Design, Part One (or This is a Bad Idea)

Like so many other people who self-assign the title of "board gamer", you've had an idea for a game flitting around for a number of years. And also like them, you've deluded yourself into thinking that not only is this wisp of an idea interesting, it's worth attempting to flesh out into a full prototype--one that can be carted around to various game conventions and publisher meetups. Then you can join the long, long line of would-be Game Designers eager to show off their hot take on whatever the board game design category du jour might be that year. But no, really! Your cooperative/worker placement/app-required/deckbuilding/victory point salad game is unique and awesome and your parents and friends and pets all agree! 

And then, if you're so smart as to curate beforehand your list of desired publishers who might--might--see a fit between your design and their publishing philosophy, existing catalog and target market, you'll get perhaps one follow-up after drowning in a sea of fumbling, failed five-minute pitches. You ship off a full prototype to that intelligent, perceptive publisher (obviously), and nine months later you receive a brusque email letting you know that your game isn't quite the right fit for their catalog. 

Rinse and repeat for a few years.

And one day, your well-worn game meets a well-worn (or desperate) publisher, and you have a contract in your grubby hands. Sure, there's no advance, the royalty rate surely transposed two digits and you forgot to include a rights reversion clause, but you are now a professional Game Designer. With a day job, friends who no longer want to look at your game and five grand owed to the local Kinko's, but still.

Three years later your game, which by now little resembles (theme, gameplay, enjoyment) the version you had when you signed that cursed contract, survives a half-assed Kickstarter campaign and meets its funding goal with mere hours to spare. Eighteen months after your original shipping estimate, backers (who have by now completely forgotten that your game even exists) receive a box with a poorly edited rulebook, slapdash graphic design and missing components. But some random gamer with no understanding of sunk costs gathers her friends and sits down to consume the only meaningful thing you've done in the past five years.

And they promptly discover a fatal flaw in the game that somehow made its way past the hordes of gamers (six people) who playtested the final design. Your game has now been given the dreaded label "broken" and nobody will ever play it again. Time to start working on your next design; with any luck people won't remember your name.

And I am about to embark on this journey. To be fair, the above isn't representative of most designers' experience. I'm friends with published game designers, and do rulebook work for a number of publishers who are passionate about making games that are thoroughly tested, well-produced, thematic and fun (Plaid Hat, I'm looking at you). But this is my first proper stab at game design, and as a way of self-immolation I'll be publishing all of my design work here--the process, the frustration, the breakthroughs, and the (perhaps eventually) submissions. If nothing else, it'll be something to laugh about/cry over in two years. Next up: design goals.