Pay attention to the games you don’t like. Why don’t you like them? What would you change? How would you change it?
I used to be guilty of the situation where I would dismiss a game and not play it because the theme didn’t appeal or I played the game one time and I did not like it. I then started asking myself questions about the game as I was playing. Why does everyone else at the table like this game and I don’t? Who is the owner of this copy and why did they purchase the game?
The reason I ask myself these questions is to understand the game from a point of view that is not gamer Chris. If I look at a game from a publisher or design point of view, I can learn a lot from what gamer Chris thinks is a bad game. When I play a game for the first time and I think it is bad, my goal is to ask all these questions and reach a level of understanding as to why, and then I let the game go.
Keep in mind, I don’t need to be playing the game to ask myself and answer a lot of these questions. This means I don’t have to play what I feel is a bad game 5-10 times or even more than twice to justify never playing the game again. I have found over time, the more I take this approach, the quicker I get at evaluating a game to the point where I feel I can make a well informed conclusion.
I should mention here, this conclusion is not what I would call a “review worthy” conclusion. The conclusions I make are good enough for me and while I would share those conclusions with those who ask, I would never get to the point where I would write reviews about these games. I feel the need to say this because there is a common question for reviewers about how many times they play a game before they review it. For me, what I want/need to get from a game could be fulfilled by one play or one round.
As ajn imaginary game example, I will ignore the player interaction of a game because the main mechanic is terrible. From this imaginary game, I have identified the flaw in the mechanic and I can move on.
For designers, I think the lesson is to ask a lot of questions when you play a game you don’t like. Taking these lessons from bad games will help you avoid design pitfalls, avoid common problems and bad games and help you ask better questions during your playtests because you have already asked yourself meaningful questions that you can ask again when your own games are being tested.
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.