Feel the ‘Spiel

Protospiel is a yearly event held in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is a gathering for game designers to play each others’ prototypes, gather feedback, socialize, and meet with publishers. It is an event I very much wish to attend. When I put out feelers asking for a guest writer to cover Protospiel, Darrell Hardy matched me with Chris Oltyan. Chris agreed and here we are! 

In many ways, this is a post about the differences between video game development (a career) and board game development (a passion). As a 7 year veteran of the game industry, much of Chris’ commentary makes sense to me. One of the primary reasons I design board games in the first place is to give me a “release valve,” i.e. a way for me to be creative entirely on my terms. I included a few notes in the post, so forgive me for that.

Guest Column by: Chris Oltyan

Why did I want to go to Protospiel?

I am a 12 year veteran of the video game industry, but recently I decided I needed a change. I love video games, but the time was right for me to leave the industry (at least for now) to spend some time with my kids. This is not a quality of life article, but others in the industry can feel free to read the subtext in that statement. I served as producer and designer on approximately 25 shipped products. In my copious free time, I started a paper prototype for a mechanic for an MMO I wanted to make. After seeing my pretend budget for my pretend game, I decided to press forward and make it as a board game instead of waiting for someone to send me $35 million. By the way, if you are interested in handing me $35 million, please make the check payable to Chris Oltyan and comment below to coordinate the deposit into my account.

Over the past 4 years I’ve spent time here and there polishing my boardgame.  This is a zombie themed boardgame, but I started it way before it was cool to do it on Kickstarter. After leaving my job, which had a pretty restrictive employment agreement, I picked up the discarded pieces and began to actually assemble the game. I used Protospiel as a motivator to finish it.

Editor’s Note: Often times in creative industries, employees are forced to sign agreements that prohibit them from developing things outside of work, OR maintaining ownership of these things. For example, I must get permission for every game I hope to publish, including Poor Abby and Empire Reborn. Some companies are more restrictive than others. 

I was conducting about one playtest each week 1 month leading into Protospiel and have probably tested earlier versions 20-30 times. I tested primarily with video game developers (programmers, artists, and designers), as well as a few folks who have worked in the board game industry. I thought I had a pretty well balanced game and I was hoping to get feedback on whether or not my particular flavor of zombies was a worthwhile addition to the genre.

So what is Protospiel about?

Protospiel was an amazingly informative and helpful venue compared to the video game conferences I’ve attended. Conferences I’d been to previously would involve conversations between designers like:

“What are you working on? Can’t say? Well, neither can I. So, how’s the weather?”

Protospiel was a welcome and open setting where people showed work in a variety of stages and worried more about whether or not their mechanics were achieving their goals rather than who might steal their idea. In fairness to video game designers, this isn’t a choice they make as individuals, but often is a result of corporate policies, non-disclosure agreements, and a general paranoia that seems to permeate game studios. Sure, there may be some discussion around game theories, but show and tell is often not legally possible.

Protospiel had a great crew present of designers, publishers, and testers. Unlike feedback from video gamers (i.e. “Dude, you need to add [awesome feature in person’s head that costs 1 million dollars to implement that 3 people including person you’re talking to will actually care about] to this game!”) Protospiel was more like “Have you considered [elegant mechanic from game I either designed or played] to solve this problem here?” This is a bit of an gross generalization, but it just felt like everyone cared about games a ton and had useful, practical experience in making games that they were happy to share.

Editor’s Note: One of the problems of the video game industry is that costs have skyrocketed. This is one of the reasons so many developers have shifted to lower cost platforms, like the iPhone, web browsers, or Facebook. Many people outside of the development team don’t realize that a “simple” feature could cost months of development and millions of dollars.

I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that a board game designer is often responsible for every aspect of his prototype. He knows all the problems with the design intimately, from the implementation of mechanics to UI and information display. Board game designers are generally not part of a team, they ARE the team, and that concentration of experience really helps to understand what does and doesn’t work in board games.

Was it Worth Going?

My ticket to protospiel was $45 and my hotel was $65 a night (compared to $1600 + $200 a night for GDC). I was able to playtest my game 2-3 times a day with different people and received good feedback on my game’s mechanics every time. All the designers and publishers I tested with were able to point me to examples of work they thought I could reference and helped me pinpoint issues with the game. I will be spending the next year getting ready to show the fruits of that labor, and that’s okay. People at Protospiel understand that boardgames are a labor of love for those who design it and are close enough to the ground where they get to indulge in the privilege of waiting for a game to be “right” before shipping it.

Editor’s Note: One of the primary sources of frustration for developers in the digital industry are having to ship a game before it’s ready in order to meet a deadline. Nothing is worse than spending 4 years on a game and shipping it in a bad state when it needed just 6 more months.

This was such a great opportunity I asked if I could run my own satellite ‘spiel. The organization is not even a company, just a bunch of passionate designers who felt that up and coming creators could really use the benefit of other experienced designers.  David Whitcher, the organizer of the event, said that it took several years before a consistent crew of people were bringing in games that were almost publish ready.  Let me just repeat that: Several Years.

To me, Protospiel helped me remember that making games can be about the game itself, and not the market budget, upcoming conference, or arbitrary ship date.  Protospiel demonstrated in no uncertain terms that if you have an idea for a game and are willing to put in the effort, you can make something amazing and fun. For that alone it’s well worth the price of admission.

Those are my thoughts on the conference.  I’ll also be pulling together my notes on the games that I played and talk about how the feedback process worked for a follow-up post.

Assault on Khyber Station

I was delighted when Jay Treat emailed me with a new guest column. If you recall, he wrote an excellent and thorough post on rule writing. One of the purposes of Hyperbole Games is to let good designers showcase good designs. This post does that, exposes some of Jay’s process, and caps off with some great feedback for every designer. 

Guest Column by: Jay Treat

I’ve been telling people about Assault on Khyber Station for a while, but I have yet to go into much detail about the game. Of the dozens of games I’ve designed over the years, most fall squarely between unpublishable and trash (even if each had some worthy idea buried beneath the garbage somewhere), which is why I’m so enthusiastic about this one. I’d like to share my baby with you today and discuss one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make as a game designer. It’s the decision that made Assault possible.

Welcome to space. Population 4 and dropping…

Assault is a cooperative game in which players are trying to escape a crumbling space station as it’s overrun by voracious aliens. The board is different every game and is generated by 25 tiles whose placement and orientation determine what paths and rooms are accessible. The setup is entirely random! The space station starts in bad shape as it was just been blasted apart by an attacking alien warship.

