the right to illustrate my steps in the game design process. I liked it for a while but I’ve felt called to make a new version. If you are interested in game design and you don’t really know how to go about things, please go read the Inspiration to Publication posts by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim (designers of many games including the excellent Belfort by Tasty Minstrel Games).

So today I present my new “Game Design Process” graphic.

My Game Design Process

GDP2016.png

I’m not sure that’s an improvement but I had fun making the graphic anyway. It conveys the information in a more pictorial way rather than those boring rectangular prisms.

Let’s cover, briefly, what each of those game design steps really means to me anyway:

CONCEPT

The concept phase is all about brainstorming and coming up with the overall ideas for your game. This could be Theme-First or Mechanic-First. Either way, this phase is where you are taking a lot of notes and figuring out all the things you want your game to be.

PROTOTYPE

Once you’ve figured out the bulk of your game concept then it’s time to build it! In this phase you will create your physical prototype. If you don’t know how to get started, check out my article, “Starter Prototyping Tools.”

PLAYTEST

With your physical prototype ready to go it’s time to get it to the table and see if it works, see whether it is any fun, and find the ways to make it better! Just lure some friends with pizza or something. I wrote about playtesting once (here) but I am going to revise that article in the future because I’m not certain I agree with it completely anymore.

FIX IT! a.k.a. Applying Feedback

This is one of the more difficult things to do in board game design. It is tough sometimes to ignore feedback from your friends. It can be equally tough to accept tough feedback from them. But the most important thing is to understand WHAT the feedback actually means. For more info check out, “Coarse vs. Fine: Editing Your Game.”

PITCH! / PUBLISH

I wanted to put a caveat in the graphic somehow to stress that this part of the process shouldn’t happen whimsically when you feel like it. Before pitching to a publisher, or before self publishing, I highly recommend blind-playtesting. This is when you send a copy of the game to people you do not know. Let them read the rules and figure out the game. They will provide some of the best feedback you can imagine. After numerous cycles of fixing, prototyping, and playtesting where the feedback you receive is mostly or all positive, then I would feel confident in pitching the game or self-publishing. When you are ready to pitch the game you’ll want to contact the publisher that’s right for you and your game. Then you can follow the method in my article, “How to (Speed) Pitch Your Game.”

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That’s an overview of my game design process. I know that there are people who do things differently. It would be weird if that weren’t the case. If there are things you think are essential to the process I’d love to hear about them. Just leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.

Is Impossible Impossible?

Impossible is a new game design I have been working on. It is a race game where players are racing to recognize and build hex-based designs of impossible geometry reminiscent of the work of M.C. Escher.

You can learn of the design in my previous article: Hex-tile Prototype: Impossible.

Impossible Shape TileBasically players will be grabbing hex-tiles from the pile and trying to create the 2D representation of the impossible shape. The first player to complete the image places their meeple on the highest scoring spot. The next player to finish claims the next spot. And so on.

The game continues over a pre-determined number of rounds. Each round has a different impossible shape. After all rounds are completed the total points are added to decide the winner.

Mechanically this game works. It is mechanically simple, easy to learn and understand, can be set up and taught in 3 minutes. These are all great things for a game design.

So What’s Wrong?

I am a very visual person. I can recognize visual patterns. I can visualize 2D and 3D geometry quite well.

I’m beginning to feel as though I’m the only one in the world who can play this game.

In the past two weeks I’ve solo tested this and playtested it with three other people. Small sample group for sure. But those people are very intelligent people. I’ll test this further, but my inclination is that this game may just be impossible for some percentage of people to play.

Spatial Ability

According to a paper titled, Visual Spatial Skills (2003) , out of Penn State University, spatial ability is defined thusly:

Spatial ability is the over-arching concept that generally refers to skill in representing, transforming, generating, and recalling symbolic, nonlinguistic information. Spatial ability consists of mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.

In the case of Impossible this is most definitely relevant. So what percentage of the population has spatial ability in their skill set?

This is from the Wikipedia page on Visual Thinking:

Research by child development theorist Linda Kreger Silverman suggests that less than 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking, another 45% uses both visual/spatial thinking and thinking in the form of words, and 25% thinks exclusively in words. According to Kreger Silverman, of the 30% of the general population who use visual/spatial thinking, only a small percentage would use this style over and above all other forms of thinking, and can be said to be ‘true’ “picture thinkers”.

