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Published on May 29, 2023. Last Updated on December 11, 2023.

Welcome to your weekly dose of board game design!

UKGE is right around the corner, the sun is finally shining more consistently, I went on my first Parkrun (for the non-Brits, volunteer-organized 5K runs at local parks near you)… Life is good.

A quick shoutout / self-promotional bit here. First, a huge thanks to my amazing team at No Box Games for helping me make Spies – Kristian Fosh for his amazing art and graphic design skills in bringing the game to life, and Roque A. Deleon for making the Kickstarter page and campaign. Backers have all received their games (via backers-only updates), and I’m proud to announce that Spies is now on sale across the internet.

Where to buy?

Wait, what’s Spies again? This is the first I’m hearing about it…!

Spies is the first game from No Box Games, a publisher making print-at-home games with no assembly required. Designed by yours truly, you’re all spies that have infiltrated the ambassador’s mansion… and you quickly realize you’re not the only spy there. Each player is trying to track the spy on their left while avoiding the spy on their right. Lots of hidden movement and deduction elements on a single sheet of paper per player. Learn more at https://noboxgames.com/spies.

Something I learned about game design this week

It’s OK to shelve a game.

Really, it is. I’ve fought hard for some games, to keep them alive or just to find some way to keep their ideas coming back to the table… Look past the sunk cost fallacy here – wherever games are when they’re shelved can still present you with lots of things that can be used in other games.

This week’s tip

In the last newsletter, we talked about brainstorming new mechanics. I suggested a format called ‘The [Noun] Mechanic’ and encouraged you to just throw out some nouns. Pretend they’re part of a game. Person, place, or thing. Don’t think about it, just write some nouns down.

You did do that… right? =)

If you didn’t, do it now. Inspiration sometimes happens when you least expect it.

I’ll continue with the Treadmill Mechanic from the last email for the sake of consistency – as a reminder, it might have something to do with being in the middle of a pack. Maybe it has something to do with going a certain pace or speed…

While I love refining mechanics, in most cases I’m looking to incorporate them into a theme before forming the rest of the game. If I just have the mechanic (like this one), I’ll just put it in a Google Doc called ‘Mechanics with No Themes’.

(Yes, I have a similar document called ‘Themes with No Mechanics’.)

But now, let’s run with this mechanic. What’s a theme that comes to mind that might fit with this mechanic?

Any theme – any time period – any place. Yes, I’m serious. Don’t worry about whether it ‘matches’ that mechanic or not. Just because I’m calling this theme a ‘Treadmill’ doesn’t mean we have to stick to time periods where there’s electricity or characters that would use a treadmill.

Remember that fun themes, mechanics, or snippets of ideas are useful in other games as well.

Also, when it’s this early in the design process, I’m quite likely to ‘try on’ a lot of themes before settling on one. I really put a lot of thought into trying to match up the theme and mechanics, though for some games this isn’t particularly relevant.

So just to throw out some themes… (and let’s hear yours! Reply to share.)

  • Traveling and packing

  • The mysterious Voynich Manuscript

  • Something about building the Empire State Building

  • Wildebeests migrating across the African savannah

For this ongoing example, I’ll make it about Wildebeests. After a bit of research, I learned Wildebeest herds in the African savannah are known for their massive migrations. Thousands of these giant beings move together in search of food and water. This synchronized movement helps protect the group from predators and maximizes their chances of survival.

Alright, so I have chosen a mechanic derived from a fairly random noun and a theme from a collection of fairly random ideas.

Oh, man, I might have to make this game now!, you might be thinking.

Well… yeah?! Sure, for some people, brainstorming ideas is the fun part. For others, it’s the process of going from ‘idea’ to ‘game on table’. For others, it’s the process of bringing the game to life.

Either way, we’re not talking about theory here. Let’s make some games!

You might not be excited by every step in this process, but it’s worth noting which of your game ideas that excite you more. You’re totally allowed to have favorites.

What I’ve been working on last week

  • Playtested Marshrutka, Smite, Downward Facing Panda, Around the World in 10-15 Minutes

  • Client work

  • Made a sell sheet and video for Smite

What’s coming up this week

  • UKGE will be the big thing, personally – gearing up and printing off some prototypes, organizing notes, meeting up with people I haven’t met yet and catching up with friends…

  • Some client work

ICYMI

The New York Times talks about how baseball’s new rule changes have had the desired effects: faster games, more hits, more stolen bases, fewer delays, and so on. As a board game designer, it’s been fascinating following this story because they have an incredibly high-profile game and iconic traditions to keep in mind – the ‘playtesting’ in the minor leagues took years alone – but it seems to have paid off. It even added a sort of catch-up mechanic – the article notes that low-payroll teams have younger players, which are faster and more likely to make the steal. (It’s also a reminder that even a rule that sounds simple probably took many iterations to craft.)

The Game Maker’s Toolkit has a new video about Valve’s ‘secret weapon’ they had when making Half-Life and Portal. (TL;DR: it was playtesting.) A lot of stuff they do lines up with the common wisdom you may have heard about playtesting board games, so it’s definitely validating to see it as useful advice in video games as well.

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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