It’s up to the players, each with a unique and vital ability, to work together to navigate the wreck, prioritize repairs, avoid deadly aliens,  and find the escape teleporter (which has been misplaced). The four roles in the base game are:

  • The Mechanic: He can rotate a tile each turn
  • The Engineer: He can swap adjacent tiles
  • The Marine: He can fight the otherwise-ubiquitously-deadly aliens
  • The Smuggler:  Her space suit allows her to wander outside the safe corridors of the station to investigate otherwise inaccessible tool chests.

The team needs to access as many of these tool chests as possible to determine the location of the escape teleporter. Reshaping the board is critical to that goal. The ravenous aliens flooding your extrastellar home aren’t the only thing making life difficult. Khyber Station has suffered critical damage and is actively falling apart. Every turn, a new system failure is revealed, throwing wrenches in the best of plans. As frustrating as these system failures are, you’ll miss them when they’re gone, because when the deck runs out, all life support fails and everyone left on board is killed instantly. In a four player game, you only use 7 of the game’s ~60 possible system failure cards.

What makes it special?

Part of the inspiration for the different roles in Assault is the party game Cranium. In the same way that the different Cranium categories play to different players’ strengths, Assault intentionally includes roles with abilities that will appeal to different types of players. The Mechanic and Engineer are for the spatial thinkers, the puzzle players, and the generally clever. The Marine is for the action gamer and hack-and-slash combat enthusiast. The Smuggler is for the finesse player, the end-zone touch-down guy, and the rogue with her own agenda.

Even though each player interacts with the game in a very different way, every player can and usually must interact with the other players. Sometimes the Engineer needs the Marine to clear out an alien-infested corridor so she can swap tiles on the other side. A tool chest in the corner of the map is accessible by the Smuggler, but only if the Mechanic rotates it first. The Engineer and the Mechanic commonly need to work in tandem to form bigger rooms everyone can access. There are more points of interaction than I can list, and that unique interdependence really sells this “Team of Misfits” experience.

The tile system is simple, but it provides a lot of interesting gameplay and was the original impetus for Assault. It is the only significant mechanic of the game I ripped apart to fuel Assault’s genesis (more on that soon). The light corridors are always accessible (if you line them up correctly), but the grey areas (with the grated floors) are off limits until you arrange a group of tiles such that they’re entirely closed on all sides, forming a room (at which point an air-lock will get you in). I’ve been playing with game-worthy maze concepts like this for a long time and I’m excited to finally present one that’s both intuitive and interesting.

In order to find the escape teleporter that makes victory possible, players must open tool chests. There’s one tool chest on every tile, but they’re all arranged such that you cannot reach them from the corridors without first completing the room that contains them. When you open a tool chest, the player obtains a random tool that might give her the edge she needs later in the game. But, more importantly, a deduction card is also drawn that lets you mark off some of the tool chests, which reduces the possible locations you have to check for the teleporter. When you’ve opened or marked every tool chest but one, you’ve found the escape teleporter!

Despite being themed as deduction, this is really induction and it was inspired by the very good island game, Tobago. This solution is critical to keeping every game challenging because you can never randomly stumble upon the goal on the first or second turn.

What came before?

I created Assault on Khyber Station as an entirely new attempt to use the core mechanic and principle of an earlier design that I’d scrapped. Delve was a fantasy-themed dungeon crawler in which players moved through corridors of the dungeon and revealed and placed new tiles as they went. When you placed a tile that finally enclosed a room, you also found the door to it and placed it so that you could enter and find the treasure within.

Like any good co-op dungeon crawler, each player had a different character: Elf, Dwarf, Wizard, and Warrior. I wasn’t trying to blow anyone’s mind here. The game used four different colors of dice and each character specialized in one. It also used a neat hit location / gear mechanic that was fun and relatively innovative. Unfortunately, the game was very long and careful scrutiny showed that the handfuls of dice you rolled and their different effects, while fun, weren’t really worth the mental effort they required. While there were some interesting new mechanics, the game played at a high level like most any other dungeon crawler. I made the difficult decision to stop working on it.

From the Ashes

Not all was lost, because apart from the length, most players enjoyed most of the playtests. I set out to find the core elements that were fun and interesting to create a new game. As is too often the case with games new designers make, the dungeon crawler wasn’t one game so much as an epic amalgamation of several. I’m certain I’ll explore a game featuring lots of dice with different effects again, and a game based off the hit location / gear body chart, but those mechanics weren’t as inspiring as the tiles or the idea of a cooperative game with specialized characters.

Without the dice to differentiate the heroes, how could I make each feel unique? The warrior should be better at fighting, the wizard capable of weird stuff, the elf should be mobile somehow, and the dwarf should be better at opening treasure. Or something. Truth be told, this happened more than a year ago and I’m reconstructing the transition from memory. The haze of time has obscured the order of events, but I know I also wanted to re-theme the game to something less ubiquitous than the universal go-to that is Fantasy. I considered several options, but when I considered Fantasy’s closest cousin, Science Fiction, I think that’s when it occurred to me the board could start with all the tiles already placed and instead of needing to find the doors to rooms, it would be up the players (starting with the wizard) to manipulate the tiles and complete rooms.

Because I wanted to make this cooperative puzzle-esque game with as little mechanical overhead as possible (excess mechanisms being Delve’s primary cause of death), I eliminated damage and hit tracking for the simplest combat system possible: Aliens kill players, with the lone exception that Marines kill Aliens. Take that, math! It also became immediately apparent that players would need to both move and rotate tiles. Relocating tiles without limit was clearly absurd, so swapping adjacent tiles was born. With the Mechanic and Engineer in place, I still needed a mobile Elf, sneaky Rogue or trap-breaking Dwarf. What fun is a game set in space if everyone stays inside the whole time? Adding a spacesuit was perfect for the theme and enabled this fourth character, which actually plays a very important role in the game.

A New Hope

The game in its new form came together quickly. There were important changes after the first few tests, of course, but it showed promise immediately and wrapped interesting gameplay with compelling teamwork and a solid theme. The standard barrage of playtesting suggested numerous tweaks and helped us explore and reject some alternatives. Throughout, it was important to me that the game be hard enough that victory is never certain and that players remain legitimately challenged throughout. I figured out the minimum number of turns a given playgroup needed to beat the game just over half the time and made that the target.

