251. Recognise What Computers Can Do, And You Can’t
No, you can’t just fucking translate Hearthstone to physical cards and no it’s not a good idea to fucking try, oh my god. Hearthstone is a videogame that borrows mechanical concept space from physical cards but it’s SO bad an idea to try and duplicate physically. Look at the WoW CCG for how awkward things are like ‘using counters to track damage every turn for every card’
252. Mashup Pitching
Considering odd stories as inspiration yields exciting pitches: SMOKY AND THE BANDIT is a HIDDEN MOVEMENT ASYMMETRICAL RACE GAME.
253. Look Into Fonts More
Fonts: Tall, straight, narrow fonts look really swank they are also dyslexia-hostile. Basically if your font makes d and b and p and q look just like one another rotated, it’s harder for dyslexic people to read. Sadly, one of the best, most available fonts for fixing this problem is Comic Sans
254. Avoid Comic Sans
Never use comic sans.
Even as a fucking joke.
Comic sans will get you whined at endlessly by font nerds and let me tell you that is a whine that punches through all antiwhine measures.
255. Shuffling Vs Bottoming (Stop Giggling)
Do you expect a player to go through their entire deck in your game? Consider ‘shuffle in’ vs ‘put to the bottom’ in that context.
256. Trust Artists And Pay Them
As an Indie, don’t haggle with artists. Odds are close to 100% they’re undervaluing themselves. if you are a multinational company with lots of money to spend on gaming, well, Mr AEG, pay artists more.
257. Oral Rules Vs Written Rules
MOST of the people who play your game will not learn it from the RULES, but from a player who DID. So your rules are usually going to be, as it were, a photocopy of an explanation. What makes this harder to deal with is that you can’t rely on a verbal explanation! You need to design your rules that anyone can pick them up, and that they can then communicate them to players in short, explanatory sentences. Designing good rules is REALLY hard, and worth practicing.
258. Unbearable Silence
Games that require silence/an absence of communication have to be very engaging throughout the whole silent period. Also it kinda breaks the learning process of the game if players know they can’t talk at all, so cooperative silence beats competitive
259. Don’t Add Clutter
Players will have tokens, dice, and coins if you’re pitching at an Established Gamer style. Adding them can be just adding clutter. I learned this year that players have a super weird grossout reaction to using and handling real-currency coins I have no idea why. It’s a shame, because using pennies as game counters seems an actual valid use for the damn things.
260. Holy Hell How Long Is This?
Jesus christ, you people. Anyway, mode switching works best if the two modes have an easily understood difference. Like the Runepriest in D&D 4ed? Is basically ‘Switch between A and B’ but if you’re, say, a werewolf shifting between wolf and hunk? Or even like, a penguin, turning around from white-face to black-back would be good. The metaphor conveys the mechanism.
260.5. Bonus: Hey, Remember Tits The Girl?
It applies with aliens as well, and with whole class structures in games about combat or building character types. So, here’s the obvious, simple thing: Don’t gender classes, don’t race-link classes, and work on sexual dimorphism in your alien races.
241. Hotline Why Am I
There aren’t enough Sunset Noir games. It’s the aesthetic you can see in games like Hotline Miami and Drive and I really dig it. Consider if you like that flavour of vile neon and summer haze, see what you can do in that.
242. Encourage People, Seek Things That Encourage You
Being encouraged is, to me, super important. I would often float ideas to people, see people express disinterest or dislike, and bail. I’m lucky, I seem to have a kajillion bad ideas I can sift through and refine, but finding people who will try shit out is super important. So, be nice to the people who are helping you, just as a general rule. Playtesters, artists, other developers you share ideas with
243. Err On High Contrast
Bright colours, clear contrasts. Printed material doesn’t look the same as stuff on a screen, so go vibrant. Muddy is bad.
244. Take Notes!
WRITE DOWN EVERY IDEA.
I’ve noticed an explosion in my notebooks and I’m seriously considering starting Bullet Journaling just to get into good habits of tracking information and building up a library of notes I can reference later.
245. And Then Double-Check Those Notes
Revisit notebooks a few months later. You’ll find your old ideas were a bit bad but now you have new tools to approach them.
246. Freeing From The Marble
A big part of new game design is finding the Shit That Doesn’t Work and carving space away from it. Negative design space as it were. If you’re Mark Rosewater and you have a team and a company backing you, this stops being true. But I’m talking about respecting your limits.
247. Learning How To Make Structure
Daniel Solis provides a really excellent video on designing card faces here:
248. PULP IS GOOD
Right now you get a lot of mileage out of ‘GAME, but with CTHULHU. ‘ Do this, but with other pulp stuff.
PANDEMIC, but with TARZAN
RISK, but on BARSOOM
TICKET TO RIDE, but with LESBIAN BIKER GANGS
248.5. Pro Twitter Bonus Tip
Twitter will almost always get you at least a pity like for LESBIAN BIKER GANGS
249. Remember People Need To Carry Your Game!
Think of storage solutions. The LCG ‘one big box you can put expansions in’ is optimistic but kinda asshole to do up front.
250. Crowded Spaces
There are SO MANY 18XX games out right now that branding a new one has a serious problem of not duplicating another game’s year. Some clever dick went to UR 1830 BC, but that is a deep-sunk well and there’s a lot of Expectations. No 18XX game I know of, as yet, has a mechanic for clearing out the corpses of the Chinese slaves you used to build the railroads
231. Reward The Collector Instinct
Players like collecting sets of things. Even if the mechanical incentive to do so isn’t really there. It’ll happen.
232. Reward Player Impulses
Following 231, trying to fight how players generally behave is a losing battle. If players keep playing it wrong, try changing rules. This is one of Maro’s favourite points and he has the Time Spiral anecdote to back it up — efforts to make Suspend cards obviously unusable after casting confused players, so they just went ‘heck with it.’
233. Slim Rules, Strong Theme
The more pages your rulebook has, the more of an arduous task it is to learn. The BIGGER your rulebook is, the more difficult it seems. The Botch’s rulebook is a little a6 wee thing and it’s still pretty big.
234. Structuring Rule Writing
Three phrases to recoil from in writing your rules:
- “In this case”
- “Except if”
They’re sometimes necessary, BUT: If a player’s first impression, or first summary, is ‘I have to do subclause cf2 subreferences’ it’s a real bad look and puts people off. Try to structure your rules to avoid this kind of thing – introduce the broadest rule, then when things are established, then add the exceptions.
235. Start From Victory
Write your rulebook backwards. Start with how people win, and work backwards until you’re at setup.
236. Double Check Your Start
Pursuant 235, once you do that, leave it alone, come back to it, and see if that worked.
237. Evoke The Feel
Players’ first impression of your game should not be how tight the rules are or whatever, but ‘what this game lets me feel like.’ Relatedly, be super careful of describing your own game as ‘exciting’ or ‘hilarious’ on first parse. See if other people say that. This may be my low self esteem talking, mind you, I’m very shy of calling my own work ‘good’ thanks to my upbringing. You may differ.
238. Hard Is Fine
It’s totally fine to make a game nobody wins, often. Just understand the more unsatisfying play-throughs are, the less likely iteration. So if you want to kill all the players semi-randomly, make setting up again fast, make the play experience fast.
239. Let Me Outta Here!
A bailing mechanic is useful. Sometimes a player will just want to Burn Everything Down and get out. You can make that a mechanic. Consider zombie games where each player who dies becomes part of the opposition to speed up the end.
240. Inadequate Communication
Games like Mysterium thrive on limiting player communication then TRYING to communicate with a shitty method. This is a lot like Pass-The-Parcel wearing mittens, but it’s a good idea! Players individualise each game, just like charades.
221. Critical Spread
I watch a lot of review videos, and not just of games. Critique and commentary about other media forms is jammed with useful insights. Look at movie reviews that talk about cinematography.
222. Number Types
Prime Numbers don’t neatly fit into each other. If units move in prime values it can reduce collisions. Of course, you might want collisions.
223. Vanilla Matters
With some types of games, you need a mix of ‘boring and easily understood’ components and ‘interesting, spicy components.’ Magic: The Gathering is full of critters that don’t have abilities because they make up that ‘boring and easily understood group.’
There’s always an urge to make Everything Exciting. Resist it. You might be loading your players up with Too Much To Remember.
224. Dead Player Walking
In games with open information it’s sometimes possible players might have won or lost and it’s obvious to YOU, but not THEM. This is, again, part of player load. If no player notices a win state, you might have made that too complicated to grasp.
225. Use The Inhuman
Inhuman actors don’t have to have human expressions which can make them easier/more inherently funny/more threatening. A game about controlling a skeleton vs a game about controlling a bear, for example
226. Simple Structure Doesn’t Force Simple System
Your turns don’t need to be complex structurally to be full of interesting decisions. In The Botch, on your turn, you have 3 options: An Action, A Swap, or a Look. Turns are STILL super difficult to pick through. Dominion has three actions by default – Action, Buy, Cleanup. It’s still super complicated.
it’s 100% okay if a playtester doesn’t like your game. If only one playtester likes your game. If only you like your game. Remember, this is Print On Demand. If anywhere can handle a game for Me And The Five People Like Me, this place can
228. Easter Egg Jokes
If the jokes are unobtrusive and you don’t NEED to get them, you plant rewards for players who DO get them.
