10 Steps to Design a Tabletop Game (2020 version)

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hey this is Jamie with still Meyer games

and for today's video I'm gonna revisit

the topic that I approached originally

around four or five years ago for a

video called 10 steps design a board

game itself on my channel at one of the

videos that's gotten the most views

because I think a lot of people have

discovered it and I wanted to revisit it

from my perspective in 2020 versus the

2016 or 2015 version of me to look at

game design breaking it down by ten

steps and and hopefully giving you some

ideas for for how to proceed with game

design if you are new to it or if you're

not new to it either way just a quick

introduction for me in case you're not

familiar with me I am the designer of

five published games all of which I

published through my own company stole

my er games most recently there is

tapestry before that there was charter

stone then there's forea and sorry these

are all over the place here is side and

then viticulture is here as well there

we go I'll probably be mentioning some

examples from these games in this video

but I'm gonna try this to keep this

video to just 10 minutes so you can

figure out the 10 steps of design a

board game in just 10 minutes the first

step for me is inspiration inspiration

just getting that initial idea before

even I start the brainstorming process

I'm trying to get inspiration

inspiration I do this by playing a lot

of published games I play games that

that are like the games that I design

these are medium weight euro games but I

also play a wide variety of other games

because I want to get ideas from a

variety of other games and have them

improve the games that I'm making and

they often give me ideas I watch a lot

of reviews of board games and some

videos about about video games and

digital games because those give me

ideas as well I read a lot of fiction I

also watch a lot of fiction I love

movies I love fictional television shows

and especially reading gives me ideas

for the worlds and I'm trying to build

for games and for all these ideas before

I even get to the brainstorming stage

which which is next I try to track them

in Trello Trello is tre llo there's

links for that and anything that I'll

mention in this video

at the in the description of the video

Trello was a nice place for me to jot

down a quick idea it's a list making app

analyst making a web app so if I have an

idea I don't ever forget about it so I

drawn it down in Trello and I revisit it

later step two is the brainstorming

stage for me this involves turning off

my computer and either at my desk or at

a coffee shop I just write down ideas

pencil and paper just write down either

start with a theme or a mechanism it

doesn't really matter because as soon as

I write down a theme I'm thinking of

mechanisms that go along with that theme

and then I'm thinking of theme parts of

the theme that go with that mechanism

and so on it's for me is it's pencil and


sometimes it takes a week to brainstorm

a game sometimes that takes several

months when I'm just kind of going back

and forth between that and other

projects I don't think there's any limit

to how long you can brainstorm it is

important for eventually for you to move

on to the next step I think but for me I

really enjoy the brainstorming process

so I spend some time doing it I also try

to have more than one game in the works

at any given time so if I'm really

excited about brainstorming in one game

or working on one game I can jump around

between that and another game that might

end up at it being at a very different

stage in the design process as the other

game also most importantly at this point

in time when you're brainstorming you

might have some really cool ideas and

that's great but they are still just

worthless at this point what matters is

execution so I'd recommend not keeping

your ideas too close to your chest and

actually just sharing them with people a

little bit online and share them with

friends because they might say hey that

game that exact game you just mentioned

already exists or they might say that

doesn't exist that sounds really

exciting work on that I'm excited about

that that's step two I'm already about a

little behind pace here step three is

market research see what people like or

dislike about the genre of game that

you're designing whether it's the the

mechanism the the genre of mechanisms or

the theme itself and this is where you

can both watch review videos about games

but you can also watch learn from other

resources I mentioned some below in the

comments there's a podcast called lewd

ology there's there's BoardGameGeek or

do you gives an amazing resource that's

a big community of gamers and also more

there's one called board-gaming atlas

these are places where you can go to

discuss games and the game decide

there's the board game design lab that's

a wonderful podcast about game design if

you're designing a cooperative game

there's the one-stop co-op shop there's

also a game makers toolkit that focuses

on video games and there's also my

youtube channel my youtube channel is

specifically about my favorite mechanism

in a variety of games and last I'd

mentioned there's a site called

cardboard Edison again all these links

are below in the comments below of

carboard Edison is an aggregate site

that aggregates a lot of different game

design resources so this is market

research do you see what people like her

just like about all these different

mechanisms all these different themes

look out there to see what has been done

what hasn't been done and and really

being active in some community whether

it's BoardGameGeek Facebook they're

their game design channels and and and

groups on Facebook or on board game

Atlas any of them can help you figure

out what people are actually excited

about what they dislike and don't like

like and dislike number four is start

making the prototype you don't wanna

