Game Design 110: What You Need to Know when Starting a New Game Design

Lewis Pulsipher, Game designer, Teacher, Author

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4 Lessons (24m)
    • 1. The Four Most Important questions when starting a new game

    • 2. Conceiving a game from the nebulous to the concrete

    • 3. Nine "Need to Knows" about conceiving a game

    • 4. I found it in "the sea of games"


Project Description

Conceive a new game!

Conceiving a new game includes writing down what you have in mind. If you aren't willing to write things down, you'll never "make it" as a game designer. This will usually take more than one session.  Even if a game "comes to you out of the blue", you'll need to think about it a while to nail down all the details.

Keep in mind, you're conceiving a game, not a story. And it can be a tabletop or a video game.

From my days teaching seated video game design classes I have an assignment over 1,000 words long for describing a game conception. But I think that's too elaborate at this stage.  What you're doing here is making the initial notes and trying to answer questions about how the game works, what the main mechanics are, and so forth (story is secondary!). Typically this starts with a few hundred words of notes. But you'll likely add to that if you think the game is worth pursuing.

When you have what you think is sufficient detail, post it as the "deliverable" for the project. (Some beginners think people will "steal" their "great" idea.  No, it is complete, successful games that get stolen, not ideas. Ideas alone are mostly worthless, because someone (lots of someones) have already thought of it. A hallmark of a "noob" designer is one who won't discuss their design with anyone.)

I've attached an example of how I do this.

And here is a list of the 10 fundamental structures of games, with an example of how a change might be implemented in chess or some other game:

The fundamental structures of any game (video or non-video)
The idea behind this: if you’re designing a game, you have to decide what to do within each of these categories
This helps you conceptualize your game, turn it from nebulous ideas into something of substance
If one of these structures isn’t involved, you probably have a toy or puzzle, not a game

(An atmosphere is the trappings of a topic without the substance in the game)

Someone recently added Cthulhu imagery to the Viking game Hnefetafl for a successful Kickstarter!
BattleChess, from the 1980s (, animated pieces and had them fight

Player Interaction rules
(and number of players)
Players play rock-paper-scissors whenever there’s an attempt to capture a piece

Best two out of three, but attacker gets one to begin with, so only two successes in a row saves defender
Failed attacker goes back to origin
A less esciting way to put it: 1 chance in 4 an attack will fail
There are commercial 3 and 4 player chess games, most of them unsuccessful because of “turtling”

Objective/victory conditions
How to win (or at least, succeed)

First player to reach the opponent’s first row with a piece that survives the next opponent move, wins!
First player to take six opposing pawns wins!
First player to take opposing queen, or checkmate the king, wins

"Data storage"
Where and how information is stored during the game
Some commercial chesslike games use a hex-grid board
Or even a circular board (concentric rings)
Or a 3 dimensional board

What is the sequence of play (can be real-time rather than turn-based)

Each player can move two pieces at once. But the very first white move is only one piece.
(Who knows how that would work out!)
Simultaneous movement
I think it’s been done, but there are a lot of details to work out

If there is maneuver in the game, how does it happen?
Bobby Fischer’s variant – scramble the pieces in the home row, both players have same sequence
Start with no pieces in back row, and players place one at a time until they fill the rows, then commence normal play
Change the move pattern of one or more pieces (“fantasy chess”)

Information availability
What do the players know, and not know?

Traditional “kreigspeil” chess
Referee has the main board, each player has a board with own pieces only
Use face-down discs as pieces, hiding piece identity until it is moved. Players set up their forces as they wish

Conflict resolution/interaction of game entities

Roll a die for each piece in a capture attempt, add one to attacker roll
D4 pawn
D6 knight or bishop
D8 Rook
D10 or D12 Queen
Or sum of 1, 2, 3 or 4 dice
Ties go to . . . Attacker? Roll again?

"Economy" (resource acquisition/conversion)

Designate 8 board squares that are valuable
Every ten turns, get two points per square occupied, can “purchase” captured pieces to bring them back
Use standard point values
Playtesting really needed to set number of squares, number of points, number of turns

How do the players receive information, and how do they “tell” the game what to do?
Mostly thought of in relation to video games, but tabletops have an interface too. It’s just a very familiar interface most of the time

Blindfolded chess is an example of a change

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