How to Build a Game #73 Play Your Games in Public

In our last post we talking about playing games in public. While we focused on playing published games in public, I wanted to take the time to talk about playing your own games in public. Even if they are in a prototype phase, I still think you should play your games in a public setting.

All of the same benefits apply to what I reference in post #72 so in the interest of time, I wanted to cover some specific thoughts about the prototype you use.

I think the most important part should be the approach-ability of the prototype. Remember that no one is going to stand next to your table long enough to notice the foibles of the prototype that you would notice. What you want the prototype to do is to be playable for the people at the table, be approachable for the people walking by and easy to talk about in 20-30 seconds (in that order of priority).

While the chance to talk to strangers about your game is important, you are going to spend some real time playing the game so it needs to function as the full game, or the part of the game you are trying to test.

As far as approach-ability, I think the prototype needs to look “not busy” and have something to grab a passer by. That thing can be color, tokens, artwork (if you have any,interesting clip art applies in this case). Think about a person walking by and ask yourself, “what about this would make me stop and ask, what is this?” As far as the “not busy” is concerned, I think that speaks for itself, don’t have a table filled with bits and pieces. Even if that game comes with a lot of bits and pieces, test a smaller portion of the game and leave the pile-o-things in the zip lock bag.

Something else to keep in mind, when people do ask a question, they don’t know you are a designer and they will not assume that they game is yours. I have never asked but I assume they think you got your hands on a pre-production sample or it is a special published game. Every, I repeat, every time I have told people that I am a game designer, they think it is cool, they then think it is impossible to design a game and then I have 10-15 seconds to say something about the game at the table. There are time where I can steal a full minute.

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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 #72 Play Board Games in Public

Once or twice a week I meet with friends for some lunch time gaming. We meet at a restaurant down the street and we play a game. Without fail, we have at least one and usually more than one person stop at our table and ask what we are playing.

You might be wondering why this is part of the H2BaG series? We make games for people to play our games. Many people are totally unaware of what kind of games are available. Demonstrating in a public setting that the people at the next table are having a fun time that fits inside the time to eat lunch is invaluable to the future of our hobby and in turn, potentially grows the hobby.

Not only for the sake of the hobby, but our skills as designers can be improved. When people do stop, and they will, to ask questions about what you are playing; you will need to break down the game into one or two sentences. That is how much time you will have to talk about the game. In my experience, they will give a “that looks like fun” or “enjoy your game” and move on and that is all we can ask for at lunch time. The fact that people will stop and ask a question is exposure for them, a chance to spread the good word of games for us as gamers, and a chance for us as designers to practice talking about a game in a brief amount of time.

I will talk more about playing your own games in public in a later post, but playing published games is a great primer for talking about your own because the games look compelling at first glance and have a full set of rules and a finished story behind them. That will give you the ability and the confidence to talk about a game with strangers. Not to say your game might not be at this point, you might have a beautiful prototype but for the most part, the point still holds.

The benefits to playing games in public and talking about them with the people who ask about them are numerous and, for me,  all I need to play as many games as I can around as many strangers as possible.

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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 #71 Math Series #1 Math is Fun!

Except in board games.

Well…too much math is a problem. I actually really enjoy a good math-y game but as a designer I have to be aware of how much is too much. I don’t know if this is a product of societies’ running joke that math is supposed to be hard or people not wanted to run too many numbers through their head when they are in a state of play. As frustrating as the running joke is, I understand when people don’t want to remember and run more than a few numbers through their head.

So as designers, what are we to do about the math in our games?

My short answer is, I think we should keep our intended audience in mind and if possible, remove as much of the math as possible. I say that because when I work on games, I want to appeal to as wide a market as possible. If you really want to go for the math fans out there, make your game math-y.

Honestly, I think this a massive topic that needs to be addressed over the course of several posts. What I want you to take away from this is that math is a major driver of games. We need to make sure we are using it in the right way and not abusing the quantity of math we want our players to use. If you can find a way to reduce the math to zero, awesome. That does not mean the math doesn’t exist, it means the math has been hidden. Super easy in digital games, a major challenge in board games. We need to be aware of the math we did not intend to create but exists.

We will explore all of this over the course of time and see where we go. What math related design challenges have you come across in your games and how did you fix them? Leave us a comment and we can discuss.

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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 #70 Does Your Game Have a Design or Player Problem?

Please give me a moment to set the table.

Finding a way to get your game design to work properly can be really complicated.  People are really complicated.

When you get feedback about your game, you sometimes need to ask yourself if your game has a design problem or a player problem.

