The Board Game Design Course

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Game Design

Advice I wish I had when I was working on my first game

I’ve been designing board games for over a decade now. Time really flies!

Early on, I made so many mistakes and it took so long to make any kind of progress.

So, I thought I would share with you the advice that I would go back and give to myself when I first started game design.

Share your idea

One of the biggest hang-ups I had was around showing my game to other people outside of my close friends and family. I thought that my game was so amazing and that everyone would want to steal the idea for themselves.

Boy, was I wrong!

First of all, my game was okay, but it certainly wasn’t the best one ever created. It didn’t do anything groundbreaking and probably wasn’t even worth stealing.

Second, I didn’t comprehend the importance of showing my game to other people to get honest, unbiased feedback. This is such a crucial step in game design. Without hearing from other people what’s good and bad about your game, you can’t make the necessary improvements to turn it into the best game it can be. The only way to do that is to get over yourself and start showing your game to others.

Third, playtesters and other game designers aren’t interested in stealing your game (especially if it’s at a very early stage and is just more of an idea). Other designers have their own games on the go and don’t have the time or interest in taking yours. Besides, no one wants to earn the reputation of a thief in such a small, tight-knit community.

Put in the effort

At first, I toyed around with my game idea and made a simple prototype to try with others. It didn’t necessarily include all the cards and components that I would later need, just enough to test it out. It turns out this was a great approach!

This is exactly how you want to get started. I talk more about this first step here.

However, I would play it once, get some feedback, then it would sit on the shelf for months. I’d only pick it up again when I found the motivation or some idea came to me.

Instead of continuously working on the game, playtesting it whenever I had the opportunity, and keeping it moving forward, I just worked on it when I wanted. Now, I understand the need to work on a game consistently, even if it’s just doing a bit of work here and there every week. This will get your game to a much better state so much faster.

It’s okay if your first game is garbage

Just because you make a game, this doesn’t mean that it deserves to be published.

The first time you create something, whether it is writing a song, painting a picture, or making a game, it will not be your best piece of work. You need to get practice and experience before you get better.

This may mean that your first game is just an expansion or knockoff of an existing game. We all have to start somewhere.

Only then will you start to appreciate the process and the journey that goes into making something much more memorable.

You just have to get your game to the table. Even if it means trying it by yourself before you put it in front of anyone else. In fact, that’s how I start almost every game I design!

As you develop your skills, your games will improve and stand a much better chance of being picked up by a publisher or being successfully funded on Kickstarter should you go the self-publishing route.

Putting it all together

So, there you have it.

You need to get your idea out in front of other people to make your game better.

You need to work on your game consistently, not just when you feel like it.

You need to understand that your first game will not be your last, nor will it likely be your best.

Keep working on your games and make each one better than the last.

If you could go back in time to when you started working on your first game, what advice would you give yourself?

Leave a comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Did you know you can download my 10 Minute Board Game Design Blueprint for free? It’s the fastest way to get your game started and stay focused on your end goal.

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    If I went back to give myself advice it would be to be okay with changes. Pull back on our egos. We all are proud of what we created and we know we need tweaks but try out different ideas from play testers. Take on things at first we as designers may not think to much of. Over time, many times years, it will be amazing to see how the game progressed into the greatness that it is today. Good luck everyone with your designs.

    Know why you’re making the game. What are you trying to get out of it? Something slightly better quality than a pen and paper game for you and your friends…validation…sales (and what level of sales)? This last one especially requires a lot of skills unrelated to boardgame designing.

    Joe – This is all so annoyingly obvious and repetitive and absolutely necessary for me to hear over and over and over. Thanks for the persistence and consistency.
    This is what I needed to hear (again) just when I needed to hear it.
    That’s just good coaching.
    Thanks again and keep it coming.

    Thank you for these tips. Especially the parts about getting your game in front of other that are not your friends/family, and also not being scared to do this were key points for me. Great advice.