LESSON 0: Where Do I Begin - The Cardboard Designer

LESSON 0: Where Do I Begin

You’ve probably already started on your journey, but if for some reason you haven’t, this is where I would start right now, today.

Do you pick up a book? Do you start cutting up card into neat 2.5 x 3.5 inch boxes? Do you find a hill somewhere to meditate and wait for that killer idea to come to you in a moment of nirvana? These are all actually not terrible ideas in my opinion, but there is one thing I would do above all others if I wasn’t already doing it.

Play!

Play morning, noon and night. When you can’t play yourself, watch let’s play videos on YouTube. Head to you FLGS (friendly local game shop) and watch others play games. Jump in and play with others every opportunity you get. When your not playing – think about playing!

The reason that playing is so darn important is that there is nothing like the practical application of playing a game. Anyone who has every moved from the “writing ideas on paper” stage to initial play testing and prototyping will tell you that a game never plays out on a board the way that it does in your head.

You should play board games, card games, electronic games, sports, arcade games, roleplaying games, minature games, wargames, mathematical games, party games, puzzle hunts and casino games… Great design may incorperate ideas from all games

Richard Garfeild (Magic The Gathering)

Even simple mechanics, once in the hands of players, change the game in ways you can’t predict. How much time does someone spend thinking about their turn? How many times does someone change their mind? How much is spent adding up numbers, counting units or studying the status of other players? Is one mechanic more satisfying for players than others? Do players end up with an unworldly number of cards in their hand? What does the player experience through the game? All these things add overhead to the game and can dramatically change the way that the game feels when it is being played.

The more you are able to study what happens when people are physically sat down playing games, the more intuitive things will become for you. You will never really know how your game feels until you start to prototyping things and get them in front of others, but what you can do is start to get an idea of how certain mechanics feel to play.

Discover What You Want To Make!

Another reason to play other games is because it will give you an idea of what sort of games you want to make. Are you a fan of deep 4x strategy games that suck up days at a time and take hour to play out like Twilight Imperium or Eclipse? Are you drawn to a less intense games that takes just a few minutes or under an hour to complete like Exploding Kittens or 7 Wonders?

Are you a sucker for games that have oodles of charm like the works of Uwe Rosenberg – games such as Patchwork, Caverna and Argicola? Do you prefer Euro Games where direct competition isn’t required. Maybe co-op game are more your thing – they have mainstay on gaming shelves across the world. Games like Pandemic and Forbidden Desert – both designed by Matt Leacock are massively popular in the gaming community.

I’m not expecting you to have clear cut answers for any of these questions by the way. Maybe on reflection after reading this, you know exactly the game you want to make because you realize that you only ever play one type of game. It’s more likely though, like most, that you look at the games you’ve played (or the games your going to play) and can’t see any specific connection between them – and that’s ok as well. I personally don’t have any particular mechanic or type of game that draws me in and instead look towards themes that inspire me.

In essence, there are 2 points that I am trying to get across to you.

  • The first one is that like everything in life, the best practice that you can get is practical. In board game design, that is a wonderful thing, because it just means the more time you spend playing, the more you learn.
  • The second is that you should be asking the game questions as you play it. What is it about this or that that you really enjoy. What do you notice that takes longer than it should. What improvements can you make to something to make a better game of it. Don’t stop at deciding if something is fun or not!

Board game creation is an iterative process. Nothing you make will come out of the gate first time as an amazing game. But just as much as we will iterate on our own work – we iterate on the games we play that sit on our shelves. That isn’t to suggest that these titles aren’t amazing and worth hours of your time. It just means that creativity breeds creativity and as much as the games already out there ask for you imagination to reach their full potential – they also activate your creativity in ways you can’t predict.

Enjoy the process – the more you play, the better you get!

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