10 Top Tips For Aspiring Tabletop Game Designers
Are you an aspiring tabletop game designer looking to bring your creative vision to life? Designing a tabletop game is a challenging and rewarding experience that requires a combination of creativity, strategy, and attention to detail. Whether you're a seasoned game designer or just starting out, these 10 top tips will help you create a game that is engaging, fun, and memorable for your players. From brainstorming ideas to play-testing your game, we've got you covered. So, grab a pen and paper and let's get started!
1. Embrace Your Passion
Game design is a labor of love. Find what ignites your passion and fuels your creativity. Let your enthusiasm drive you through the challenges and keep you motivated during the development process.
You'll be working on your game for months, even years, as you prepare it for publishing. But once the game is ready to publish, that's when the work begins! You'll have to market and sell the game, engage with your community, and develop expansions. When you choose a genre you are passionate about, this hard work becomes fun. Creating a business from your passion is a fantastic goal to strive for, and I can tell you it's worth it.
2. Learn from Existing Games
Study and play a wide variety of tabletop skirmish games. Analyse their mechanics, themes, and player experiences. Understanding what works and what doesn't will help you develop a deeper understanding of game design principles.
Before I started my YouTube channel, I worked as a freelance writer and marketer. When studying writing, I came across many quotes saying that good writers are good readers, and if you want to write, make sure you read … a lot! This advice transfers to many areas in life, especially tabletop skirmish game design.
3. Start Small and Iterate
Begin with a manageable scope for your first project. Starting small allows you to focus on refining core mechanics and ensures a more achievable development process. Embrace the iterative nature of game design and be open to making improvements based on feedback and play-testing.
During a podcast episode with my guest, Marco Pecota from Raybox Games, he advised listeners to write the initial rules on one page. That’s excellent advice and something we can all imagine doing. Once we have one page, we can expand and add to it. Starting with a small task that you can easily perceive will lead you to take on bigger ones in the future, and often, getting started is the biggest hurdle.
4. Seek Feedback and Play-test Extensively
Involve play-testers early and often. Their feedback is invaluable in identifying strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement in your game. Be receptive to criticism and iterate based on player experiences to refine and enhance your design.
I’ve covered play-testing in a previous blog post and will discuss it much more. Play-testing is fun and creates excellent social gatherings with friends and family. You’ll also learn so much in the process. Play-testing should continue after publishing as you design new characters, introduce new weapons, and add new scenarios and expansions. Make play-testing part of your week, and you’ll be in a great position.
5. Network and Collaborate
Connect with fellow game designers, artists, and enthusiasts. Attend gaming conventions, join online communities, and engage in discussions. Collaborating and sharing ideas with others not only expands your knowledge but also provides support and inspiration throughout your journey.
I attended my first-ever Games Expo in the UK in June 2023. I met some amazing game creators at the event and made fantastic business connections. I came away inspired and determined to be there as an exhibitor the following year; it was an awesome experience.
6. Balance Innovation and Familiarity
Strive for a balance between innovative gameplay mechanics and familiar elements that resonate with players. Innovate to bring something fresh and exciting to the table, but also consider what will engage and appeal to your target audience.
Innovation, for innovation's sake, is not always a good idea. I keep using the Kill Team shapes as an example of bad innovation, and here it is again! Gimmicks might sell games initially but won't inspire confidence and loyalty in your players in the long run. Don’t be afraid to use tried and true game mechanics and if you innovate, make sure it’s for good reason.
7. Polish Your Rules and Documentation
Invest time in writing clear and concise rules. Ensure that your rulebook and other documentation are easy to understand and navigate. Well-written rules enhance the player experience and minimise confusion during gameplay.
The layout of your rule book is going to be extremely important. A cluttered rule book can often be stressful for the player to navigate, so spend time formatting, and if that’s not something you are familiar with, spend time learning it or outsource it to a professional.
8. Stay True to Your Vision
While it's important to gather feedback and consider different perspectives, remember to stay true to your creative vision. Don't compromise on the core elements that make your game unique and special.
During play-testing, players will give you some amazing advice and feedback about elements of the game you completely overlooked. However, there will be times when they advise changing something that you feel is critical to the narrative or even to something they haven’t discovered in the game yet. Be confident in your vision and listen to advice, but if you believe something should stay, keep it.
9. Embrace Challenges as Opportunities
Game design is a creative process filled with challenges. Embrace these challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. Problem-solving and overcoming obstacles will make your game stronger and help you develop as a designer.
My favourite part of game design is solving all the problems. As you correct one problem, you might trigger an effect in a different area of the game and then have to fix that. It becomes an intricate puzzle, but when you move all the pieces in the right place, it’s such a great feeling.
10. Have Fun and Enjoy the Journey
Game design is a creative endeavour, meant to bring joy and entertainment to players. Remember to have fun during the process and enjoy the journey too. Embrace the moments of inspiration, celebrate milestones, and take pride in your accomplishments.
My goal in game design is to create fun games that players can use to get together to create awesome experiences, memories, and adventures with their friends and family. I also want to have a fun life, so I keep my goals in mind at each stage of the process and make decisions based on them.
10 Top Tips For Aspiring Tabletop Game Designers
Remember, game design is a continuous learning process. Embrace feedback, adapt to new trends, and always seek ways to improve your craft. The journey may have its ups and downs, but with dedication, perseverance, and a passion for creating immersive tabletop skirmish games, you can bring unforgettable experiences to players around the world.
I wish you all the luck on your game design adventure, and I would love to hear about your games, too!
I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the subject, so join in the conversation in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
Look out for my new game, Population Z: Welcome to Huntsville, launching in January 2024.