229. Recover, Not Reset
Recovery mechanics are good but reset mechanics are the WORST version of recovery. The worst example of this is from one of the worst games I’ve ever seen, OneUpManShip, which players can reset at will.
230. The Incongruous Stealth
Stealth conventionally is a mechanic for circumventing challenges. This presents a problem in team spaces: D&D has really bad stealth because one player avoiding a fight just means they miss out on 40-120 minutes of The Other Players’ Fun. Not just rewards, but just the sheer TIME involved.
211. Cheap Experiences Easily Obtained
Pursuant to 210, this is a big boon of digital distribution. If your game is a booklet/printable game, single-shot play is palatable.
212. Remember Players Default
If you break a big, common rule from your genre, you need to reinforce it or players will default to the ‘normal’ way. Like, how many of you learned to play Monopoly without auctions or with free parking?
213. Being Inclusive
Inclusivity is easier than you think. Consider this example, showing a cis character vs that same character if she was trans:
You don’t need to be an expert in gender studies to simply not cut off areas where players can feel connected.
214. Give Up On What Doesn’t Work
Be willing to iterate. Bad looks will give way to better looks if you’re willing to make big shifts:
215. Advertising Is Hard
I made ads, and how-to-play videos, which did not do a good job of advertising my work.
The main thing I heard from people I asked is they wanted to see LET’S PLAY videos, which I can’t make. Yet.
216. Disparate Identity
You can get good results drawing together different pieces.
217. Single Cards’ Values
You can also use a single card to track a small score for a game that you want to iterate a BIT.
218. Double Check Your Game Name
Google your game name! Say it aloud! Say it to people! And change it if it sounds awful! Don’t be stuck with a bad name! And if you think it’s a great name really double check it because you don’t want to be attached to something that sucks layer!
219. Concept Anatomy
I made a bunch of these to try and explain sets of things. They’re good exercises and get you into the aesthetic techniques.
220. Your Work Reflects You, And
The people you love inform the things you make.
I would not have thought of ‘Javert x Major Kusanagi,’ or ‘enby coder dealing with health insurance’ or ‘vocaloid emergent AI’ on my own.
201. Remember Advice Comes From Sources
This is my advice, and what I’ve learned. It doesn’t necessarily apply to you. I’m sure you can find people who disagree. Particularly, the rules don’t seem to apply to Vlaada Cvhatil or Reiner Knizier, who are. . . productive monsters
202. Expanding Classics
A lot of good games use the basis of ‘classic’ card games and then add ‘not boring’. Blackjack is a push-your-luck, skull is poker; Pyramid is a kind of resource allocation, solitaire a kind of area control. You can build out on these. Heck, you can build a lot – look at how Samurai Spirits is basically an upgraded version of Blackjack.
203. Let’s Not, With The Genocide
When you make games about two warring forces, try not to make one of them a side that genocides things or people. Like it’s just not a good look.
204. Each Enemy Is A Puzzle
When you make monsters for games, are they boring as soon as you know how they work? Then you’ve probably made a nilbog. Nilbogs, from original D&D were goblins, backwards, and you had to heal them to kill them. They were frustrating and irritating, BUT as soon as you knew the trick to how they worked, they were boring, and just had to be picked out like rabbit turds in coco puffs
205. Trust Designers
Assume well of designers when you’re analysing their games. Assume they chose to do things rather than did things ‘cos they’re stupid. Not to say they can’t make mistakes or stupid things, but if you assume they had a reason it can be easier to explain things
206. Reference Pool
People will use other games as a reference point and that’s okay. So, it’s a bit like Netrunner,
207. I Believe In You
I encourage you like this because I am pretty confident you DON’T have creative infrastructure around you, don’t have good habits yet. I will hold out ‘Do Not over-scope’ and ‘make small things to start with’ as good principles, but odds are good, you’ll ignore it. But it’s important to me that you at least understand there’s something coming, there’s a future you can reach for where you Make Things If You Want To.
208. The Weird Copyright Of Emoji
EMOJI ARE THE WILD GODDAMN WEST. They exist somewhere between art and font and their usability is really uncertain. You can put them in your game, sure, but if you want to give payment/attribution to the creator. . . good luck finding them? This is not true of Unicode, which is usually included in your font or public domain. Unicode has lots of nice, useful symbols to it. This falls under ‘don’t reinvent the wheel:’ All the classical card symbols, a number of arrows and some expression are in unicode
209. Test Your Funny
You’re not as funny as you think you are just because your friends find you funny. Don’t push it in your rulebooks. Rules are hard to write, comedy is hard to write. Be damn careful about trying to do both at once.
210. Disposable Experiences Are Okay
A game doesn’t HAVE to be repeatable. Some games, like mysteries or horror, work best if you can only play them ‘once’ cleanly.
191. Scope! Scope Scope Scope!
Fuckin’ don’t make your first project like “Mage Knight But Dark Souls With a TCG.” Make your first project the _smallest possible thing you can_. You don’t need an epic world. You don’t need booster expansions. Start making a small thing and you will learn from that to make a slightly less-small thing. You can’t just JUMP into the sky and figure you’ll fly.
192. Crossplatform Cards
You can learn good things trying to translate videogames to board games just, like, please stop translating the boring shit.
193. Idea: Transforming Robots
A robot built out of cards that you flip over to transform into a different mode, but also, Cards that socket into other cards.
194. Doing Your Math
Players don’t need to know the math YOU did, they need to know the math THEY have to DO. Your back work can be ugly as sin and hard as diamonds and it’s OKAY if you never ask players to multiply prime numbers or some nonsense. (Unless your game is LITERALLY about doing crypto in which case. . . fascinating, and well done and I’m curious?)
195. Reasons For Players
Games almost always benefit from players having a reason to LIE, a reason to WANT, and a reason to COOPERATE. All at once. Funnily enough this is why you have lots of games about crime and politics (which is crime with a suit). Players wondering ‘are you lying’ is so much more handleable a problem than players asking ‘is anyone lying at all’
196. Box Air Has Some Purpose
Tight inlays and packed boxes can look nice but it makes packing the game up more annoying. Be mindful of that interaction. I know I harp on how boxes being too empty is a problem but there’s some value for flexibility.
197. The Continued Continued Adventures of Tits The Girl
If you have a variety of women in your character lineup, check if they’re all The Conventionally Hot One. Blizzard had this problem with Overwatch, where until Zarya showed up, everyone was just a very clear, typical example of Curvy Femme.
198. Relax The Stressors
Redirecting the focus point of an existing game can transform it. Mafia De Cuba is Werewolf If You Could Just Take Shit Easy.
199. Hidden Role Games
Werewolf-style hidden role games are fun and pack a lot into a small space right now but reviewers seem to be Very Fucking Sick Of Them. I say that even though I’m in the middle of making one of them.
200. Sharing And Listening
jesus christ,, 200? Really? Fuck me. ANYWAY, you can’t have all the good ideas yourself. It’s worth your time to share ideas and listen.
You can’t exclusively own mechanics. Copyright can’t apply to ‘methods of keeping books. ‘ Sharing and learning from other games is okay.
181. Game Term – Quarterbacking
QUARTERBACKING is the propensity of players in cooperative games to try and run other people’s turns ‘the best way. ‘ It’s obnoxious.
182. Market Success
A lesson to learn for when you are frustrated as a developer at your lack of commercial success: Success is largely random. You will not do succeed based on the quality of your work, but shitty work is more likely to fail. Also, when you move in circles where people expect to pay for things, things are different – look at the kickstarter crowd for examples.
183. Your Niche Moistens
Yes, you can make games about your personal fetishes or niche interests. I mean, Kojima did it and people think he’s a genius.
184. More Representation Easily
If you give players character cards, and they don’t NEED a back, put an identical card face w/a different gender look on that face. This does get a bit binarist but giving players even modest gender choice beats Here Are Seven Dudes And Tits, The Girl.
185. We Are Way Too Happy About Colonialism!?
We got a lot of games about the ‘age of sail’ ie, colonialism and slavery, that kinda don’t want to talk about it. Maybe talk about it. Shout out to Kemet for flat out stating one of the power bases is slavery, and making that type of power in-manual ‘White Power’
186. What Can Games be About
One game idea I’ve had lying around for a while now is Worse Than Hitler, which is ostensibly blackjack but is also meant to help express how every country in the world has committed genocides and there’s a problem with us just blaming Hitler. People hear this idea, and then, usually, say oh, no, that shouldn’t exist, because that’s a subject games shouldn’t touch.
They’re just wrong – it might be I shouldn’t be the one to make that game, but the principle is wrong. Saying ‘we shouldn’t make games about that’ is like saying ‘we shouldn’t make documentaries about that. ‘ It’s limiting what games can do. Now, ‘you shouldn’t make a game about that because you’re a stupid clod’ that I can buy and I think I’ve probably said it.
187. The Continued Adventures of Tits The Girl
If your cast of player characters has only one of anything, that person has to bear the weight of who they are. So if you have Seven Swordsman And Tits The Girl, the assumption is Tits is ‘normal’ for girls in this game world.
