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Game Design Starter Kit

My Game Creation Process

Move beyond the Concept phase!

One of the barriers to game design is a lack of components. If you had blank cards sitting around, you would be more likely to start designing a card game. If you had some dice, you might design a dice game. The point is that if you had game design components available to you, then you are much more likely to move your game designs from the Concept phase to the Prototype/Playtesting phase.

Today I am listing some of the items that I find most useful in putting together a prototype. The hope is that you can find what you need to move your game design along.

Getting to the playtesting phase is often the biggest hurdle, but it’s the critical step in determining if your game design has any potential.

Before I get to my recommendations, which are brief, I want to remind you of the series I wrote about sourcing game design components. These articles are much more thorough:

So check those out and then come back here for the basics to get you from the concept phase to the playtesting phase of your game designs.

Here is my checklist of excellent items to have in case you are ready to move from concept to prototype. To make it easier for you I have provided two lists, one for Amazon, and one for EAI Education (my preferred source). This way you can choose one and buy everything you need from one place.

Amazon:

EAI Education:

With cards, dice, meeples, and cubes you are basically ready to roll out your game design prototype. Of course there are other things that you may want, but as for a Game Design Starter Kit I recommend these four items very highly! Please let me know if you have any questions.

Set Phaser to Stun – A discussion of Phases vs Turns

When designing a game I usually start by picking a theme that I think would be fun and unique. Then I start to build some mechanics around that theme that seem to fit it well. Eventually I get to a point where I have to figure out how the game is actually played. That’s where today’s article comes in.

There seems to be two main ways that games are played. Some games have turns and some games have rounds with phases.

What follows is a discussion on each of those as well as some of my opinions about how to choose which option is right for your game design. But first I wanted to make sure we are all on the same wavelength in terms of terminology. In this article I refer to “turns,” “rounds,” and “phases.” The best succinct definition I found online was in this thread and is a quote by Sen-Foong Lim, co-designer of Belfort among many other games:

Players take turns executing phases within a round. A game is comprised of several rounds of play.

That’s how I am understanding each of the terms I use throughout this article. Thanks Sen-Foong!

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Turn Based Games…

A turn based game is one where a player takes their turn and then plays proceeds to the next player. Each turn is performed in a similar manner as the previous turns.

Turn based awesomeness.

Example: Ticket to Ride

On your turn in Ticket to Ride you perform one of three actions: building a route, drawing train cards, or drawing destination card.

Every turn presents you with those same three choices.

Every turn is the same.

The game builds from turn to turn, so the choices you make vary, however, the options are always the same.

This form of gameplay is usually more accessible and easier to teach and learn.

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Round Based Games…

Round based games can further be separated into two main categories:

  1. “Pause” Type – Games where rounds separate the gameplay for a special event.
  2. “Seasonal” Type – Games where rounds establish differences in available actions.

Pause Type

A Pause Type round based game is one where players perform a standard action on their turn. This repeats until all players have performed as many actions as they are allowed. Then the round ends and an intermediate event occurs.

Round based torment of making sure you can feed your family.

Example: Agricola

On your turn in Agricola you place one of your family members on an action spot and perform the action. This continues until all players have taken their turns with their associated family members. Once all players have done so, the round ends.

The intermediate step between rounds is often a harvest where players gather crops and feed their family. Then a new round begins.

The turns are the same, but there are breaks that separate the gameplay, dividing the game into rounds.

So while each turn itself offers the same choices, the game is broken up to include more than just the turns you take. Players must deal with the requirements of the intermediate events.

Seasonal Type

A Seasonal Type round based game is one where players take actions specific to the current phase of the round. These are games where only specific actions are available depending on the current phase of the round. So each turn a player takes offers different options.

Auction, Buy Fuel, Build Network, Exert Supremacy!

Example: Power Grid

What you do on your turn in “Seasonal” games like Power Grid depends on the “season” you are in. Power Grid rounds begin with a power plant auction. So this portion of a round involves deciding if you want a power plant, which one, and how much you are willing to pay. After that players purchase fuel and determine the type(s) and how much fuel they will buy. Then players must decide if they will expand their power grid by building on the board. After that phase comes a sort of “clean-up” phase where players use fuel to power their grid and earn income.

In these types of games each round offers a series of different types of choices for players.

Seasonal type games are usually the least accessible in terms of teaching and learning the game. However, they often offer greater and deeper strategy.

