July 2014 archive

Never Leave Home Without an Index Card

If there’s one absolutely indispensible tool in my game design arsenal, it’s index cards. Nearly every game I create starts out as a batch of index cards, scribbled on furiously. I’m even known to haunt back-to-school sales to find the best deals on index cards (penny school supply deals at Staples! thirty cent packs at Target!). Since I’m such an index card junkie, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tips for using index cards:

1) Never use a whole card.

Unless you need tons of space, cutting 3×5 (or even better, 4×6) index cards in half gives you plenty of room for scribbling down the information you’ll need. While cutting them in half can take some time, you can make it easier on yourself with this method:

  • Accept that perfection is unattainable.
  • Use a box cutter to score the center of 3-5 cards at a time.
  • Pull them apart and write!

2) Get ruled index cards.

You might feel that blank index cards are best, because it allows more room for creativity. Wrong. Lined index cards allow you to create two different decks should your game require it. Just use “lined backs” for one set and “blank backs” for the other.

3) Splurge on colored cards.

Need even more decks? Using a pack of colored index cards is the way to go. This will let you sort them out quickly, rather than reading the scribbles on each card.

4) Buy card boxes.

What got me using index cards in the first place wasn’t the cards themselves, but the boxes you can buy to hold them. After using one to hold a game I’d printed/cut myself, I realized that the box would work even better to hold two stacks of cut-in-half index card decks. This keeps my prototypes organized – I just label the “spines” of the box with the game and version number.

5) Great for odd shapes, too.

Even if you don’t need cards, index cards are a great weight for prototype tokens and hexes. They’re thick enough to have a little more heft than paper, but cheap enough that you don’t have to worry if you wind up tossing them out entirely. Plus, if you only need a handful of tokens, it’s better¬†to punch/cut them from index cards than to waste a whole sheet of cardstock.

While I know that everyone has their favorite game design tool, in my mind, index cards are the most indispensible one. What’s yours?

Building a Better Sell Sheet

There’s been a lot of talk about sell sheets lately in the game designer community, especially with Gen Con coming up so quickly. A sell sheet is basically like a business card or webpage for your game – it gives information about what the game is like, the components it needs, and some images. The trick to a sell sheet is to keep it brief and, as Andrew Federspiel puts it, “sexy.” While I completely missed the “brief” portion of it with last year’s sell sheet for Cool Table, I think there’s plenty of sex in here: cool table sell sheet image

Click here to see a larger PDF version: Cool Table Sell Sheet

This year, I have a few revamps to do. The sell sheets I’ve seen that really knock me over are graphics-heavy (which is kind of “yikes” for me, but I think I can put something together). I want to cut by text by a third to a half, and replace the images with better-quality ones. So, I have my work cut out for me!

An Improv Engagement

I was looking back through old posts and I realized I’d never posted this. So, last November, this happened:

Pete arranged a whole improv show, just to propose. The theme was “Fall, In Love” and the other teams were all couples. It was incredible. Much thanks to Abby Fudor for the gorgeous video. :-)

Workin’ On My Knight Moves

10547489_606475068362_330321728007750060_nOne idea that’s been hanging around for over a year is a kawaii breakfast-themed deckbuilder. Part Diner Dash, part adorbs, all fun. It started as a Tanto Cuore clone, then fell prey to the soul-sucking black hole that was this past fall and winter.

I dragged it back out this spring to take a look at it with fresh eyes. Combined with some new game mechanics I’d been playing and tinkering with, it became a fun new game – but with just one problem: Sushi Go. Kawaii, adorable sushi is pretty similar to kawaii, adorable breakfasts. I’d even planned for the waffles and pancakes to have faces! Woe is me, back to the thematic drawing board.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Pete and I realized it could be a Cool Table-themed game. But universe games, as I mentioned, make me feel a little uncomfortable. So, during a night of drinking, we came up with a great name: Hard Day’s Knight. A quick Google revealed its untenability, but Knight Shift fit the bill. A pun, and a reference to some game mechanics? Yep, we’re in!

So, freshly inspired, we banged out the rules for what would become a super-fun little game. It’s got drafting, espionage, intrigue, press-your-luck, and some really fun flavor text. We’re in the midst of coming up with some fun prototype graphics and overhauling the scoring system to be simpler.

We’re pretty excited. We’ve worked on a couple of other games together, but this one seems to have the most traction – plus, since it’s just cards, it’ll be easy to prototype and produce…

If only our printer would stop running out of yellow toner.

Why Game Designers Should Keep a Notebook

As a lifelong journaller, I love notebooks. As a newbie game designer, I love checking out other peoples’ processes. I figured I’d combine them both and talk about my game design notebook.

I was initially tempted to just keep my game design stuff where I write everything else down. But my logical brain figured out that this would be a great way to lose work. So I compromised and bought a notebook – but it’s not organized at all. I’m using the same principles as a spark file – brains really like to smoosh things together, and by choosing not to organize, stuff sometimes organically comes together in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

I use a long rectangular sketchbook with pages way bigger than I’d ever want to use in real life. That way, if I have a cool idea, I can actually sketch out a board if needed and try things out, or do a gigantic brain map, or just keep really, really detailed notes.

board game design notebook

Here’s what I keep in the notebook:

  • Game theme ideas
  • Game mechanic ideas
  • Sketches of boards, cards or other components
  • Playtest notes
  • Card breakdowns
  • Contact information for other game designers
  • Marketing information, ie, “Seriously, Who’s Going to Buy This?”
  • Taped-in cards, sell sheets or other pieces from mine and other games

I love this approach because it’s really freeing. I tend to like to keep things in their place, but with game design, you have to be willing to take risks and try new things. The space is so competitive that there’s really not room to keep retreading old territory (unless you’re Love Letter). And this is one way I’ve found to keep trying new things and bring ideas together into new, amazing games.