Board game design, Personal, This blog

My goal is to enjoy the sunset. From a mountain. While designing board games.
I’ve given a number of prototypes for Los Buenos to people with the request to test it without me being there to explain (or influence). While this is happening I don’t want to do any further work on the game as I don’t want to have superseded the feedback I’m going to get. Which leaves me with time and energy to work on a new project.

There is one idea that has been buzzing around in the back of my head for a long time and it was the first thing I felt like picking up. I however also realize that it’s going to be a monster of a game to design, requiring a ton of content and a bunch of new mechanics that I only have some vague ideas about. And my fears are that if I pick this up I’ll sink my teeth into it and not let go until I have something, which may well take many years.

An alternative is to start working on something smaller and simpler. I don’t have any particular ideas for this yet, but coming up with ideas is not that hard.

Still, it’s a conundrum. And so I asked online for ideas and suggestions.

Suggestions were split about halfway for the two options. But I got one really good question:

”What are your goals as a designer?”

Interestingly enough, I had never really thought about that! But now I am thinking. And perhaps this is something useful for other people as well?

How I got into designing

I used to work in financial services as a freelancer. The pay was good, it was intellectually stimulating and it lacked any form of creativity whatsoever. I was able to convince myself that things were ok for a long time. But then it started to seep in that I wasn’t that happy with the line of work.

Having saved up a decent amount (and having a loving girlfriend who was willing to pay a bit more of the rent – Thanks love!) I decided to take a few months of sabbatical. I didn’t want to go travel and not see my girlfriend, so I had to come up with something else to fill my time.

I loved playing board games and was very interested to do something with that. I started a small company with some friends to do something on the overlap between board games and digital technology. As a sortof “aside” to the company we thought it would be good to actually create a board game to get a feel for the industry.

The company fairly quickly collapsed as there was no real clear goal and everybody else was doing things on the side. But “creating the game” had firmly taken hold and I loved continuing with it.

It was also at this time that I started to write this blog. I had once read somewhere that the best way to learn is by teaching. Through my writing here I can say I now fully agree!

A few months passed and the game got better, but it was still far from great. And my savings were running out. So, back to what I knew would make money: Financial services. Different company, different type of work. But still the same problem of not being creative…

So when after a year I got a message that a company was looking for someone to help them create a bespoke board game, I was very enthusiastic! And very scared!

Still, I’m very happy that I accepted the offer and that I now really am earning my bread through board game design.

Seeing your own game in store

Look for me here. At some point…
When I first started designing a board game my idea was that hopefully it would help me somehow get established in the board game world. Then I had to go back to financial services and it became a cool hobby to pour my excess creativity into. At that point I didn’t really need to make any money off of it, so my goal was to see something that I made for sale in my local board game store.

That is still my goal, because it would totally amazing to see something I’ve created really “out there” in the world!

But it’s come full circle: I’m again hoping to establish myself into the board game world. And as such having a game published is a goal, but also a means to an end. It means gaining the experience of designing something that people actually want to buy! It means getting my name out there so that hopefully it will become easier to take the next steps. Because the more you’ve done, the easier it becomes to do more (I imagine that if Uwe Rosenberg walked into a publisher’s office saying he had a game he wanted published, they would sign him there and then without even looking at the game).

A designer for how long?

This brings me to an even more fundamental question: How long do I want to be a board game designer, in the sense that that is the way I make my money?

There are three parts to answering this question.

First, I know myself well enough that eventually everything gets to be boring. On the other hand, I stayed in financial services for ten years while never really loving what I did. Still, do I want to “commit” to this for a long time? What if I really hate it after 2 more years? Of course that can happen, but I don’t really expect it will. And even saying something now doesn’t mean I’m oath-bound to actually see it through.

Second, I’m dead scared that this won’t last. Yes, I have an assignment now. But that game is going to get finished at some point. And it feels like I got extremely lucky this time. Realistically, how many other companies are there going to be that want to have a bespoke game developed?! So it almost feels like hubris to make a goal out of continuing doing this. Then again, if you don’t set that goal the chances of it actually happening go down even further!

Third, I do not want to go back to the other thing I know I can do well, which is finance. If I have to I will and I won’t hate it, but I won’t love it like I love game design. I could try to pick up a different (third!) career, but there I’d have to start even more from scratch than in game design.

So…

I believe that I’ll enjoy doing game design for at least another five years and I can fully imagine doing it for the next ten. It sure beats the obvious alternative. After ten years it becomes too hard to make anything like realistic predictions for the future. Aiming for “over 5 years” then seems quite reasonable. In other words, enough to really learn things and to make a career out of this.

To be continued…

Let’s keep on keeping on
My goal as a game designer then becomes first and foremost: Continue being a game designer. Or perhaps better, continue getting paid to design games!

That means a number of things.

