The Board Game Design Course

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Stop comparing yourself to others… do this instead

Artists do it.

Musicians do it.

And game designers do it.

We are constantly comparing ourselves to others in our industry or profession, looking at their accomplishments or output, concluding that we’re just not as good as them.

This is a defeating attitude that won’t do any of us any good.

So, let’s talk about why you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to others and what the healthier thing is to do.

Why it’s harmful to be comparing yourself to others

It’s so easy to look at the accomplishments of those who have come before us and feel that we just don’t measure up.

Maybe you’ve been working on your game for a couple of years and are still not done. Perhaps you haven’t been able to find an interested publisher or you just can’t get over that last hurdle that takes your game from great to truly amazing.

You see others getting their games published. You see other designers with dozens of fantastic games on the shelves, making a living doing what they love.

Maybe you’re thinking you’re just not cut out for this and won’t ever be as good as any of them.

But here’s the thing. They were once exactly where you are now.

They didn’t just create a series of games that were all hits. Their first prototypes weren’t all perfect.

In fact, their early days of designing were all about learning and getting better. For most of them, their first game (or even their first handful of games) was probably terrible. Even the games that did become hits weren’t perfect on their first playthrough. I’m sure that Gloomhaven was a hot mess at first. And so was Wingspan. And so was just about any game that you can think of.

The problem is, we’re only seeing the end product. The game that had been playtested and tweaked dozens or even hundreds of times until it became what it is today.

It’s like watching the 30-second highlight reel after a big game and ignoring all the fumbles, interceptions, and missteps that also happened during the course of the game.

None of these designers was an overnight success. Take Phil Walker-Harding for example. When I talked to him during the Board Game Design Virtual Summit, he admitted that he had been designing games for years and wasn’t making any traction. He was on the verge of quitting when his first game got picked up.

Just think of where we’d be if he had thrown in the towel. We wouldn’t have Barenpark, Imhotep, Gizmos, Silver & Gold, or the huge hit Sushi Go.

It takes time. Every designer who has “made it” had to pay their dues and put in a lot of hard work. They had to make bad games before they made good games. You can’t compare yourself to someone who has been doing this for such a long time when you’re just starting out, relatively speaking. It just isn’t fair to you.

You need time to grow as a game designer.

Compare yourself instead to… yourself

If you’re going to compare yourself to anyone, it should be yourself.

Ok, you’re probably thinking I’ve gone crazy, right? What’s Joe even talking about here?

What I mean is comparing yourself to your former self. How good are you as a game designer compared to how good you were a week ago? A month ago? A year ago?

It’s all about making progress on your own terms.

Are you learning from your playtests and other designers?

Are you applying these learnings to make your games better and to make your current game better than your last one?

You should be growing as a game designer. Taking on new ideas and challenging yourself. Ask yourself, “How can I make this game better?” Then do the work to make it the best it can be.

Move from creating an expansion for an existing game to making a small card game. Then make a bigger game. Make a campaign or legacy game. Whatever interests you and stretches you creatively.

For me, worker placement games have always just been ok, but they’ve never really drawn me in. Maybe I just haven’t played the right one yet, but I feel there is a sameness to many of them. So, the worker placement game I’m now working on had to be different.

Instead of the standard “place one worker and get a thing” most of us are used to, I wanted to introduce more interaction, as well as some inter-dependencies. So, you’ll always gain something but you’re not always guaranteed to get the exact thing you want. It all depends on how you and the other players place their workers. This is how Window Washers operates and players have really been enjoying this twist on worker placement.

Comparing yourself to others
Stop comparing yourself to others… do this instead 2

Could I have created this as my first game? No way! But ever since I first set out to create my first game, I have played hundreds of different games, both published and prototypes. I’ve created dozens of my own games. Many of them will never see the light of day but each and every one of them helped to make me a better game designer.

Wrapping it up

Keep working on your own game(s) and improving your game design chops. That’s the only way to get better as a game designer. Stop comparing yourself to others like the Reiner Knizias of the world and work on making yourself a better game designer. Your future fans will thank you for it. 😊

How have you seen yourself evolve and grow as a game designer? What was your first game like and how have you improved since then?

Please leave a comment and share your story!

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    Great post! As for me, I love worker placement, and your take on it sounds so intriguing, I hope to play it some day! 😀