wait too long to make this first

prototype because however it's playing

out in your head it's gonna be very

different than once you get it to the

table with actual human players for

actually creating the prototype there

are variety of variety of different ways

you can do it depends on the probably

the weight of the game if it's a game

that only uses ten cards you could draw

it down on ten pieces of paper right now

and make it but if it's a more elaborate

game you might use a program like

InDesign which is what I use when I'm in

design I'm already or when I'm in

InDesign I'm trying to think about the

user experience and layout I know those

things are gonna change as we actually

get a table but I I don't want those

things to get in the way of the first

play test so I'm trying to put myself in

the shoes of the players of the play

testers as I'm even designing that

initial prototype I am also thinking

about things like eventually if this

game works out will my blind play

testers who just get digital versions of

the files are they gonna be able to even

make this will they be able to make this

prototype also I'd recommend a resource

called game icons dotnet again link is


it's game - icons dotnet that's a great

place to get icons that you can use for

your prototype number five is as you

have that prototype ready as you're

about to move on to internal play

testing consider constraints constraints

like like initial costs about like what

what I said about well play testers even

be able to constructed this prototype in

the first place and it all comes down to

like who are you making this for so if

you're making the game if you're making

a game that you're for an audience that

is willing to pay 150 dollars components

aren't going to really limit you but if

you're trying to make this a game that

might end up on the shelves of Target

then it's got to be around thirty or

forty dollars at most and so even from

the early stages of design you might

need to start thinking about components

one thing that I do during this process

because I'm both a designer and a

publisher is that I might send panda I

use a company called panda game

manufacturing I might send them the

early ideas that I have for the

components just to give a rough idea for

how much they're gonna cost to make so I

can know hey it's actually possible for

us to make this game and make it on a

reasonable budget and sell it at a

reasonable price or not remain need to

cut this giant awesome metal component

that I thought would work but it's gonna

cost way too much so it's really nice to

have those constraints from early on

once I had that once I have that

prototype that audience in mind I start

internal play testing internal play

testing for us I have a company and so

either with with my my co-workers and we

we play test the game that's internal

play testing for you if you don't have a

company that might mean that your play

testing the game with with a few maybe

family with friends really like isolated

local play testing the types of people

that you don't mind sitting down with

and that they might even have a bad time

with it because they're probably not

gonna really enjoy that first play test

all that much internal play testing for

me I mean I've never had a game be

awesome in the first play test usually

it sucks and that's okay I go into it

knowing that it's not gonna work and

that I'm gonna have to change things

some of them on the fly some of them

after the play test and then I do it

again I continue to place test it

internally for a while also I go into

these are

we'll play tests knowing that I may not

have everything figured out I may not

know how the game ends and I mean maybe

play testing just to see hey what makes

sense for when the game ends but one

thing I am pay attention Pena's

Institute from the very beginning is the

flow of the game

how are players how is the game flowing

from one turn to the next even from

those early stages when a ton of the

mechanisms may later change I want to

know if it's a smooth flow or if it's a

real awkward flow that's that I really

try to pay attention to at this point

and after several the next steps I might

stop I might say this game is just not

going to work I can tell it's not going

to work what I thought in my head it

played out completely differently than

it does in real life and I might just

stop but if I don't if I think the game

has potential then I continue and I

continue that an internal play testing

until the game is halfway decent till

it's functional at least and then I

expand it to local play testing this is

kind of a broader reach out to friends

to meetup groups in the area maybe to

events like unpublish feel and the

stomer games design day where where

people come together to play test games

locally all locally we're on there at

the table actually teaching the game and

playing it with other people and at that

point in time I'm often paying attention

to what's fun and frustrating and just

to see what players are I'm also

watching players to see how they

interact with the game what's enjoyable

for them what's not fun

and I try to take paid egde myself as

I'm teaching the game to see how many

times I say words like remember like

remember to do that remember that this

icon means this because whenever I say

that word means that the game's

interface isn't doing this job it's not

communicating all the things that

players need to know because I'm

constantly having to tell them to

remember this thing so if I am saying

that word remember it means that I need

to improve the game's interface so that

I don't have to say that word because

I'm not going to be there in real life

one that when other when people are

playing the published version of the

game to help them remember after a local

play testing this is usually when I

write the rulebook I sit down I use pass

rule books I use rule books from other

games I sit down and I try to write the

