3 Questions When Designing a New Game

At WashingCon 2, I attended a game design workshop that included a 15-minute game design challenge.  Everyone had 15 minutes to design a board game, and the catch was the game had to be about attending a con.

To be honest, I spent the first ten minutes frantically gathering my thoughts about what constitutes a game.  But from there, it was much simpler to come up with a game’s skeleton.  If you are designing a new game or only have scribbled down a few rough ideas, you should start by answering these questions.  Hopefully they will help you brainstorm a cohesive concept:

  1. What is the game’s premise?
  2. What are the player’s objective?
  3. How will the players achieve the goal?

What is the game’s premise?

For my 15-minute game design, I decided my game would place each player as the role of an attendee at a board game convention.

This was one of the easier questions to answer, since the general theme was predetermined; the game had to be about attending a con.  (For a little self-disparagement, I had one of the lesser creative ideas.  One person’s pitch involved managing a Mad Scientist Convention, and another person’s was a party game where players have to create puns using “con” and other words.)

In my limited experience, new or aspiring game designers generally have their game’s theme or premise conceived before they begin working on rules or game mechanics.  This definitely was the case for me and The King’s Legion.  I’d guess that’s because they draw inspiration from something else they enjoy, maybe not even game related. Once game designers become more experienced and thus knowledgeable about the in’s and out’s of game design and game composition, new ideas may stem from the inter-workings of a game.

What are the player’s objective?

Once a game’s premise is considered, you need to decide on the objective.  Every game has an objective that the players are reaching for.  If you are designing a sci-fi wargame, maybe it’s to infiltrate the enemy starship or to terraform more planets than your opponents.  If you are designing a party game that involves story-telling, maybe your goal is to get the most players to laugh by telling a one-sentence story.

What do I enjoy most about attending board game conventions?  Playing games.  More specifically, playing new games.  So I decided players in my game would be going around the convention center trying to win the most games.

How will the players achieve the goal?

Up to this point, you can start to see some framework around your new game.  You know the game’s premise and what the players are trying to achieve.  But now you need to start putting some game mechanics or shape behind the framework.

So for my con game, players want to travel around a convention center and win as many games as possible in a set amount of time.  All I could think about was GenCon; the massive Exhibitor’s Hall with tons and tons of publisher booths trying to get attendees to demo their game.  So my game models that.  It’s a modular game on a 5×5 grid with tiles that are shuffled and placed at the start of the game (so each game can have a different layout).  Each tile represents a publisher’s booth; the front of the tile just has the fake publisher’s name, and on the back are the rules of the mini-game.  On a player’s turn, they flip the card over, play the mini game, and if they win, they get a point.  Each player can only play each game once, forcing players to move around the convention center checking out new games to play.

And that’s the game.  All in 15 minutes.  Now the actual game content wasn’t designed and official rules weren’t written, but it’s definitely a solid foundation.  And who knows… maybe I’ll follow up and get a fun game out of it…

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My messy notes during the Game Design Challenge

To summarize, by answering three important questions, you can come up with the basis of a new game:

  1. What is the game’s premise?
  2. What are the player’s objective?
  3. How will the players achieve the goal?

Have you considered these questions when starting a new game design?  What questions do you think are crucial to ask yourself when designing a new game?  

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