Design Philosophy

Three plus years into designing games, I’m starting to really find my own identity as a designer, and I’m ready to set out my design philosophy. I was initially inspired by a few posts last year by Grant Rodiek and Gil Hova, but I never quite completed writing my manifesto. I think I’m ready to try.

While Grant and Gil both approached it from the standpoint of someone starting out as a publisher, it’s just as important to do as a designer, because that’s how you decide what ideas are worth your time, what publishers you want to work with, and what you want to accomplish in a game. These won’t all be the same for everyone.

I design for myself first. I design games because I’m excited by making ideas work. I make games because I want to share my ideas with others. I play games because I want to enjoy the mechanisms and enjoy the other players. “Fun” games are games that let me do those things. A lot of things go in to making that happen. I’m going to try to do this without calling out bad experiences. But certainly those experiences have helped me identify what I like and dislike.

Players should always be engaged. Wait times between turns should be short, or players should be able to participate somehow. Other players shouldn’t just be waiting. And just because I’m doing something doesn’t mean I’m engaged. 

Players should play together. Games are inherently social, and it should matter that there are other people at the table with me, in more than just a token sense of determining a winner. 

Players should have opportunities to succeed, not be avoiding failure. This is a very subjective element, largely defined by the tone of the game, but it also relates to the story the game is trying to tell. I want to be uplifted by a game’s outcome. I want to leave the game happy with what I did, not disappointed in where I fell short.

Players should make progress through the game. Especially in a longer game, it should feel better to play the farther I get into the game. I shouldn’t feel like I spent a portion of the game spinning my wheels to get nowhere.

Players should be able to find the fun quickly. This means that I should be able to understand the game by the end of my first play. I could never get into chess because I realized that I needed to play hundreds of games to be any good at it. This also means that I should be able to set up, play, and make interesting decisions without waiting for half the game.

[It should also go without saying that players should be able to return to the game and have fun again and again. This isn’t part of my philosophy, this is just good design.]

So what do these things tell me about my philosophy? Well, player interaction should be (by and large) positive. I think it makes the game more social and enjoyable when everyone is involved in friendly competition. And a great game should be as fun when you lose as when you win. You should have fun making all of the choices in the game, not just waiting for an outcome. A great game is also a marriage of theme and mechanics. If each supports the other it enhances the gameplay, makes it easier to learn, and more engaging.

Looking back on my games, the distinctive element of my designs is actions that help you and also help other players. New Bedford has buildings, One Card Wonder has produce actions that make more resources available. Time Management has the shared office that can help others when you manipulate it. In all of these games, turns are quick, and you need to be involved in what other players are doing to make the best decisions. There is some competition, but the overall feel is positive, building up to the final goal, even when someone sets you back a step.

My goal is to make great games. And by really focusing on these elements, my hope is to do so, and to continue to share them.

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