Designer Advice

From time to time I'll post thoughts about game design that I hope are helpful to other designers (especially new designers)

What is a Board Game Designer? 


I often get asked, usually by people outside the industry, what a board game designer is. I've been thinking about it, and I've come up with 3 definitions that I like. 

Predictions for Hobby Board Games in 2028 


Making future predictions is, of course, fraught. You're almost always wrong. But, here we go anyway. Here are some predictions I have for the hobby side of board games in 2028. I've tried to mostly discuss how this will affect game designers, but there are general predictions here as well. And overall, while some of these predictions might at first glance seem negative, I want to say that I am still very bullish on the industry overall. The percentage of the general public that even knows modern hobby games exist is quite small, and the percentage that thinks about buying a board game when deciding how to spend entertainment dollars is even smaller still. There is still almost nowhere to go but up for the industry as a whole. So these predictions are about some of the things that will happen as a result of the industry continuing to grow.

My favorite game design resources


Here is a quick list of resources you might not know about that I find most useful in designing games:

And some other resources that you've probably already heard of but that are still worth mentioning:

New Designers: Fight the urge to Pitch Now!!


As a new designer who intends to pitch games to publishers, I understand the urge to hurry up and start contacting publishers. I experienced this urge when I was first starting out, and it's still something I struggle with. There are a lot of reasons why you might feel internal pressure to contact publishers sooner than you're really ready to. I'll focus on these:

Let's take these one by one

Fear that someone else will design a substantially similar game and get it published first. You just shouldn't worry about this. With so many games being designed every year, your game is virtually guaranteed to be similar, in various ways, to many other games. But unless you blatantly copied another game from start to finish, it's also guaranteed to be unique in various ways, too. Even if a similar game, in terms of mechanics or theme, comes out around the same time as yours, does that mean there isn't room in the marketplace for yours, too? Consider how many worker placement games there are. Or games about farming, or with a space theme. And if your game really does have a truly new mechanic or theme, having another game come out a few months or a year before yours won't necessarily hurt the chances of yours being successful. In fact, it might help your game to follow up on something that's already proven to be a success. 

You also need to consider that even if you sign your game tomorrow, it's going to take between 12 and 36 months for the game to actually become a product on a store shelf, and you have no idea and no control about what other similar kinds of games might hit the market first. So spend the time you need to spend to make your game truly pitch-ready. Don't rush it. 

Desire to start earning money (royalties) faster. Again, it's going to take 1-3 years until your game starts earning you royalties after you sign it. So what's another couple months? Pitching your game too early, before it's ready to be pitched, won't help you earn royalties faster. In fact, it will hurt your chances. A game that is rejected because it needs more development work earns you nothing in royalties. So take your time, finish your game, and then start pitching it. As a new designer, whether you sign this game or not probably doesn't determine whether you'll be able to buy food. So don't worry too much about the money yet.

Desire to sign this game so you can move on to another design. You should be working on at least two designs at the same time, anyway. Alternating your design time between two or more games gives your brain the chance to rest and reset and focus on a different problem. Working on more than one design at a time can actually help you make progress on both of them faster. If you run into a problem with a design and you aren't sure exactly how to solve it, put it away for a few days and work on another game. Then come back to the first one. Often times a new idea will present itself. 

Wanting to get feedback from Publishers so you know if your design is good and on the right path. As a new designer, you should not use publishers as a way to get feedback on your game. That's what playtesters are for. You should only approach publishers once you are confident you are ready.

Negative consequences from pitching too early

There are many potential consequences from contacting publishers and pitching games before they are ready, including:

So, when is my game ready to pitch?

Your game is ready to pitch when it checks the following boxes: