Do you remember how excited you felt with that initial idea of: “Hey! I should make my own board game!” What would you say to yourself now that you have gone down the path? Would you caution yourself, give a word of warning, or encourage yourself forward? We here at MakeBoardGame wanted to know, and we are sure that you do too. So we asked game designers from all over the place one simple question: What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting as a game designer? We gathered all types of advice from those who are fresh in game design to those who have some published games under their belt. This is exactly the type of information we here at MakeBoardGame hope to continue to offer in our journey to be the BEST resource for game design and publication! We hope this advice helps you!
On Being Passionate about Game Design
Daniel Fremgen (Dobey Games) Maker of Bear Trap!, Dustbowl, and More
Advice on Playtesting
Matt Leacock Maker of Pandemic, Forbidden Island, & More
I’ve found it’s much more important to observe playtesters carefully – looking for what confuses them, what terms they use to describe things, when they appear to be engaged (leaning forward) or not (checking their phone) and whether they appear to be having a good time – as opposed to asking players “what do you think?” at the end of a session. Self-report is notoriously inaccurate and asking players (who are not game designers themselves) what they’d change, doesn’t generally yield fruitful results. Your time is better spent on careful observation.
Jamey Stegmaier (Stonemaier Games) Maker of Scythe, Viticulture & More
The #1 thing I wish I’d known before designing my first game for publication is the importance of blind playtesting. I was familiar with the concept of having complete strangers learn and play a game in my absence, but I just didn’t realize the potential impact it can have on the design and the rules. While it’s helpful for me to playtest our games with friends and colleagues, the feedback is never quite as blunt and honest as when I send the game to a playtester hundreds of miles away for them to say whatever they want. And without me there to clarify and remind them about rules, all of the inadequacies in the rules quickly rise to the surface. I’m fortunate that people volunteered to blind playtest Viticulture during the original Kickstarter campaign, and ever since then it has become a huge part of my game design process.
Keng Leong Yeo (Starting Player) Maker of Three Kingdoms Redux
As we progressed to first impressions playtesting, we receive much more varied opinions. We quickly realized that we can’t please everyone. Indeed, some of the opinions were at complete odds with one another. We just had to make the decisions based on our judgment of what is best for the game and go with it.
Nonetheless, we thank all playtesters who gave up their precious time and for their opinions. All of them, whether implemented or not, are important to us.
Lesson learnt: We cannot please everyone
Words about the Process
Kelly Adams Maker of Chibi Quest!
I think learning how to take criticism is important and knowing when to refactor ideas when they are not working.
Johannes Maker of Habeamus
You will not be able to play games like other people any more.
Instead of just playing the game you’ll look at all aspects of the game. How is the box made, what stock did they use, how does the cover art align with the theme and the contents, how many cards are there, how are the rules written, how does this rule interact with this rule, what card could you add or delete to make it even better, what are flaws, is there downtime for players, could you improve on that, OMG they have custom-made dice that are great, how much did it cost to produce those wooden figures…
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I tremendously enjoy thinking about game mechanics while playing other games. But it does change the way you play games.
Corey Young Maker of Gravwell
Players prefer decisions over random stuff. Also, publishers prefer new ways of playing over familiar stuff with a new skin.
Grant Rodiek (Hyperbole Games) Maker of Farmageddon, Druids & More
Be sure that what you’re making is actually good enough. Is it going to be unique and special? Is it something the market needs? Also, is it something YOU LOVE? Really understand a design before you dive in. Don’t just make something “just because” and don’t accept “good enough.” Make something great that you love from day one.
Sen-Foong Lim (Bamboozle Brothers) Maker of Belfort, Train of Thought & More
Thoughts on Prototypes
Adam Rehberg (Adam’s Apple Games) Maker of Brewin’ USA
Prototypes don’t need to look good, but they probably should if you want more people to agree to play them.
Playtest with a lot of different groups. Playing with the same group can become rote and leave you trying add more depth and flavor than you need to get them engaged. This leads to over-complicating things that should have been left simpler and more new player friendly.