188. Deck Builder Blues
Deck builders give up a painful amount of space to your starter cards, and that’s PER PLAYER
189. Capitalism Kills
Lots of trading games assume people can’t work together sincerely and the mechanics reflect that. Which is shitty as hell. Even monopoly has the random ‘well fuck, guess we weren’t expecting that’ cards, even if they’re rarely tangible.
190. Getting Cute, Getting Paid
Cute is not the opposite of serious. Cute is not the opposite of deep. Looking good is not oppositional to being fun. A game is not more serious because it looks like a wall calendar. There really isn’t any excuse for making the art objects we make of our games look ugly any more.
171. Shared Space Create Shared Learning
Players having overlapping goals or mechanics is SUPER USEFUL during learning phases. They can teach one another/learn from one another.
172. For Rachel
Put a gay robot in, just ‘cos.
173. Alphabets Are Not Everybets
Look up the language form known as Abugida, like Inuktitut:
When you design codes and hidden information there’s a powerful urge to use the basic structure of the language you already know. This is why aliens in most games still have decimal number systems despite having like, six fingers or whatever. Not only is Inuktitut totally sweet but it’s a way of concealing language that will broaden most players’ worldviews as they learn it.
174. Remember Card Real Estate
Cards can flip over and rotate, giving them potentially 8 states you can track easily. MTG’s werewolves handle transforming cards SUPER DUPER WELL, and Fury of Dracula’s decks use their cardbacks well too.
175. Noob Effects
If you want to design ‘magic the gathering, but without manascrew’ look up those who came before you and failed: The WoW CCG and VS. Both games were designed by MTG pros to try and reduce ‘noob effects’ and ‘be more skill rewarding.’ Turns out that’s actually kinda a bad system for getting new players into your game
176. Experiments In Learning – Dirt
Make a game by drawing on the dirt with a stick. There are at least two well known games that can play this way. Work with little.
177. Replacing Variables Changes Games
Battleship is basically a bingo variant. It replaces a random variable with a player working off hidden information.
178. Don’t Relinquish Limits Easily
Resource systems are a way to control players. So be super careful with anything that circumvents that resource system
IT IS SO EASY TO DESIGN YOUR GAME THAT ENABLES PEOPLE TO BE CREEPY! Hidden information games particularly! Don’t do this! try to make sure your rules are NICE AND CLEAR about DON’T BE CREEPY at people! Think about the kind of questions and interactions your game entices people to have. Creepy is Always Bad, okay?
180. Examine Game Parts
Conventional d6es have each opposing face add up to 7. You can design around ‘the missing face’ of a dice with this information. This also means that the range of the total numbers on a rolled dice is 15-20, which is pleasantly round.
161. Failure Teaches Function
You may not like the people who nitpick games, but nitpicking how games fail is a useful lesson both in not what to do, but also how to see through a design to the end. You’ll often find most bad designs come from places of unexpected confusion or someone failing to pay attention all the way to the end. With that in mind, dismantling how games fucked up can help you be a better maker. Your homework is the 3. 0 D&D Spelldancer.
162. Your Undocumented Resources
Every game taps two undocumented resources: player mind space and player time. These two resources relate to one another. Too much load slows things down and players will play slower. Too little time and players will default to FUCK IT, THAT’LL DO. Some games try to offload material on the table with material in the mind – like tracking scores and currencies. Doing that will slow players down, too – meaning it eats into your time.
163. Design To Your Strengths
Early on I recommend finding the thing you want to do the least of (art, systems, content), and designing the game to minimise it. If you don’t like making art, you can skip out on it, make a game which is all text. If you don’t like making rules, you could go art-heavy. If you make music, you can make games about playing with the music.
164. Remix Remix
Pursuant to modding, making variants of games is fine. You can’t borrow art assets or copy rules text, but the rules themselves, sure. Indeed, if you’re a fan of public domain and remix culture, board games are one of the purer forms of it that still exist.
If you want to make a game inspired by Secret Hitler, for example, remember that Secret Hitler derives from Resistance, which derives from Werewolf, which derives from Mafia. Game mechanics aren’t something you owe money for.
165. Respect Playtesters
Some players want to push systems until they break. These are good playtesters. You need to know where the fences are weak. Note that because a player can tell there’s a problem doesn’t mean that that player knows the best way to fix it.
166. Make Mine Mythic
Balance is a myth but it’s an important myth. City of Heroes was one of the best games I ever played and its balance was somewhere on the far side of ridiculous. Arcanaville was a goddamn science-prophet when she said ‘the balance of this game is mostly about keeping us from going too far outside the fences, not keeping us inside the fence.’
Players are often only playing against themselves. They’re playing against the game, and against their tolerance to keep playing with your friends. Soft games, games where the conflict is a bit unimportant, tend to get some guff, but don’t forget that there are players of all varieties, and some games want players who won’t push them, and some players are looking for that.
167. Access Over All
If usability or accessability are hurting your aesthetic, the aesthetic must give.
168. Print-And-Play Testing
If you’re doing print-and-play, make a black-and-white version of everything and see if it looks like garbage ass. A lot of Print-and-play folk only have a black and white printer after all
169. Your Tools Are Okay
Word is Good Enough. Google Docs is Good Enough. GIMP is Good Enough. The best tools for any job are the tools you’re comfortable using. Anyone who wants to tell you ‘you SHOULD make in <THING>’ on principle are probably wrong. Try it and experiment, but you’re not obligated.
170. Learning Split
When designing asymmetrical games, recognise you’ll have to teach the game twice. The board game VAST takes this problem and winches it up to the nines: There are SIX DIFFERENT RULESETS, and no players overlap.
When two players understand the same sets of rules for the common parts of the game, you make playing it faster and easier. Magic: The Gathering plays smartly here, where the core of the game, both players understand and it’s in both player’s best interests for it to have integrity.
151. Practice With Small Spaces
Explaining magic cards verbally to a podcast requires you to get good at shorthanding or being explicitly clear. Posting for Twitter asks you to cram a lot of information into a small space and not waste any. This is useful for learning tight wordings. If you can’t fit the core game loop of your game on a page, it’s probably too complicated. Pare it down and see if you can get that core game down.
152. Promoting Yourself Venues
Twitter doesn’t SEEM to be particularly good for promoting your work, to me, so far. Video reviews seem to do a lot of business. Print-on-Demand games are on some big reviewers’ blacklists. That’s not the core of it, though – I’m still investigating some sources (and indeed, research into this is part of what held me up here!).
153. Promoting Yourself Costs
My budget for promoting my games is limited to ‘attending conventions. ‘ I have paid for literally no advertising. This means that my experience is going to be different if you do have money to spend on things like packaging, artists, etc. On the other hand, I hear from people who pay for advertising it’s not really all that valuable – you’re usually better off using that money to get your product in front of reviewers and trusting their audience but I can’t guarantee that either.
154. Know Your Own Values
I keep my values as a designer foremost whenever I’m stuck at some point on the design of a game. I want to respect my players and their feelings. I want my games to be available for people who like to play them. I don’t want people to buy games of mine that are bad for them. I don’t want to impose my games in their home spaces, for example. I don’t want to make players pay more for product where some components are redundant and unnecessary
155. Making Is Nice
Creating things is such a nice feeling. I probably will never be commercially successful at this but I love doing it so much. I realised that even as I work towards making this into a thing I do for money, the process of making is without doubt, fun.
156. Structural Simplicity
In terms of ease of design, Solo > Symmetrical PVP > Asymmetrical PVP > Symmetrical Co-Op > Asymmetrical Co-Op.
157. Room for Masterminds
In Asymmetrical Co-op, there’s room for a ‘mastermind’ role for players who aren’t confident yet, to learn the game: Someone who is not at risk but can provide information to the other players by peeking under cards, for example
158. Paul Booth’s Unstructure
Particularly ornate games want to create this thing called ‘Unstructure.’ Unstructure is from ‘Paratextuality in Board Games,’ the book. Worth a read, but lemme try and summarise here: Unstructure is the feeling the game doesn’t have rules you can divine, WITHOUT being random-seeming. Cause-and-effect of varying impact. The bigger and more elaborate your game, the more likely you have unstructure. But it’s a precarious balancing act to maintain. Consider Mass Effect Romances, where the mass of flags and variables collapses down into ‘be nice’ or ‘don’t be nice. ‘
Games are about our illusion of how things should happen, not about realism. ‘Realism’ is usually an excuse.
160. Don’t Make Fallible Votes
If your game has a vote system in it, you absolutely have to have a tie-breaker. Even ‘too many failed votes end the game’ works.
141. Review Mechanistic Language
Look at the spell fireball from 2ed D&D, 3e, 3. 5 and 4ed. There’s a clear evolution of relationship to language at work. The earliest versions of the games are even a little bit culty, a little bit aware that they know how the things are meant to work (‘you throw a ball of fire that explodes’) but then have a hard time rendering that rule mechanically so players can both get it and not have to spend a lot of time getting weird about it. This is sort of a weird cousin to rules lawyering; you’re giving people tools and they, as characters in a universe, are going to want to use those tools.
