Home Forums General Game Design Where do you start in designing a game?

Viewing 16 posts - 1 through 16 (of 16 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #8470
    Avatar photoHoward Whitehouse
    Participant

    Many of us have designed our own wargames, or at the very least tinkered with a set of rules we like. There seem to be many ways of approaching this. How do you go about it?

    In my current situation I am writing rules for – wait for it – the wars between the Huron and the Iroquois in the mid C17th. One of the big, popular eras, as you’ll understand.

    It’s a commissioned work rather than the product of my own fevered brain, for a bigger figures/rules/maybe terrain project dreamed up my old pal Bob Murch of Pulp Figures. So I had to find out about the era from scratch, more or less. I also had to decide what the key elements of the game ought to be – because not everything matters, and some things are best avoided (like the extensive torture of captives that was part of the culture — no, no rules for that in the game).

    Then I needed to decide what sort of game mechanisms to use. I’ve designed quite a few games, and have certain rules devices I like. But that doesn’t mean the rules are all the same by any means, and I needed to decide which methods worked for a kind of warfare that involved a lot of moving stealthily,  ambushes, shooting bows though woods, and quickly resolved running fights rather than big, stand-up battles. Not like vikings, or hoplites.

    I chose a set of Sci-Fi rules I’d written as a ‘template’ – it has lot of scurrying about in cover – then threw out about 70% of it and changed ‘marine’ to ‘warrior’ 🙂 And another chunk will vanish when I get some volunteer playtesters to see what they think of it all.

    How do you approach rules design?

     

    I do all my own stunts.

    #8472
    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage
    Participant

    I start by letting someone else do the heavy lifting. Then I let them develop their ideas. Then I let them playtest their work.

     

    Then I buy their rules.

     

    Put me down as a ‘not really interested in writing my own rules’

    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    #8475
    Avatar photoBandit
    Participant

    How do you approach rules design?

    My Philosophy:

    • define focus & scope
    • adhere to the focus & scope above all else
    • solve problems within scope
    • avoid special cases at all costs
    • polish
    • revise
    • polish
    • repeat

    Personal Rules for Design:

    • write the rules down
    • play test the rules from the text not from your mind
    • get people who don’t know you to test them
    • listen to the feedback you get but don’t get wrapped up in it
    • don’t pretend the rules are the charts, the rules are the text, the charts are an aid

    That’s just me. May not work for you.

    #8478
    Avatar photoHoward Whitehouse
    Participant

    Great answer, Bandit!  Brilliant stuff!

    The part about getting total strangers to test your rules from what’s written own without your being there is particularly valuable.

    I would quibble slightly about special cases, but only in that special cases should be rare and specific. For instance, in the rules I mentioned, the amazing Shining Wood is a weapon that terrifies,  spits fire, takes two turn to load, and negates all my nice bone armour. Nothing else is anything like it. So it gets its own paragraph long section. Luckily it’s rare, and you have to be nice to the weird, hairy white people to get even one. And the fuse goes out in the rain, dammit.

    Where I’d see it as a problem is where every other thing has its own special rules. That suggests very poor initial structure of the game.

    I do all my own stunts.

    #8483
    Avatar photoBandit
    Participant

    would quibble slightly about special cases, but only in that special cases should be rare and specific.

    Agreed. My working presumption is that if you set the goal of none, you’ll still end up with some and that is probably just happy and fine. If you start out saying you’ll use some here and there, they may get away from you and you’ll end up with many.

    Where I’d see it as a problem is where every other thing has its own special rules. That suggests very poor initial structure of the game.

    Indeed. This is the characteristic that most often causes me to feel a game design is broken. I played a game at a convention that had many rules which I would consider “special case” and they were for very, very common situations. The result was that there were very few “general case rules” for players to work from. An example for point of illustration:

    While the frontage of a line on the gaming table is wide enough to allow three or more units in column to make contact with it, only 2v1 contacts are allowed in the game.

    This caused me to inquire as to why. I was instructed that it was because 1) game balance issues, 2) “there really isn’t enough space for 3 columns to hit a line, it just looks that way”.

    I saw this as a consistency failure in that their ground scale and their mechanics which resulted in a complication for players who had to remember that there was a special rule which superseded what appeared to be the case on the tabletop.

    #8492
    Avatar photogrizzlymc
    Participant

    It varies, but generally follows the following scheme:

    1.  Buy some shiny new toys

    2. Paint them bright colours

    3.  Buy som uniform guides

    4. Edit my panting

    5. Wirte some rules

    6. Play a first game with totally innapropriate scenery

    7. Stop painting figs and make piles of scenery

    8. Play another game

    9. Buy some rules

    10. Re base all my figs, combine/split units

    11. Play another game

    12.  Buy some books about the period

    13 Divide the size of battles by the size of my table

    14. Establish a turn length which does not see units destroy each other in a turn, cross the table in two turns, or in 50

    15 Establish weapon lethality in timescale at distance

    16. Establish what controlled morale

    17. Rebase and re split combine my troops

    18. Play big game

     

    1. Buy some nice shiny figs.

    #8504
    Avatar photoExtraCrispy
    Participant

    I don’t necessarily have a strict process for rules development. But there are a few thins I always do in some order or other.

    First, I write a draft. Usually a new set is based on an old set. As I am a writer by inclination I can bang out a draft from brainwave to the page in a couple hours. When I write a draft I leave the charts blank. So I can tinker with just, say, firing without having to touch the draft. But if I change the rule obviously I start with a new blank chart.

