As you can imagine, different designers go about game design differently. The same designer will come up with new games in different ways. Some games lend themselves to specific approaches better than others. There is certainly no single way of coming up with the initial idea, even if the process of developing that idea into a working game ends up being the same for every game.
Creating Board Game Designs
Creating a new game design is a very long process that can take anything from a few months to many years. It usually starts with a spark of an idea that slowly glows in a designer’s mind, getting more prominent over time until eventually becoming a flame that burns for many months before finally lighting the fire.
However, a new game can also come in a flash of inspiration that rapidly spreads and lights up every synapse and brain cell, forcing itself into life. Sometimes laborious, game design steps to find out how designers feed our appetite for new games.
5 Ideas to Start a Creative Game Design
Many game designers play as many games as they can to give them ideas and inspiration. They often playtest other designers’ games and also play published or close-to-release games whenever they can. They also often read many books about game design, or about other topics, watch many films, listen to music or do other creative activities to spark their creativity.
Sometimes all you need is a tiny nudge, or being inspired by a great work is going to spur the creative drive in you. Creating board game designs include the following:
In the process, they might come across a mechanism that intrigues them. It might be a new mechanism they have not seen before, or it’s a mechanism that they think is bland, and they want to spin it into something fascinating. It could also be a mix of mechanisms that’s not been tried before, or they might twist a mechanism in such a way to create something new. For example Donald X. Vaccarino’s love for Magic deck-building turned into a game itself (Dominion), or Richard Garfield’s love of sealed randomized environments turned into Keyforge.
2. A Theme or a Setting
A game designer might also start with a theme or a setting, maybe an idea of a story or a character somehow.
A theme will help give meaning to the mechanics, so the rules make sense for the players and highlight the outcomes of any action, boosting the experience and immersion. The theme will also make game components feel like they belong together because they are part of the same universe.
3. Game Experiences
Sometimes it’s all about the game experience or the emotions that their game should evoke. It could be about creating something that’s tactile or appeals to other senses, or maybe a game that creates excitement or pushes people out of their comfort zone. For example, Fog of Love, as a roleplaying exploration of couples & relationship; the King’s Dilemma has you choose between the good of the kingdom and your family’s influence; escape games such as EXIT or Unlock that stir an urgency that elevates your IQ as they train you in becoming logical puzzle masters, etc.
4. Game Component
Game designers can also come across an item they feel would make a fascinating component in a new game. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be a new component. Sometimes just using existing components in different ways can lead to a new game idea.
Game designers often have several ideas noted down somewhere. All the game ideas will influence each other. A game designer works on maybe two or three simultaneously, then puts some of them on hold while adding new games to their to-do list. It’s usually a fluid mix of games that are in development at any point in time.
To see if the initial game idea works, game designers will want to create the first prototype as quickly as possible, and that’s sometimes a challenge for new designers. However, the sooner a game idea can be tried out and be played, the better. The initial prototype will probably be no good, but it will show any potential in the concept or if it only sounds better in the designer’s head than it does in real life.
Of course, some types of games are easier to prototype, but the trick is not to worry about the look and feel of that very first prototype. Scraps of paper scribbled on with a handful of dice and some components stolen from other games will do the job in most cases. A designer usually has drawers full of details that they can use to get their prototype done as quickly as possible.
5. Getting The Potential Idea
If an idea seems like it has potential, it will be time to keep refining it. That’s when the playtesting starts, be it the designer themselves playing their own game, roping in friends and family to try it, or putting the game out there for others to try. The critical thing is to ask for honest and constructive feedback. However, sometimes experienced game designers might not even need to ask for feedback, they just look at what goes on around the table, witnessing trouble with the rules as well as frustration or pleasure as it is experienced.
Feedback is also wildly different, depending on the type of playtester you have. Professional playtesters might point the issues outright while less experienced playstesters will just say “it was me” without being able to tell what part was me. A more thorough inquiry is then necessary.
Friends and family may not be the best people to offer that because they may not want to hurt the designer’s feelings, but as long as you bear that in mind, it’ll be fine. On the other hand, feedback from other designers can be too honest but will undoubtedly be very constructive and helpful, as they will pinpoint what doesn’t work and why, but will also have ideas about fixing the issue. That’s great, but designers have to have a tough skin to deal with the sometimes harsh responses, and they have to weigh up for themselves whether the suggested solutions are right for the game or not.
There will be an endless loop of prototyping, playtesting, tweaking, and then back to playtesting, more tweaking, and maybe creating a new prototype and so on. What will be difficult is to decide when the game is ready for the next step. It’ll be easy to keep refining and tweaking, adding new ideas, cutting out others, and just keep going round and round. It’s impossible to say precisely when a game is ready because, in reality, it never will be, but designers will have to accept that they have to eventually stop the loop and assume that the game is as good as it needs to be for now. Even so, it could be seen in another way. Sometimes the designer simply doesn’t have the skills to bring the game further (lack of hindsight/global vision/market awareness) and the publisher is there to give that expertise and polish the game idea into a good product.
The game will go through many more steps before it finally reaches customers, which can take many months. There will probably be further tweaks to the gameplay. The game’s original designer may well have a hand in that process, the game’s theme might be changed, the artwork will be added, a rulebook is written, suitable components designed or sourced, and there will be many other steps. Still, the game’s design , as intended by the designer, or “author”, has finished. Most of the time, they are involved in the development process, vetting most decisions and giving their opinion on what’s important and what’s not.
There is a lot to think about in the process, and this article only covers a designer’s work in broad brush strokes. However, this may give you an insight into the hard work that game designers put into making games.
- EXPOSED: The Game Behind the Scenes