You can see the way these things are shaped by the kind of players that got involved. Look at how long it took before there was a standard format – and early versions of 3.0 D&D even strangled themselves down trying to ensure that ‘fireball’ had a sort of specific limit of effects until 3.5 came in and said ‘no, look, it’s just following these standard, templateable pieces.’
This is something that revisions can get you, along with a willingness to approach mechanics as mechanics rather than trying to make each of them special exceptions.
142. Attend to the Interplay of Mechanics and Thematics
Sometimes you’ll find a mechanical shift invites a thematic shift. Introducing knockouts may introduce a more violent tone, for example. Today I had to consider a good punny name and set it aside because it was too nice and pastoral for a game that includes the ability to buy huge gun turrets. Check that your theme and mechanics interlock – and if you find your new mechanics, meant to make a system work suddenly shift the tone of a game, go with it.
Look into the example of wither in Magic: The Gathering. Wither was originally made to be a ‘softer’ form of combat for the Lorwyn magic block, with the idea that it made combat kind of pillowy, instead of people dying. The problem is, wither wound up being super brutal and when examined, felt a lot more like scarring and burning, resulting in it being part of the tone of the sequel set, Shadowmoor, which was more creepy storybook.
143. It’s Okay For Your Game To Be Easy
People play games for a lot of reasons and one of them is therapeutic – being able to feel in control and happy. This ties back to earlier: Empathy for players is crucial to making your game better. You may find that your game doesn’t do what you want it to do, but you might find that that lesson is best implemented in the next game, and you can finish this one first.
144. The Small Audience
There are a lot of games you wouldn’t bother playing that have people who love them. Solitaire has endured, for example. Try not to think in terms of ‘nobody wants that’ and more in terms of ‘I don’t want that’. You’ll accommodate new ideas more honestly. Also, it’ll make you more likely to think in terms of who will want this rather than I don’t think anyone will want this.
145. Extremely Niche And Extremely Close
It’s fine to design games for your needs and wants, by the way. Print-on-Demand is a space that forgives extremely niche ideas. There’s a wealth of nice number-games with procedural structures, or knockoff and variant versions of games that already exist. Heck, you know Werewolf and its many copies and clones? Every one of those clones can be seen as a different take on the access for that original game, or an exploratory effort. You can do that! Even if you’re just trying to get an idea for how you’d word cards, structure them, put art down on cards etcetera.
Niches can run narrow in Print-on-Demand. I mean, The Beast is one of the weirdest game ideas I’ve ever seen.
146. Duplicating Demonstrates Dullness
Thing is, though, once you’ve got your eye in, once you’re trying out a lot of ideas and new expressions, if the main thing I know about you after playing your games is the Other Games you’ve played, your game design is probably boring.
147. Trope Frameworks
This is what we in media studies sometimes call schema. War games have different frameworks to hunting games, to zombie survival games, despite the fact all three are ultimately about getting in position to shoot a thing.
Consider the war game probably doesn’t care about tracking ammo at all. In the Hunting game, ammo can be replenished, but it’s more of a timer there to keep you from unloading too much too fast. Zombie game, though, there the ammunition is precious, and it may even be possible that the gun breaks.
Use mechanics to reinforce theme. The War game isn’t about micromanaging soldiers, who take care of that themselves; The zombie game on the other hand is all about falling the fuck apart and being desperate. Every shot used is precious. So, when you have your theme, consider if your mechanics are reinforcing it or opposing it.
148. Getting Smart
Technologically advanced isn’t the same thing as interesting
, T. I. M. E Stories,
149. No Swearing!
I swear a lot, but broadly speaking your rules shouldn’t swear if you can avoid it. Even if your theme is kinda cussy, like The Botch, or stuff like The Walking Dead. This may sound silly, right? Thing is, there’s a strong board game culture across youth groups and church groups. If you make your language ‘too hard’ for those groups, you can push them away, and they may otherwise love your game.
150. Doing Your Math Homework Is Useful
Do you need help with the rudimentary mathematics that drive the tension in hidden information games? It’s time for some game theory. More specifically, the simplest hidden information game, basically, is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Tic-tac-toe is procedural. Games like Euchre work on making thoughtful choices based on mathematically available information.
If you don’t like math, that’s fine, but if you’re looking for structures to build in, math will build that for you.
131. Materiality Tip
White or pale cardbacks are the worst especially in bluffing games. They’re incredibly easy to unintentionally mark. If you’re going to make a game like this, make it small, so there’s not a lot of stressed shuffling.
Consider diegetically the game pieces. A game about high schoolers will have different needs than a game about high schooler mermaids. For example, mermaids can all ‘fly’ by our standards. Does a car have the same symbolism of freedom to them?
133. Been There, Liberated That
If you’re going to make a game about WW2, maybe consider any battlefield at all except Normandy?
134. Been There, Liberated That, With Other People
pursuant to 133. Maybe also consider there were people other than the Americans there?
135. Hard Lines
Simple, bold shapes can do the work of more complicated artwork and is comparatively attainable, like with The Suits:
136. Don’t Be Fatphobic
If your game has fat people in it and they’re only there to be mocked, you’re a piece of shit.
137. Winning’s Not A Drug
Resolutions of games aren’t as important as you think. Some games, the winner is basically meaningless to any but the most competitive.
Apples to Apples is an example, Charades is another. I learned this with Crowdfund This: For some games, people care about the doing.
Twice as nice.
138.5. Make Rules Readable
Jokes are fine, and you should feel free to put them in rules, but don’t let those jokes make rules ambiguous.
139. The Purpose Of A Game
Absolutely core to what you’re doing as a game designer is trying to create a machine that creates a story. This means understanding stories is important, and so is understanding machinery.
140. The Purpose of A Roleplaying Game
RPG design is a step above that: It is [A Machine That Makes [A Machine That [Makes A Story. ]]]
121. Assumptions in Structure
Reconsider your turn structure. If players need a chance to react to one another, or care about a pool of limited resources in a shared space, turn-by-turn works; But if players are all drawing out of a common pool, then building their own thing like say Galaxy Trucker, simultaneous play is fine. The lure of simultaneous play is players are engaged with their own work, then you have a theatrical moment where they go ‘wait what’ later.
On the other hand, games like Tales of the Arabian Nights and Dread of Winter make a great use of other players during someone’s turn – they don’t have to worry about their own turn and can instead join the ridiculous things happening to another player.
122. Resources I Use – Drive To Work
Mark Rosewater’s Drive To Work podcast is a really useful resource, even if I disagree with his definition of ‘game.’ You don’t need to be paying attention to Magic: The Gathering to get this stuff, though you really, really should. Particularly interesting are the discussions of ‘failures’ like the Tribal type.
123. Don’t Hide Your Theme
Being up-front about what your game is about is a better way to get people to play it than being coy. It also works out better for people who are easily distressed. If you’re making a horror game, people will prefer to immerse in that experience then have it jump out at them.
Consider; Dead of Winter doesn’t hide its apocalyptic bleakness. Despite this, there is still horror that you have to discover. Players don’t go into it thinking this game about starving to death in the frozen wastes probably won’t have any nasty surprises.
124. Trigger Warnings
TRIGGER WARNINGS ON YOUR CONTENT MAKES IT MORE ACCESSIBLE. Players who think spoilers ruin their enjoyment are straight up wrong, we have done testing on this. Trigger Warnings are a no-loss addition, and as a bonus, you piss off people who are just total shits about things that don’t affect them.
125. Remember Your Baselines
If you want to make a war game you need to be able to prove it would not better serve as Warhammer house rules. This sounds like sarcasm, but: So many miniatures wargames are just reskins of ‘this is how Warhammer SHOULD play’ home rulesets.
126. Include More Of Your Interests
The broader your interests and more instinctive your curiosity, the more stuff you’ll be able to apply to making your games.
127. Fuzzy Spaces
Human interpreters are very hard to program but they’re also very good at covering up cracks in the rules. You don’t need to tell players how to do things like ‘negotiate deals’ or ‘choose a player to exile’ – players can do that smoothly.
128. Editors Matter
RPG Design: If you’re making a game book, hire a fuckin’ editor and care a lot about your reader’s experience
129. Glossaries Matter
Glossaries are good to give short primers on rules players are PRETTY SURE OF, not the first place to introduce them
130. Math Matters
If your game math ever requires (brackets+(order of operations * averages)), you have fucked up
111. Advertise, Advertise, Advertise
Don’t pass up opportunities to get people’s eyes on your products, like HEY GO LOOK AT THIS TOTAL STRANGERS.
See the funny thing is, I wrote that a few months ago, because a friend regularly reminds me that I don’t advertise my own work enough. I did it in this thread a few times and not one of them converted to a purchase within the time frame.
Clearly, gotta advertise more.
112. You Can Make Games
I may not get more likes than this so here’s the big one. Here’s the king hit. YOU CAN MAKE GAMES. This time last year I had BASICALLY NO experience making games. In one year, I made about FIFTEEN You Can Make Games Too. You don’t need to do presentation. You don’t need to do aesthetics. You don’t even need to write formal rules. But you can sit down, with pieces of card, scribble on them, and you can MAKE A GAME. And I WANT YOU TO.
