1d6 Game Design Tips

Posted on March 30, 2016 By

I like to throw out bits of game design wisdom when I can. It’s usually stuff that I’ve picked up through study, painful experience, or months-long sessions of meditation and dream-questing on remote mountaintops.

I wouldn’t claim to be a True Ascended Master of game design (my dream-quests only last 20 minutes, tops), but I’ve stumbled upon a few tips I’d like to share:

Take All the Notes! Seriously. When brainstorming a new design, write down every drop of that storm, even if you end up only using a fraction of it; you never know what will come in handy later. When playtesting a prototype, write down every on-the-fly rules tweak and executive decision you make, along with any questions or suggestions from the playtesters. And after the playtest, write down how you’ll change the game for the next iteration, being as specific as you can. This might seem excessive, but trust me, if you don’t write it down, you will forget. (Cut to me, staring at a year-old box of prototype bits labeled things like “A” and “Orange,” fighting back tears of frustration as I try to remember how to play the stupid thing.)

Write the Rules as Soon as Possible. I know. I know. Writing rules sucks. It’s tedious and nit-picky and why am I even bothering with this since it’s probably going to change a hundred times anyway. All the same, nothing transforms a loose collection of ideas into a concrete thing faster than figuring out and writing down exactly how to play the game. Just by going through this process, you can find not only holes in your design, but features and design space you didn’t know you had. What’s more, with a page of definitive rules in hand, future-you is less likely to be left staring at box of components and scattered notes, cursing your name (see above).

File Your Designs. As soon as you have at least one page of notes worth keeping, create a folder in which to keep them. Regardless of whether the folder is physical or electronic, it serves two important functions. The first and most obvious is to hold your brilliant ideas and all future brilliant ideas associated with the game; without it, such things tend to get scattered, lost, or forgotten. Secondly, if you have a folder, you need to label it. The act of naming the project makes it real. I recommend including a description along with the title, to help bring into focus what the game is about (“Dark Wing: A Deck-building Game of Warring Bat Clans”).

Be Consistent. Once you find a system that works for you, work that system for every new game you work on. Have a rulebook organization you love? Use it all the time. Ditto for file structures on your hard drive. (“The prototype parts are always found in ‘games\game_title\prototype’ obviously!”) Or even physical files / shoe boxes / whatever you store your hard copy parts in. Organize your documents and components so that someone else could step in and make sense of it — even if that “someone else” is you in six month. Future-you might not remember the numbers on the “sugar to salt ratio table,” but should know where to find the table since it’s in the same place you always store the tables.

Yeah, some of these are a little odd. But I’ve found them to be useful, and maybe you will too. If nothing else, you can use them to impress the Ascended Masters when you see them next month. (Tell ’em I said “Hi!”)

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