I Have a Board Game Idea – Now What? Part 43: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Began Designing The Hackers Guild

Welcome Back. I hope you had a great week!

As I reflect over the last almost three years (has it really been that long), I’m awed at all the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, and the things I’ve been able to accomplish/do. While I wouldn’t trade any part of the last three years, there are a number of things I wished I’d known at the start. For this week’s article, I’m going to explore 5 things I wish I’d known back in December of 2015 when I started creating The Hackers Guild.

Order really does matter

This is one of the harder lessons I’ve learned, and was included in my 5 pieces of advice to new game designers. Back in December of 2015, one of the first things I did was look for an artist. I had barely started working out how the game was going to work, but I was going to have art to go with it. Needless to say the time and money spent on finding and working with my artist could have been better spent, as I am now barely at a place in the game design where artwork is going to be necessary.

The biggest take away here is that when things are done out of order, they ultimately end up costing you time and/or money. James Mathe has a great article on the general, high level order that he takes when ever he designs a new game that is well worth a look.

Prototype digitally as much as possible, and when physical prototypes are needed, they are meant to be ugly

Anyone that knows me, or has followed this blog knows how strongly I recommend prototyping digitally as much as possible. Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia are both excellent platforms for this, each with their pros and cons. That said, there will be times when a physical prototype is necessary, which leads me to something else that ties into the importance of doing things in order: physical prototypes are meant to be ugly, and it isn’t necessary to spend a lot of time and money on nice prototypes until much later in the design process.

Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve discovered that can help you with your physical prototyping:

  • cards can be printed on regular paper, then sleeved with an old playing card, magic card, or even just cardstock. This allows for quick and easy changes when they are needed.
  • cardstock is just fine for player mats, player aids, and game boards.
  • full size labels can be your best friend, as they can be cut into any shape and can be used to reuse old components like tokens.
  • old games from flea markets, garage sales, or Value Village can be an amazing source of basic game bits like cubes, discs, meeples, dice, and even game boards.
  • If art is necessary, use free place holder art off of the internet.

Game design is time intensive and takes a lot of work

When I started working on The Hackers Guild back in 2015, I had no idea that I would still be working on it almost 3 years later. Con attendance, outreach, promotion, running and preparing for Kickstarter campaign, and play testing all take a huge amount of time over and above the time and energy spent on designing the game itself. I don’t think much would have changed had I know this up front, but it would have helped me more accurately gauge where I was along the way, and could have helped me streamline the process along the way.

Game design will be an emotional roller coaster

Just like any good roller coaster, your journey through game design is going to have highs and lows, and will take a number of expected, and no so expected, turns along the way. You are going to feel like you’ve failed more than once, and will be exhilarated as you see people play and enjoy your game. I ran into my first failure just a couple weeks into the design of The Hackers Guild when it took about 5 or 10 minutes of playing the first prototype to realize that the first iteration of the game was no good, and have had multiple more along the way over the last 3 years.

Creating a smaller game first in some respects would have been easier

Some newer designers prefer to start with a smaller game first, usually a card game. This strategy has a number of benefits to it including:

  1. a smaller game will likely be mechanically simpler which will make it easier to design and balance
  2. play testers will be more likely to play a shorter game
  3. a smaller game will have a lower manufacturing cost, which means a smaller Kickstarter goal and more likelihood of funding as a first time creator

That’s it for this week. The last three years have been a blast. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people, be a part of the awesome game design community, and have had the opportunity to do things I likely wouldn’t have otherwise done. I’d love to hear about your design journey, or lessons you’ve learned along the way that you wish you’d know when you started. Until next time, happy designing.

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