It means I want to spend time on designing games. Which is easy enough: Lock myself in a room, do some prototyping, test for a bit: I’m a game designer!

That is a good start, but it’s not enough. As “designing” isn’t what people pay for, it’s the end results. Which means getting games out there!

These can be mass-market games, or bespoke games for companies. The first are probably more fun to make as I have full creative freedom. The second however are easier to pay the bills with. So a combination of the two would be best? Probably with a skew towards the second.

It also means getting my name out there. Having games in the hands of players certainly would help with this, so this is a self-re-enforcing step. (Good! :- ) )

But just that will not be enough, I’ll also have to spread my name in other ways. This blog certainly is a good step (it got me my first assignment!) so I’ll definitely continue doing that.

I’m also somewhat active on social media, though that can definitely be picked up. It’s a balance though, because it’s very hard to see what the direct benefits of it are. How much time is the right amount to invest? I guess this is something that would be good to think about further (perhaps in another blog post?).

What to make next?

Luckily there are always choices
All of this was brought on by a simple question: What kind of game should I start working on for my next project? Should I make the game that I would love to make, knowing I might be biting off more than I could possibly chew? Or would it be better to go for something simpler?

I have dreams. I hope to someday to make something as awesome as Gloomhaven or Pandemic Legacy. And this big idea might be it!

But it probably isn’t.

Because for every mega success, there are hundreds if not thousands of games that fall somewhere between outright failures to “decent”. And so pure statistics are against me in this. (Did I mention I used to work in risk management?)

And while I’d love to work on something that has the potential to be overwhelmingly awesome, it can wait. That idea will still be there in one year. It’ll still be there in 10 if need be.

For the shorter run I believe that getting a bit of volume in production is more important, pays off more, than taking a chance on hitting it big.

And so, based on what my goals are as a designer, my choice is to work on something other than my big idea.

Watch this space for further updates!

Closing thoughts

It’s been very good to articulate my thoughts (and fears!) for what I want to do with this “newfound career”. It made me realize some things that weren’t clear when they were happening, like how much I missed being creative in my previous jobs.

One thing that is still unclear is how much of this is based on luck? I know I got the design job I’m currently holding because I’ve been prolific in writing and doing my best in getting my name out there. But is that all it takes? How many other companies are walking around with an idea for a game? Is this a one-off or can it really be a steady source of income?

“Luckily” I’ve been in this situation before. I worked for 5 years in a permanent role in financial services before I started as a freelancer. My first assignment felt like dumb luck. The second already gave a bit more security and after the third I felt confident that there really was a decent demand for my skills.

For board game design I’m not at that point at all, but just knowing it can be reached makes things easier!

What are your goals as a board game designer?

So all of this has been about me. But what about you? What are your goals and dreams as a designer? What are you doing to achieve them?

Perhaps more interesting, what are your fears? Or what were your fears which you have now conquered?

I’d love to hear your story!

Further reading

Want to know a bit more about how all of this started? Here is the first post for this blog.

And I mentioned that I am now working as a freelance game designer. You can read more about that here.

About the author

Bastiaan_smallHi, I’m Bastiaan. The goal of this blog is to learn about game design. That’s hopefully for you as the reader, but just as much for me as the writer.

Help me to learn? Leave a comment (below) or connect with me on Twitter? You can also subscribe to this blog (see the sidebar) or like it on Facebook, to get updates when I write them.

Board game design, Guest post, Learning, Player Interaction, This blog

I wished I had board game design classes in school!
Why do I write this blog? To learn about board game design (it says so right in the sub title!). But also a little bit to inspire people to make more and better board games. So I was extremely happy when Matthew Bivens (you can mail him at: mtgreenb@yahoo.com) reached out to me saying that my posts had been a great help not just to him, but to the kids he’s teaching board game design as a summer school project! Not only that, he was kind enough to write down his experiences. So without further ado, let me give the word to Matthew:

This summer I approached my board game design unit as a series of projects that would be constructed over the entire six week period. Prior to the start of this time I had encountered the Make Them Play blog and found a post on Player Interaction that felt like a good
introduction to the game design process for my high school students. As summer school was in process another article on Player Experience came out from the same blog. These two articles became activities that I had for my students.

On the first week the students started with making some components with their initials and then reading the Player Interaction blog post as a part of another activity. In that activity they listened to an excerpt from the Building the Game podcast, where a Survival game was pitched. The reason for choosing this pitch was the use of a simple card game, 31, as the foundation for the Survival game. In the exercise the students explored three different forms of player interaction and then applied the concepts to create a modified version of a game played with a standard deck of cards.

I would like to spend more time with this exercise and include an opportunity for students to play card games prior to writing out multiple player interaction concepts for making card games into board games. Here I think that it would be good to hit on the concept of theme and discuss it in relation to the design principle of unity. Overall students did a good job at this task and those who didn’t were not in the class the day we did it or had issues with staying focused on assigned tasks and trouble completing homework.