Now….before the angry mobs bring pitchforks and run me over, I am not saying the people are wrong. What I am saying is, they might be the wrong playtesters.

That might sound like I am telling you to keep playtesting until you find enough people to say a broken game is good and you are done. What I am saying is that people come into games with their own biases about the games they like and dislike. This will affect your game and there are times when you need to recognize this and ask yourself if the problem is with the game or the people testing the game?

If you receive feedback saying a part of your game is broken and all the testing you did on your own says it isn’t, don’t throw out the mechanic just because 10 people in a row said it doesn’t work. Sit down with your game and think about your own conclusions. Share the feedback you have from testers with other designers and see what they say. It is possible that the mechanic needs to be changed, but there are times when your game is fine.

The reason the game can be ok and the playtesters are still right is because people bring their own point of view to a game. Playtesters have their own ways of looking at a particular part of a game. They have their own history and their own reasons for what makes them want to sit down to a game and play. One of the jobs a designer has is to know this and take this into account. Your game might be fine, you just need to know why it is ok and continue testing.

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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.

So You Want to be a Playtester? #7 Play Games Like a Designer

In the previous post of this series, we talked about chatting with the designer and some of the benefits of having those conversations. One of the specific things you should ask a designer is how they play games.

I can’t say this applies to all designers, but all the designers I speak to when the topic of how they play games comes up, we all have two modes when playing games. Gamer mode to have fun and designer mode to dissect the game.

Listen to what designers have to say about how they dissect a published game. What parts of a game to they focus on during different plays of the same game? Do they study the reaction of other players during the game and what are they listening for when everyone is talking about the game during clean up? Maybe you want to be a designer yourself….you can ask a designer to tell you what game and what mechanic gave them inspiration to build a game of their own with that feature or theme.

Playing games like a designer will not only make you a better playtester, it will make the published games you play at game night more interesting. Learning how to deconstruct the games you play at game night will help you deconstruct the games you playtest and make playtesting games that much more fun and interesting when the feedback you give comes from this frame of mind.

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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

So You Want to be a Playtester? #6 Chat with the Designer

Having run playtests I can tell you that I like it when I get to hear from my playtests what games they like to play, how long they have been a gamer and in general, talk about things other than the game we are testing.

This is not always possible because playtest events can get very busy and the designer may not have time. But if you find yourself in a situation (maybe even during the playtest) where you can chat with the designer about your gaming background or your likes and dislikes; this will be valuable information to the designer. It will help the designer give weight to your feedback. Even if the games you are testing is not the kind of game you like, maybe there was an element you really liked and the designer can look at that and think about how to give their game a wider appeal.

If you give the designer an idea of what games you like to play, maybe they have a game they are working on they think you would like and they can give you an advanced copy of the rules for you to look at.

Keep in mind, not all conversations with the designer need be in person. Lots of designers are on twitter and probably on Board Game Geek. They should have contact information at the event or you can ask them for it and you cans trick up a conversation online. There are benefits to both you and the designer is you keep in touch with that and designers love to talk about their games all the time.

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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 #69 What Goals Are We Shooting For?

When I have a game where players need to collect a certain amount of goods to fulfill orders and score points, I used to have a problem early on with trying to figure out how much stuff and for how many point each “set” of good should be worth. A solution to this that seems to work well, at lease so far, is to set a wide range of goals in the early testing and let the early tests determine what the balancing point is.

If you have a game with three difference resources and you want players to collect them to turn them in. Start with a card that is as simple as one of each good, 1/1/1. The next three cards could be 2/1/1, 1/2/1, and 1/1/2. All of those are 4 total goods and keep going up from there with different combinations of 5 good, 6 goods and so on. Pick a set amount of time and see where players are at with the kinds of cards they have and what kinds of cards are easy or difficult to collect. None of these cards need to have any point totals either, if this is an early test. Players will have an idea of what is more and less valuable, based on the liquidity of different resources. If you have played the game for an hour, you can look at the cards that are next in the collection line and you can use this information as a top line for the amount of resources that players are able to collect in a set amount of playing time.

The flip side of this method is to try and figure out exactly how many resources players need to collect and what their value is. That can take a lot of time and the pay-off is not worth the effort to try and find the perfect goals out of the gate. I am sure there are some math methods out there that could solve this problem, but when the maths meet a table of gamers, the maths tend to go out the window…..at least in my experience.

Make it easy for yourself and make a lot of targets to shoot for, many of them will be easy and they difficult targets will present themselves. Not that you have a top and bottom range of goals, you can fine tune and play with different amounts and point values.

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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.