Right Now, we’ve got a Lot Of Guys Like Me making shit. That’s fine but hey look at that we have the same five nerd boy fantasies repeating. You will find all sorts of weird, cool, interesting game ideas when you reach even the tiniest step out of Orcs Vs Spacemen Zombies You can make games with dice and cardboard and paper and pens and glue and tape and THAT IS AWESOME and YOU CAN DO IT. Want to take it to the next level? Free graphics programs. Free template tools. Free text editors and pdf exporters and stock art – YOU CAN.
And if fuckin’ ANYONE wants to tell you that You Don’t Have The Qualifications or You Don’t Belong in making games? I will fight them.
This idea turned out to be so important to me it formed the bedrock of my final thesis and a semester of teaching. You can make games.
113. Folding Prototypes
You know what’s super great for 3d prototypes? Oragami skills. Folding distinct pieces with stiff card can be v. Quick. There are TONS of resources for simple origami techniques out there.
114. The Basic Aesthetic Option
When in doubt, white text, black outline, or black text with white outline. It’s practical and it’s everywhere because it works.
115. What Doesn’t Belong
Most games wind up being boring because there’s an under-examined system in there ‘just because. ‘ Roll-and-move is a great example of this. Does your game benefit from random movement? Does it just slow shit down? You should be able to explain to yourself why you’re doing any of the things you’re doing.
‘We wanted to slow things down’ is a perfectly fine thing to want in your game, btw.
117. Repeating the Game Loop
Some games like Poker or Skull are relatively dull in a single experience but become exciting in aggregate. Make sure to try out your mechanic in iterated groups with carrying-over score. You may find they’re more interesting that way.
118. Feedback To Seek
The worst feedback you can get is ‘I dunno, seems fine. ‘ If you get this a lot, it’s not your tester though, it’s on you. If things ‘seem fine’ then nothing’s giving a strong emotional reaction, whether it’s ‘this sucks’ or ‘this is awesome.’
119. Procedural Pals
Befriend bot-makers. Random, procedural computer generation can give you large sets of information or assets to curate. They can also make some types of game assets, like permutations of one another, easier to get.
120. A Permutation Resource!
I use this Permutation Calculator for a lot of the permutation/set math I need to do ‘cos I’m bad at combinatorics.
101. Look To bad Examples
OneUpManship is the first monopoly variant I’ve seen that’s actively and aggressively worse than Monopoly. No kidding. Seriously, game is gross and odious. It shows you can take a bad idea and make it worse.
102. Be Aware of the Kickstarter Environment
Do not make your first kickstarter until you have backed a few kickstarters, even if just to see how they go, and to get your stats up. Seasoned kickstarter investors skip out on kickstarters with ‘1 project, 0 backed’
103. Be Aware of Who’s Listening.
Be careful when and where you talk shit. It’s one thing for me to call OneUpManship assballs here, but on BoardGameGeek, it’s not nice. Know your audience and environment. BGG is a place to hype up games you like, be positive, be kind.
104. Beware Unecessary Mixes
Just because you like two things doesn’t mean they belong together. Big space battles across huge distances don’t need tactical movement, for example. Nitpicky load and encumbrance rules don’t really belong in games where your load can be measured in half-tons.
105. Beloved Are the Playtesters
Early on, some people will try your game with nothing in it for them, and they will give feedback these people are glorious angels
106. Look To The Public Domain
Public domain art assets are great and give you lots of options for weird or interesting game ideas. Old maps, old biological books, historical diagrams – look at what people like Wondermark do with this kind of resource. When you pick up art from a particular period in history, that period influences and defines the work. Alt-history games can be cool! (Alt-history is like steampunk without the popular racism, at least, right now)
107. The Quandrary of Horror
Horror is SUPER HARD to do well because game rules make ‘winning’ possible, but horror tends ask ‘can we even win.’ If you can stat Cthulhu out, you may have missed the point.
108. Ingesting Conception
Watch a review video for a game you’ve not played, then try describe the game’s rules to someone else. See what stands out to them. This pair of filters mean you can often hear ideas that were never in the original work.
109. Building Legacies
Legacy games are The New Thing but if you want to delve into that mechanical space look to older campaign games like Chainmail. D&D’s earliest versions did the same kind of thing. A print-on-demand or print-and-play legacy game needs to hit that kind of standard
110. Contextualising Sources
PULP IS GOOD. There’s a reason we have a HOJILLION Cthulhu games (it’s public domain) there are TWO reasons we have a hojillion Cthulh—
Pulp gives you a pre-existing story structure, and a handful of signalling tropes you can use. The connecting tissue informs itself; Using a pre-existing story base to theme your game helps players get into the right space, and you can design your mechanics to fit that. AND DON’T THINK I JUST MEAN THE AGE OF ADVENTURE BURROUGHS STUFF. Go to Pulp Librarian and grab ten covers there that’s your game’s aesthetic. Lesbian biker satan? Okay, let’s go
91. Secret Identity
Sometimes I look at things and think about design space, then wonder about if anyone’s using it. For example, despite the fact that cards have two sides and superheroes often have two identities there aren’t any good superhero card games right now.
I SAID THERE AREN’T ANY.
92. Film Influences
Movies have great lessons for pacing a game, about building a story and reaching a satisfying crescendo. Some games already basically follow the arc of a movie. Look to Samurai Spirits, or Risk.
93. Hiding The Purpose
Poker is pretty good at making you think it’s about having good hands. That’s part of its magic, moving cups around. Serious poker players will tell you the game is about using your behaviour as readable information and giving away as little other information as possible. Nonetheless, the game makes the hands seem important, gives them value, and the ‘real’ game emerges.
94. Broaden Your Sources
Listen to people who create even if not directly in your sphere. Even when not trying to, talking to and considering these positions and ideas of people with distinctly different life experiences (and there are a lot of those – I’m a white cis guy after all) has been useful for building and strengthening mine You’re always trying to create systems to stimulate players’ experience, and empathy is the best tool for knowing how to get there
95. Wins Or Losses
You can think of end games in terms of either a win (‘pursue this objective’) or a loss (‘which is often harder on the woman. ‘) Avoiding a movie slasher and being the Last Girl is a good example of Loss-Oriented design. Getting All The Gems is more win-oriented. Loss-focused design tends to be meaner.
96. Evens and Odds
Even numbers are good for cooperation, odd numbers are good for conflict. Players can divide things in half and feel fair, or share loads equally when there IS an equal amount to be shared. Odd numbers can’t be split equally and can’t be easily divided-and-conquered the same way, either. Look at the MTG colour wheel.
97. Clever Vs Fun
Your game can be super clever but it doesn’t matter if it’s boring.
I’m talking to you Seafall.
Always, on this point, it’s you, Seafall.
(stands over the cliffside looking down at the lava bellowing at Seafall) YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE
98. Rollercoaster moments
Automated game sections are actually totally fine, if they’re a chance for players to watch something they did unfold. Programmed games (Lords of Xidit, a lot of trump games) are a very obvious example of this. But know what does it best? Galaxy Trucker. Galaxy Trucker is one mass of impossible frantic decisions, then you put what you made onto a ghost train and let it leap out and spook you
99. Connect Your Work To Audiences
Don’t presume on audiences. You may load your game with things to try and connect it to a market but if they don’t see it, who cares? You could make Gay Cuddlepile Furry Mayhem that comes with a free handjob from Accelo and if nobody knows where to get it, they won’t buy it.
This is and has been my hardest problem. Right now, every single thing I’ve tried to get people interested in my games has failed except standing in front of them and showing them the games at conventions.
100. Scale Of Numbers
Big numbers don’t make a game more mature or serious. Bigger numbers and bigger bounds on math mostly only matters for distance. A games may have a total score start at 0 and reach 150 but if players are only ever 2-5 points away from each other, what’s the point?
81. Find Where You Have To Limit Players
In RPGs, players are using your system to create and express. The more tightly you limit that, the more you cut off their options. A DM of ours, @ExManus is fond of the phrase ‘your thematics are your own. ‘ and it’s proven absolutely invaluable. Do you have the right mechanical interactions that make sense? Then fuckin’ wonderful. I don’t care if you call it Nature Magic or Fae Soul.
In RPG design, consider what restrictions are necessary to make the game work. Some games have very strict, regimented settings, such as military ones. But more creative, expressive settings benefit from letting players come up with their own explanations for things. Look at where you’re using a theme when you should be using a rule, and when you’re trying to treat theme as if it is rule.
82. Knockouts Aren’t Always Bad
Knockouts – where you remove a player from the game somehow – are seen poorly, especially amongst the Euro-gaming, victory-point counting gamer crowd, but they serve the valuable purpose of freeing people from a game they can’t win any more. If you think being knocked out of a game early sucks, try being stuck playing a game you’re completely unable to win for the full duration
83. TERM: Victory Point Salad.
Some games let you do a bunch of things to accumulate ‘victory points’ and the game just checks the count of them. These games are honestly kind of best for representing big complex economic systems where things are all of dubious total value, and goals are sort of there for players to pursue individually? But a better way to follow this is using a Victory Point Salad design is best for games where you have a lot of different systems and want to give players things they can avoid.
84. TERM: Victory Point
Call them something other than Victory Points, I mean come the fuck on, VP is the most thematically dead term by now.