Following the component design project the students created a modified version of Carcassone, where the tiles had unique icons to a unique set and the way that the game is played was manipulated by the addition of cards that change how many tiles you draw/place and the number of meeples used to claim an area. The students had not had the opportunity to play Carcassone, but were able to follow the video guide and make the components. There was an additional digital project on making a map based game similar to TransAmerica.

Today’s students: Tomorrow’s artists and board game designers!
As the second week came along I brought the ideas of the Player Experience blog post into an activity. In this activity the students took the ideas of the two blog posts and wrote out a paragraph to be placed onto a Player Experience Vision Board. Here they collected some images to show concepts related to the experience that they wanted to have and I think that this task needs to have some changes made. Use of graphic icons is an important part of the process, so I would like to have the students collect icons that relate to the experience and interaction of the game that they would like to design. In the version of the activity they were encouraged to find more illustrative images of the desired experience.

There were a few students who did not get the activity, but after a short discussion they were able to submit their concepts again. Moving forward all of the student vision boards were placed into a presentation and students read through each others, without knowing which board belonged to which student. They made choices in an online form on who they would like to work with based on vision boards and explained the choice. There could have been more done to match students up in groups based on these choices, but the time was limited and I allowed the students to choose who they wanted to work with.

Over the remainder of summer school we went through the process of board game design presentation, playing published games, creating prototypes, writing rules and play testing. There was a group vision statement that was the basis for the prototype/rules. In the last week of summer school student groups were demonstrating the board games they developed. I graded the categories of formal game elements, game mechanics, narrative/theme, player interaction and player experience. Attacking and taking resources were the two most popular forms of interaction, with trading and changing the board coming up too. Tension, victory and power were the dominant experiences that the students developed the games around, with the ideas of wonder and safety coming up in two different games.

Attacks being a solid form of actual interaction was an easy connection for students to make, so it saw some good results. Changing the board was the player interaction goal for one of the most unique games that was created. Trading wasn’t actually used much in the games that were claiming and players didn’t interact much. Where taking resources occurred it wasn’t much like the Euro Game style found in worker placement, but more along the lines of you got a card and you get these resources. Although we spent the most time with player interaction, it wasn’t as thought out as I would like to see that. I think that providing more examples and opportunities to explore player interaction will help out in the future.

Wonder was an interesting experience that one group of students aimed for by having a search for an item in a game where danger could be in the places that you looked or the path traveled to get there. The experiences that were most common lined up with the interactions of attacking and taking resources. A version of the victory experience was a game that had to do with keeping a secret and they had a unique way of determining how many spaces were revealed, but it seemed like it was more a game of tension. The way that the games made use of the experience wasn’t as well thought out as I would like. Again I think that it got off to a good start of trying this approach of introducing concepts through reading blog posts on the topics.

One of these might actually be quite handy for sketching out a quick prototype…
Going forward I feel that there is a need to focus on the dialog that students have about all the types of designs that they create and develop a good critical lexicon, so that they are able to apply it to their own designs. At the same time the engagement with games that the students make modifications of is something that I desire to bring in. I believe that by incorporating the game design process into the art classes that I teach there is a long term benefit that they students will receive. In bringing in the game design blog posts from Make Them Play and the clip from the podcast Building the Game, I believe that positive results came out of it.

It is tough to compare this summer school class to the class in the previous spring semester and the years before. In the years prior the class has only spent about a quarter of the year investigating the game design concepts, but my general feeling about the class from this summer is that there was a better result overall due to the longer time with the experience. I look forward to introducing this to the new group of students that I have started to work with and playing the games that they design.

Thank you Matthew! Again, I’m incredibly happy to see more people take up the noble art of board game design. And who knows, perhaps one of these students will some day create the next big sensation?

Perhaps you were also somehow inspired by one my posts or otherwise have something you feel would be interesting for this blog? If so, drop me a line on Twitter, in the comments below or by emailing to b.reinink@makethemplay.com

— Bastiaan

Learning, Personal, This blog

An early version of "Voluntarios", the game I've put most effort into
An early version of “Voluntarios”, the game I’ve put most effort into
It was 2005 when I left university and eagerly threw myself into this strange thing they called a “job”. And where I went from having no money and lots of time to do fun stuff, I went to decent money and little time for the good things in life.

One job led to another and while the money slowly got better, the time didn’t really.

Ten years passed, in which I learned a lot of things and had a great time. But as the years added up, there was a growing feeling of: “Is this it?”

So by the end of 2015 I decided to quit what I was doing and to pursue something more worthwhile: I would be a board-game designer!

I had been playing games for the better part of my life, so that part of it I had down. But the other side, the actually creating something from scratch? Not a clue!

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