Friday, June 6, 2014

Game Design Philosophy: Writing it down

Many times when I ask to see the rules at play testing events I am told that I could, but much of it was thrown out in the first hour of the day.  I have no problem with this, it happens, what I don't understand is when people say 'it's an early design, and so fluid that I have nothing written down.'

People use the hard and fast rule of prototyping know to make it fast, make it cheap, and play it as soon, and as often as you can. When they use it to avoid writing down the rules they are missing an opportunity to vastly improve their game.  

Writing out the rules is not only a roadmap on how to build the game.  Writing out the rules forces you to systematically think through your game and allows you to identify ahead of time potential issues within the game.  How many components do I really need to get? How many maps should I build?  How does the turn order really work? How many terms and conditions need to be defined for new players?  Do I put players into situations that have no clarification, or ways to resolve potential scenarios?

Take Underground Street Racing, up until this point I had most of these ideas racing around in my head.  So I got it onto paper. I learned while writing down the rules how to handle the particulars of movement, crashes, stalls, and particularly endgame. Going through the process I started seeing how the game playes and the various game endings. I noticed that all of the cars could be stuck on the side of the road, and how someone could win from that situation. I realized it would be easy for a player to intentionally create this situation, and it did not reward the style of play I envisioned for the game.  So I rewrote my rules to inform players that its such a letdown when no one finishes the race that nobody actually wins the game.

After settling on my controlling idea, figuring out my xyz, going through the iterative design process, and writing out my rules I have a board game prototype ready for play testing.  In fact, if you want to playtest the game, click here for the rules, click here for the print and play, and click here to leave feedback on the game.  

Even with all of these elements behind me, there is still a long way to go in the development of this game. The path has just begun, not ended. The game will continue to change as people start to play.  

But, in terms of understanding my game design philosophy, this is a conclusion of this lecture series.  I have taught you my critical steps in preparing a board game to be ready for playtesting.


  1. You can also try out Underground Street Racing at the UNPUB mini in Chantilly, VA on June 21st. See the link below for more details.

  2. Rules help analytical designers give substance to this formless void called game design parameters. I write a ton of notes early in the process, then usually thrust symbols and numbers in front of unsuspecting gamers. I under-rule everything, give them just barely enough to understand the systems, so that I can see what players "assume" during early tests. The reason I don't write rules is not laziness, but because my brain doesn't process creative information like an analytical system designer until I'm developing a working system. So, no rules writing until late Alpha prototypes for me.

    However, most game designers are part of the tech or engineering fields, so they should definitely take your word for it.