Game Design – A Crash Course

Having a clear calendar, I made a last-minute (ish) decision to spend £35 on a 3-hour workshop on game design. James Wallis is always entertaining and engaging, and Eclectic Games (Reading’s premier games emporium) is a friendly place to be, if a trifle warm in the summer.

James is off to Gen Con soon to run the workshop there so, like a comedian warming up for Edinburgh Fringe, was using us as testers for v3 of the content. ((What’s that you say? The Gen Con workshop is only $20?))

After 40+ minutes of history, anecdotes, and advice, we were divided into four groups and let loose on James’ supply of blank cards and arts & crafts materials. We couldn’t get the design theme to be politics but instead had to go with something British.

My group eventually agreed on a weather-themed game – “The Great British Summer” – where players play activity cards that are most appropriate for that day’s forecast (e.g. sunny for weddings, windy for kite-flying, wet or cold for staying indoors for a movie.) A lot of time went in preparing the few dozen cards and writing the rules, neither of which looked particularly flashy due to time constraints, rather than thinking how the game would be played or be fun.

After 30+ minutes, the first versions of our games were ready and we moved tables to try out the efforts of neighbouring groups.

The first game we tried – “The Sitting On The Bus Game” – was surprisingly enjoyable. Simple game mechanic of rolling a dice and placing that many of your passengers (tiddlywinks) onto seats; when a block of seats was filled, it was scored with progressively more points depending on how many passengers each player had in the block; the dice also had ‘move’ and ‘swap’ instead of the 5 and 6 to add some variety. Some questions arose around the end game as it was quite easy for one player to use up their counters a few rounds before the others, leaving them with not much to do but problems like that are perfectly acceptable in a game that didn’t exist much earlier, let alone having gone through any playtesting.

Afterwards, feedback was passed. Honesty was important and our weather game fared poorly. We could now try to rework the game but time somehow whizzed by and it felt like version 2 was almost identical to version 1. More bad reviews were bound to be on their way after the next playtest session.

This time we played ‘Shagaluf’ where you collect sets of cards to represent the sun, sex and booze you’ve enjoyed in Majorca with added stitch cards in the shape of sun-strokes, hangovers and STDs. Again, another hastily designed game that was easy to pick up and play. You could easily see how the development would proceed towards a more complete experience, especially with some decent themed artwork.

And then it was wrap-up time before James sent us off on our way. My group allowed me to take the game home and I’ll definitely give it some attention to see if there’s something I can use for family games at Christmas. Hopefully my co-designers will keep in touch and maybe share ideas on keeping the concept alive.


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1 Response to Game Design – A Crash Course

  1. James Wallis says:

    Thanks so much for taking part! The Gen Con event had to be priced along the lines of other workshops happening there–I took expert advice–and is also for twice as many people, who will therefore each be getting half as much of my time. But I’m glad you had fun and I hope it was instructive.

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