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Published on January 30, 2023. Last Updated on May 1, 2023.

Welcome to your weekly dose of board game design!

With the Chinese New Year now behind us, those plans and resolutions made during the holiday season are hopefully still going strong.

Something I learned about game design this week

Hick’s Law: How long it takes to make a decision is related to how many and how complex those decisions are. A shoutout to Matt Paquette for taking something I intuitively knew and adding a searchable name to it. Hick’s Law dates from an mid 20th-century experiment. Head to Wikipedia if you want the full rabbit hole, naturally.

Say your game lets the player take 3 actions on their turn, and there are 5 different things you can do in any order. Without knowing anything else about this game, I’d immediately ask if players have been taking longer than expected to play their turn, or if playtesters have been complaining about downtime.

You might go ‘…yeah, but how’d you know?’

Let’s look at some math here.

There are 3 actions, and 5 different things. Let’s keep this example and say you can take an action more than once, and that doing a thing costs one action. For your first action, you can do 5 different things. Second action, 5 different things. Third action, 5 different things. Ultimately, that’s 5 x 5 x 5 = 125 different ways (or permutations) to play a single turn.

(As a quick recap: combinations don’t care about the order in which we take different actions, but permutations do. That means as the number of actions / things to consider goes up, the number of permutations increases exponentially.)

In this case, the order matters. Maybe I gather a resource for my first action, then I move for my second action, then I spend my resources to buy something as my third. That’s one solid action of the possible 125.

The issue comes because there are 124 others. Some (perhaps even many) can be dismissed out of hand because you don’t have what you need to do them. Others won’t feel efficient… so while you’re doing all this processing, you’re narrowing things to a handful of permutations… Your inner monologue might say OK, so if I move here and do this, I’ll be in a better position to grab this next turn, but.. wait… hold on… I’m almost out of resources… what if I grab-move-grab instead? That card I want will be there next turn… right…? I know there are other options to consider here, but I don’t feel like I can consider them all…!

To reduce the number of permutations, reduce the number of actions you can take and/or the number of different things you can do. You could also introduce restrictions on when certain actions can be taken (such as ‘moving must be the first action you take’). There’s no universal rule here, so it’ll come back to how you want the game to play, how simple or complex you want the experience to be, and so on.

This week’s tip

We’re entering a great time to pitch publishers, in my personal opinion. The holidays are over and the heaviest part of the convention season is (for the most part) later this year. I don’t think there’s any ‘perfect’ time to pitch all publishers – it’s too diverse a group to oversimplify to a simple rule – but I think there’s often a bit of a lull around February and March.

Pitching well means helping a publisher see the unique experience you’ve created – and yes, that means creating a unique experience to begin with. Knowing your game’s ‘hook’ or what makes your game great is crucial – as crucial as having an easy-to-use prototype.

You may already know about Tabletop Publishers, my database of over 500 publishers. Through its web interface you can access from any browser, you can sort, search, and filter the list to focus on the best fits for your game. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours keeping it up to date, and since this is the same database I personally use, I have every incentive to keep it updated. Win-win. It’s a $49.99 lifetime sort of thing, and will save you tons of time in researching publishers. Learn more.

What I’ve been working on last week

  • Re-worked a puzzle game after showing it to some designer friends.
  • Some client work (editing a client’s rulebook)
  • Geared up for Nuremberg.
  • Playtested Smite, Shell Company (twice), and Dice Cream.

What’s coming up this week

  • Nuremberg! The world’s largest toy and mass-market game fair is February 1-5. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about once back from that.


Emil Larsen over at SunTzu Games has updated a ‘Kickstarter Kit’ – essentially several databases and spreadsheets to help you run a great campaign. Expect 500 content creators and a list of over 200 Facebook groups, subreddits, and so on. Best of all, it’s free.

The publisher EmperorS4 is celebrating their 10th anniversary, and they’re holding a game design contest with a $1,000 first prize. Deadline isn’t until the end of May, so you have plenty of time on this one. Learn more here.

Random picture of the week

IMG 3290 1

The holiday season might be over, but the Christmas sweaters live on. Remember the mothballs when packing them up!

Thanks for reading!

Got a question about game design you’d like answered? Find an amazing new resource that would help fellow game designers? Reply to this email and share =)

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

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