Why Game Design? Why Now?

rjcurrie Game Design

If you look at the picture at the top of this page, you can tell that I’m no spring chicken. So why am I just now tackling board and card game design? In fact, why am I tackling it at all?

In October 2014, I was restructured out of my job as a technical writer after 23.5 years. Fortunately, between my severance package, a recent inheritance, and my savings, I could take time to think abut what I wanted to do next. And to be honest, it didn’t take long at all, I wanted to work in the game industry. I have always hovered on the fringes of that community thanks to friends that I have made as a convention GM over the past 20 years. And after so many years of documenting software, it was time for something different and a little more creative.

So I started to read some books, surf some web sites, and generally tried to learn what I could about design, but it was not until I started to try to actually design games that it all started to make sense to me. So, here I am a year later with my game Word Nerds entering blind playtesting as I decide whether to pitch it to publishers or delve into the scary world of self-publishing. I also have a notebook full of game ideas, some of which I have thought a lot more about than others and you can see that this site has categories set aside for a couple of those: Supply Sergeant and Fiction Impossible: The Game of Literary Chaos where I plan to write about those games as I work on them.

As for this category, it will be home to my thoughts and ideas concerning game design in general and the life of a game designer.

The Value of Playtesters

rjcurrie Conventions, Game Design

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my short “career” as a game designer, it’s the importance of playtesting.  And a very good source of playtesters is gaming conventions. You just can’t beat players who show up to deliberately test games.

I playtested Word Nerds at both Gen Con’s First Exposure Playtest Hall and the Metatopia Game Design Festival (both run by my friends at Double Exposure). I recommend both events highly if you’re a designer or just someone who likes to play games and would like a chance to contribute to games under development.  Although, I have yet to attend one,  I’ve also heard good things about the various Protospiel events which are also dedicated to designers playtesting their games. Attending events like this also give you a chance to playtest other designer’s games. And that can be invaluable as analyzing other people’s designs can give you new insight into your own.

Playtests can be enlightening, frustrating, and ego-boosting. Enlightening playtests are those where you get a player or players who can clearly articulate problems with your game and, if you’re lucky, offer solutions for those problems. Frustrating playtests are those where the game is not going well and nobody seems to be able to put their finger on it. And finally, ego-boosting playtests are the ones where everything goes great and players want to know when they can buy the game. And for a really big ego boost, you can get one player, a known harsh critic, giving you words of praise while another offers her player group for more playtesting, and a third wants to play your game again later in the convention. In any event, every playtest tells you something about your game.  You just need to pay attention.