Archive of ‘Board Game Design’ category

Design Diary #3 – Game Thoughts

I did a quick vlog while Pete was busy, so it’s a little shaky (sorry!). I talk about my design thoughts, where we’re at now, and what theme we’re probably going with – dungeon crawler on a train (ala Snowpiercer). This is so totally different from anything else I’ve designed – but that’s okay. It’s going to be really themey, though we’re doing some innovative things with the mechanics, I think.

DFW Nerd Night Game Design Challenge…ahhhhh!

I’m trying this thing where I vlog the DFW Nerd Night Game Design Challenge. This is the first time I’ve done any sort of video that I’ve actually uploaded. I’m hoping that this will be a good way to chronicle my thoughts without having to wait until I can sit down and write something.

Also it terrifies me, and I find that terror usually represents an excellent opportunity for growth.

Anyway, enjoy! This is my first one, so, you know, be gentle.

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!

How to Reach Out to Reviewers

Earlier today, Macktholemew (designer of Killer Croquet and owner of a name that is probably not “Macktholemew”) asked about resources for figuring out how to reach out to reviewers on the Card & Board Game Deisngers Group on Facebook. Since my day job is in digital PR (aka finding and emailing people basically all day), I figure I’m pretty qualified to discuss this. Reaching out to reviewers is just like reaching out to anybody else who’s a human being that you don’t know. You need to be:

  • Polite
  • Inquisitive
  • Interested
  • Brief

You absolutely do NOT want to be:

  • Pushy
  • Talkative
  • Scammy in the slightest (we’ll get to that)

The email template that I base most of my “cold call” requests on is this one:

Hi Reviewer,

My name is Name Naminson, and I’m the designer of a game called The Gamey Game. I’m wondering if you could tell me a bit more about how you select the games you review?

The Gamey Game has mechanics, and takes this many people. This is where I would write about the theme, and basically give my “elevator pitch” in 3 sentences or less. I would also link to my website here, as a plain link, not as a hyperlink, here:

[OPTIONAL: I’m reaching out to you with this game because of reasons (see below).]

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions! Any information you can offer would be tremendously appreciated.


This basic template can be customized with your information and stylistic preferences. It’s polite and short without asking for too much. If you simply state, “I want you to review my game,” you may turn off potential reviewers. After all, you don’t know how they select games to review! They may only review games for money, or perhaps they only pick games that they know they like. They may have been burned by past, scammy designers, and may be less open to new “pitches” from other designers.

Don’t Be Scammy

As I mentioned earlier, you want to avoid any whiff of scam. There are a few ways you can do this. First of all, do not attach images or any other documents. If a reviewer wants them, they will ask for them. Many email programs treat attachments with extra caution, too, so attaching anything makes you more likely to go to spam.

Also, do not hyperlink your website. Think about it – if a stranger sent you an email, would you click a link in it? Probably not. Give them the URL for your website or Facebook page outright. If it’s a really long URL (ie, more than about a line and a half), either give them the top-level domain (with brief directions if required) or send them to one of your social media profiles for the game instead.

Advanced Tip: Why You?

Some reviewers are perfectly happy to take a chance on an unknown designer, or review lots of games and are willing to take yours. Others are less willing to do so – so you’ll need to do the legwork for them and explain why YOUR game is awesome. However, you should still do this briefly – 1-2 sentences at the very most. You’ll want to do research and get creative here. Consider things like:

  • Do they always review a certain type of game, and your game fits that category?
  • Have they expressed a preference for a certain theme, and your game fits that theme?
  • Have they expressed a preference for a certain type of mechanic, and your game has that mechanic?
  • Does your game fit their demographic, ie, family game, “gamer game”?
  • Do you think your game fills a gap in their current roster of reviews? For example, if they’ve never covered a deckbuilder, and you have one, you could mention that.

Meanwhile, if you know a reviewer hates deckbuilders and you have one, consider not reaching out to them. Your game is probably not the one that’s going to change their mind.

Following Up

If it’s been several weeks (2 – 3 weeks and no sooner) and you haven’t heard back, you can follow up politely. Here’s my typical email for this:

Hi Name,

I reached out to you a few weeks ago to learn more about how you select games for review on Your Game Review Website. I just wanted to follow up and see if you needed any additional information about The Gamey Game, or if I can help in any way, let me know.

