Join Simon as he looks back on his game designing roots, how far he’s (hopefully) come since then, and what he’s learned along the way.

In this, the first of my blog posts, I’ll be talking about my design inspirations for Tinmates and a few things I’ve learned in my journey as a games designer. Hopefully it’ll help some readers at the beginning of their own games design journey. I’m not a naturally gifted blogger so stick with me as I thrash this thing out! Let’s start from the beginning…

Back in 2007 I made my very first game – Knights. It was terrible. It was inspired by the first ‘modern’ board game I’d played, Battlestar Galactica, specifically the multiple stat trackers with a mix of other mechanics thrown in. I loved the sense of panic they created towards the endgame but I really didn’t know what I was doing. Apart from BSG and the traditional board games like Monopoly, I think I’d only played Risk at the time, and my lack of experience showed in my game design. It was a roll and move sort of game with a duel system and cards which affected the duel results. Overall, it was very simplistic and reflected my inexperience of modern board games. I played it a few times with some friends (who proceeded to thrash me) and found that it wasn’t very good. It knocked my confidence and I lost the motivation to design games, temporarily at least.

I didn’t completely give up then, but it took me a while to get back into game design. In the meantime, I quit my job, went back to university, changed careers and played a lot more games. Ten years later (and with about 10 other games on the ideas list) I’m working with some friends on Tinmates, which I’m really proud of (but is nowhere near the finished article). I’ve been back into game design for a few years now and I can safely say that years of playing modern board games in the break between my designing career has improved my game design skills immensely. More recently, let’s say the last 3 years or so, I’ve been taking a lot more notice of mechanics and how they’ve been implemented, whereas before, I may have just played the game and not thought about it too much.

Nowadays, whenever I play a new game, I can’t help but think of ways that it could be improved: how I personally might have gone down a different route in the design stages or streamlining a game and taking out the bits that just aren’t fun. This is quite often my inspiration for new game ideas. It shines through in Tinmates, which is being designed for the Board Game Geek Mint Tin Design Contest 2017. I had a few ideas for games, and one that seemed to fit the size of a mint tin best was an area control game, inspired by King of Tokyo. The way that victory points are gained is similar to part of KoT – you get a victory point for forcing another player out of the main area, or for staying in the main area for more than one turn – but that’s about as far as the similarity goes. The thing I dislike about KoT is the element of luck involved. I’m quite a strategist at heart and the dice seemed to take away from that in the game, so I wanted to do it another way. This other way was eventually inspired by Scythe. What I love about Scythe the most is the upgrading mechanic. I remember when I first held those player boards in my hands, the ones with the little receded spaces for the cubes, and the feeling of satisfaction that all the pieces just seemed to ‘fit’. I can’t explain it any more than that but from the first moment I knew I wanted to move those cubes around and upgrade my forces to their maximum potential. (Ayden, this is the point where you accuse me of being on the spectrum!) I really wanted players of my game to feel that same feeling, so I created my own upgrade system, albeit a far more simplified version.

With these inspirations, I set about creating a game. Working together with Ayden and Paul, we came up with the sort of game we wanted to play ourselves, with the area control element of King of Tokyo and the satisfying upgrade style of Scythe. We added in some cards with abilities and after a few days of playtesting and tweaking, we had the first prototype of a game. Since then, a fair bit has changed. As a result of multiple playtest sessions (both ‘internal’ and ‘external’) I’ve changed the moving of cubes to upgrade to having double sided cards (even though this is yet to be playtested, so we might go back to the old way yet!)

I could talk about the process of designing Tinmates all day (now that I’m on a roll at least!) but I don’t want to focus on that in this blog, instead I wanted to talk about a couple of things that I think are important for new games designers to consider

Play More Games

You might be reading this blog right now thinking that I’m stating the obvious but back in 2007, when I created Knights, it wasn’t obvious to me, and I suspect it’s not obvious to some others either. Just look at the number of Kickstarters that don’t even seem like real games to the ‘board game community’. I’m not going to name names of course but if you’ve been following board games on Kickstarter for long enough you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I may be making assumptions here but, in my mind, this comes down to a lack of gaming experience.

If you want to design games, play as many different games as possible. Play games you think you’ll like. Play games you think you won’t like. Play long games and short games. Find out what you enjoy and think about why you enjoy it. Gain experience. Do your research.

Be Resilient

Your first game will be terrible. Accept that and don’t be disheartened like I was. Playing more games will help your next design be better but resilience is the skill that will get you past your first failed design. I’ve come to learn that failure is only a step to success. More often than not it’s an unavoidable one. Failing is how we learn that what we’ve done can be improved. So if you’re reading this and you feel as though you’ve failed to design a game take note: The only difference between a ‘successful’ designer and a you is that the successful designer didn’t give up when they failed. In fact, I suspect that if you asked any successful designer they would say that they’ve failed more times than you’ve even tried. So this is my little pep talk to you, one that I probably needed back in the day. Don’t give up. Design games, fail, improve, repeat.