Friday, 27 November 2015

Why a design journal?

Hi, I'm Nate and I have been designing board and card games since I was a child. I am about as into board games as you can humanly be while still having a girlfriend. I always have a number of designs I am working on. These have historically been on scrapes of paper, backs of envelopes and in note books (now on my computer).

Basically if I have 5 minutes to spare I will find something to write my game design ideas on. I am now 35, so you might be wondering how someone who has been working on games for this long has not got a fully published game or two under his belt (there is Geek Army, but we will talk about that some other time)?

Well there are a few reasons for that and they tie in with why a man who is short on time has decided to try and keep a journal. The main reason my games don’t tend to see the light of day is that I have so many ideas. This sounds like a bullshit thing to say, but for me it is a problem. First, because I jump from one idea to the next (because its new and shiny) second because I tend to add too much into one game (because I really like the idea of just adding this extra thing... Oh and this thing too, but I can’t leave this bit out). 

In short, and I aim to be completely open and honest here, I lack focus when it comes to designing board games. I am not currently a game designer (writers are not people who have an idea for a book, they are people who write books) because Ideas are easy and fun, creation is hard and slow. I plan to change that statement with your help.

This is where this journal comes into play. I am ultimately a team player. I work best with others. Unfortunately I live in the ass end of nowhere and nobody in my small gaming group has any design ambitions. So if I can’t bounce ideas off someone over a cup of tea, I am going to get them out of my head and on here and see what happens. 

I think this process will help me get past blocks in my designs. I tend to over think things and can get caught in a circular thought pattern. When I have to vocalise a problem it tends to become clearer in my mind and I find a way past. My son is three and we often go for walks. Sometimes I will tell him about my game designs and as I speak I gain clarity and focus. Making something clear to someone else in an understandable why helps me move my thought process on.

So, now you know why I am going to try to do this. I am aiming to make the posts bite sized but will not hold back if the subject needs it. Time to write my first official entry!


  1. A long time ago I heard the phrase 'Ideas are easy' and I just didn't get it. But I do now. It is all too easy to get sucked into developing those needy little new shiny ideas baying for attention, hungry to be fed and to grow into fully fledged games....until another one pops into existence.

    I think one of the most useful tools I use to see if a game can be wrestled ever closer to that elusive 'playtestable' state is actually a writer's trick. I'm a firm believer in theme being strong in my games. So once I'm happy with the theme (and theme and mechanics can develop hand in hand - but that's another story) I check that all the parts of that game fit with the theme. Writer's call this 'The Narrative Spine' and use it to make sure that all the plot points are moving the story forward. It works with games too. Say I'm working on a game that's about cattle rustling in the Mid West (which I might be after a new'n'shiny idea appeared this morning!) then everything in that game has to fit with cattle rustling in the Mid West. If it doesn't fit, then I sideline it. And if the great idea about gambling in the bar at the end of the day cattle rustling in the Mid West doesn't fit then - hey - there's another new'n'shiny idea.

    Time and focus are the bits I guess a lot of us find hard to keep on top of. Time is hard to find so any focus tricks I can use I grab with both hands.

    Keep developing stuff Nate - with nearly three decades of experience you should be an expert by now! It'll be great to see how your latest ideas shape up.

  2. Hi Nate, Good reading here. My two-penneth for what it's worth - I waited until I was 39 before I got a game published for many reasons, some of which you mention above. So I've been where you are now. Do not worry about making a commercial game etc, just make a game. Then playtest the hell out of it. It'll be your playtesters (I suggest about 100 of these) reactions that will tell you if you have "something" and if it needs tweaking. There will be times when you are working on the other 95% of making a game (playtests, design, components, costings, marketing, etc..) when you'll think that other ideas are escaping while you do it. The good idea's will always come back to you. I am totally in awe of designers that keep a journal by the way, I always worry that when I'm writing the journal I could be tweaking a game instead :-)

  3. Nice post. You have similar reasons to myself when I started my own blog. Another benefit is it makes you think critically about what you're making.

  4. Hay gents, thank for your comments and encouragement!

    Andrew: I will also employ the writers trick you say about. It seems like the sort of thing that is obvious, but in fact it really takes a change of perspective. I love it. I am already glad I have started doing this journal, its already helping a lot.

    Andy: Your "two-penneth" is worth two of the little copper coins Andy :0) on a more serious note, thanks for taking the time to comment. You advice is very much taken on board. One of the reason I have often faltered is because I want to make a perfect board game. What I need to do is get something done and then refine it!

    Robin: I will have to check out your blog and see if I can pick up some tips. Thanks for commenting!


Thanks for adding to the conversation on Ministry of Board Games ;-)