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Choosing Turn Based vs Round Based

This can be a difficult part of game design. On one hand most designers would agree that they want their game to be as easy to teach, learn, and understand as possible. On the other hand most designers would also like their game to have a nice deep level of strategy that present difficult and interesting decisions to the players.

I want to make it clear that turn-based doesn’t necessarily equate to “easy to teach, learn, and understand,” and round-based doesn’t necessarily equate to “deep strategy and interesting decisions.” But I would say, in general, that turn-based are simpler to teach and learn, which makes them more accessible.

So how do you decide if your game should be turn based or round based? In general I always start my designs as turn-based and then modify that if it becomes apparent that round-based would be better. But let’s take a look at a few things that might help you make your decision.

What does the theme call for?

If you are designing a game where there is no reason for phases, then design for turns. Qwirkle and most other abstract games are deserving of being turn-based.

Sometimes a theme makes it obvious that round-based play would be better. If you want players doing different things throughout the game it might make sense to have phases where each player works through the different aspects of the game.

I recommend that you choose turns or rounds with your theme in mind. If it fits thematically then you’re on the right track!

What are your desired mechanics?

The things you want a play to do during a game can help you make the decision. If you are using a worker placement mechanic, most often you will have a round based game. Stone Age is a great example. In each round players put there family members on different spots. Once all are placed then the next phase begins, of bringing your family back. Then there is a phase of feeding your family and resetting the board.

But that’s not always the case with worker placement. An exception is The Manhattan Project. In that worker placement games there are no rounds with phases. Rather, once your workers are out on the board you will spend a turn bringing them back.

It’s important to consider what you actually want players to do during a game. This can help you choose the mechanics and whether you want the game to be turn-based or round-based.

What’s more fun for the game?

One of my game design principles is to make things fun. That may seem obvious but I’m surprised by how often I pick a theme or a mechanic that ultimately would not be fun. So throughout my design process I continually ask myself, “Would this be fun?”

As the designer I recommend you ask that same question about your game. Would turn-based be fun? Would round-based be fun? Which option would be more fun?

We are designing board games here, not water bottles or bicycle gears. What we are doing is all about fun. So don’t forget to include that in the design!

Horizontal RuleWell I hope I’ve provided you with at least something to get you started. The bottom line regarding turns or rounds is that both can be fun, interesting, and can make for a good game. How do you choose which one works best for your designs?

Ziggurat: Building the Game

I designed Ziggurat the Thursday evening before Prototspiel-Madison in October. I prototyped it the Friday of Protospiel. It was played four times during Protospiel. And I am finally putting together the pieces to turn it into an awesome game!

So today I want to share a little bit about the game and the basics of how it plays. But first here’s a history lesson:

What is a Ziggurat?

Ziggurats are like the Sumerian equivalent of Egyptian pyramids. They are basically a huge brick structure with several levels. They served as the focal point of worship in those ancient cultures. Often it is believed that a temple was built atop the ziggurats.

And since I’d rather focus on the game rather than the history, here’s the Wikipedia link: Ziggurat

The Game…

The thrust of the game revolves around building the Ziggurat. As the design currently stands you have two options on your turn:

  1. Purchase resources (bricks, laborers, special abilities) from the courtyard marketplace.
  2. Spend bricks and laborers to build the Ziggurat.

One of my design goals is to come up with games that are accessible and easy to teach. Ziggurat is like that. The simplicity of limiting what actions can be taken makes the game accessible for non-gamers.

The region of interest, in terms of adding strategy, is to design compelling and interesting decisions into those two options. For example, when purchasing from the courtyard market, would you be willing to pay a higher price for a better card? Also, when building the Ziggurat, does the location where you are building matter?

These are the sorts of things I’m trying to design into Ziggurat. Let’s take a look at the prototype.

The Prototype…

I had previously obtained some components from The Game Crafter at a prior Protospiel event. It turns out that the components I had worked perfectly for what I wanted to achieve with Ziggurat. Here is a first look at the bare prototype:

Barebones prototype demonstrating the 3D nature of the game.

Bare bones prototype demonstrating the 3D nature of the game.

The Ziggurat is composed of three levels. On each level there are platforms that need to be built. Players will build the platforms by spending the appropriate resource and then placing one of their player cubes onto the platform. Once the first level is completed it will be scored. Then the large square tiles for the second level will be placed on top of it. Here is a look at the Prototype with more details on the tiles and platforms.

The Ramp lists what the scoring conditions are for the current game.

