My Assumptions of Game Design


Maybe I’m floundering from idea to idea and need to re-affirm my focus. Maybe I’m trying to get myself psyched up for next week’s Game Chef Competition, which I just might enter. Maybe the winds of March are just blowing me some clarity.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking about the assumptions I bring to the table when I design a game. This is not as sweeping as Jared’s I-System Manifesto, but more like a collection of Keith’s This I Believes, except less-Polish and less-Angry.

A well-designed game should promote more fun and cooler stories than unstructured play. Otherwise, why do we design? Call it my rephrasing of “System Does Matter.”

The more engaged the players are, the more fun the game will be. Gaming runs on enthusiasm, and a game must help (dare I say “force”) the players to become enthusiastic about their own play.

If you make it up, you will care. RPGs thrive on creativity. When the game invites, encourages, and celebrates the creativity of the players, they will become engaged–that’s why they sat down at the table.

Activity spawns engagement. The more ways for each player to contribute to the game, the more they will be engaged. Taking turns is a great organizational tool, but there should be opportunity for fun/play/creativity even when it isn’t your turn. If you’re sitting at the table, you should be doing something.

Decision spawns engagement. When a player is forced to make a decision, with clear understanding of his options and the consequences of them, he must engage with the game. Randomness has its place, but decisions are the important moments of the game that will be remembered.

Preparation for play is a bug, not a feature. My life is busy. So is everyone else’s. When I set aside time to game, I want to play, not be forced to set aside additional time to prepare to play. It adds to the time-cost of the game and makes it less likely that it will be played. Preparatory tasks should be brought into gameplay whenever possible.

This, I believe…


10 Responses to “My Assumptions of Game Design”

  1. Preach it, brother.

  2. I like those statements, and they are as clearly spoken here as in WGP…, if y’ask me.

  3. 3 Anonymous

    You know how when you go out to a club to see a band you find yourself surrounded by cool-looking folks who seem to channel the the music, in their body language, attitude, and apparel? Consciously, you know they’re actually conformed by the music, that probably most of them have unsatisfying jobs, and couldn’t play a chord if their lives depended on it, but it seems as if they are almost as much a part of producing it as the actual band? A well-designed roleplaying game does that. It penetrates the players. It orchestrates and lends power and validity to their creativity. Through it, the players become more of who they want to be. Yet it never lets on that they weren’t that already, creatively and emotionally, entirely without it.

  4. Quit bugging me!
    The whole spending hours before a game to game really cuts down on the fun.
    Even in board games. We play Settlers of Catan less because putting the board together is a pain. Havint the board be custimizable is cool, but the actual putting the board together is a pain.
    I’m terrible at rules. I can’t learn by hearing them. It becomes all mumble to me, only when I’m doing it will I learn anything. So peanding lots fo time reading or having rules read to me won’t help. But if you can jst jump in and play- Or even learn by playing-
    Hey! I just thought of something. Some of the PS2 games we got for Dalys have a pregame – game. Like SIMs and Mojo where you play a sample game to learn how to “PLAY” the game before your go off and do the tough stuff.
    Wouldn’t in be cool to design an RPG with a “pregame” learning phase- so that creating character and learning the mechanics were a game experience?
    I think Dogs handles this with its character creation when you “hope I learned to stop drinking so much” part of the character creation process.

  5. Hm. There’s optional, essential, and useless pre-game preparation.
    Useless is like, um, plotting out an entire session of PTA before play. Just don’t do it.
    Essential is, let’s say, town creation in Dogs. That sound about right? I mean, you can do it lickety-split, in five minutes, maybe, but it’s still essential.
    Optional is the note I hand wrote for a Sorcerer session. Took me five minutes, tops. I wrote it on an index card. Didn’t have to — I could just have said, “The note says X”.

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