Mar 9, 2006

Just a Spud

Mario over at Boardgamers' Pastime wrote about how he is paring back the amount of time he spends on activities ancilliary to boardgames. If he is a "Boardgame Potato" then I am a little spud, looking to shoot my roots out in search of nutrients. The nutrients in question are information. To be able to design a boardgame you need to make sure you are creating something at least marginally new. To know that you must first know what is out there. From "The Game Inventor's Guidebook":
I've heard some designers say they never look at games that are similar to the one they're working on because they don't want outside ideas to influence their original thinking. This is a big mistake. You absolutely need to know what other games are aimed at the same consumer segment you're targeting. First, you don't want to waste your time creating a game that's already been published . . . This not only wastes your time, it tarnishes your future credibility if you ever want to show another game to that publisher.
I have already had some experience with this. Long after I came up with most of Programmer: Battle for Bandwidth, I heard about RoboRally. I had originally thought that my idea of building a program to control a game with cards was a completely original idea. After reading up on the Geek about it I realized I needed to investigate it. I bought it and found two important things: one, I really like the game. Its appeal to me is obviously because of my background in programming, which was also the inspiration for Programmer. Second, my game was different in enough ways (the variable mechanic, one shared program instead of individuals, victory points instead of a race to the finish) that I could continue working on it.

What does this have to do with my earthen fruit analogy? I can't afford to buy every game out there. Being relatively new to serious boardgames, I'm too far behind (not to mention too poor) to be able to get every classic already out and every new game coming out at Spiel.

So I must rely on others to reveal to me what already exists in the world of gaming. What mechanics have been done to death? What themes are ripe for further exploration? Where are the lines between homage, improvement, borrowing, and rip-off?

But I do not yet know where to get this. There is the Geek, but it has frankly become too successful. You can find anything there, but you have to know it is there to be found first. What are the definitive game news sites? Where can I find a well-balanced history of the industry from a designer's perspective? What blogs best track the latest developments and trends?

There are too many places and I do not know which ones to visit first. I have some that I read now, as seen on my list of links, but how do I know those are the ones I should be reading? I cannot read too many or too often. Every moment spent reading is one less moment spent designing. Too many roots will be wasteful and I'll have nowhere to grow. Suggestions?

1 comment:

  1. Like every other endeavor, the effort fits the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the decreasing ROI rule.

    You need to spend some time introducing yourself ot the industry. It takes little effort to find 80% of the mechanics that are being used.

    Then start designing. After you have some basic ideas, look for that exact mechanic in a number of games. If you don't see it, keep going.

    Ask some playtesters to try it out. Surely some of them will know any similar games, if they exist.

    But no, there is no absolute list of all possible mechanics already listed on the net.