85. Examine your Base Assumptions
When we code symbols in games we bring a raftload of assumptions. Maybe reconsider them and open other spaces. Bats, wolves and rats are typically ‘bad’, but bears often have a nobility to them as if they’re not all just eating the same idiots.
86. Content Vs System
Games can be broken into Content and System. Some games need a lot of System and comparatively little Content (D&D, frex). Some games are system light and compensate with an enormous volume of content (Billionaire Banshee, Elevator Pitch). If you make a lot of one, you can make less of the other. Note can; that’s not to say it’s a simple 1:1 divvy.
87. Don’t Follow Fads For Fads’ Sake
I’ll use real-time play as an example but the principle holds. Real Time is the latest thing to try doing with card games, and it’s not a bad place to go but it’s also got a big problem: Many people drawn to card games are doing so because they don’t want real-time decision making. They want a turn-based pace. So there’s a quantity of board gamers who react to games like Captain Sonar as if you’re asking them to ride a rollercoaster that’s on fire
Remember, there are some people who want games to give them reliable components. Some folk wanna shuffle up some cards and maybe make a ninja dude fight someone.
88. The Easy Seat
In team games it is 100% okay to design team roles whose job is Be Boring But Useful. Some players don’t want the stressful decisions. Don’t make it essential – don’t make it so some player has to have the dull role? But let someone who wants to take an easy job get it.
89. Players Have Material Needs
Respect your players, but do so wholly. Recognise they need breaks, have other interests, have limited space and money. If I could give up on half the content of Kalash-Tar in exchange for fitting it in the Resistance box I’d take that fucking deal
90. Build Skeletons To Know How Things Run
Try and make a deck builder, a bidding game, and a hidden role game, at least just in concept space versions. If you can explain the basic rules of how those three types of games work, well and coherently, even if you never make one for real, good.
This isn’t even vaguely hard, as it is; there are tons of examples you can look at, and it’s not like boiling Resistance down to its bones is hard.
71. Remix Is Meaningful
You can get a good place to start with ‘Game X, But For-‘ like ‘Twilight Imperium For People With Fulltime Jobs. ‘ Resistance has a lot in common with Mafia/Werewolf, for example, with ‘Mafia, for small groups and no administrator’
72. Making Roguelikes Is Pretty Hard
You can fake procedural generation with cards but you have less customisation. It makes the game more bland to allow the pieces to fit. You will get better mileage out of telling players to create/explain things than make cards that fit together perfectly well.
73. Ensure Players Don’t Check Out
If you can, design so players do things/care about things on other players’ turns. Just watching for strategic reasons isn’t enough. MTG’s counterspells/instants are kind of the worst base version of this but at least it’s only one player’s turn (usually). Dead of Winter’s crossroads system is REALLY GOOD for this, as is Tales of the Arabian Nights’ involvement of other players as semi-DM
74. Props And Doohickeys
Do not underestimate the value of a doohickey. Players like things like crowns, fingerguns, or ridiculous titles. Resistance is very good but replace the spies with ‘covert bears’ and you change the tone in a way that can be very appealing. Games can also do this within their space, of a sudden out-of-context ‘what the heck’ kind of thing to stand out in the player’s mind: Spyfall has something of this. There’s one scenario where one character can just be a cat and has to ask questions as if they’re a cat
75. Moments of Theatre
Never underestimate the value of theatrical moments. Texas Hold ‘Em has a MAGICAL moment when players reveal their cards: It’s great. You can hide cards under other cards. You can make the moment a card flips a hammer blow. You can make players have to count down to act. HMS Dolores, btw, is REALLY good for this, with its one-two-three OH GOD WHAT JUST HAPPENED round resolution
76. It’s Okay To Be Indulgent
You’re not going to hurt your chances by making shit indulgent to what you like. If the game works and is solid, the indulgent elements will appeal to people like you and usually rarely repel people who don’t care
77. Reach Outside Of The Game For Components
Don’t underestimate the value of other components. Dog Eat Dog LITERALLY makes a player’s income into a game mechanic component (and uses it excellently).
78. The Work Abyss
Miniature war games are the MMO of indie development. You open that box you are committing to making one thing forever until you die. Or, more realistically, not completing the project and spending a lot of money on the failure. And don’t give me ‘well this miniature thing on kickstarter made a million bucks’ that’s not indie. And they’re mostly selling the ITEMS.
79. Limiting Scope In-Play
If you give players 100 options and let them play with 5 of them, consider making them swap them around. Like, imagine Charades, except once the first round’s done, people randomly get one of the first round options, and can’t repeat gestures. Players will often watch a player trying to convey secret information and think ‘I COULD DO THAT BETTER. ‘ So make ’em.
80. Listen To Women
Listen to women. Seriously. Just, like, you’re listening to me rn, listen to women more. There is so much coding bricked up in gaming and tabletop right now that guys like me don’t even realise is hostile.
61. Pay People For Shit.
Let me restate that: Pay People For Shit.
PAY PEOPLE FOR SHIT.
My game release schedule is slow because I have to workaround art absence because I can’t afford to pay artists up front for pro schedules. What art I have is either given with promise of future payment or as gifts. In both cases, those are charities.
PAY PEOPLE FOR SHIT
I can’t afford lots of art so my projects don’t get to use a lot of art. That’s the fuckin’ price of doing business. Don’t ask for free shit
62. Ease Of Purchase Matters
Booklet games and ebook games are easier for people to try on a whim than card games. DOG BEAR outsells EVERYTHING I have. I think in part, this is because these games are easy and cheap to get – if you’re interested, it costs you five bucks to get it, and you get it right away. Most of my card games never sell copies online.
63. Don’t Treat Cards As Sanctified
If you do print-on-demand you can include cards that are designed to be cut up to make tokens for currency or standups.
64. Clash of Warrior Knightses
We have a lot of games about medieval warriors clashing. Feel free to make them if you want, but it’s a well-served space.
65. Hand Size
Giving players a hand of more than six or so cards can get awkward. Just like, fanning/handling that many cards is a decently big #
66. Hands Holding
Players tend (not always) to fan out cards top to bottom, right to left, showing left corners to themselves. So if you want to put easy-reference information on cards, putting it in that left corner makes it quicker to see
67. To Orthogonal Or Not
Roughly half of players recognise ‘straight line’ includes diagonals, roughly half don’t. I have no solution for this. Just be clear.
68. Tracking Variables Technique
You can track a variable on two cards, sliding up and down, ala :
I got this idea from an old version of Sushi Go, and it’s VERY USEFUL for personal information tracking. Spares people using paper.
69.5. Setup Matters
The more of a pain in the ass your game is to set up the less likely people are to play it twice.
Bad Setup: Zombie 15, Dominion
Good Setup: Captain Sonar, Poker
70. Failure States Of Setup
Jesus christ, 70? Oh okay, anyway, If setting up is part of the game, you need to control it to make it interesting and not slow.
LOOKIN’ AT YOU, BETRAYAL AT HOUSE ON THE HILL
If your game is basically a pachinko machine you kick players into, and it can just fart-out and fail, speed is your friend.
51. Test The Mental Load
Interrupt a playtest and take a five minute break. How hard is it for the game to resume? What information got lost? The longer the game you make takes to play, the more likely people need to interrupt it for food, toilet breaks, phone calls. If your game collapses when people stop looking at it, too much of the process of the game is stuck in the players’ heads.
52. Test The Soundprint
Try to avoid game text that’ll accidentally make players say something rude or annoying aloud or often. MTG has a problem where ‘counter’ and ‘counter’ mean two different things in two different context and this cuts off design space. Similarly right now a game in development is being reworked because I don’t want players to say ‘my [character] is triggered by that’
53. Borders and Boundaries 1
You have less space than you think. Everything needs some margins, some padding between it and the things it’s near.
54. Borders and Boundaries 2
You have more space than you think. Printed material has a HUGE resolution, so you can cram in lots of pixels.
55. Flooping The Pig
Players using game language is only a problem if your game language sounds like ass spoken aloud. In RPGs this is a goddamn scourge. If you name your mechanics and use good game language, players talking ‘gamey’ should SOUND NATURAL.
56. Diversify Your Knowledge Base
Learning about how things work, things that aren’t games, gives you tools for designing games. Three things I’d recommend are traffic, voting systems and rudimentary linguistics, which all have given me interesting starts.
57. Constructive Space
Players love building things! Let them assemble a ship out of parts, build a deck, organise staff. Cards are good for this. I have a half dozen different game ideas that are just trying to give players different tiled things they can put together that they think are cool and neat.
58. Dice Pools
Dice pool games are super cool but add a challenge to the materiality of design. Custom dice are very tricky to distribute easily. Gamecrafter can do custom dice, custom faced dice, but consider that custom etched dice are like $6 each there.
59. Looking for Gateways
I use DriveThruCards because there’s almost no up-front costs and I personally have felt very cared for by the administration. They’re actually non ideal – they’re located in America and their postal rates reflect that. But Brian has been unfailingly helpful. DTC however, do not Do Your Marketing For You.