Not all of the alternatives we tested were duds, and several of them led to real ideas that were either integrated into the base game or set aside for some sort of expansion or advanced mode. I’ve been conflicted with how to present these. Does it make more sense to try to sell them as an official expansion or should they be included in the original box? If so, should they be presented as standard parts of the game, or roped off with a sign: “Don’t open until you’re bored with the main game?”

There are four new roles that will appeal to more types of players and offer substantially different game experiences (the Crafter, the Builder, the Security Chief and the Warp Technician), but the addition I most want to talk about is motivations.

Group Solitaire vs the Traitor

One of the most common problems with cooperative games is the group solitaire problem in which one player tells the others what to do so much that he might as well be playing solitaire. A game with no private information between players is particularly prone to this defect and Assault is no exception. I recommend never playing with people like that as a general rule, but games that are only fun if played in the spirit of the game (story-telling games spring to mind), while far from worthless, are certainly less than ideal. Gamers gonna game, and your game can’t break when they do.

I needed to add private information. Cooperative games like Pandemic and The Hobbit depend on each player having a card of hands only they can see to combat the solitaire problem, but necessarily lax communication rules undermine that solution. For me, the better answer was clearly to have some kind of a traitor like Shadows over Camelot. Trouble is, Assault is difficult enough when all the players are working together: there’s no way the good guys could succeed with a player actively sabotaging them, at least not without re-engineering the game from the ground up. This wasn’t an option as I wanted this addition to be entirely optional.

Fortunately, the wording of the actual win condition in the core game inspired a reasonable solution. Every player wins if any player escapes (because that person warns Earth and prevents the aliens from conquering the planet and enslaving or eating your family). What if every player didn’t have a family? What if there was a loner who could only win if he personally escaped? The Loner isn’t so evil that he wouldn’t warn Earth, meaning the parents still win if only the loner escapes. What if there was a hero who insisted on getting two or more other players out first? Because it’s vital that the teamwork core to the game experience never be compromised, there are no motivations that win by preventing other players from escaping. The closest is the Opportunist who, like the Loner, needs to escape to win, but unlike the Loner won’t warn Earth and so his escape doesn’t cause anyone else to win by itself.

It’s still possible for everyone to win, of course, if more than one players escapes in time, but you can no longer assume that any one player is trustworthy enough to assure your victory. Because the motivations are private, you need a little something to help you figure out what motivations other players might have (or else it’s just a crap shoot). Therefore, different roles have different maximum movement rates. Normally, everyone can move up to five spaces each turn, but some motivations allow you to move up to six or limit you to four. Carefully watching how your teammates move each turn can exonerate or cast suspicion on them to help you decide who to trust in those final hair-biting turns.

The Future and Beyyyond

The game’s in good shape*. Publishably good shape, if my years of trying and failing to design a publishable game have taught me anything. I had great success showcasing it at an UnpubMini not too long ago and it pitched well enough to at least be considered by Asmodee and AEG (and ultimately rejected for who-knows-what-reason, hopefully business needs). I’m excited to Kickstart a game, but I wouldn’t Kickstart Assault on Khyber Station as my first project because it involves tiles and miniatures — two things my lack of manufacturing experience could botch pretty badly. Ideally, I’d Kickstart a card game (working on that) and then leverage that success to find an established publisher for Assault.

I’ll be at GenCon this year and will try to talk to more publishers then, but I know from last year how hard it is to get an ear. Most publishers have enough on their plates that they’re just not interested in talking to new designers. Blah blah catch-22, you know the drill.

*I do still think about the game. Until a project is locked in by a deadline of some sort, it’s impossible for an invested creator not to keep tweaking and wondering. The biggest question that remains in my head is if there’s any way to streamline the game even further. The core of the game works without tools and that’s probably reason enough to eject them (or save them for the expansion), but they’re so much fun and it’s amazing when they give a player a clever play to turn around a seemingly hopeless game at the last moment. Ah, the questions designers must ask themselves!

Game Design, Pruning, and Reconstruction

The design tool I want you to walk away with today is an understanding of when you would be better served by destroying one of your creations than continuing to tweak it in its current form. This is a hard question and I can’t give you a single hard-and-fast rule that will answer it for you. Even worse, the information you need to make that decision is worthy of an article all to itself. Until then, I’ll tell you what I can.

What is the core of your game? You need a theme, a mechanic, and a play experience. If you answer that question with more than one answer for these three aspects, you’re almost certainly cramming too much in and should consider jettisoning extraneous parts or breaking the game up into two or more simpler games. For example, “Assault on Khyber Station is a SciFi tile game with interdependent team play.” Simple enough and it says everything I really need to about the game. My answer for Delve is something more like, “it’s a Fantasy tile-laying dungeon-crawler with loot that affects clever dice-based combat and team play.” Even massaging it down, it’s still fairly unwieldy.

I played a sim-city-esque board game recently with a very neat zoning/building/value mechanic and a fun and interactive political simulation where players bid for actions. The two were tied together in a couple ways, but both felt like the heart of their own game and the combination just made a complex whole with less focus and longer games. Not a lot of players are going to love that, but making two separate games would preserve both ideas and generate two games instead of one, each with a stronger identity and tighter gameplay.

So you’ve figured out your game has too much going on. How do you decide whether to trim the fat, split your baby into two, or trash the entire thing? If you’re just trimming, how do you decide what to keep and what to toss? This is where understanding your game’s identity becomes crucial. The marketplace has no room for aimless hybrids. Your quiz/flicking game might be unique, but if those elements aren’t married together so intimately that divorcing them would ruin the whole thing, your innovation is a liability, not a feature.

Some of the mechanics in your game are going to be cleverer than others, some more fun, and some more thematic. Those qualities can guide your decision, but ultimately you have to choose what will be best for this game and that depends on the nature of the game. If you’re making a war game, preserve tactical choice over simplicity; if you’re making a party game, prioritize the wildest moments over team play; if you’re making a real-time game, clarity trumps replayability. For Delve, the tiles trumped the dice and teamwork trumped monsters/treasure/etc, leaving Assault focused on things that make it fun and unique, rather than burdened with the trappings of the original genre.

I can’t find a better abstract explanation or concrete example, so I’ll try one last method: Analogy. You know when you’re building a Magic deck around a card that you’d really like to play with? If you don’t, go play now. Magic is required reading for game designers. You find the cards that best support your pet card, shuffle them up, and start tweaking the deck as you learn how it plays. And maybe half the time as you replace card after card to hone your deck into a lean beast of wizardly destruction, you realize that you need to cut your pet card. The very impetus for the deck no longer does enough to warrant its own inclusion. It hurts to pull it out, but the end result is a better deck that would never have found through another path.

