Confessions of a Novice Designer

I have designed a couple of games in the past. But I’ve never really had anyone play them before. That is, other than Tricks and Treats, the game I did for National Game Design Month back in 2013. That one I at least played a couple of times. I still have the prototype, too. Maybe I’ll pull it out again someday. I have put out a few ideas on this blog, none of which have gone anywhere. Interestingly, one of my ideas, What Am I Thinking?, looks an awful lot like Medium, which premiered at Gen Con from Greater Than Games. I don’t think they got the idea from me – for one thing, I have no proof that anyone from Greater Than Games knows I exist, and for another, I lifted the idea from a segment I used to hear on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast. All I’m saying is that I must be psychic.

This year, I entered two design contests on BGG. I wanted to talk a little bit about my experiences with that here.

The first one I entered into a contest was Tic Tac Tactics, which was entered into the 9-Card Design Contest. The idea was that the game was basically a riff on Tic Tac Toe. The nine cards double-sided – X on one side, O on the other. At the bottom of each card was a pattern to be made with your symbol. To begin the game, the cards are dealt into a 3×3 grid, with 5 cards showing one symbol, and 4 cards showing the other. On your turn, you first flipped a card to its other side, then you scored one of the patterns showing your symbol. So if you were X and had five Xs in plus pattern (+), you would score three points. The trick is that the pattern you want to score must have your symbol face up. So if you wanted to score that +, but the card showing that pattern was showing an O, you couldn’t.

Once your turn is done, your opponent goes. The only restriction in the game is you can’t flip the card your opponent flipped in the previous turn – a token can be used to track that. After ten rounds, the player with the high score wins. If it’s a tie, you play extra innings until there’s a winner.

It was fairly nerve-wracking to hit submit when I entered this game. I mean, it’s one thing to talk about my ideas on this blog where people are pretty nice and supportive. But BGG is a different animal – people can be brutal. I figured the worst that would happen is that someone would tell me it was terrible, and the best that would happen would be that it would win, bringing me fame, fortune, prosperity, all that stuff that designers of successful 9-card games get.

And, crickets.

I got one question about clarifying a little bit of my language, but no other feedback whatsoever. To be fair, I didn’t do a lot of self-promotion, and the people who ended up getting a lot of feedback either did, or were already pretty well-known as PNP designers. And also, I think there ended up being something like 97 entries into the contest. So I was just a needle in a giant haystack, whereas I need to be a brick or something.

So, the end of the contest came and went. I didn’t place. I don’t think anyone voted for my game at all, good or bad. I don’t know that it even registered with anyone who voted.

I still don’t think this game is bad. It’s fairly tactical. There’s a balance between trying to score as many points as you can and trying not to set up your opponent too much. But the lack of feedback was disturbing. I don’t know if people hated it so much they didn’t want to say anything, or if people just didn’t try it. It is a Tic-Tac-Toe based design after all, and maybe that just made people roll their eyes and move on.

I included a link to the files earlier. If you’re so inclined, take a look and tell me what you think. Start with Set A – I think that’s probably the easiest one. There are four total sets, though Set ? is just blank cards.

Miseries of the Night, on the other hand, was entered into the One-Page PNP Contest. This contest had a pretty interesting concept. You had to build your game off of a list of titles provided to you by a generator. The titles I got to choose from were Luxury Bananas, Zombies of Business, Droid Dreams, Dwarf Donkeys, Witches versus Bounties, Defenders versus Wizards, Crowns of Honor, Cats of the Escape, Cards of the Fall, and the one I eventually ended up going with, Miseries of the Night. While some of these are games I would totally play, Miseries gave me the best idea for theme and mechanics together.

As a one-page game, all you have in this one is a board. Some people fit a bunch of cards on a page, but I kept it simple. The game is played on a 6×6 grid, and you also need four dice, a token to mark movement, and something to write with. The idea behind the theme is that you’re walking around Dreamland and notice all these Miseries set to invade the Waking World. You’re trying to stop as many as you can before you wake up and can’t remember a thing.

The board consists of a 6×6 grid with die faces beside the rows and columns. Miseries are represented on the board with numbers that are rolled at the beginning of each turn. You’ll roll all four dice, one of which is a different color and will represent the Misery strength. From the other three, two of them will be used for the coordinates on the grid where the Misery appears, and the other will be your movement. You’ll be moving around, trying to land right on a Misery. Once there, you’ll try to roll to defeat it. This repeats until you run out of health, or until you cannot move any more.

My experience with feedback for this game was much better. Right away, I got some helpful comments, and one person even redesigned my board so it had some actual art. I took some of the feedback and added Lucidity Points. These are basically earned by overkilling Miseries when attacking, and you can use them later to gain special abilities like adding to movement, rerolling dice, healing, or moving through spaces you normally couldn’t. Through more feedback, I was able to clean up some language in the rules, and even added the idea of exploding Miseries. The original rule was that you could always put a Misery on top of another to make it stronger, but it saves you space in the long run. In theory, a Misery could grow to infinite size this way. The Exploding Miseries rule means that once a Misery gets bigger than 12, it blows up, creating a bunch of smaller Miseries.

The contest closed last week, and voting is up now. I’m not writing this to shill for votes, but I do suggest you go check the contest out through the link I included above – there are some cool games there. There are only 14 entries that made it past the idea phase, which makes it feel more intimate than the 97 of the 9-card contest. There was a requirement that we each playtest at least one other game, which was nice because it got us looking at other people’s stuff and got us all invested in the process.

So, yeah. I’ve now put a couple of my designs out in front of other people, and the experience has not been bad. The PNP community is pretty nice, which was a relief. I certainly don’t think either of the games I put forward are amazing, but the whole experience has mostly about me just practicing some design techniques. I don’t think I necessarily have a future in it, I’m just interested in the process, and was glad to try. I’ll probably do some more of it going forward, but I just wanted to express some of how I’m feeling about it.

And that’s that. Thanks for reading!

PS: If you’re still confused about the Composers games I talked about three years ago, that was an April Fools Day joke. Those games grew out of ideas I had had, but never actually designed. Sorry to burst your bubble if you were looking forward to them.

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