The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

The ABCs of Game Design

You’d think that quitting your job to design board games full-time would give you plenty of time to create new games and continue to polish the ones you have on the go.

That’s why I was kind of surprised to look back on the last few months and realize my games haven’t progressed as far as I thought that they would.

Competing priorities

Now, to be fair, I have focused most of the last 3 to 4 months developing, putting together, and launching the Board Game Design Course. There’s a lot of work that goes into setting up a course, including, but not limited to, scripting, editing scripts, recording and video editing the lessons, creating transcripts, MP3s, and additional materials, designing and setting up a website, and encouraging aspiring game designers to check out the course.

All these tasks left me with little time to actually work on my games. I was spending nearly my entire day developing the course, and many of these days went well into the night.

However, I did manage to continue attending game designer nights and events multiple times every month. This pushed me to ensure that I had at least one or two games ready to playtest for each event. Then I had to take all the feedback I got and make changes to get ready for playtesting the next version.

During this time, I did manage to create and playtest a classroom game about the rock formation cycle with a grade 4 class that went over quite well. I was even told by one student that it was the best game they had ever played! This definitely made my day.

I was also recently inspired by Jason Tagmire’s interview on the Board Game Design Lab podcast, talking about 18-card games, and created my first 18-card game. Since it’s such a small, quick game to play, it’s very easy to get in a bunch of playtests in a very short time. This is a big upside to designing a small game.

Always be creating (ABC)

While I wasn’t putting in full days designing games, I was still finding time to work on them here and there.

Much like when I was working full-time before leaving my job to design and teach game design full-time, I’d squeeze in a bit of time here and there – on a lunch break, in the evening, or whenever I could find time – to work on a new game idea or continue to make iterations to a game already in development.

Even with a busy schedule, you need to always be creating. I say “need”, because when you’re really bitten by the creative bug, you just have to be working on something. No matter what else is going on in your life, you find a way to make time for what’s important to you.

Always be learning

But part of this is also learning.

No matter how long you’ve been doing something or how much of an expert you feel you are, there’s always something more you can learn.

You can playtest your game 100 times, and then on that 101st playtest, something will happen you never encountered in your game or a player will give you a great suggestion or highlight something that nobody else has.

We must continue to learn and grow. That’s the only way we get better at anything.

When it comes to game design, you need to try new things, play different games outside of what you normally would, and find inspiration all around you.

There’s always something new you can learn. An interesting mechanic. A great playtesting question. A technique to help you create prototypes faster.

When we stop learning and think we have it all figured out, this is when we stop getting better. There’s always room to improve, and we need to be open to learning from all of our experiences.

Next Steps

Now that the Board Game Design Course is underway, and all the initial setup work is done, I’ll be able to devote more time back to game design. I’m looking forward to being able to set aside more multi-hour blocks of time to focus on improving my games and working on new ideas.

I’ve also noticed that I haven’t been nearly as active as I should have been with pitching my games to publishers. Part of this is that I haven’t had as much time recently to devote to working on my games, therefore some aren’t quite at that stage yet, but there are others that are developed about as far as I can take them. These games are the ones I should be talking to publishers about right now. I’m definitely going to rectify this soon as well.

How do you find the time to create? What have you learned recently that surprised you?

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    I like the question, how do I find the time to create? At work, I get 2 half hour breaks. I used to eat lunch at one and chat and relax at the other. For almost a year now I have been taking the first break and finding a quiet corner to use my iPhone and work on game stuff. I am not a writer. I do have ideas an stories to tell. Some days I only do a few lines of story, background, or game rules revisions. Over almost a year it adds up. I checked one day and I have pages and pages of work that has occurred. Just with one or tow lines at work. Sure I dig in on weekends and evenings but it is amazing how much can be accomplished with just little bits here and there. I find at the end of the week I should have moved forward on my projects in some form. Even a little is still forward movement and that is my goal, to keep the projects moving forward.

    Thanks for your newsletter Joe, nice read.

    That’s awesome, Bill! Thank you so much for sharing this.

    Sometimes we don’t have 2-3 hours to put into game design. It’s all about carving out time whenever you are able, so that you can continue moving your game forward.