rules and the best way possible this is

you know there are many different ways

to write a rule book I try to use plenty

visual examples I think they really help

I try to use a numbered list do this do

this do this I try to break it down in

different sections there are many

different ways but if you like the way I

mean you can look at our games you can

like tap story I really focused on the

rule for tapestry just try to keep it as

streamlined as possible and you can look

at our other rule books as well if you'd

like there's a medical dress slightly

longer rulebook but it works pretty well

sigh this rule book is probably the

longest precise rule book just around 32

pages but it it has plenty of space to

take up examples lots of visuals in the

side the rule book one thing to keep in

mind here I show two things one is if

you are needing players to remember say

what icons mean and you don't want to

say that word remember over and over

again as you write the rule book this

can be a good time to create a reference

cards so that that playtesters have a

reference card that they can use one for

each player to remember what those icons

mean and also this can also be a time

where you consider outside development

maybe you think the game isn't quite

ready for blind play testing and so this

could be a time where you maybe hire a

developer to take the game to the next

level before it's ready for blind play

testing and the developer may even blind

playtest of themselves a developer

someone who takes the game of this has

already been designed and they make it

even more fun even more balanced even

more intuitive step 9 is the blind play

testing stage the way I do it at Stowe

Maier games is that I send digital files

two groups of play testers around the

world or lead play testers around the

world that have groups that are ready to

play the game

those lis play testers print the games

at home they play it we pay them for

their time and these are people that I

vetted these are people that I've

decided are really really good at play

testing they're good at getting play

testers to do different things to try

different things and they're gonna

responding in written form I prefer

written form to provide constructive

feedback they don't just say you need to

fix this or this was bad they say this

is what happened this specific scenario

happened and it was frustrating because

of this and I take that and I can decide

what's best to do next that sort of

sample driven reason driven feedback is

really really helpful from blind

playtesters if you are looking for blind

play testers that can be a bit of a

challenge but I I would I would

recommend that just start sharing your

work with other people if you share it

you might find that other people are

excited about it and they might be

willing and eager to play test it I'm

talking largely on social media but you

can also do this locally but social

media is a way to get blind play testers

from around the world one thing that

might come to mind here is should you be

afraid of people stealing your game

stealing your idea and no actually the

best thing you can do is put it out

there and share with people because then

people can always trace it back to you

if someone else does end up somehow

stealing that idea which is extremely

rare in the industry or they steal your

exact concept you can go back and say

actually I was talking about this way

before you did this idea originated with

me this game originated with me you

shouldn't be doing this you shouldn't be

publishing this game that's blind play

test in step 9

finally step 10 is how do you know when

it's finished step 10 is the sign in

okay this game is done this is ready for

me to sell publish or for me to submit

to publishers and this is a tough thing

to know when is that game actually

finished for me I usually put our games

through between three and four waves of

blind play testing sometimes more

sometimes less and usually by the third

or fourth wave we're getting down to the

really meaty gritty we're trying to get

to this balanced as possible trying to

wrap up those rules and figure out all

the final little rule questions and I'm

always asking play testers to rate the

games on a 1 to 10 scale so as I see

those ratings go up and up and up and I

kind of see them plateau around 8 or 9

then I know ok I think we're really

we're getting very close to if the game

is very ready or very close to being

ready also part of it is instinct it's

just got instinct oh the game I think

the game based on all this other

information I had based on my gut

instinct I think it is ready and the

last is balanced all this blind play

testing is done for balances so that you

can look at some of the data that you're

getting from blind play testers like how

long did the game take to play who won

the game how many points did they have

if it's a point driven game and if

that's balanced especially if you have

an asymmetry in the game is it

at this point if there's balance

elements are finally looking as balanced

as possible then that can be also be a

sign that you have at least completed

the balance part of designing the game

and then then you're done then you move

on to the next step and this video isn't

about that next step it's about just

that the sign process the game typically

this entire process can take for me can

take between 10 months and 18 months

sometimes a little bit longer so there's

a little bit shorter but yeah there's

other the typical steps that I go

through if you go to the description

below you can see a lot of great

resources on the games on this topic

you can also see a an overarching

resource on our website some are games

website called how to design a tabletop

game that has a lot of other links that

you can read about this process if

you're curious about delving deeper into

game design if you have any questions

feel free to post them in the comments

below I'm happy to answer them there