I’m starting to believe that I’m one of these so-called “picture thinkers.”

So it seems that 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking. And a small subset of those use visual/spatial over all other forms.

Is visual/spatial required to be able to play Impossible?

My answer is, “yes.”

Marketability of Impossible

As a game designer I want to make games that are accessible to a large audience. The larger the anticipated audience is, the more likely the game is to signed by a publisher, and subsequently the more likely it is to succeed.

With 70% of the population not considered to be visual/spatial thinkers, that eliminates a huge percent of the potential audience for a game. I don’t think a publisher would be interested in a game that cannot be played by 70% of the population.

So at this point Impossible will earn a spot in my drawer of shame, where all my designs go to die when I decide to stop working on them.

I believe Impossible is a fun, quick, and interesting game that utilizes 3D geometry in 2D space. I think the artwork could make it look visually stunning. I believe it would fit at a good price point for a general audience.

Perhaps the best avenue for Impossible would be as an app for your phone or tablet. This would be quite easy to implement and then could be targeted specifically to people who would find it enjoyable. Who knows what the future holds for Impossible.

Hex-tile Prototype: Impossible

escher_waterfall

“Escher Waterfall”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Escher_Waterfall.jpg#/media/File:Escher_Waterfall.jpg

For a long time I have wanted to design a game around the 3D world of M.C. Escher. My dad had a picture of the Escher waterfall hanging in his office. I was always captivated by the impossibility and reality of the image: Impossible because it could not exist in a real 3D world, Real because it DOES exist in the 2D world of the paper.

Putting 3D objects into a 2D world allows for some awesome things to happen. You are aware of this if you have played the app Monument Valley, which I recommend.

I have been working on several concepts for a 3D-2D game based on impossible geometry like that of the Escher waterfall. I have made two different prototypes. One is terrible and is really difficult to turn into a game. The other I have been able to turn into a game and I’m ready to playtest it. Today I’m covering the latter.

Impossible

Impossible is a real-time game of puzzle building and tile laying. It works similarly to Galaxy Trucker in that players will be grabbing tiles from a common pile. These tiles will then be added to their growing assembly. The objective is to create the face up Impossible Shape as quickly as possible to earn the most points for that shape.

IMG_1753

An impossible shape in 3D, but very possible in 2D.

The game is a set number of rounds. In each round a new Impossible Shape tile is drawn. All players will be racing to complete this shape.

When someone says, “Go!,” players will begin taking tiles and building their shape. When they complete the shape they can place a meeple of their color onto the shapes tile to claim the highest remaining points for that shape.

Once all players have completed the shape the round is over. The tile is placed to the side for endgame scoring. Players put all their pieces back into the pile. A new Impossible Shape tile is drawn and the next round begins.

Components

The total list of components for the game includes:

  • A bunch of hexagonal tiles
  • A smaller bunch of rhombus tiles (I’ll explain why in a moment)
  • The “Impossible Shape” tiles
  • Rulebook

It’s a relatively simple design with a succinct components list that should make it relatively risk-free and publisher friendly.

Why Rhombuses?

Because players can create the impossible shapes in different ways it leads to the need for many different designs on the hexagonal tiles. A simpler solution was to have “correction tiles,” which in this case are rhombuses.

Here is an example based on the image above. In the example a player is working on the left half of the image above. In their haste they grabbed the wrong tile for the upper corner. But instead of wasting precious time searching for the correct tile they realize that they can place an orange/purple rhombus over the wrong part of the tile. This allows them to have an accurate representation of the impossible shape.

Impossible Rhombus Example

The player uses a correction tile to make the shape correct.

The downside of the correction tiles is that each one is worth -1 points. So players should try to avoid them.

How to Win

Below is an example of an Impossible Shape tile. The first person to complete it will receive 7 points at the end of the game. The second player will receive 4 and the third will receive 2.

Impossible Shape Tile.png

After a number of rounds agreed upon at the start of the game, all the points will be tallied and the winner will be determined.

Overall Impossible is a fast paced real-time game where you are racing against your opponents to build impossible shapes. Do you have the mind it takes to figure out the shapes and grab the right hex tiles? I’m pretty excited for this game and I’m looking forward to seeing where it ends up.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think about the design.

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