How many of History’s greatest success stories end with the hero finding something far greater than what they’d set out for? Columbus, Pasteur, Gygax; All these and countless more have achieved beyond their wildest dreams by accepting that it is the journey, not the destination. Don’t miss your success just because it wasn’t what you were trying for.

The Story of Scallywags

I bumped into Chevee Dodd on Twitter. A few weeks ago, he approached me about writing about his upcoming game, Scallywags, on this site. I was a tinge apprehensive at first, as I didn’t know him that well and I don’t want Hyperbole Games to just be another PR platform. I inquired about his game and all apprehension immediately ran out the door.

Chevee’s game Scallywags was recently picked up by the outstanding publisher Gamewright. This is a huge accomplishment for any designer and it’s one I’d love to share at one point. Chevee asked me what to write and I told him to tell a story. One of my goals for Hyperbole is to showcase great work from other designers — this is great work. Grab a cup of coffee to read Part 1 of Chevee’s story. Part 2 will be posted on Friday.

Guest Post by: Chevee Dodd

Never give up. Rejection Is Part of the Process

In 1997 I found myself adrift in the gaming industry.  Like many gamers at that time, I discovered our hobby through Magic the Gathering.  I loved collectible card games, but I had not yet been introduced to eurogames.  Strictly through chance, I found myself in a position to travel with United States Playing Cards during the summer to demo the X-Files CCG at their convention booths.  Along the way, I discovered the German phenomena that was Settlers of Catan (which was not yet printed in English) as well as some excellent American games that were fighting for this new sector of the market. 

I met James Earnest at Origins that year. He had a single tiny table next to our booth and struggled to sell his games for most of the show.  Saturday, in open gaming, he showed up with a briefcase full of games and started demoing.  By noon on Sunday he had sold out of his product and was taking pre-orders for the next batch.  Jame’s games were quick, simple, and fun.  They didn’t offer a great deal of difficult decisions, but they kept players coming back for more.  I was inspired.  “I can design these games,” I told myself.

I vowed to make a game as I left Origins.  I took a box of my boss’ business cards and told him that I was going to design a game and draw the cards on the backs.  He laughed, but I was dead serious.  It took a week or so for me to find inspiration, but like so many of my ideas, it hit me quickly.  I had also discovered Lunch Money during Origins and I absolutely fell in love with its simplicity and interesting play decisions.  The problem at that time was that I primarily played two player games. I had found a goal: Make a game similar to Lunch Money, but for two players.  In a flurry of inspiration I completed the design in about a half hour.  When I say completed, I mean done.  The game has never changed from that first concept.  I spent an hour or so drawing each card. My friends and I still play it and laugh at the silliness of it today.

I know this anecdote has nothing to do with Scallywags directly, but I tell this story to make a point: this was the beginning of a very long journey for me.  A journey full of disappointments and rejections that eventually led to Scallywags.

I had designed a game and I thought it was good enough for publication.  So did my friends.  We had played it hundreds of times after all!  It had to be good!  The problem with the game was that it was one big inside joke.  The cards and flavor were all based on that summer convention season that only included myself, a close personal friend, and a bunch of guys from a company 400 miles away.  That’s no problem, though.  Right?  Any Knizia fan can tell you that slapping a theme on a game is easy!  And that is exactly what I did.  I slapped a few themes on the game and sent out some letters of introduction to various publishers.

Within a few weeks I received interest from a few publishers.  They asked to see my rules for the game.  Excitement was high!  I could write a pitch that interested people and surely that meant I could make games that they wanted to publish.  After some more waiting, I received requests for prototypes.  This was the big time, I was sure of it.  All I had to do was send off some prototypes and wait for the contracts to roll in.  That never happened.  I merely received some nice, informative rejection letters.  In some cases, I even received my prototypes back in the mail.  That’s a disheartening moment.  It’s like someone mailing back your discarded dream.

Luckily, I was still young.  Rejection just hardened my resolve to try harder.  I didn’t stop designing games and I didn’t stop trying to get published.  I learned a great deal from those first efforts.  I learned to be more selective in my choice of publisher.  I learned to refine my prototypes and make them as functional and presentable as possible.  Most of all, though, I learned to accept rejection.  It is a part of the process.

Everyone in every creative position faces rejection.  Authors, musicians, programmers, inventors, artists, photographers… the list goes on.  This process is no different for game designers.  Learning to let go of the emotional attachment you have with your work is a very hard lesson to learn.

It proved to be a lesson that I would have a difficult time accepting.  I was so jaded by rejections that I stopped trying to find a publisher in the traditional manner. I decided to explore a new territory, Print and Play.

Print and Play

The original inspiration for Scallywags came in 2008 during a family trip to the beach.  During that trip I read Treasure Island for the first time.  I was in a pirate mood and wanted to design something using coins.  Further inspiration came one evening while browsing BoardGameGeek.com.  I found a BGG user named Jeremiah Lee who had designed a neat little game called Zombie In My Pocket and posted it on BGG for everyone to consume.  For free.  I hadn’t encountered Print and Play before that point, but I was instantly awed by his success.  His game received significant traffic and it wasn’t long before other people started making custom sets with fancy graphics.  It was the ticket I had been looking for.  A way to share my games with the world without fighting through the publication process.

The actual design process for Scallywags was not all that dissimilar to my first game design from 10 years prior.  There was a flurry of inspiration, some quick math, and I immediately started working on the first prototype.  The game involves coins that only have their value printed on one side.  While that is not necessarily a unique component, I had an interesting mechanic to go with it.  What if the coins were shaken up and dumped on the table to land either face up or face down?

I thought that would be a neat way to randomize point distribution so that not all information was perfectly available.  I had already decided that players were trying to amass the most gold, now I just needed to figure out a way to distribute the coins to the players.  That’s where cards come in.  Going back to some of the fun take-that mechanics of James Earnest’s Cheapass Games, I wanted to have players taking coins and giving coins from this central pile.  Players would be able to look at face down coins and hand them to opponents, or take the risk and snatch up face down coins for themselves without looking first.  There’d be cards that would let you steal opponent’s coins and cards that let you trade.