The Ramp lists what the scoring conditions are for the current game.

One thing of great importance in the game are the platforms. Each platform requires 4 cubes. When any given platform is completed, each player who helped build the platform will earn some reward. The rewards available are shown on the corners of the tiles. This is a way to ramp things up in the game and loosen the tightness of the resources. It also incentivizes building, which is the whole idea of the game.

Here’s another picture of Ziggurat at the end of a Protospiel playtest:

Ziggurat Completed! Time for final scoring.

Ziggurat Completed! Time for final scoring.

In the bottom left of the image above you can see the courtyard market. In the current version of the game there are six cards in the market. Players may purchase up to two cards. The card at the end costs zero and the costs ramp up as 1, 1, 2, 3, 4. The image has different costs, which I have since adjusted.

The Latest Prototype…

I’m a sucker for creating decent looking artwork and graphics. I use Inkscape, which I recommend. I mocked up some cards and placed an order with TheGameCrafter.com. Here’s what they look like:

Each card represents a laborer OR the resources on the back.

Each card represents a laborer OR the resources on the back.

With a deck made I decided it was time to upgrade the tiles and platforms as well. So I did. Here’s the final result which shows the current state of the game:

Not too shabby, for a prototype!

Not too shabby, for a prototype!

I have some big plans for the game. I want it to be slightly less singular in terms of your goals so I’ll be adding a few other paths to victory. But I solidly enjoy the game as it is.

Feel free to ask any questions. I’m excited to hear what people think and I’m just as excited about the future of the game. This one feels like Scoville did when I designed that. I think there’s a lot of potential here. Thanks for reading!

Monday Brews 12-8-14

We’re already a week into December and it’s been a good month so far. My family has had a sleepover in the living room in front of the Christmas tree (We have 5, 3, and half year old kids). I’ve played a bunch of new games. I just transferred my Belgian Dubbel from the fermenter to the carboy. It should be ready soon! And as a bonus it has been warm enough to melt most of the snow!

With a few weeks left until Christmas I’m sure a bunch of you are making your lists of board games you’d like to get. If you don’t have any ideas of games to get, or if you are not a gamer and want to know what to get for those awesome family members of yours who enjoy games, then check out these helpful gift guides from the folks at iSlayTheDragon:

Those are nice lists but they are a little restricted. I’m planning on posting my own list this week, so keep your eyes open for that and make sure your non-gamers relatives who need some Christmas ideas for you get a look!

And now, let’s get to the Boards and Barley!

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The Barley:

Image from San Diego Magazine. Rightly displayed with a Christmas Tree since it is a great seasonal beer!

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT:
Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale (2011)

Brewed by Unibroue in Canada and aged three years in my friend Adam’s basement! This was an amazing brew and I am now inspired to purchase and age my own bottles for future enjoyment.

This brew was a Belgian style brew that hit all the right notes. It was excellent. If you haven’t had any Unibroue beer I highly recommend any of them!

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The Boards:

Interesting art that tells nothing about the game.

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT:
Machi Koro

This one has had a lot of hype and coverage. I had heard good things and some mixed reviews. The thing that stuck out from the hype was that people were describing this as a fresh take on The Settlers of Catan. That piqued my interest.

After playing it I can definitely say that it has elements similar to Settlers. The overall gameplay is pretty similar. But rather than having settlements and cities you have cards. The cards you purchase allow you certain abilities based on the dice roll value. So you have to plan what cards you want and then whether or not you want to roll one or two die. I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to playing it again (and doing better).

  • Camel Up
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Kingdom Builder
  • Uno (My 5yo daughter has been really into this lately, except when she loses)
  • Tic-Tac-Toe – Played with my 5yo daughter. She got frustrated that I beat her every time but I was trying to teach her the secrets.
  • NEW: Pairs – I’m amazed that this simple pub game earned $330K on Kickstarter. The art is very nice and I’d play it again with the right crowd.
  • NEW: Evolution – This was better than I expected. I really enjoyed it despite playing really horribly. The mechanics of the game are really clever. I’m looking forward to playing again.
  • NEW: AttrAction – More fun than you should be able to have with magnets. It was actually a pretty fun experience.
  • NEW: Temporum – I could sense the Donald X in this game. It had some really cool things going for it. The downfall is that games can be drastically different depending on the combination of cards that are dealt. I enjoyed it despite that and I’m looking forward to playing it again.
  • NEW: Colt Express – I think this game could be a lot of fun… when you’re not getting shot! There are some really neat programming things going on in this game. Unfortunately my programming led to me being shot 10 times! I lost.

