How to Build a Game #59 Expand Your Skill Horizons

Part of making your games successful is expanding your skills outside of design in order to make your games successful. The skills I am talking about are include marketing, communication, public speaking, sales, market research and the list goes on.

You can design the greatest game in the world, but if you are not able to teach your game to play testers or pitch your game to publishers your game will not reach it’s full potential. If you are not marketing and advertising your game, it will miss a lot of eyeballs that could potentially be interested in your game. If you intent to make a game to be sold on the market and you are not aware of the kinds of games/mechanics/themes the market likes (or more importantly, dislikes), you will have a hard time making a successful selling game.

Avoiding the pitfalls of making and getting games into the hands of the people who like your games requires more than just the ability to design a game. Designing is the easy part,building the skills that supplement your games ability to build a fan base is the difficult part and is something you need to consider if you want to have a game that is successful.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

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.

How to Build a Game #58 Break Your Own Games

This might be a bit obvious, but I believe it is worth stating “out loud.” Learn how to break your own games. Play testing is not only difficult to set up but it takes a long time. Save yourself a ton of time and learn how to break your game as many ways as your can before you put your game in front of play testers. Luckily for us, we have two of us designing our games and for some reason, we both have a talent for breaking our games even during the prototype building process. We both like to play extreme strategies when we first test our games and playing extreme strategies early in the process provides is with a really good guide for the range in which the game can perform the way we intended it to.

If you are in a situation where you have a game breaking strategy and you have a few different ways to fix it, you can leave it up to play testers as to what option they would prefer to fix it. If a tester is using a strategy that you know will break the game, all you have to do is wait until the breaking point arrives and present the different options to fix the issues. Use your testers for instant feedback as to what they think makes the most sense. Even if gamers don’t design games as a hobby, I think all gamers are designers waiting to happen, so use them by presenting the options you have thought up and let them discuss. This is a prime time to get broad feedback on the different options you have in mind and go from there.

At what point in the process do you start trying to break your games?

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

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.

Board Games Used For Education #3 Teach the Tools of the Trade

What makes games easier to learn is a familiarity with the mechanics played in one game that show up in another. Expanding on this idea, what makes games easier to design is a familiarity with the types of tools designers can use. I like the idea of teaching young students the basics of mechanics. For example, a dedicated class to card drafting could be built around the current subjects being covered in another class. I don’t think the class would have to be long, just 15 or 20 minutes where students can get together and experience mechanics at works. Simple seeing cards move around a group and learning the importance of one card over another.

Students can experience the motivations for drafting one card over another. Students would not have to fully understand what is going on, but the facts that they are exposed to the mechanic is setting the groundwork to help students design games in the future. Another huge benefit of this is the social interaction these mini classes provides. I would hope that the walls of unfamiliarity might be lowered just a little bit if students were able to interact in these situations and the shortness of these classes would allow for a good rotation of different students in different groups.

I can see a potential problem being the lack of understanding of what is going on. Depending on what age the students are, I think this problem can be avoided. A potential fix for this would be to have mini games designed, potentially by other students. Give a little bit of theme and context to the mechanic you want students to learn and the message might sink in a little better.

If you have any ideas on how games can make great educational tools, please share them in the comments section or email us at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

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How to Build a Game #57 Watch Other Players Play Published Games

One of the biggest challenges with play testing is getting enough people together to have a play test. Knowing this, designers should look to ways to make regular gaming session as useful as possible. This doesn’t mean you being your game and hope to play. What I am after is the idea to watch other players play published games and use their reactions as a benchmark for the times you are testing your game. Listen to the way players react to parts of the game, listen to what they really like about the game and what they don’t like about the game. Especially when the games being played have similar mechanics to the game you are designing. Use this time to observe what really works for that set of mechanics. What is about those mechanics that you can improve? What about those mechanics of what players really enjoy the most? The useful information is there, you just have to see it, hear it, and use it to your advantage.

Are there any games that you have played recently that is similar to a game you are working on? Do you think you could use this technique to help “test” your our games?

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

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.

What Games Mean to Me #17 My Brain Craves Games

Games turn my brain on.

I don’t know if my brain is wired for games but when I play games I feel like my brain is working at peak efficiency. That is not to say I play them any better or I turn this peak efficiency into winning, but I do feel like my brain is firing on all cylinders. I learn games relatively quickly and I really like the learning process and trying to figure out the best strategies.

