Sometimes, you just want a guide.
Joe Slack’s newest book is actually the 2nd edition of one of his previous books, just with 13 new chapters and five more years worth of experience under his belt. In that time, Joe’s had 6 games and expansions published (2 of which were successfully Kickstarted), and naturally has more games on the way as well.
(Full disclosure: I received a review copy of the book.)
I’ve known Joe for years now, and when someone aims to distill the knowledge they gain from attending conventions, teaching game design, and even launching courses, they have my attention.
To avoid burying the lede, I’ll repeat it: Sometimes, you just want a guide. You have the idea for a game, but then want to get advice and tips on how to actually make it come to life.
I’d love to say Joe’s ‘4 Step Process’ is easy, but nothing worth doing in life truly is. The process / system described does put those steps in the right logical order to help you avoid pitfalls down the line.
With seven sections and over 40 short chapters, the book is easy enough to digest on your bus ride, train ride, or whenever you have a few minutes to pick it up. It’s big enough that it would take some dedication to read in one sitting, though.
It’s logically organized in terms of what to focus on and when – obviously not every person will perfectly follow the prescribed structure, but giving you a structure to follow is the start of customizing one for yourself.
There’s some self-help advice tailored to what game designers need to hear, and a lot of it is personally familiar. We agree on a lot, especially when it comes to thinking about the type of experience you want to make and the feelings / emotions the game will bring out.
Each chapter ends with an action point – not quite ‘homework’, but something you can (and probably should) do at this stage in your game’s development.
A number of chapters focus on a ‘how to’ sort of statement, which makes it easy to refer to those chapters when you’re ready to address that specific issue in your game. All the same, I would definitely still read through it in order, if only to get a feel for what sort of advice is where.
In general, I really appreciate the specific points of wisdom, and I really like Joe’s style of offering personal anecdotes from his own experience and his own games.
While it’s not the goal for every designer and their every game, I do wish there was a bit more time spent on pitching and crowdfunding. It comprises the final section of the book, and Joe has experience in both sections. To be sure, this could easily be a book by itself, getting to the end of the rainbow means you’re ready and raring to go to get it out into the world. The focus throughout the book is clearly on making the game, not selling the game or treating it as a business. Joe does cover these topics more comprehensively in some of his other materials, though. Look at this book as one large piece of the puzzle, with plenty more to learn as you grow. Expect to find a fair bit of what, not necessarily a lot of how.
A glossary and list of resources takes up several pages near the end, and there’s a good size list of publishers and their websites to round out the book.
Verdict: Highly recommended.
Whether you’re a newer designer looking to make a great game or a more experienced designer eager to see how a full-time professional does it, this is for you.