60. Stir It And Stump It
This is more a personal failing than actual advice, but: I don’t talk about my games nearly enough, at all, ever. There were people following me in December this year who had no idea I made games. Advertising my shit is hard and I’m not good at it. Be good at it. Get good at it.
So far I have yet to have anyone ever tell me I’m obnoxious about talking about my games. I am always afraid it’ll happen. Always. But it so far hasn’t. People can tune out of my content if they want to, so respect that agency and don’t stress too much about hiding what you’re doing.
41. Building For An Eruption
You’ll see this in games like Werewolf but moreso in games like Mysterium, where players will suddenly be allowed to talk openly about things they do, and they will explode. All WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT ON THAT TURN, WHAT THE FUCKIN— This is basically the best and I love designing things that cause this. It’s a catharsis from a mechanic. You can do this with mechanics, and they tend to be beautiful moments. It’s better in cooperative games; in competitive, it might be seen as bluffing.
42. Shuffling sucks
I mean, I like it, but every time you ask players to shuffle they all have to wait for the slowest shuffler. So don’t design a game where players need to shuffle every turn. If you do, make sure it’s a small stack. And shuffling 100+ cards? Fuck off.
43. Hands Are Not Universal
Your game will be played by people with one hand. Maybe they’re holding something. Maybe they only have one hand. Consider that.
44. Cards are material objects
You can literally throw them around. Manual dexterity games are games too. You have that option. That said, don’t make manual dexterity a ringer in an otherwise non-manual game. That works like olives in ice cream.
45. Your friends are part of who you are
Designing games thinking about them will help you empathise with different perspectives.
46. “I’ve Got A Great Idea!”
Is it ‘an edgier Cards Against Humanity?’
47. Modular Mathematical Models
Cards are dice with memory. Can you replace some of your cards with a die? Can you replace a die with cards? Imagine a game of monopoly where you start with 6 movement cards and have to choose what order to move your 6, your 1. Imagine a war game where you use a handful of cards and choose when you roll well or badly. Oh wait, that exists, it’s called Malifeaux.
48. Modding is making.
There’s a bunch of academic study on this point but the long and short is ‘making mods is making games.’ Don’t sell yourself short for working within a framework that offers you advantages even as it offers you limitations. Alternate modes of Scrabble, Cluedo, Monopoly, Uno, any of that stuff is a place to start making games.
49. Ideas From Bad Jokes
Puns are SURPRISINGLY USEFUL for keeping people remembering game information, or expressing the core of a game idea. Murder Most Fowl is my favourite example, but it’s hardly alone. It also has proven really useful for explaining itself when I talk to customers; they just get it when I say it’s game about birders committing murders. If your game explains itself quickly you get people playing quicker.
50. Know Your Monsters
Some games are what I call ‘art monsters.’ They will use as much art as you give them. Games like Star Realms, MTG, Arkham. When dealing with an art monster, you need to make a judgment call and say ‘no, you’ve fuckin’ had enough, you monster fuck.’ Some games need a ton of writing work, and will just endlessly eat more and more text you give them. Some games need endlessly intricate systems, too.
The important thing is to recognise that some projects need something to tell them to stop. You can put down those limits.
31. Physical Notes
Physical note-taking lets me scribble out things in relationship to one another. This is especially important when I’m making games that care a lot about numbers, having the ability to scribble sets/values helps me out. Especially when you can do it quickly; noting things down on a computer so they can be interpreted later tends to slow me down and since the process is rarely as important as the result in this kind of design that matters.
32. Grid Paper
Grid paper is also super useful – just so you can give satisfyingly similar sizes to things as you work on them. Usually, your notes won’t matter to anyone but you. Me, I find my notes really comforting to check over when I can look at a card and tell it’s meant to be a card.
33. Scope Creeeeeep Is The Worst
Just how much of your game’s design is just throwing together a lot of things you like? (lookin’ at you, Scythe). It’s easy to make a game that’s got to have twenty systems in it at once, but making every one of them good will take you time.
When you’re working in print-on-demand, work with things you can finish first. Cat & The Mouse could be a stealth system in a bigger game, no problem. But I can build UP better than I can strip DOWN. Sometimes you’ll pare a game down and find it doesn’t have enough stuff. That’s okay. You can always add to it.
34. Materiality Is Important.
If you’re working with cards and boards, you’re dealing with actual objects people have to handle. Hecatomb is a neat game but it’s really hampered by the way that shuffling five-sided big ole cards work. The currency in Millions of Dollars feels crap and it plays into how it lasts. If you’re dealing with a thing that tracks information, do you need to use counters or tokens for that? Can you use a single card, being turned?
When do you use a currency vs an invisible value? Magic The Gathering makes mana invisible, even though lands aren’t. Currency is best used if it’s something that gets handed over to people, make it so the object of the currency is something nice to handle. Invisible currency is fine, if it never leaves one player’s control – ‘I give you five points’ versus ‘here, have these five cards.’
A victory point tracker may have the hated term ‘victory points’ in it, but if those values from different players don’t interact, it’s a good way to track that value rather than using a currency.
35. On Sexy
There’s nothing Wrong with Sexy Games, or Sexy Stuff in Games, just know you’re doing it and why. Sexy As Default is creepy weird. You know what I’m at. A game about barbarians dueling and The Girl is in a bikini because, well, what else would we do? Knock that shit off.
36. Cats And Dogs Are Your All-Purpose Excuses For Anything.
Seriously, theming games around them is a huge cheat. You want players to be selfish, aloof dicks to one another? Your game is about cats. Players will get it. You want players to be needlessly friendly and cooperative with everyone? Make it a game about dogs.
37. Feeding Instigators
If you build your game with a PRESS BUTTON TO FUCK EVERYTHING UP mechanic, ~5% of players will slam that button every fucking time. I sometimes shorthand these players as Instigators.
It can be really useful to tap this resource of player behaviour but don’t do it carelessly. Giving the instigator an inviting button to push when things are getting boring is good; giving them something that keeps anyone from being aware or certain of what’s going to happen next is bad. Consider these effects as a bit like pulling the lever on a slot machine.
38. Theme Pulls Play
If you design your game well players will fall into the theme hard. I have seen a massive bearded man stuttering out ‘s-senpai!’ You can tell players ‘be nervous’ or the game can make them nervous.
There are lots of war games that tell you ‘this matters,’ but the reason the 40k armies get people so invested is because players being able to sculpt their own force makes it matter to them.
Put it simply: You can tell people to act as if candy is good or you can make candy taste good.
39. Look At Your Defaults
Look at the things you assume as default in characters in your game and change it to see how it feels. Put in a vegetarian character. You might find in this process, shit makes no difference to you. That’s good, it broadens your realisation of ‘normal. ‘
40. Having Enough Or Having Anything
Scrabbling for resources is okay, but scrabbling for _specific_ resources is better. I’ll use ammunition as an example, and heck, Doom (the PC game) uses this model really well. If you’re scrabbling for any ammo at all, you mostly can’t do anything while you hunt and search. In Doom, that’s… un-fun. But if you’ve got plenty of bullets but what you REALLY NEED to handle your problem is rockets, you can waste bullets while hunting rockets.
Basically you don’t want your mechanics to say ‘well, don’t bother, you can’t do shit right now. ‘
21. Play Simple Games.
Every game mechanic you play with is a possible game mechanic you can repurpose and reuse. Build a library. There are a lot of traditional games, like Briscola and Klondike and Freecell and Pyramid that all teach you ways cards and components can interact with one another. Look at Uno. Look at Cribbage. Can you redo Chess? Can you make Checkers interesting?
22. Themes Are Usually Pretty Shallow.
You can usually take any game and strip off its theme and still have an interesting mechanical heart. If you do that you can see different ways to use those same ideas. Bang! and Werewolf and The Resistance have similar cores, not themes. When you shift theme, you often can shift a lone mechanic to explore that.
23. Try To Design At Least One Game Which Uses Just A Standard Deck Of Cards
Do this so you can appreciate games with rules mostly in your head. These are games where the theme is explicitly resisted by the cards – whatever abstraction you choose, you’re not quite dealing with it.
24. Your Complexity Has To Live Somewhere.
Magic: The Gathering’s rules are a massive sprawl but they hide it by putting the complexity in keywords. Sentinels of the Multiverse, which doesn’t exist, tries to put all the explanation for things on rules with very little keywording or rules chunking. Magic: The Gathering is a 25-year old game that’s never stopped growing. Sentinels of the Multiverse is a pretty decent phone game.
When your game gets complicated, you have to put that complicated stuff somewhere. It can be in the manual and people reference, or it can be on the game pieces where people can check it. Recognise when you’re wasting space.
Oh and if other people are using game terms from another game to refer to your mechanics that don’t have that kind of keyword term? You probably need a term for it.
25. Recognise Ragequits
If your game is too frustrating, players will just say ‘fuck it, whatever’ and ditch it. That’s on you. not them.
26. If Players Don’t Want To Play Your Game A Second Time, You’ve Probably Made It Too Predictable/Boring.
That is, of course, not counting artwork reasons – people have an attachment to objects and if your game looks like ass, it’ll put people off. Not every game is for everyone, naturally, so that’s a factor, but if players who are Into This Thing don’t want to play again, that’s bad.