Overall it has been a great couple weeks with all the new games I was able to play. That being said, my gaming group still has over 10 games that are owned but unplayed. Must do more gaming!

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Designer’s Corner:

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I had a couple new game designs I’ve been working on and that I was going to blog about them. And you probably noticed I haven’t blogged about them. In fact I’ve been pretty quiet on this site as of late. That’s because life is pretty busy with a full time job and three kids, one of which is a 6 month old.

I will be writing an article for each of my current designs: Ziggurat and Impossible. Those should be coming out this week in addition to the Holiday Gift Guide I plan on writing. I’m setting myself up for failure here, but I’d rather have my hand forced to actually put some content here. I’m looking forward to hearing what you all have to say about Ziggurat and Impossible.

Game Design: Starter Prototyping Tools

Game Design Process: Prototyping

Game Design Process: Prototyping

I recently asked myself the following question: “If I were to start over with game design, which prototyping tools would I buy to get started?” I’ve made numerous prototypes and I’ve learned what to do and what not to do. So today I present a set of prototyping tools to help get you started as a game designer.

When I got started out I didn’t want to throw a lot of money at prototypes. This was because I had no idea if the prototypes would ever actually go anywhere. I was fortunate to have a wife who used to do physical scrapbooking. So I had some tools available to me that wouldn’t have otherwise been available.

Never-the-less, there are some key tools and resources that I think every game designer can utilize to make high quality prototypes at low(ish) cost and with relative ease. For the sake of this article I will assume that you can print on photo paper (I recommend Kodak 8.5×11 – 100 sheets).

Game Prototyping Resources

First, let’s cover where to get some basic resource type things. These are my go-to retailers for these items:

Game Prototyping Tools

Things that are not mentioned above include boards, tiles, tokens, reference sheets, rulebooks, and more.  I generally use the same process to make all of those except a rulebook. I don’t typically make a rulebook.

To make my prototype components feel like high quality I purchase the following materials:

  • Matte board remnants from Hobby Lobby for super cheap. You can get a stack of about 25 12″x12″ matte boards for about $6.
  • Kodak Photo Paper (100 sheets for ~ $15)
  • Non-OEM ink for my inkjet printer via eBay. (I bought 5 full sets of ink cartridges for ~$20)
  • Glue Sticks – you’ll want to keep several on hand.

I often create artwork and then print it on the photo paper. I glue it down to the matte board. Then I break out my most highly recommended tool: The Rotary Cutter!

The Rotary Cutter

Easily worth the cost!

Easily worth the cost!

This has been my most-used tool for creating game prototypes.

I have a Fiskars rotary cutter similar to the one shown in the picture. You can buy it here:

Fiskars Rotary Cutter: $26.49

It isn’t the best cutter. You can pay a lot more money for better cutters. But it does exactly what I need it to do for my prototypes. Other cutter options include:

There are more options than those, so if you don’t like those options feel free to do more thorough searching.

I use this tool to cut out the components that have been printed and glued to the matter board. This cutter works well enough for that.

Punches

Great for cardstock chits!

Great for cardstock chits!

Other great tools for designers are punches. These are used to quickly create tokens and chits. When I create tokens and chits I usually prefer printing the artwork onto thicker stock paper so they are more rigid. 90lb or 100lb paper is usually a good weight.

There are a plethora of different punches out there, but for the sake of board games you’ll most likely be interested in circle and hex punches and corner rounders. Here are some options.

As before, go ahead and do some more searching to find the right product for you.

Sharpies

Sharpie

I am firmly in the Sharpie camp. I love them. They are bold, colorful, and extremely useful. Sharpies can be used to create prototype components rapidly, especially in the case where you own blank cards because you took my recommendation above.

By having a variety of Sharpies you become an unstoppable force of game design awesomeness!

I use them to create prototypes. I use them to mark up my prototypes. I use them to revise my prototypes. I use them to draw silly pictures for my kids.

Seriously, Sharpies are fantastic. I feel they are a must-have for any game designer, if for no other reason than to be able to practice your signature for the time when lovers of your games will ask for your autograph for their game box!

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I feel like this article needs more tools in it, but those are the only tools I utilize on a regular basis. Are there prototyping tools that you use regularly? Post a comment and let everyone know which prototyping tools you prefer!

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