When we are designing our games, our main goal is to find the base game of our design. When I say base game, I am saying that we cut as much from the game as thematically and mechanically as possible while maintaining the desired game experience.
Cut, Cut, Cut!
We have several reasons we take this approach. Finding the base game keeps the game as stream lined as possible. When you find the most stream lined version, you will also find that gamers learn the game faster and explaining the game will be streamlined. One of the design benefits of the ruthless cutting approach is the creative challenge that appears when you limit the amount of mechanics and pieces allowed in the base game. This will ultimately make your game more clever and more elegant. I feel like one of the highest compliments a designer can receive is the “this game is clever and elegant” comment.
Lets talk about the mechanics of how to go about cutting down your game design. At least we can share the way we go about it and maybe our methods will give you some guideposts during your process to find your base game.
We will go into play testing looking for what mechanics and pieces we can take out of the game, that will not take away from the experience. It is crucial to use your play testers and get feedback about what felt like it was too much or what the game could have gone without. Our next test will remove the items our play testers suggested we take out and we will look for one more thing(mechanic or piece) to remove and see if that takes away from the experience. We will ask play testers if they would like to add anything and based on their response, we will tell them what we had taken out of the game and ask them if anything on that list sounded like it would enrich the experience of the game.
If you are feeling brave, and you should, keep cutting until you get to a point where you think you are taking away from the experience. Test the game at this level knowing that the game is not complete. This might sound crazy but our approach is to not test the game all the way through. We will let the game play for two or three rounds and ask players if they would like to play the game with the thing we had removed. We find that this really makes our play testers understand how this last thing works with the game and how all the pieces tie together. This acts as a confirmation that the base game has been found and your play testers will be able to say that they see base game and they can say that with confidence. As a side note, this will also give your testers a nice little window into the world of design. Note: this kind of playtest requires some specific playtesters. For us, we only do this early and with the people who have tested a lot of our games. They know that we do weird things with our early tests and they are accepting of those weird things.
Once you find the base game and test that some more, you can start talking to your play testers about the items that you have previously cut. I would suggest that you tell testers about these cuts after they play the base game because you might be able to spark some interest in more play tests if your testers are willing to come back and play some possible expansions…
If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.