27. Print And Play Players Are So Much More Dedicated Than I Thought.
Fuckers will sleeve stuff, they will cut out 90+ cards, they will use chips and cups to make printables work. There’s a real ethic to them. There are numerous print-and-play aficionados who want the majority of their money to go to the game makers rather than publishers.
28. NEVER NEVER NEVER Use JUST COLOUR To Convey Crucial Game Information.
Your entire game will just SHAKE TO A HALT for ~10% of players. Like, access is its OWN huge umbrella, but colour is the BIGGEST one I see we make mistakes on in a big way. Blue meeples and cyan meeples? Not a good look. Red meeples and green meeples and they need to stand next to each other? Also not a good look.
Look into tokens. Flat, visible tokens with a symbolic design, then make those designs distinct.
29. Gender Stuff!
It’s invisible ink for a lot of guys who make games. Be mindful of it, you can encourage more people to play. Don’t use all guys for your examples. Don’t use Just Male pronouns for players in the rules. If the cast of your game is all dudes diegetically, why? Istanbul is a lovely game which avoids being racist and exploitative and yet it has literally no women in its art or coverage – which is one of those problems that comes up when you assume and assign a default.
30. There Is Literally No Idea Too Silly To Make Into A Game.
In 2016, I saw games about:
- Being a Jane Austen novel protagonist
- Dating monsters
- Bamboo farming
- Hacking The Man
- Quashing Uprisings in the Colonies
- Trading salt
- Having the best harem of maids
- Giant Robot Maintenance & Repair
Teaching just one semester I saw games about:
- Betting on horse racing
- Being the most beloved chicken
- Growing illicit turnips
- Being a Mary-Poppins style supernatural Nanny for toddlers including a young Lovecraft
- Fighting the Heartless from Kingdom Hearts
- Dismantling an enormous cybersquid
- Pitching movies while drunk
Tabletop is the wild goddamn west. YOU DO NOT NEED TO MAKE ZOMBIE SHIT HERE
11. There Is No Game Idea Too Small To Be Worth Trying To Make Interesting.
The Botch is 24 cards. Pie Crimes is 20 cards. Love Letter is 16 cards. You don’t need a lot of cards to make your game worth playing. Good ideas can pack a lot of fun into a small space. Think about what you can do with a small amount of space, or if you can make a game that’s as simple as mods to another game.
12. Corollary To 11, At Drivethrucards, You Can’t Buy An Order That’s Less Than 20 Cards.
Games that are 1-5 cards can be good ‘filler’ then. Basically if you try to buy 9 cards DTC will say ‘hey, why not these products to fill your order out.’ If you like doing artwork, but don’t want to sell specific products, you can also put up say, Magic: The Gathering tokens you devise for people to use as filler.
13. You Can Patch Rules But You Can’t Patch Cards.
Players who buy your cards can’t get fixed copies very easily. If it’s on a card, you kinda have to stick to it – players who change their opinions. Write rules accordingly.
14. Oh My God Writing Rules Is So Much Harder Than You Think.
Programmers complain about their jobs but they at least get reasonably consistent interpreters. Rules is trying to code random humans. You will not be able to communicate them clearly in just one way. Text rules, diagram rules, video rules – every one of them you can make is useful.
15. Rules: Get Your Theme For The Game Down And Let It Come Out In Rule Writing.
Rules have a character voice, you can use it. The Botch is written like it wants to fight you, Middleware is written very precisely and technically. This helps with the tone of both games and at the same time can give players a feel for the rules and how precisely they need to track them.
16. Players Have Limits On What They Can Track.
Ideally, use boring things to track boring things. Counters and tokens are not particularly interesting. Having them track boring things like money or distance is fine. But if a player’s doing something super interesting like a live-or-die counter or a extra chance reroll kinda thing, put that on a card.
17. We Have Mechanics To Overcome Quarterbacking.
They are worth designing. Hidden information is the best start, BUT, Some players are just gunna quarterback and try to argue about rational actions with hidden information. Burn these players. More accurately, make it so the hidden information in anti-quarterback co-op mechanics can have a really distinct effect.
18. Moving Numbers Can Confuse Players.
try to make numbers move EITHER:
- In one direction
- Not Much
If your game has players tracking a value like 13+3+1+3+8+9+1 that’s awkward but okay, or 12-4+3, that’s fine too. But a value like 13+4-8+1+1+1+3-3+12 is asking players to do Harder Math and More Of It, it makes it easier to make mistakes.
19. Minimise The Opportunities For Innocents To Cheat.
In Love Letter, some cards give you actions you must do, and then react based on hidden information. An unaware player may not understand; You can design these places where a player might (for example) accidentally break the game by hiding a ‘wrong’ card. Try to avoid that.
Edit: Whoops, missed one:
20. Players Will Get Your Rules Wrong
With that in mind, try to make your game rules so they can handle some mistakes without falling into mush. In Magic: The Gathering, the game doesn’t break if you play lands over critters, or tap lands THEN pay costs. That kind of thing as acceptable ‘wrongs.’ That’s a game with a super tight set of rules, a really hard codebase for rules, and it can handle things being ‘done wrong.’ Make your rules robust.
Late 2016, I put together a twitter thread of random tips, thoughts and ideas based on my experience spending a year making games. To make them accessable and readable, I’ve expanded on them and posted them here and will continue to do so until I run out of the original list.
1. Time Spent Reinventing The Wheel Does Teach You How Wheels Work.
Some mechanics just work and you don’t need to mess with that. A good example is deck building. Designing a deck builder is a ‘lot of work’ and deck building works so well you don’t need to get cute with the basic mechanism. Do try building one and see what it teaches you about the process.
2. Free And Cheap Resources Are Out There.
www.game-icons.net provided the art for ~110 cards from Middleware or the core of them. On itch.io there are a lot of options for game assets that are usable in card games provided you’re willing to dedicate the time to look through them. You can avoid a game looking ‘cliparty’ by making sure the game either has a lot of varied art styles or that the game has one single art style.
3. Player Attention Follows Patterns.
Just as a single example, the way players parse information on a card follows a pattern, from top to bottom. When people handle cards, their eyes follow an intuitive path down them. It’s literally the flow of information on the card. Learn it, use it. Basically the information players use the most wants to sit in the middle, and information that’s not as important sits out to the edges. Use this when you represent each card – just leaving a face mostly alone and changing one big detail in the centre will make it easier for players to know they can ignore that other information.
4. Lead Times For Print-On-Demand In Australia Are About A Month.
Finish November’s game in August so you have time to fix print problems. This is true for DriveThruCards, and mostly true for GameCrafter. If you want to work on multiple projects, view the order/lead time as development time for the next project.
5. Print-On-Demand Is SUPER CROWDED.
In the DriveThruCards store for us, some of our games have sold literally zero copies; any copies sold are to us, for physical distribution at conventions. That’s not to say the market isn’t reasonably active — when one of our projects gets attention, it gets a lot of attention. There are casual browsers but they’re swamped with options. This makes reviewers, like DiceTower and Shut up and Sit Down and their ilk generally disinterested in your work: the market is simply too crowded for them to open their doors to print-on-demand games.
6. A Lot Of That Print-On-Demand Crowding Is SUPER GARBAGE.
I have to compete with Bible collector cards using clipart and broken HTML ads. If you like that stuff fine, I mean, they’ve got kickstarters that made them a few grand, they’re ahead of me in the game. But the high quality stuff is rarer than the low quality stuff. Literally, there is a strong place here for someone who can do quality control/review and consideration for this marketplace. Hint hint.
7. You Don’t Know Enough About Fonts.
I’m not kidding, not at all. Go to font places. Build libraries of fonts. Get every free novel font you like. Get font maker’s contact info. AND KEEP YOUR FONT INFORMATION STRAIGHT. We almost had a disaster when we released a game with a font we weren’t commercially permitted to. Whenever I make a game now I save the games’ fonts in a directory with it just for ease of reference and version control.
8. Your Game Wants To Have Three Fonts AT BEST.
One for body text, one for title text, one for the logo. A gold standard font to look at for game cards that want to convey text nicely is Beleren. It’s the MTG font (almost). Do not use Beleren (as a matter of taste, not legality), but look at how it handles being made small OR large. This is a huge area to dive into but at the same time: There are special kinds of font nerds who want to chip in and give you advice for your card designs as if you’re writing a full document. There are good, basic principles of font management and text, but they are all flexible and mutable. Know what you’re trying to do.
9. Fonts: Your Logo Font Can Be As Fucky As You Want.
It’s basically a piece of visual art shaped like words, rather than ‘text. ‘ per se. A totally hecking weird logo is generally a bad idea but it’s not a dealbreaker if it makes you feel good about it.
10. Your Comfort With Your Work Matters.
You’re not going to get rich in the Print-on-Demand market. Making Perfect is not as good as Making Content — ‘content’ in this case as in ‘whatsoever state I am’ rather than ‘media churn. ‘ There is a Good Enough. It is better for you to get a bad version of something you want to exist than to never ever see that thing exist ever. The best thing about Print-on-demand card design is you’re very agile. Ideas that don’t work This Time can be implemented Next Time, and games that are appealing to two people are still games worth doing.