A little bit of math helped me work out how many coins there would be of each value as well as how many of each of the eight different cards would appear in the deck.  This is the part of designing that I really love.  I’m not a mathematician or statistician.  I’m not even really all that smart.  However, I love breaking games down and analyzing the related probabilities.  It is exceptionally rewarding when it is my own game.  I only spent about an hour working through the specifics of the coins and cards.  I was already in love with the game and wasted no time starting on the artwork.

Now, I can draw some cartoon characters, but I’m no artist.  The good news is that this was a goofy game and my little characters were a perfect fit.  I was so sure that this game was going to be good I didn’t even playtest it before the art was done.  The first time I presented the game to my regular group, I had a full color printing of the cards and slick wooden coins that I stamped with a custom rubber stamp.  In fact, the components never changed from that fist playtest through submitting to BGG and the publisher.  Sure, some rules changed, but the components worked well together and my math turned out to be pretty solid.

The game was titled Doubloons! at this time.  I had wanted to call it Loot, but I learned that there was already a game titled Loot that just happened to be about pirates and their treasure.  I picked a new name and submitted it to BoardGameGeek.  I remember waiting for it to be approved.  It took days, but felt like weeks.

Meanwhile, I refined the files a bit and tidied things up for printing.  I used business cards for prototyping because they are generally the same size and shuffle easily.  With the advent of printable business cards, I didn’t see any reason to do anything differently.  The card files were formatted to be printed on punchable business cards and I reduced the rules to a single page.

I was ready for BGG fame.  I was certain that I had picked a theme and a specific set of mechanics that would appeal to a broad range of BGGers and soon I would be swamped with fan mail.  That almost happened!

Thank you for reading Part 1 of Chevee Dodd’s story! Come back Friday to read Part 2. 

Make Good Rules

Jay Treat is a really smart designer. If you follow him, interact with him, or attend an UnPub to play his games, you’ll quickly agree. He’s thoughtful, and direct. I wrote a post about rules writing on my old blog. I intended to update it and improve it for this site, but then Jay sent me his submission and I saw that my work was unnecessary. Read, enjoy, and learn!

Guest Column by: Jay Treat

One of the most common mistakes new designers make is underestimating the importance of rules. Obviously, you made the rules that make the game, but did you write them down? I often forego that step for initial playtests because they’re so primordial at that stage you’re more likely to change everything than not. However, once you’ve arrived at the point where you basically know what your game is and are just working out the kinks, you absolutely need to sit down and write the rules. This is important, not just because the finished game will need a rulebook, but to help codify the exact wording you want. Details like determining the starting player and tie breakers may not have a big impact on how your game plays, but they do make a difference and you can’t fudge them once your game is shrink-wrapped. You’ll also need to have playtesters learn the game by reading the rules (to make sure they make sense) and you can’t do that if there are no rules for them to read.

I want to take a moment today to walk you through some tips that will help you produce readable, functional, and flawless rules.

Making Rules :: Programming

Establishing the rules for a game is a lot like programming. A lot. It’s not enough to know how things are going to go in the ideal situation or the most common situations, you need to understand exactly what will happen in every possible situation — no matter how unlikely it may be — and your game can’t break under any of them. Every board game has corner cases, but they become exponentially more common as complexity increases. Games like Cosmic Encounter with pieces that trump the rules of the game are littered with combinations that are ambiguous at best. Ambiguous rules cause arguments and very few gamers enjoy real-life confrontation.

While the first stage of playtesting is about finding the fun of the game and making things generally click, the second and third stages are going to require a lot of bug-hunting. Make play choices that seem suboptimal so that you can check previously unseen combinations and verify that the rules don’t fall apart. If there are two many permutations to try them all, make a spreadsheet and do the math to make sure scenario 13 and scenario 74 don’t result in an unfinishable game.

Also like programming, syntax can be the devil. Missing a semicolon? Your code may not compile. Got an ‘and’ where you wanted an ‘or’? Players who learn the game from the rules might be learning a different — hopefully worse — game. This is another reason you want multiple foreign eyes going over your rules; these kinds of mistakes are usually invisible to their author.

Ad Absurdum

The best way to make sure your game always plays as expected is to test the extremes. If a player can roll all 1’s in your dice game and is guaranteed to come in last place, that doesn’t just indicate that one in a million games will be an auto-loss, it strongly suggests that many games could be skewed to the point of being unfun. If, on the other hand, there is no combination of luck that can guarantee a loss, perhaps given a particular strategy, then you can be confident that no game in the possible spectrum will be ruined for that reason.

You have to check both extremes too, of course. In particular, watch out for a dominant strategy. If there’s any one path a player can take that will always yield the best chance of winning, you can be sure that everyone who figures it out will use it every time and that nobody will be interested in playing again. Similarly, if there’s a strategy that’s guaranteed to lose, no one will ever take it and it’s just adding clutter to your game. Fix it or pitch it.

Every Rule Has an Exception*

You can’t break the law. Unless you’re a cop, politician, or diplomat. Or unless you don’t get caught. Or unless you’ve accepted the legal repercussions. Once you’re in jail, you can’t leave before you’ve served your sentence. Unless you’re well-behaved. Or well-connected. Or escape.

As much as every game must have rules, games almost universally are made interesting by the exceptions to those rules. Small World is a great example. Everyone follows the same rules of playing tokens and attacking regions, but what makes the game worth playing are the races and the abilities that break those rules. Exceptions are so central to the identity of rules that you could argue a rule is defined by its exceptions. Games like Magic: the Gathering are so defined by their exceptions, that the exceptions have their own exceptions.

Not sure where to go with your next game project? Make a rule. Ideally, a stifling, prohibitive rule. How much can you build within the constraints of that rule? (Restrictions breed creativity, but that’s a whole other article. Aaand here it is.) Once you’ve reached the limits within that rule, break it. Not completely, of course; you’d lose everything. Just make one little exception. I can’t guarantee this exercise will produce anything fun, but chances are good it will be interesting and the challenge enlightening.

*Except those that don’t.

Less Isn’t Worse

It’s entirely natural to keep adding cool new things to your game. A is cool, therefore wouldn’t A+B and A+C be even cooler? Whether they are or not, you need to seriously consider whether those additions are needed to make the game fun or if they just add more bulk to the rules and thus length and difficulty to learning the game.

It’s so natural to keep adding more things to your game, that you’re often not even aware of it. You produce your first prototype or your last and say this is the game and nothing extra, but you’ve been playing with parts for so long that they feel inseparable to you, even though they’re not. One of the hardest parts of game design is knowing what to exclude from your game and trimming legitimately fun things away from a working game. But it’s important because the best games are always tight packages, metaphorically, presenting only the bare minimum components and rules needed to enjoy the game and nothing else.

