Blog: Hello Tabletop World!

My name is Jay and I design games with along with my long time friend Brent. Like many game designers starting out our initial goal is to get our game prototypes manufactured and into the hands of other game enthusiasts. We love tabletop games because they bring people together and can be extremely fun. What’s better than slamming down your winning cards and handing a box of tissues to your friends? Probably a date with Kate Upton, but other than that I can’t think of anything.

I’m going to spend the rest of this post talking about our process for creating games. We’ve been really improving our process over our last couple prototypes. It always starts out with one of us coming up with a theme or concept. It could be a idea for a story that might translate into a game or it could be a combination of game mechanics that we think might be unique. We pitch it to the other person and explore the possibilities and problems with the idea.

If we’re both on board, we’ll start brainstorming on the general theme, game mechanics and goals of the game before making a rough prototype. The first prototype will be made of scraps of paper, playing cards, pieces from other games we have. The whole idea here is to be open to change in order to nail down gameplay. It saves time and money to think first and design later

For those interested in creating their own card based game, you can get a hundred of blank flash cards and a marker from the dollar store or Walmart for a for under $5. You can use the flash cards as your deck. They can shuffle fine and will be so basic you can focus on improving the mechanics of the game. You can use these for smaller cards or tokens by cutting the flash cards up. If a card isn’t working out then write amendments on it, create a new one or trash it.

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Our initial prototypes are test played thoroughly. We experiment with different rules and try to balance an interesting combination of mechanics with smooth game play. Sometimes we will have to sacrifice a mechanic that we love since doesn’t improve the overall game play. We want people to stay in the world we created and not get bored by waiting too long for their turn or questioning if certain rules makes sense for the game.

We know we have something once the gameplay is smooth and we’re having so much fun we forget we’re playing with scraps of paper. After that, we’ll spend a lot of time trying to poke holes in the game. We might find that at a certain point people aren’t making decisions and the game is basically playing itself. We want a balanced game where the players can employ various strategies to victory. Whatever problems we find, we fix them by adding supplementary rules or changing them if necessary. This part of the process takes months and months and months before finalizing the rules. Something overlooked here can be costly down the road.

To highlight this point, here’s a picture of a game prototype we created a few years ago.

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A bit of background on the game. It’s a heist game in a museum. Each room has a gem. Gems equal points. Each turn you have the choice to collect cards to break into the rooms, play your room cards, play your action cards, or move your player instead. Each player starts out at the corners of the board. The players start out separated so you don’t have to go head to head with another play until later in the game.

The initial starting points for the players works perfectly for 2 or 4 players, but not for a 3 player game. It’s not fair for 1 player to be wedged in besides the 2 other players, while the others have more space to collect gems before forced into head to head battles. We put this game on the shelf when we couldn’t overcome this hurdle without significantly altering the board/rules. Moral of the story is to keep working your rough prototype until you’ve put it through the ringer enough times to find all the holes

Back to our current process. Once the rough prototype is solid I’ll start drawing up ideas for the game components and then move it onto the computer to design. I’ll keep working the designs until I’m happy with it and I get highly positive feedback from others. It’s important to keep showing your work to others and get honest feedback. Once the designs are done I order a one off prototype from a company like The Game Crafter.

If you haven’t used The Game Crafter before I’ll let you in on my past experiences with them. Their game boards and cardboard chits are pretty good. The cards are okay. They shuffle well and colours overall are great, but there some are variations on the shades. You can tell which cards were either printed on a different printer or they changed the ink cartridge during the printing batch. Their registration (lining up the front and back images) is okay. I find cards without a border come out much better. The main issue I have with the cards is the lack of protective coating. If they get wet the water spots will stay. I still recommend them for more polished prototypes, but would not use them for the final product meant for the public. I’ll talk in more detail about game design in future posts.

So, quick recap.

  • Think first, design later
  • Use cheap and easy to use materials for initial game prototypes
  • Keep tweaking your rough game prototypes until you’ve ironed out as many problems that you and your play testers found
  • When you know you’re game rules are solid you can invest your energy on aesthetics and design something more polished

Before closing on this post I want to show a quick vid on The Ginger Wars. We will be launching a Kickstarter campaign hopefully in early July. I’ll write a detailed introduction on the game in my next blog entry so everyone has a better idea of what we’re up to.

Thanks for reading my first blog post. These weekly blog entries will cover topics such as game design, kickstarter prep/lessons learned, and updates on our new game The Ginger Wars. I’m going to aim for Sunday/Monday’s to release new blog posts. Lastly, follow us on twitter (@PMDGames) for notifications on blog updates, game reviews and our kickstarter campaign updates.

~Jay

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