Game Design

Become a better designer by using game design constraints

Some people love a blank canvas or sandbox to play around on. It gives them the freedom to create whatever they want.

But sometimes, this unlimited choice can lead to poor results. Some of these include:

  • Analysis paralysis
  • Building a game that is overly complex or contains so many components that it is not really viable
  • Failing to complete a game

As I mentioned in a previous article, giving yourself some restrictions can really help you when you’re designing a game, and in my case, even lead to getting a game signed and published. It keeps you within certain limitations and constraints so that you have to think a little more outside the box without having anything you want at your disposal.

So, let’s look at some ways you can use restrictions to create a brand-new, unique game, and become a better game designer at the same time.

Components Only

Here’s a really interesting challenge. Create a game that only uses components.

That means you need to limit yourself to:

  • Meeples
  • Wood or plastic cubes
  • Dice
  • Dials
  • Any other components you have on hand

You’ll have to create this game without a board or any cards or tiles. This is going to get you thinking pretty creatively.

Can you make a game with these components that you can play on a tabletop without any board?

Could you play this game without a table at all (this could be a whole separate challenge you set for yourself as well)?

Since you can’t use cards, tiles, or board, you’re almost guaranteed to come up with something unique.

Mint Tin Challenge

Here’s an idea that I stole from the Game Crafter. Make a game where all the components and the rules can fit in a mint tin.

That’s right, the little tin container you get when you buy certain packs of mints.

That means you’re going to have to use a limited number of components that aren’t very big. Your rules are also going to have to be very simple and easy to explain, as they will also need to fit into the tin.

Your cards, if you use any, may even need to be smaller than the standard poker size cards that you’d normally use in order to squeeze into the tin.

You’ll likely come up with a very compact, cheap to produce game.

Game Design Contests

And of course, you can always look for game design contests. I love game design contests and wrote a whole article about why they are so helpful and how they helped me land my first published game.

Here are some of the current game design contests that you should be checking out:

While some game design contests are strictly looking for any type of game, others have very strict requirements. These may include:

  • Solo only
  • A two-player game
  • An 18-card game
  • A 54-card game
  • An abstract game
  • Any other restrictions and conditions you choose

The other great thing a game design contest does is make you work towards a deadline. You can’t put off working on your game, thinking you’ll get to it later. You usually have a very short window in which to come up with an idea, create a prototype, playtest and iterate, develop your rulebook, and have everything ready for submission.

This really lights the fire under you! There’s nothing like a deadline to get you motivated. 😊

Wrapping it up

There are so many ways you can restrict yourself in designing a game. This gets you to solve problems within a constrained environment, not allowing yourself to add just anything you like.

This will ultimately make you a better game designer and will help you to better understand the publisher’s perspective as well. They have to consider a lot of things, including the cost and perceived value to the customer. You may want to have 30 different customized dice in your game, but the publisher will look at this as a huge potential cost.

Being able to make a game that people love and that can also be reproduced at a reasonable cost will help you a lot in the long run.

So, what challenge will you take on?

Please hit the comment button below and let me know your thoughts.


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