Nerds on Earth
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Learn the Thing: Game Design

Even though we’re in the middle of kitchen remodel right now, it actually gives me a lot of time to think about those things I’ve been putting off. It’s amazing what ideas can bounce around your head if you give them the chance.

The thing I’ve been dying to learn is game design. No, I’m not talking about video games; this is all about board games.

Abram's journal of game design, a little black book, complete with pen and Nerds on Earth poker chips.

For the past few years, if I have the inkling of an idea for a board game, I’ve quickly jotted it down in my little black journal. These are high-level ideas, generally centered around theme, that I think might make some interesting tabletop experiments.

Granted, the second I start perusing BoardGameGeek, I find that something similar has already been done. Five times over, even!

Just because someone’s done it, however, doesn’t mean that it’s off-limits. If you have an idea for a game, let’s make a pact right now to start connecting dots and getting some real design in place!

There are a ton of great resources for the aspiring game designer. I used to listen a lot to Mark Rosewater’s Drive to Work podcast. Even though I don’t anymore, thanks to other podcasts I’ve been digging, I still remember his mini-series about game design. Here’s a fantastic, albeit long, video detailing some of the lessons he’s learned about design over the years.

As far as books to read, here’s a brief list of titles that have been recommended to me and others:

Also, one of my favorite game designers, Jamey Stegmaier, has a boatload of resources available on Stonemaier Games’ website. Following those links will give you a really firm foundation for the entire game design process.

Now, I’m not going to share any of my super secret game ideas, but I will share one other tool I put together besides my journal. Sorry to all the vultures who swooped in hoping to find some million-dollar nuggets!

An example page from the black game design journal, a custom Root faction.
Okay, I’ll show one page for a custom Root faction

The first time that I saw the White Box, I desperately wanted it. It contains basically everything a person might need to start developing a new game. Between pawns, dice, tokens, and chips, what more do you need? Maybe the White Box Essays, which are 25 essays on a range of design topics!

However, I realized I had an opportunity to repurpose some components that I had upgraded over the years and create my own ‘White Box’. So, without further fanfare, here’s my makeshift game design case!

Box featuring assorted tools for game design like dice, tokens, minis, and cards.
This is a veritable treasure trove of game design components!

Granted, I’ve outgrown this box and need to find a new one, but it contains quite the assortment of goodies:

  • Sets of dice for any randomization
  • Three cheap decks of cards to write on and reuse
  • Meeples of various colors
  • Generic resource tokens
  • Money tokens in varying denominations
  • Old Magic Card advertisements to cut/shape
  • Multi-colored plastic chits, an antique store find
  • Pathfinder miniatures just for kicks

Couple that with my black book full of the world’s secrets and I’m ready to rock and roll. The best time to start designing your own game was yesterday, so I’m ready to finally take the plunge.

Many of us may find ourselves with some extra time nowadays. Fight off the boredom by tackling that thing you’ve been putting off. Join me in my quest!

Start notifying your FLGS that they’re going to want to pick up a copy of whatever sweet game I cook up. It’s happening!