Archive for September, 2015

Choosing your Words Carefully, and a Thing to Check Them With

Not long ago, XKCD writer Randall Monroe shared a thing to check words against his set of ten hundred most used words. I saw a chance to use it for game making. You can see it here:

How can this help game makers? Use it to make the words you use easier to understand. It is not about using fewer words, but using simple language when planning what you want to say. This makes you put your ideas in the simplest form possible. It is not always the right answer. There are some hard ideas that can be shared far more easily by using a big word. And some ideas in your game will be special words. It would be harder and more confusing to avoid those words in your writing. Don’t be afraid to use special words, when you want to say something special. (And, of course, the names of places, people, and other things will not usually be in the set of words you can use.)

Although, as far as I know, there has been no work done to prove this, it seems clear that using easy to understand words makes your writing easier to read, which means players spend less time reading your words and more time playing the game. And your writing will sound more like a conversation, which can make the player feel like a friend, instead of just a person who bought your game.

This reminds me of another piece I wanted to write, about trying to write everything to fit in the 140 spaces allowed by Twitter, for the same reasons. It forces you to make your ideas as clear and short as possible. The longer someone has to read, the greater the chance they will get confused, and lose the train of thought, so by the time they reach the end, they have to go back and check what the point made at the beginning was, that, oh, yes, it was that more words does not mean better.

Another good thing about using fewer and simpler words is that fewer words or letters helps when you try to save space on a card or a board. This leaves more room for art, or lets you make the pieces or cards smaller. And, if you want to use a picture in place of special words, simple words are easier to make into simple pictures, and simple pictures are easier to read and understand. For many, if not most, players, opening a game and seeing a wall of words is a good way to scare them off. (And small pictures have problems, too, when used too much) But careful choice of words and pictures makes a game more open to new players. Along with these, using simple words makes it easier to put into another language. There are a lot of games that are hard to learn, or cause problems during play because bad wording was chosen in the new language. Using simple words make it easier to go both directions into new languages.

So give this a try, let me know if it helps you. Simple words doesn’t have to mean simple ideas. And if done right, your readers may not notice at all. Did you?


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September News and Updates

I never really took the time to put together a post-GenCon update. The real summary is that GenCon was so big and busy that I barely had time to do anything except demo New Bedford for 3 days straight! Note to self: Don’t agree to to demos first thing in the morning. Friday was a long day that started with a flight, and ended with Designer-Publisher Speed dating. This was a fantastic learning experience for me, and I’m hoping to be able to share some more news about that soon. I had no mental energy for Unpub on Friday evening, but I was able to play a few games Saturday night, including a few of my own with mixed results. All-in-all, I understand now why Origins is the convention to hang out and game with people while GenCon is the convention to work. There were people I didn’t see all weekend. Origins will almost certainly be on my schedule for 2016, but GenCon will more likely be a pass.

Speaking of 2016 conventions, UNPUB 6 tickets went on sale last week. I reserved a table for the full weekend. However, I’ll be splitting the table, at least part of the time, with good friend and fellow designer Dan Cassar (Cavemen: the Quest for Fire, Arboretum). Details and game selection to be determined at a later date.

Last week, I did an interview with the New Bedford Standard-Times, a historic local newspaper in New Bedford, Mass, about the success and design of New Bedford. You can read it on the

Finally, I added a game page for Nantucket. During the New Bedford campaign, a second game, Nantucket was added as an add-on. This was a bit of a surprise, to me because it was initially intended to be just a bonus promo item, but the success of New Bedford made it feasible as a standalone game in the DHMG Rabbit line. I haven’t talked much about Nantucket because I always considered it more of a side project, almost a “fan game”, if it were possible to make a fan game of my own game. The entire game fits on four cards, which would be very easy to hand out as a promo, with the player providing the needed coins.

But this was not a hastily-assembled last-minute money grab. Quite the opposite. I originally talked about Nantucket at the end of 2013, inspired by Adam McIver and Tasty Minstrel Games’ Coin Age. There is over a year and a half of development that has gone into making Nantucket a fun, portable, and independent game. Many of the familiar elements from New Bedford remain: worker placement, modular buildings that add actions, bonus buildings that earn points, and, of course, sending your ships whaling. But while many of New Bedford‘s choices revolve around how to use your limited time, Nantucket‘s choices are about how you make your money work, quite literally.

While Nantucket was originally conceived as a lighthearted take, I had a lot of fun making it into a game full of tense decisions that carries the spirit of New Bedford, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.

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