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On Game Design

Work on the production of Doubloons! is in full swing. I've had some great conversations with the product development director that is working on my project and we've agreed on some great changes that I believe will only improve the game. I am eternally grateful that the publisher is sharing ideas with me and asking for my input because the one thing I enjoy more than designing games, is talking about designs with other designers!

During the game design process, it can be difficult to talk about my thoughts. Sometimes there is so much going on inside my head that I am just not sure where I plan to go with specific mechanics. Part of my process is just leaving thoughts internal for a while and not committing anything to paper until I have a clear understanding of what I want. This process sometimes makes me feel like I am giving up on ideas that could have been great, but generally, I have learned to trust my instincts when it comes to specifics. After I have a concept worked out, I start committing things to paper and working on specifics. For me, this is the most time-consuming part of the design process. Because I primarily design card games, there is a certain level of mathematics involved to ensure that the deck is well balanced for the desired outcome. I generally hand-write some mock cards and lay it all out in front of me where I can get a feel for things... it is not hard science, but it works for me.

Once a game has reached a playable state, I find it much easier to start talking to others. I have a regular play group that meets weekly and even if we don't play a particular design, I find that I can at least talk to them about a design and get their input. Sometimes this leads to me scrapping an entire project, other times it only makes things stronger. After I know I have something I want to try, we play it. I cannot even begin to tell you how many designs just die right there. There have been so many that I was sure were great, only to find that I missed the mark entirely due to a few specific points I had never thought of. Would I have asked for input earlier, these pitfalls might have been avoided!

Once a game reaches a point where it has succeeded at playtest sessions, I rarely work on them again. I have a number of ideas at any given time that I want to start on, so I mostly just move on to the next thing. Taking another look at the design of Doubloons! has been great. I've learned a great deal about the game in the three years since I designed it. I've had many ideas for changes during that time but never implemented them because I was waiting on word from the publisher. None too surprising, the publisher suggested a few things that I already wanted to change!

I have never designed a perfect game, and likely never will. The one thing I've learned from this is that it is okay to change an existing game's design. Software publishers redesign their products constantly, why don't game designers do it more often? We make expansions and sometimes new editions with some subtle changes. We have F.A.Q.'s and errata, but never really step back and completely adjust something once it's done. Why not?

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- November 11, 2011