So, you have had this idea. You think it’s cool and will make a unique board or card game. What do you do?
I hear these questions every once and awhile from new developers and the answer varies from designer to designer. I can only speak from my experience.
WRITE IT DOWN
You will have ideas come at different times. When you are driving, play-testing, in the shower as you are about to go to sleep. Some of these ideas will work, some may not. But if you don’t remember what it was the next day, it has no chance of making it in your game.
Psychological Warfare took months to develop a starting point. The original ideas look much different than the final product. I had a notebook of disjointed ideas that took up a number of pages. I remember that one of the first things I wrote down was that I wanted to have a Drama Queen card in the game, but for months I had no idea what it would do.
Psychological Warfare was originally designed to be scored on a normal curve. But the scoring just seemed way too one-dimensional. 6 months in, after playing a bunch of games, I hit upon an idea which led to scoring on the four dimensions that are now in the game (fun, freedom, power, and belonging). Once that system was in place, I could go back to my notes and start implementing the ideas that I had written down into this system.
Testing out your ideas is critical. Initially, you will play with people you know on very basic looking components. In the early stages, it isn’t worth making something all pretty and fancy… because you may be changing it all soon. On a drive back from Harrisburg, I had an idea for a murder mystery party game. In my head, I had worked out a number of things and it seemed pretty cool. Once we tried it a couple of times, it wasn’t at all what I had envisioned. We tried to fix it and make it work like I thought it would, but we didn’t have success. Currently, that is sitting in a box. It’s mostly, dead… but you never know when an idea might have new life.
After you have something tested and prettied up a little bit, you can try game nights and conventions to get people to try out your game. This is your baby, but you need to be open to criticism and suggestions. What you are looking for is problems in gameplay, things that don’t fit into the theme, areas of confusion, among other things.
As a game nears the final stages, I am generally playing it at conventions with people I don’t know. I will ask them for feedback. What I am looking for here is how much they enjoyed the game. This can me more difficult than you might think. Most people want to be polite and not hurt your feelings. They may say something like. “I liked it.” or “That was fun.” These are not the responses I am looking for! I either want to hear “It wasn’t my style game [and why it wasn’t]” or “I want to buy this!”. Not everyone is going to like everything, so you have to figure out if it is a game style they don’t like or YOUR game they don’t like.