Failing to trim your game into a lean mean fun machine will almost invariably cost you publication because extra parts make the game more expensive, extra rules make the game less accessible, and the combination makes a game no one wants to take a chance on. Can you save these cool bits for an expansion? Tuck them at the bottom of the box with a note that says “don’t open until your fifth game?” Often times, getting the core game published, played, and reviewed gives you the perspective to inform sequels and expansions that will validate some of your excised ideas, mutate others, completely negate the bulk of them, and then add new, better ones. It’s hard to see when you’re cutting your darlings, but in the end, it really is for the best.

Unenforceable Rules

Sometimes a game knowingly includes a rule that’s impossible for other players to verify for correctness, and sometimes these tricky situations just sneak in. “Draw two cards, then put one back on the top of your deck.” If you put the cards you drew into your hand, your opponent can’t be sure that the card you put back was part of that pair or had already been in your hand. If you’re not paying attention, you may not even be able to tell.

I love flicking games, but they often involve keeping track of what hit what and considering the number of pieces that can be involved and the speed at which many flicks happen. It’s often highly debatable (if not a complete mystery) whether my piece hit your piece before or after it hit my other piece, or whether it was my other piece that the first knocked into yours. Rules that depend on knowing these things are flawed.

This is actually the biggest problem with the holy grail of simultaneous real-time play. Woe to the new designer who wants to brilliantly eliminate all downtime from her multiplayer games by making them real-time. It is a path fraught with peril. Every game like this that I’ve played requires so much attention to your own area of interest that you’d be lucky to have a passing idea what your immediate neighbors are doing, much less the players further away. That ultimately means it’s up to you to make sure you play correctly. Even if you assume everyone in your game is 100% honorable and would never intentionally cheat, the chances that everyone understands the rules well enough to play without error while things get fast-paced and hairy are usually nil.

You want to avoid ambiguous situations and those that require the honor code whenever possible. Outside of tournaments, the vast majority of players will never cheat. Not only is it wrong, it defeats the joy of besting your pals in a friendly battle of wits. But there are always exceptions. It’s not just the twisted players who take more joy from cheating without being caught than they do from winning. I know people who will break a game just to demonstrate that the game is breakable, with no intention of profiting from it themselves. And when it comes to tournaments where real pride and sometimes real money is on the line, I wouldn’t be surprised if a third of the room would cheat given the opportunity.

Learning a Game
I don’t have any stats, but from my own experience and from my various playgroups, I’d estimate that on average, a player learns ten games by playing with someone who already knows the rules for every one that they buckle down and read the rules themselves. Even if it’s not 10:1, it’s 4:1 at the very bare minimum. The rules for some games have never been read because they’ve never been written — consider folk games like Charades, Celebrities, Werewolf, Ring around the Rosy, and The Paper Game. Granted, many of these have been published after the fact, but the point stands.

It’s vitally important that your rules are clear enough and readable enough (simple, fun language that isn’t ten pages long) that the first person who reads them understands them well enough to teach them, and it’s equally important that your rules are short and resonant enough to be passed along orally.

A lot of players, particularly the sort I gravitate toward, would prefer to start playing a game as soon as possible and learn the details of the game as we play and make mistakes rather than sit through an entire reading before getting to do anything at all. Consider the possibility of writing the rules to your game in a way that supports this kind of play. It’s not always possible, but it adds a lot of value for the people who enjoy that. Sometimes, it’s as simple as telling the reader the objective, the basic flow of the game (what you’ll be doing and the major mechanics you’ll be using) and how to set up. From there, players can read each step of the game as they get to it. Again, this doesn’t work for every game, but when it does, it’s a beautiful thing.

Intuitive Rules / Game Kinesthetics
A good science fiction story asks its viewer to accept a new reality. It can be anything from, “it’s the future, we can travel faster than light, and there are other humanoid lifeforms with advanced technology” all the way to “everyone’s a different freaky alien, there’s technology that’s basically magic, and a bunch of us have superpowers to boot” and beyond. The viewer accepts that reality, and the power of suspension of disbelief prevents their natural “that’s not real!” instincts from rejecting the experience. It’s very engrossing… until the story breaks its own rules. How many riots would there be if Captain Picard force-lifted Deanna Troi and dropped her down the core shaft? All of them, that’s correct. All the riots.

The point is that whatever absurd reality you create for your game, every single entity must remain as true as possible to that reality. This is what I mean by ‘resonance’ or it will kill the illusion and your players might as well be playing an abstract game with no theme at all. If you’ve got a battle game where everything has a size stat, you can’t give your killer housecat a 3 while your german shepherd has a 2, even if the housecat has laser claws that’ll make it win every time. If you’ve got an Animal House game in which anthropomorphic animals party together, don’t make the spiders more sociable than the pigs. We’ve accepted that cats can have laser claws and that spiders can talk and dance, but we haven’t forgotten that we already know that dogs are bigger than cats and pigs aren’t creepy eight-eyed monsters that eat their own. (Don’t you hate spiders?)

You also need to ensure that playing your game is what it sounds like it will be from the box. Have you ever mistakenly put sugar on your food when you wanted salt? You like sugar, it might not even be a bad combination with your meal, but when you first taste it and it’s not what you were expecting, you’ll spit it out. Sugar is good at being sugar, but it’s terrible at being salt. If your box looks light and silly, don’t give your players a three-hour epic strategy. If your box shows a robotic firefight, don’t make your players trade robot parts in a marketplace. They expect fierce metallic combat.

This extends beyond Box versus High-Level Gameplay all the way down to the individual components. If players find dice in the box, they’re going to want to roll them. If it turns out you’re just using them to count from 1-6, your players will be disappointed. If they open a deck of cards, someone’s going to shuffle it before the person reading the rules can get to “lay the cards out in order” and they’ll be annoyed. If you give them plastic pieces that stack well and never let them stack, expect angry letters. In the ideal situation, your components should be so obvious that players can basically play the game without reading any rules. I’m not saying that’s often achievable, but it is the ideal and you want to get as close to it as you can while preserving the unique fun of your game.

In Summary
Make good rules.

