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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


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:


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”

Horizontal Rule

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.


Conclave Conversation

Are you the next Pope?

Are you the next Pope?

Welcome to Boards & Barley. Last week I mentioned that I’d be posting an article about sourcing components for board game prototypes. Well, with GenCon so nigh I figured that article wouldn’t be of much help to fellow designers anyway. So I’m postponing that article until after GenCon, at a time when many designers will likely be looking to purchase new components for their game designs that require revisions. So today I’m discussing Conclave.

Since Trading Post is my white whale and I doubt I’ll ever actually get it to a playable point I’ve been spending my time making excellent progress on Conclave.

In Conclave players take on the role of a Cardinal who is hoping to become the next pope. For those not familiar with the process of electing a pope I will give a brief background. To elect a new pope the college of cardinals, those of high standing in the Catholic hierarchy, are locked in the Sistine Chapel after the death or resignation of the previous pope. They will perform voting rounds each day until a new pope is elected. Pretty simple.

So today I want to give you an update as to my progress on the game. Let’s start with the cards, and what they do…

The Orders of Catholicism

The game is designed to play from 2 to 4 players. Those players will represent one of four different Catholic Orders: Franciscans, Jesuits (Society of Jesus), Dominicans, or Benedictines. While I’d ultimately like each of these orders to have some sort of special ability, almost like factions, they currently are all equal and are simply a better way to represent the player colors. Here’s a look at the cards (From The Game Crafter) with the icons for the different orders:

These could easily be labeled by their color, but the icons seem more real.

These could easily be labeled by their color, but the icons seem more real.

The cool part is that once I’ve tested the base game it would be relatively easy to add in specific traits for each of the Catholic Orders. That would allow each player to have some special ability that they could try to use to their advantage in the game.

Inside the Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel prior to Conclave.

Conclave is a game about area control. The areas are represented by the different tables in the Sistine Chapel. In a real conclave it looks like the setup on the right. That setup has long tables of equal numbers of Cardinals.

In the real conclave each vote counts individually. That’s not much fun from a game design perspective. So as the designer I am utilizing my creative license and splitting the tables up.

So in the game there will be anywhere from 6 to 9 tables that include from 1 to 6 cardinals. Each table will work like an electorate. Basically, whomever holds the majority of votes at any given table earns the full table’s worth of votes.

This is a decent way to mix things up. So players will be attempting to hold the majority at tables rather than focusing on any individual Cardinal’s vote.

Therefore the table with only 1 Cardinal is worth 1 total vote. But a table of 5 Cardinals, though worth 5 votes, can be won with 3 cards in place to win the majority.

So ultimately I’ve designed this to work like an electoral college where tables are worth electoral votes and a certain number of electoral votes are needed to win the Papacy. Perhaps I should switch themes to be a Presidential election in the US.

The Tables

Two nights ago I mocked up some beta artwork for the tables, mostly based on the picture above. My previous prototype had these large, cumbersome boards that were really just too large to be any good. So these new table boards are based on the mini cards from The Game Crafter (1.75″x2.5″).

Here is a mock up of a Five Cardinal table:

Having a majority here is worth 5 votes.

Having a majority here is worth 5 votes.

First, I need to apologize to anyone who enjoys anything about culture. It is almost blasphemous that I am designing a game that basically involves the Sistine Chapel and all I’m showing are the tables at which the Cardinals sit. How can I justify not including any imagery of the beautiful, if not scary, artwork included in one of the most historical rooms in the world?

The red box thingy in my artwork represents the papally awesome swag bags on the tables.

Second, the two spots with the weird angled red box thingy are special spots. At the very start of the game a certain number of cards are randomly drawn from each player’s deck. Those cards are distributed evenly to the spots with the weird red box thing. The red box just denotes which Cardinals receive a face up, randomly drawn card.

Once the randomly drawn cards are placed then players will take turns influencing the Cardinals. On their turn they will place one card face down on any Cardinal of their choosing. Then they will also place one card from their hand face up on that same Cardinal. The thematic idea here is that these Cardinals are voting for the face-up player, but could be persuaded to vote for the face-down player.

Play continues in this psuedo-setup phase until all the Cardinals have cards on them.

Manipulating the College of Cardinals

After all the Cardinals have cards to represent their votes then the real game begins. This phase of the game is all about manipulating the Cardinals to get them to vote for you. There are four actions you can choose and you can perform any two of them on your turn. These actions are represented by these hastily produced icons here:

ActionsFLIP: This action allows a player to flip any one Cardinals cards over. The result is that this Cardinal will now be voting for whichever card had previously been the face-down card.

SWAP: This action allows a player to swap the locations of two different face-up cards of any two Cardinals.

LOOK: This action allows a player to investigate the Cardinals by looking at three different face-down cards for any three Cardinals of their choosing.

LOCK: This action allows a player to lock any one Cardinal’s vote into place for the rest of the game. Each player will have four locking cubes and can thus lock four Cardinals over the course of the game.

So on your turn you can perform two actions. They can be the same action if you so choose. The goal is to try and manipulate the tables so that you earn the majority, and thus their votes.


So I’ve described the game in a nutshell. This is the basic concept of the game and it is currently playable. My disclaimer is that I have no idea if it is any fun. All the fun so far has been in designing the game. While I think there is a nice strategic component to the game, only time will tell. And by time I mean playtesting. Thanks for reading!

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