Jason Kingsley (of Ophir fame), shares with us, 4 things he wishes someone told him about game design when he was starting out.

In this edition of Meeple Speak, our guest speaker is Jason Kingsley, designer of Ophir.  Jason was nice enough to share with us some things he wished he knew when he was first starting out in game design.


4 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Game Design 3 Years Ago

by  Jason D. Kingsley

Paper, first.

Board games are a tactile experience—this is one of the beautiful and unique facets of tabletop games. What does this tell us as designers? It is an invitation to create with our hands. To sharpen a pencil, grab some index cards and blank paper, have some crafting supplies and game components within reach, and go for it. Each line you draw and word you write connects your head and heart to what you touch.

Don’t skip this part of the creative process. Digitizing your concept early will not save you time or make things “easier.” The goal at this stage is not efficiency through automation or appealing graphics. The goal is to maximize hands-on time with your concept, which means minimizing the distance between yourself and the design. Even in the repetitive tasks of making a paper prototype, you may find inspiration as you work or—just as importantly—discover problem areas early. Paper, first.

Turn off the internet.

A computer is a fantastic tool, but it won’t design a board game for you. Neither will a game design forum, your phone, your favorite television show, Boardgamegeek, or social media. And no matter how many people suggest playing a lot of games (and you should, because you love games), don’t be confused—playing games well and making great games are not synonymous skill sets. The best way to learn game design is by designing. You can’t do that well by living distracted. Silence some of the noise and learn to listen. Get some paper. Turn off the internet. Then go try to make something you think will be awesome.

If a concept doesn’t work right away, that’s alright—every snag you hit is an opportunity to learn and grow. Keep trying (sometimes this means taking a break or starting over). Be patient and learn how to lay a strong foundation.

Lay a foundation.

A lot of game design advice assumes that you already know how to get past the idea stage. But where do you start? What if you’re stuck? In order to transform an idea into a game, you need to lay a foundation.

The foundation is the core of what you want to offer players. This is constructed through 1) vision, 2) framework, and 3) content. Vision defines and guides your concept; it is your main goals and the type of experience you want players to have. Vision determines the way you will approach and adapt to your evolving design. The framework is born out of your vision and gives meaning to the content you create. It is the main set of mechanics through which players interact with the game and each other. Content is the meat of the concept; it is the language that allows players to engage with the framework you’ve designed. Content is communicated through numbers, color, text, symbols, and components.

If you’re struggling to make progress on a concept, stop and examine your foundation. Consider a few common scenarios: Content and vision without a proper framework is still an idea that has yet to sprout into a playable prototype. On the other hand, if you create content and a framework without vision, you may have trouble knowing which paths to take or, conversely, take any path that sounds exciting. It may be fun to play Calvinball, but, in the end, you risk producing a lot of material without any substance. If you have vision and a framework but have trouble creating content, start small and be patient as you find a process that works for you. Consider finding a partner or getting advice from a more experienced designer.

A strong foundation requires nothing less than time, creativity, and hard work. The result? Something you can share with others. That’s the moment when you discover what making games is all about.

Games are about people.

I used to think the gaming hobby was about games. Almost sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It took me a while to realize my focus was wrong. Games are about people. Games are about meeting up with the same group of people every week for the past ten years. Games are about finding an excuse to get together with an old friend. Games are about becoming friends with a group of complete strangers. Games are about creating something completely new and fun and sharing it with others.

Are you designing a game? Invite people into the process. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and will never, ever let you get by with subpar work. Genuinely care about other people and the things that they love and are creating. Our hobby is chock-full of amazing, generous people—make them the point of game design.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a tool called the 54 Card Guild Outline, written by Grant Rodiek of Hyperbole Games (see Grant’s original post here). This outline has helped me to lay a foundation for my current prototypes, and I encourage you to continually explore and discover what works for you. Your process and approach to games is unique—no matter where you are in your game design journey, keep creating.