Feel free to get in touch, and have a great weekend!



A Few Extra Tips

  • You pay for both the cost of the prototype and shipping. If you want it back, you pay shipping both ways. Depending on your game, you could send self-addressed packing materials for your prototype’s return.
  • They’re doing you a favor. Remember that if you happen to get frustrated. Unless money has changed hands, you don’t get to dictate their timeline for reviewing or publishing the game.
  • They’re not obligated to give you a positive review. Don’t ask for a positive review.
  • Check their website for a page that explains how to submit games for reviews. If they have a page like this, then do that, instead. Always follow the process that the reviewer prefers (especially if that includes not soliciting reviews – in that case, don’t reach out. They don’t want to hear from you).
  • People are people. Think about the kind of info you’d want, and the kind of stuff you’d want to see, from a total stranger. Make yourself legitimate.
  • Put your name, email, website link, Twitter handle, etc, in your email signature. Not only is it something that will mark you as a pro, it’s also a way for them to check you out.

Wondering how to find reviewers? James Mathe has put together a list of reviewers, along with their follower counts, email addresses and websites. You can find it here, and use these tips to reach out to them!

Should you buy art?

One of the questions I’m struggling with now is something that lots of new game creators run into – should you buy art for your game? Of course, there’s two sides to that story, and I just fell on the wrong side.

NO! Don’t buy art!

When you ask most game designers where they stand on the question, you’ll hear that you should definitely not, never-ever purchase art for your game. “Publishers don’t care about your art,” they say, “and they’ll just replace it with their own artist.” That’s what I bought into, and I still actually think it’s true, in many cases.

That’s because often, art takes a backseat to the mechanics – does the game work? If not, no amount of art is really going to save it (unless it’s from a really good IP). This focus on mechanics, rather than art, is a good thing – after all, the mechanics are what make a game fun and replayable and etc etc.

Plus, says everyone, when you put too much time and effort into your art assets, you’re showing the publisher that you’re “too finished” and that you’re so proud of your baby that you won’t want to make any tweaks or changes. When you show up with a game that looks too nice, it could be a sign that you’re inflexible.

Plus, getting art for an entire game can cost you thousands of dollars. Yikes.

But wait…why NOT buy art?

geek card

This is literally the extent of my artistic and digital skills. The pinnacle of everything I have achieved can be seen in this card.

At first, I fell in line with the “don’t buy art” crowd – after all, it makes perfect sense. Then, Cool Table got accepted into the Tabletop Deathmatch, and I thought, “Okay, I need to put enough design time into this to get it off of index cards, but it doesn’t need to look great. It just needs to be functional.”

So when I finally saw my episode of the Tabletop Deathmatch (especially the rough cut), they spent a large chunk of time talking about the art and how bad it was. That was incredibly disheartening to me. I didn’t realize that we were supposed to be so far along, and that your art was an important component of this.

And they were absolutely right – my demo copy of Cool Table last year was a mess. The colors were all over the place and everything was bland and flat. I did the best I could, but it just wasn’t enough. I’m not an artist. My rudimentary skills in Inkscape are laughable, even a year later. I make stuff, but I’m not an artist.

So this year, I worked and reworked my cards and tokens and demo copy, and finally got the game mostly presentable and slightly more-well-designed, but it was still missing life. It was missing the cliques. For Cool Table, theme is important – perhaps not as important as mechanics, but it’s still a key piece of the game. And I’m definitely not capable of drawing these highly-specific cliques (nor are there images I can draw from online – YOU try finding a goth-kid-wizard-math-genius!).

After worrying about it a little, I finally decided to just pay for art. My artist friend, Cynthia Lee (who is amazing), is giving me an incredible deal (and she’s doing it incredibly fast!) and I’m absolutely thrilled. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it’s a really, really good way for publishers and playtesters to get to see a nice, better-executed game. After all, understanding the Geekroids is critical to game-winning success.

Prioritization Skills

That arrow was the bane of my existence!

That arrow was the bane of my existence!

