Sunday, December 21, 2014

Designing My First Game - Part 1

Well, first things first...I have not abandoned this blog.  I'm not sure I ever had a lot of readers, mostly some family and friends, but that's ok...and sometimes life just gets in the way.  Between work, and kids activities and vacations and actually doing fun things like playing games...sitting down and blogging tends to keep getting pushed to the back burner.

But I want to reinvigorate the blog with something I've been meaning to write about for quite some time.  I want to talk about what it's like to be a first time game designer, and what I've gone through and the lessons I've learned as I've attempted this endeavor.  This will likely take me a few parts to get through things...and will also be a continuing topic, as I'm still in the midst of designing my first game!  So, here we go...

So mysterious
The first thing I want to do is give some background as to my relationship with gaming.  I can remember enjoying boardgames even as a young child.  I remember begging my parents to play Candyland (yeah, I know...that was revisited upon me when my own kids went through the Candyland phase...).  I also recall Sorry being a favorite of mine.  (Wow...Sorry was first published in 1929...I had no idea!).  Mastermind was another one that I recall spending plenty of time with - I always wondered what the story was with the man in a suit and the Asian woman standing behind him.  Boggle and Yahtzee were perennial favorites at our annual Memorial Day camping trip.

Oh yeah...I had the red box!
About the time I was maybe 12 years old, my friends and I discovered Dungeons and Dragons.  That dominated our gaming for years, although we did play some more "advanced" board games like Risk, and then Axis & Allies, and my friend Tom even got his hands on a copy of the old Avalon Hill Civilization.  In college, I continued role playing, with D&D we moved to the Ravenloft campaign, and from there into Vampire:The Masquerade.  We even ran a Star Wars campaign or two. 

Wait..what kind game is this?!
After college, my gaming tapered off for a while as I sort of did the "normal" things that single guys in their 20's did.  But a couple of colleagues from work - Grant Greffey and Paul Owen - drew me back into the world of gaming.  I think at my first "game night" at Grant's house, we played China, followed by Puerto RicoPuerto Rico, specifically, just blew my mind.  After that, I would game every so often with these guys, and they would introduce me to more and more games - some miniatures games as well.  At one point, they were discussing a convention that they attended - Prezcon.  My friend Brian and I decided to take the plunge and find out what this gaming convention was all about.  We had an absolute blast - got crushed when we sat down and played Britannia, but the whole event was great, and we've been going back every year since. 

I think it was my 2nd year at Prezcon, and Paul O. surprised us - or at least me - with the fact that he brought a prototype he had designed to pitch to some of the publishers that had booths at Prezcon.  Defying most advice I've heard since, he was successful by just walking up "cold" at the convention and pitching his game.  Trains Planes and Automobiles was picked up by Blue Square Games (a subsidiary of Worthington Games).  After Paul had his game published, he was tending to meet other game designers and publishers at conventions - often at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, PA.  As a consequence of hanging out with Paul at the Cons, I also met many of these people, and started to get a peek into the inner workings of boardgame design.  And that, I think, is what caused me to get the bug to design my own game.  I was caught up in the creativity and exchange of ideas that I was witnessing amongst these various designers.

So, finally, that brings me to the point where I had decided I wanted to try my hand at this whole game design business.  Where to begin?  Well, I decided that the best thing to do would probably be to emulate Paul a little bit - make a game that was family friendly, and not overly complex.  The fact that I have 2 younger kids also played into this.  I can't pinpoint exactly when or what triggered my idea for the theme...but at some point I hit upon the idea of "Santa's Workshop", where players would control teams of elves building gifts for gifts.  In the debate of starting with theme vs. mechanics, I'm pretty sure I fall squarely on the side of theme first.  Now, once I had the theme, I knew it was going to be a worker placement game of some sort.  That's probably my favorite game mechanic, and it just seemed to fit with the idea of controlling a bunch of elves in their flurry of activity around Santa's workshop.

So...I had a basic idea for theme, and roughly an idea of the main mechanic - worker (elf) placement to collect materials and build gifts.  This was probably early 2013 or so.  I spent a lot of time just "percolating" on the idea in the back of my head.  At one point I started a Word document where I just entered a bunch of ideas for the game.  I think I even described the game to a few folks, including Paul to see what they thought of the idea.  But...and I think this is probably the biggest initial hurdle for a new game design - especially if it's your first design - I hadn't actually made a prototype. 

The first prototype...I didn't even use card stock! *gasp*
What actually kicked me in the pants to finally make a prototype is that I wanted to attend Unpub 4, and I needed to have an actual game to do that!  As it turns, out, looking back over old blog posts, I already did a rather thorough post on the motivation for making a game, making that first prototype, and the initial playtest I had.  I'll refer you there for some more detailed info.  What I really want to get across here, though, is sitting down and making that very first prototype is a huge hurdle to clear.  It's one thing to have it all sketched out in your head, or even on scrap paper, but sitting down and trying to make something that actually resembles a board game is, I think, that moment when you're committing yourself.  Then you really have to figure out how you're going to lay things out, what you're going to use for components (if you're like me, you have plenty of games to "borrow" from, initially), and things like what computer program(s) you're going to use.  It's all a bit daunting, but once you've done it, I really think that gets the ball rolling on the meat of the design process. old nemesis friend...
In my case, I just went with what I knew.  I used Microsoft PowerPoint for almost all the "paper" components - the board and the cards.  PowerPoint works well for cards, I think...I can fit 8 standard sized cards per PowerPoint slide.  Here's a tip for cards, by the way, which I didn't really figure out until...oh...about 8 months after the fact.  I have a bunch of "slides" with the faces of all the different cards.  There's one slide with the back of the cards.  I'll print the faces, take the paper, put it back in the printer upside down, and then print the back side, however many times I need.  That's all well and good...what I had been doing is delineating the cards on each slide with black "horizontal", and 5 "vertical"...those would the lines where you cut after the sheets were printed out.  I had the "cut lines" on both on the face sheets, and the back.  Since, inevitably the two sides won't line up perfectly...there was always a little bit of a black line one side or the other.  It *finally* occurred to me that I don't need the cut lines on both sides!  <HeadDesk>  In any case...PowerPoint works less well for the board, as you have to try and line things up across slides.  It's a bit of a pain.  I know a lot of folks use Photoshop or the like...I haven't really settled on anything different.  Since I started Santa's Workshop in PowerPoint, that's what I'm still using.

Alright, I think that's enough for this post.  I didn't really get into any of the specifics for Santa's Workshop yet, I'll start hitting on that in the next installment.  I want to cover what my original vision was for the game, how those initial playtests went, and the various changes I've made (and un-made) in the last year since I first got it to the table.  Please stay tuned...

1 comment:

  1. Your copy of (mini?) Mastermind has the same cover as mine (not mini?), four (plus?) decades ago, wherever it might be now. Recognized it instantly.