Marriage, Design, Sandwiches

I had the pleasure of bumping into Jason Tagmire on Twitter…like you do. I was immediately drawn to him, mostly because in some photos he resembles rock god Dave Grohl. More importantly, Jason let me take a sneak peek at his game Sandwich City before he submitted it to The Game Crafter for their Resource Competition. The game looks really fun and the water color art style is great.

Fun Fact: Jason won that competition. Another Fun Fact: He didn’t do so alone. Jason worked on the game with his wife, Carolyn. It was really important to me to get a female perspective on Hyperbole Games. By getting Jason to agree to write a column, I got his wife to agree to write a column. That, my friends, is what they call a twofer.

Guest Column by: Jason and Carolyn Tagmire (Championland.net)

Jason: For me, designing and developing a game has often been a very solo process, and with a full time job and family, I don’t see much alone time. I’m constantly trying to find the balance in squeezing as much as I can into every day, bouncing between work and play, and back again. As I started working on my most recent game, Sandwich City, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to create the game overnight, and also realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do it alone. So I consciously took a different route and involved my family in the process… especially my wife, Carolyn.

Carolyn: My role in the game is that I wanted to do something with my husband while supporting his desire in creating a board game. I know it’s hectic in our house and the family takes a toll, so I wanted to do what I could to help. I enjoy drawing and painting, which is something that I rarely find time to do anymore, and I find the art of many of the board games interesting so I wanted to take a chance at it. I was inspired the most by Junta: Viva El Presidente, and enjoy the colors and art style of Carcassonne.

Jason: We discussed the project and decided that it needed decent art. I was creating it for The Game Crafter’s Resource Design contest and I wanted to make the best game possible, in all areas. My own art lacks style and edge and just wouldn’t cut it. Carolyn is very artistic, but she doesn’t have a regular creative outlet. She teaches high school biology and wrangles our kids during most of her free time. We’ve worked on some art projects in our 14 and a half years together (whoa!) and have an unnatural understanding of each other. I’d say we often read each others minds, but you won’t believe me. So I’ll just say that we think alike, a lot of the time.

We think alike in the fact that we can express our ideas to each other very easily, sometimes even non-verbally. We can be brutally honest with each other because we would know immediately if one of us was holding something back. On the other side, we have very different artistic styles and ideas. I am more mechanical and straight-forward, and Carolyn is more natural and whimsical. As I described my ideas for Sandwich City, Carolyn started drawing these top down buildings for the market board, which were perfect. It was the exact opposite perspective of what I had planned and turned out to be much, much better.

Carolyn: After hearing J.’s ideas for the game I immediately imagined the buildings in a circular top down pattern. He gave me some ideas of what the game was about, but I automatically started creating my own little world. I named each building and started creating some of the businesses based around the sandwich pieces in the game. I decided to make the different areas based upon the values of the pieces. These are small details, but they are the kind of details I look for when playing a game. Usually while J. is taking an hour to read the instructions, I’ll look over the game boards and I’m amazed at some of the details that artists put into the game. I wanted to add the same level of detail and my own little quirks of creativity to this game.

Jason: Carolyn brought more than just her art to the table, she brought game-changing art ideas. My very basic template idea showed intersecting roads with a low priced zone, a higher priced zone, and a zone that was not available yet. These represented street vendors, city, and farm. What Carolyn did at this point totally changed the tone of the game for me. It’s a small detail that may be overlooked, but it’s the tiny details that make up the whole thing.

Carolyn decided that each area of the board would have a focus. The main shop in one City area is called “George’s Meats” (named after my vegetarian brother). The street vendor in this same area is a hot dog cart, and the farm area is filled with pigs. She did the same in the other three areas and I was in love.

Having someone right in my own house that can create art that not only complements your game, but also develops your game, is a wonderful thing.

Carolyn: I was happy that I was able to add little elements to the game. I’m hoping to be able to spend more time developing an artistic style and work with my husband as he continues to make more games. As a high school teacher, I find it frustrating that many of today’s youth do not tend to sit down and play games that require some of the thinking and interactions that board games do. I’m hoping that by creating more projects like this I can inspire my students and my own children to be creative and use their intellect at the dining room table instead of the television.

Jason: Being able to collaborate with those that you know best is something that I’m really happy to have the opportunity to do. I’m hoping we can squeeze in some more family fun art days and work on other game projects together. Next up is our 4 year old daughter. She’s already making her own games and making her own rules to my games. We could get a whole production team going soon enough.

For Love of the Tale

Cole Medeiros is the cunning designer responsible for Gubs, published by Gamewright. I’d explain why I used the word cunning, but it’s an inside joke. I’ve only known Cole for less than a year, but he’s become one of my best friends. He’s full of strange ideas and wondrous, is relentlessly in pursuit of creating something fun, and is always looking for ways to stretch himself creatively. Cole is a good designer.

Cole has helped me with so many of my designs and I hope this is but one of many columns he’ll write for Hyperbole Games. Cunning. As a side note, after you finish reading Cole’s guest column, check out this excellent TED talk on creating a great story.

Guest Column by: Cole Medeiros (Gubcards.com)

My passion is story and that is exactly how I came to find myself playing games. I love a good story. Everyone does. Humans communicate primarily through stories and almost all entertainment we enjoy the most revolves around an unfolding series of events. What will happen next? Who will win the game? Wait and see…

My favorite board games are the ones that tell stories. Off the top of my head I think of Star Trek: Fleet Captains, Warhammer Quest, Magic Realmand Twilight Imperium. Every time I’ve played any of these games the random cards and combinations of rules have dredged from the depths of my imagination a tale worth telling. One worth talking about long after it returns to the shelf. ‘Remember that time when…’ is a common phrase among my gamer friends, because we like to make memories out of these plastic bits and colorful cardboard.

For me a great board game is like a magical story generator. It has a bunch of moving parts, wheels, and cogs, like some mystical machine which grinds up your decisions and spits out a narrative. A good story connects people together. I like board games because I like that feeling of connection. I don’t game with someone who I wouldn’t enjoy getting a beer with. I want to push pieces around with friends around the table and laughter in the air.

A few things I’ve learned about story and board games:

1) Not everyone can appreciate a good story in a game. Some people are in it to win it and if they feel some random but epic event unraveled their carefully woven plan, they toss the game aside as a failure. Me, I once battled solo through an entire Warhammer Quest dungeon only to have my best warrior slip off a bridge and fall into a pit of lava. The culprit? Rolling two 1s in a row. I could not stop laughing.