After going through about six months of absolute down time, in which I wanted to work on nothing, write about nothing and generally do nothing, I’m getting back into the swing of things. The last 6 weeks have been crazy inspirational in terms of game design. The challenge is having so many ideas I can’t prioritize all of them. And of course, the project I most want to work on is the one I just thought about.

Of course, half-formed ideas are worth nothing. The only way to actually put something out there is to finish it – or at least get it in shape for public consumption. That’s what I’m trying to do now, but it’s so hard to stay motivated when my shoddy Inkscape skills keep getting in the way (Protip: If you’re using a tutorial for any reason, save it. Just do it. You may not need it right away, but someday, you will.) I know the slog will be worth it (Gen Con is just around the corner!), but in the meantime, gosh is it hard to figure out exactly how to get a game board printed and at what dimensions one should reasonably create art.

So – I think I’m going to pick blogging back up as a means to documenting some of my processes on specific games, and hopefully provide an outlet for talking about the projects I can’t yet work on. That way, when I have to spend 5 hours figuring out ratios of pixels and inches, I can take 5 minutes here and there to dream about what’s coming down the pipe – if only I make it through Inkscape hell.

Building a Better Sell Sheet Pt. 2

After all the discussion about sell sheets (and Luke Laurie’s awesome post about sell sheets on League of Gamemakers), I got inspired to redo old sell sheets and make nice new ones for the new games (Knight Shift & Rocket Cats). As I did each one, I think I got a little better (and learned some new Inkscape tricks).

SMALL cool table ss

Here, you can see that I’ve figured out text blocking a little bit, and tried to add some less-random flair with the top and bottom borders. It’s not fantastic, but I think it’s good enough. If I’d had time, I would have redone the logo with a transparent background (with all the files from the last year, I can’t find the original SVG logo files!).

SMALL Knight Shift sell sheet

Next up is Knight Shift. This one was a little easier because we already had some graphics pieces in place, so it was more a matter of arranging elements in a fun way. Originally, I’d planned to make the Knights more prominent, but I liked the way the hand of cards looked (and we don’t have any in-play pics of the current prototypes).

SMALL rocket cats sell sheet

Finally is Rocket Cats. This was the last one I did, and it has the least information. I started from a design this time, rather than from text, and I think it shows. It helps that this is the simplest game of the lot. I also went horizontal, rather than vertical, both for something a little different, and to fit all the planets.


A couple of weeks ago, a guest article I wrote went live over on Games & Grub. The piece of it that seemed to really resonate with people was “Just decide”, so I thought I’d expand on what that means for me.

Learning to decide was honestly the hardest part of the game design process for me. Before the Tabletop Deathmatch came up, I’d had the idea for Cool Table for about a year – the theme, the name, everything. It’s not something I actively thought about, though, because it was missing mechanics. Or rather, I had some vague ideas, but because I didn’t know the details, I hesitated to actually get started. And yes, I’d playtested it before I entered the contest, but even those were lackluster, since I didn’t know what to do to fix it.

I kept waiting for inspiration to strike. I figured that if I just thought really hard about it, the rules would come to me fully-formed. Okay, so that’s not exactly true, but it’s close enough. Is a four-card hand not enough? Is a six-card hand too much? Should I build the economy based on trading, and then, how exactly would that work? HOW WOULD YOU EVEN KNOW?

I know, based on feedback I got, that I’m not the only one who had or has trouble with this. I have a few theories for why this is a stumbling block:

  • It’s easier to keep it locked up inside your head than to deal with actually playtesting your game
  • Deciding a zillion things is super-hard
  • I mean, what if you’re WRONG? 

Turns out, the solution is (relatively) easy. All you have to do is make a decision. Then, make another decision. Write your decisions down. Playtest them. Change your mind about some of them, and keep others. Start making decisions and write down your rules, as complete as you can get them. 


No, you haven’t tested them yet, and that’s okay. Simply thinking about your ideas really hard isn’t going to lead to a solution. Putting your ideas on index cards and shoving them in front of people (ones who really care about you – this process isn’t always pretty) or even playing yourself is going to lead to a solution.

So go out there, write stuff down, and JFDI – just fudgin’ decide it!


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