Game Design Questions (I Get All the Time)


I get asked game design advice about 1.667 Times per day.

I’ll wait while you do the math.

Invariably, someone asks me something like, “How do I make XX as a game using hexes?”

And my answer is always this, “Test your game using D&D mechanics first. If the game experience you are looking for is the equivalent of moving a miniature one space at a time and rolling dice 300 times over the course of your game, then you have what you want and can extrapolate from there. If that wasn’t your expectation, get back to me and tell me what you were expecting your game to be.”

Too many times, people thing the game design in their head needs to be made with a prototype of 100 rules and 200 components, with all the number balanced and math fully fleshed out in order to test their idea.

Which is so wrong, I don’t even have time to explain why it’s wrong.


Well. I have some time.

But at the end of the day is the same as anything else. Without a core concept and outline, your idea is only an idea. It can’t be executed.

And execution is where design actually begins.


A few years ago, I was on a website that purports itself to be about the love of story, and I uttered the phrase, “Medium defines your design and game experience.” I thought everyone’s head was going to explode.

But the concept is so simple, maybe it’s too obvious.

Zombie board games for instance, invariably suck. Some suck less than others, but all of them are essentially the same mechanic. Roll dice to see how many zombies you kill. Or in the case of zombie card games, flip cards until people just can’t take it anymore.

I’m not sure what you think the zombie movie genre is, but I suspect there isn’t a tally at the bottom of the screen showing how many zombies were killed. Unless it was an ironic film about zombies, in which case, all zombie board games are ironic. Woohoo. Hipsters win again.

Last time I checked, though, zombie films were about that one bite that you couldn’t avoid.

[Well. The first zombie film was a dark editorial about classism and racism, but I don’t think that would make for a fun adventure board game.]

The tension of a zombie story is about who gets bit next. How come no one is making that game mechanic? I would argue that the close your eyes werewolf game is a better zombie game mechanic that anything with squares or hexes out there.

[I let you think on that for a moment, before I shift gears.]

The next question is always. “So. If that won’t work, how should I design the game?”

Okay. Unless you are paying me to design your game for you, I can’t answer this question. One. It should be obvious that you are asking me for advice for free, so I can’t really design your game for you during a 10 minute IM session. Two. It’s your game. I have no idea how you should design it. You’re opening question was “How do I make a game about tongue depressors using Warhammer 40k style rules?” This was already free advise, but it doesn’t take long for me to say, “that’s not going to work.” If you want me to design a tongue depressor game for you, start with a contract and job offer. Then we can talk about how to make it.

[Was that snarky?]

But in all honesty, it really is up to you. I presume if you’re coming to me it’s because you really want feedback and not someone to prop you up and say, “Tongue depressors? Genius!”

I don’t work in the self-esteem industry. If you thought I did, my PR is really bad.

I can’t tell you how much your game will cost to make. How many pieces you need. Or where to print it, when all you’ve got is an idea for tongue depressors. Costing out you game is nearly the last thing that is done and almost certainly after you’ve designed and tested something about 100 times.

There are consultants who charge a lot of money to handle these questions for you. Some even do all the work for you. Check out any Chinese game printer. Their site even offers to design the game for you. I kid you not.

And I’m certainly open to making something with you/for you, if you’re serious about your project and have a contract.

But if your question are along the line of “What do you think of a baseball miniatures game?”… my answer is certainly going to be, “There’s a reason it hasn’t been done before.”

Medium defines your design and game experience. Everything else is a distraction.

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