shawn's blog

Venturing into board games

Posted in Other by Shawn on May 8, 2013

Two weekends ago, I went to the Different Games Conference in New York. It was an excellent conference, and I was luckily enough to have people play Rainbow Bacon. Of course, I was to caught up in doing things to remember to take pictures of anything there.

One of the events I attended was a board game workshop. Now, I’ve played board games in the past, but not enough to gain a better understanding of standard board game mechanics that lifelong board game designers simply know from years of experience. Regardless of my lack of knowledge, the plan was to learn something and potentially make something that I didn’t hate.

The process of the board game, for me, was filled with trial and error. A lot of trial and error. In the time we were given to work on games, I was able to throw away a large number of concepts that just didn’t work, or just seemed good in my mind, but terrible once put into production. And it was awesome.

I’ve been mostly developing digital games for the last couple of years, save a couple of card games, one of which I’m actually still developing at this moment. With digital games, it took much longer to implement an idea, even after the bare minimum was documented for the initial prototype phase. Combined with the fact that game development is not my full time gig, much time is spent simply working on something that may not even become more than the prototype. That’s not to say that it’s a major, or even a minor problem. Of course, it’d be nice if each idea was guaranteed to function properly and interface correctly with the world.

Also, prototypes are pretty fun.

Anyway, the board game designs gave me more confidence after each failure. A sense of, “Hey, I failed, but it only took me 10 minutes to fail. I can fail 10 more times and be okay!”. This is different from my original design process for digital games, and will definitely shape the way I work on all games in the future. This isn’t say that I’m afraid to fail when creating a digital game. I’ve failed before, and I’ll do it again. The difference is that the cost of failing was less when rapidly prototyping a analog game. Before long, I was able to create a pair of concepts that were mostly solid. One of the games still requires play testing, while the other needs for me to work on the new rules.

How will this affect me in the future? First, I’ll probably make more board games overall. There may be some games that just won’t work with a computer screen, or be better expressed as a board game. Instead of trying to force every idea I have into something that requires a controller, a mouse, and/or a keyboard, it might be better to allow a project to thrive in the environment that allows it to thrive best.

Next, and more importantly in terms of my actual development, more of my prototyping phases will begin with a more detail paper and pen design, or other physical objects, such as dice, chips, cards or more. I’ve read about this before, from a number of places. Developing a paper prototype is great for the beginning phases of any sort of game design, if applicable. Working with paper prototypes allow you to better refine a game project before you write lines of code. Having more of an idea with what you want from the starting phase will allow for a potential faster realization of what you’re trying to accomplish. Now, I do not want to undermine the importance of improvisation and randomness when trying to create game. I’ve done a number of things that I like when just experimenting. But having my ideas translate over to the screen faster feels nice.

And then, there’s the fact that I want to make games, and be a well-rounded game designer. Right now, I feel that if you want be become an okay game designer, you should make a lot of games. If you want to be a great designer, you should make a lot of different games. Board games, physical games, simple dice games, digital games, etc. Even expand genres within one subset of games. You may be good at making puzzle games, and want to only make that type of game, but you may learn something new and useful if you tried making an FPS or a platformer. To be better than great, you need to do more than game design. That means read few books, or do things away from the screen. Basically increase the number of pools that you’re able to pull from. But that’s a different area of discussion.

As for now, the plan is to create more paper prototypes before I sit down in front of the computer. This should, hopefully, lead to better digital game designs, and the creation of more board games.

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