Games are a great opportunity for me to fail over and over and try things out every time I play a game. I think what games ultimately offer to my brain is a method to systematically organize and think about the options that are in front of me.

I will close with an example. When I was in High School, the game of choice among my friends was Spades. I love Spades, I am good at it, it is simple and it is a lot of fun. I was recently introduced to Wizard and my Spades brain was in heaven. Even though it was the first time playing the game, I jumped into organizing my cards and thinking about what I needed to bid. It took me 5 rounds to figure out how the wizard and the joker really effect the bidding system, but after that I was on a roll. I was able to go from last to second (six player game) over the course of the last half of the game.

My brain felt happy, if that makes sense.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

How to Build a Game #56 Check in During a Playtest

When designers play test their games, it is standard procedure to ask your testers what they thought of the game when the game is over. One testing technique we have started usign is to ask players how they feel at certain points during the game. When we started this method we wanted to be smart about the way to go about asking players about the game during the game.

Designers should consider where in the flow of the game would make for good break points to ask questions. This is important because you don’t want to remove your players from the game and cause them to lose the potential strategy they are trying to put together. Designers also need to take into account the timeline of their game and know when a game that is part building economy in order to build a city or an army. This is a great time to ask if everyone at the table knows what is going on. If you know that everyone at the table knows what is going on for the first half of the game, and you get feedback later saying that a player was not sure what was going on, you know that the clarification needs to be made during the second half of the game. This assumes of course that the feedback does not give specifics about what was unclear, but I have seen all kinds of feedback that is both specific and not specific.

Something else for a designer to think about is the way players are feeling as the game progresses. Ask your players during the game if they feel like they are out of the game in disinterested, excited because they are in control, mentally checked out because they feel like they can’t win the game. Using this approach you can map where players are mentally as the progress through the game. Maybe the player that feels like they can win early in the game will turn around and start to understand the deeper strategy. By the end of the game, they might change their tune. This is an opportunity to ask better questions when the game is over and everyone is debriefing about the game.

Ultimately, that is the major benefit of using this approach. The more information you have about in game feelings and understandings, will allow you to ask better and richer questions when it comes to a post game debrief. Keep in mind that this is a very game specific approach. There are some games that have natural spots to ask questions and some game where breaking the flow is really dangerous. With that in mind, what are some questions you would want to ask your play testers during the game(s) you are working on now?

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

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.

How to Build a Game #55 Take a Step Back

As we work our way through our designs, it is really easy to get lost in weeds of the game. There are times during your project that you should consider taking a step back and looking at your game as a whole. If you are able, look at your game as a gamer would look at it. How do all the pieces fit together? Does the game feel like a complete unit? Is there anything in the game that would be a deal breaker?

As a designer, it is easy to see the subtle nature of your game and that is the thing that makes us love our games so much. Designers have an advantage with their games because they know the depth and subtle strategies that are included in their game. What designers need to do is take a step back and make sure that, what they see in their game, is accessible to the people who are going to play their game. This doesn’t mean that designers have to make depth obvious, but designers need to look at their game as a whole and be sure that players can get at least a taste of the subtle strategies you are designing into the game.

When I take a step back, I am looking for barriers that would prevent players from finding the “hidden” depth. If all the mechanics and piece movements flow together, I know that players will feel like they are always in the game and the parts are all relevant. Knowing this, I can conclude that the game is basically a complete unit (it may not be polished but complete) and I can feel good that my players will be engaged for the entirety of game play. As long as my players are engaged the entire time, they will have an avenue to discover the depth in our games. Another thing I look for are deal breakers. These could be anything, but fiddly things (usually my design problem), excessive math, poor thematic justification are all things that I look for. These are the things that can turn players off to a game and while I am able to do the math in my head, or I am willing to move around a ton of bits and bobs, players may not be willing to do the same. I have to be aware of that and I need to be able to see those sorts of things when I step back and look at our games.

Are there certain things you tend to design into your games that you know are not exactly gamer friendly? For us, we always have to simplify the math and we always have to worry about keeping the fiddly to a minimum.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We are thinking about starting a regular Google hangout with other designers. We can try to design a game together, we can talk about designers we are working on, you can ask us questions. We can make it whatever we want. What we really want to do is get to know the people that are willing to read all the way to the bottom of our posts. Please contact Chris on Twitter or send him an email and if we are able to get a minimal amount of interest, we can work on putting something together.