For Christmas, I was given a copy of ‘The Kobold guide to Board Game Design’. After being assured by the gifter that it wasn’t given as a comment on my abilities as a designer (not that this even crossed my mind, I need all the help I can get!), I got to consuming the knowledge within with gusto.
Let me tell you, the articles and essays within are just fantastic. I’m only about a third of the way through, but I’ve already found so much I can identify with, along with a huge stockpile of nuggets of wisdom from designers such as Richard Garfield, Steve Jackson and James Ernst. There’s articles here from conception all the way to prototyping and even getting to print. So as I work me way through this book, I’m going to use this blog to give a little thought to what I’ve learned from certain articles, a kind of notebook to solidify the lessons within. Hopefully you’ll find something useful in my ramblings too!
This week I’d like to start with the essay by the legend Richard Garfield, creator of Magic the Gathering and King of Tokyo amongst other titles. Entitled ‘Play More Games’, Richard espouses the idea that all designers should play as many games as they possible can, from as many different genres as possible. But not just board and card games; anything with a game in it, on it or through it should be considered as part of your research.
This all stems from Isaac Newton, who believed in ‘standing on the shoulders of giants; to whit, a person reach so much further if they are willing to accept the advances of those who came before them. In board and card game design, this often involves the clever use of mechanics and themes from other games in novel ways. True innovation is rare, but this isn’t a bad thing. Exploring within a set of parameters, finding the good stuff in the nooks and crannies can be just as rewarding as coming up with something brand new. Take Dominion for examples, the daddy of deck building games. Ascension and DC Deckbuilder are both in the same vein, but have made several improvements on the formula.
Extending this idea, Richard also encourages new designers to really think about the games they are playing. He takes the often maligned Monopoly as an example. Why is it so popular? Is it just a case of a game being in the right place at the right time? It’s here that Richard really opens my eyes. Monopoly has much to teach designers; using people’s love of building, the investment players have in a game where they could be eliminated and the lack of player down time from watching where other players land on their turn.
It all speaks of the need to keep an open mind. Play those games that may not have a theme you enjoy. Have a go at a miniatures game even if you prefer card games. Try to find the good, the learning opportunities every game can give. Maybe that roll and move mechanic is supposed to be there; it’s up to you as a designer to figure out why and to take that lesson to hopefully improve on your own work.
What do you folk think? Is Richard on the mark; should every game be viewed as a learning opportunity? Or should designers be more discerning about their choices of research; stick with what you like and know? As always, we’d love to hear from you!