2) Story does not mean flavor text. Actually, too much flavor can get in the way. Sometimes a card with just a picture and a game stat can spark so much more of the imagination. Magic Realm (which is an older game) has the most bland bits I’ve ever seen. For example, a treasure site called ‘The Pool’ is simply a chit with text on one side. But because of the amazing mechanics (and I would argue the lack of embellishment), my imagination goes wild, revealing a treacherous lake filled with a slimy guardian and glittering with unknown treasures.

3) All this being said, good story does not mean bad mechanics. No, a perfect game melds them together flawlessly, with story that fits with the mechanics so well it seems almost like a mnemonic device for remembering the rule’s specifics.

For some time now I’ve been working on a game which functions as a co-op RPG without a game master. I struggled for a while trying to force a ton of unique story elements into each card and each encounter. Then I realized something: it was completely unneeded. All I needed to do was make sure that the basic concepts fit together logically, and players would make their own stories. Random decks can accomplish this if they are assigned and designed correctly.

I draw three cards: Asteroid Field, Pirate, Damaged Engines. Suddenly I have a story! While traveling through an asteroid belt a stray rock struck my engines, damaging them, and making manuevering difficult. Which wouldn’t be a problem except it seems pirates are about to take advantage of the situation. If I survive the battle, it will be a nice epic little episode generated completely at random…

The Holy Grail of Game Design

Ray Mazza is a Creative Director with whom I’ve worked for years at Electronic Arts. Ray has long been a design mentor of mine, primarily because Ray often comes up with the magical experiences you would have never thought of yourself. When I read this column submission from Ray I knew it had to be the first post for Hyperbole Games. It’s bold, a little arrogant, and so absolutely true. Why shouldn’t we create something new? I also love Ray’s examples which are sure to rile some folks. Enjoy!

Ray’s party game, The Perfect Present, was licensed a few years ago by a now defunct publisher. He’ll be self-publishing it as The Greatest Gift in the near future.


Guest column by: Ray Mazza (raymazza.com)

The market is saturated with game mechanics, and it’s only getting more saturated over time. Games aren’t un-inventing themselves.

Because of this, 99+% of games are merely existing mechanics combined in a new way or with a new theme slapped on them. These games can certainly be fun and successful, but will have a far harder time standing out than a game with a completely fresh mechanic.

And this, friends, is why developing a new mechanic is the holy grail of game design.

So if you can come up with a mechanic that is both fun and novel, you should strongly consider developing it. That is one of the surest ways to create a unique game that has a chance of standing out amongst the crowd.

This can be a great way to design a game: find a fresh, fun mechanic (easier said than done) then figure out a game to fit around it.

Here are some games that did exactly that:

  • Apples to Apples – The mechanic: judge which player-chosen noun best describes your adjective. Brilliant. The dynamics change with every set of players because there is creative input.
  • Trivial Pursuit – The mechanic: guess the answers to insignificant questions. The pies and the board could have been designed a hundred different functional ways, and it would barely matter because the central mechanic is so strong.
  • Pictionary – The key mechanic is your partner has to guess what you’re quickly drawing. Another simple concept constructed into a wildly successful game.
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos – the key mechanic is eat marbles. Simple. Nailed it. Kids love it.
  • Magic: The Gathering – the mechanic: construct a deck from spells you find, by chance, in booster packs, then face off with other players. The game has many details, but the overarching mechanic has helped render it one of the most successful games of all time.

These examples may sound dated, but you recognize them because they were (and still are) wildly successful. Yes, Hungry Hungry Hippos is on this list. To find success, you don’t need to design a game with an instruction manual as long and tedious as, say, waiting for your damn friends to finish taking their turns in Settlers. Quite the opposite. The more mechanics you have, the more watered-down your game is (unless your entire game is about exceptions, like CCGs). You want only as many mechanics as you need, and no more — especially if you have a new mechanic! Don’t hide it behind a bunch of noise!

So how do you find your holy grail? Start by understanding what kind of mechanics you are the most drawn to. Which ones get you the most excited, the most emotional… make you want to play for hours or throw that scheming troublemaker next to you into a running jet engine. Maybe you like deck building. Or traitors. Maybe voting, bidding, or trade. Perhaps storytelling. Or lying. Then brainstorm around those and combinations thereof to see if you happen upon something new.

Also, try and figure out why you like those mechanics, and imagine similar concepts in real life that may not have been applied to gaming yet. Yes – if you want a new mechanic, you might be better served searching for inspiration outside of gaming. What mechanics do people use in interesting or desperate situations in real life? Why do conflicts arise and how are they solved or manipulated? There are countless places to look for inspiration. You can look to math. Or nature. Or politics. And so on.

For example, a movie scene just came to mind – it’s an action movie with two heroes held hostage. They can escape, but can’t communicate by speaking or they’ll be heard and give up their plan. Maybe there’s a mechanic in there. Could we design a fun game where…

  1. It’s everyone (the “good” players) against a villain, and the villain has to wear a blindfold for certain quick timed portions of the game.
  2. The good players can only win by exchanging vital information.
  3. But the good players can’t talk because if the villain overhears, it will put him at an advantage. So in the quick times when the villain is blindfolded, the good players must frantically try to convey as much info as possible to each other through gestures and signals.

What’s the new mechanic here? Timed windows of opportunity to communicate vital information while impaired. Is it fun? Maybe. Maybe not. Any possible new mechanic deserves some investigation. Perhaps the players are drawing cards, so they never know what they’re communicating ahead of time. Or perhaps there’s an element of lying that can be involved, “accidentally” being overheard communicating misinformation to mislead the villain. Or maybe players would develop a system while the villain is blindfolded, then use that system to communicate when he’s not. And maybe we mix it up and sometimes the villain is blindfolded, sometimes he can’t hear, sometimes both, sometimes neither – you never know.

The point is: there are plenty of these unfound mechanics waiting to be discovered and toyed with, and hopefully with a little persistence you can make them fun and design them into a game that will stand out as unique. And hey, maybe you’ll even hit the mass market.

Or you can design a game with a bunch of resources. Some wood, perhaps. Or stone – stone’s a popular one these days. And cards that alter the number of resources you get. Like cloth or gold, which you can spend on more cards. And then make the scoring complicated, where you have to add up a bunch of stuff at the end and you never really know who wins until you do a lot of math. Then you know you’ve got a great game, right?

Why don’t you look for your holy grail instead? Because it’s out there… waiting for you to find it, waiting for you to influence the gaming industry forever and inspire countless generations of games to come.