    Second, get outside play testers. I feel I can always spot a set of rules that was play tested by the author’s club. There’s just loads of ambiguity that would have been cleaned up had an outsider asked those obvious questions.

    Third, keep it tight. Cover 99% of the situations (as I see them) in the draft. I think miles of gray area where you are supposed to just “wing it” is just lazy design work. Unacceptable when you sell the book like a business. If they are free – kinda like “my 2 pagers for the French & Indian Wars” – then I expect more of a crib sheet and expect I’ll make a lot of it up as I go.

    There are some other approaches I have. For example:

    • Exceptions, One Offs: These are not in the rules but should be elsewhere. The weapon example above should be in the army lists not in the rules. So a player might have a couple notes about his army’s special ability or special weapon or whatever. No biggie. HOWEVER if there’s something so outside the norm it changes the rules, then I rewrite. For example, if this one vehicle moves in a completely unique way that doesn’t “fit” the normal movement rules, I rewrite how it works. It  may be fast, it may move twice, it may always move first, but it will otherwise follow the normal rules. Another example is things that belong in a scenario. Maybe low ammo – each side gets a number of ammo points and every time a unit fires one gets “spent.”
    • Minimal Modifiers: If you end up with more than a few modifiers for a chart/mechanic you need to rewrite it. I read a set of rules where the spotting chart started out easy enough. Cross spotter’s skill with distance and get a target score. Opponent calculated the result. But oh lord the modifiers. A few made sense – unit size and composition (a small squad or a 30 vehicle convoy)? But the chart had I think 25 or 30 other modifiers. That’s a bad mechanic.
    • Pick the right dice: Use whatever dice you like but use just one kind. If at all possible, use all D10 or all D12 or all D6. I’m working on an Aeronef game that uses all D12 so you can “roll” the hours of the clock for directions. All the other mechanics are oriented toward the D12 as a result.
    • Good Charts: Designing a good chart is an art all its own. A good chart makes the game go faster, not slower. The shooting in Johnny Reb III is a lesson in what not to do. Big chart, lots of modifiers, and some of them are only in the rule book, not on the chart itself.
    • At Most One Marker: This is a personal preference. A unit should never require more than a single marker, and if you can eliminate that, all the better. My SciFi rules require an “order die” for each squad. My rules have two phases and three orders for 6 possible results. I use a small cube painted green to match the table. I prefer rosters to markers.
    #8505
    Avatar photoMike
    Keymaster

    Took me a while to work out how I did mine.
    6mm sci-fi skirmish by the way.

    I started with the turn sequence.

    Then once I had that noted down I went on to infantry movement.

    I wanted the range of the most common weapon to be such that it would take an infantry figure about 2 or 3 turns to move from out of range to melee.
    Not sure why, though being able to move from out of weapon range into melee in one go just seems like a bad idea to me.
    Ah hang on, using D6 and having a 1 in 3 chance to hit means that taking 3 turns to close means you are likely to be hit once.
    Maybe that is why I did it?
    Anyway…

    Then command, I wanted a way to reflect what a man in the field would be most likely to do rather than what a man in a living room rolling dice wants the man to do.
    So orders with difficulties based on the order itself, not based on the man’s experience.
    For example telling someone to take cover or fall back when under fire is likely to result in a success.
    Telling the same person to attach bayonet and run across open ground toward the people shooting you is less likely to result in success.

    The troops and stats.
    Very few stats, just what they modify their attack rolls by, what they modify their command rolls by.

    Then it kind of flowed from there…

    #8541
    Avatar photoSteve Burt
    Participant

    I don’t necessarily have a strict process for rules development. But there are a few thins I always do in some order or other.

    • Exceptions, One Offs: These are not in the rules but should be elsewhere. The weapon example above should be in the army lists not in the rules. So a player might have a couple notes about his army’s special ability or special weapon or whatever. No biggie. HOWEVER if there’s something so outside the norm it changes the rules, then I rewrite. For example, if this one vehicle moves in a completely unique way that doesn’t “fit” the normal movement rules, I rewrite how it works. It may be fast, it may move twice, it may always move first, but it will otherwise follow the normal rules. Another example is things that belong in a scenario. Maybe low ammo – each side gets a number of ammo points and every time a unit fires one gets “spent.”
    • Minimal Modifiers: If you end up with more than a few modifiers for a chart/mechanic you need to rewrite it. I read a set of rules where the spotting chart started out easy enough. Cross spotter’s skill with distance and get a target score. Opponent calculated the result. But oh lord the modifiers. A few made sense – unit size and composition (a small squad or a 30 vehicle convoy)? But the chart had I think 25 or 30 other modifiers. That’s a bad mechanic.
    • Pick the right dice: Use whatever dice you like but use just one kind. If at all possible, use all D10 or all D12 or all D6. I’m working on an Aeronef game that uses all D12 so you can “roll” the hours of the clock for directions. All the other mechanics are oriented toward the D12 as a result.
    • Good Charts: Designing a good chart is an art all its own. A good chart makes the game go faster, not slower. The shooting in Johnny Reb III is a lesson in what not to do. Big chart, lots of modifiers, and some of them are only in the rule book, not on the chart itself.
    • At Most One Marker: This is a personal preference. A unit should never require more than a single marker, and if you can eliminate that, all the better. My SciFi rules require an “order die” for each squad. My rules have two phases and three orders for 6 possible results. I use a small cube painted green to match the table. I prefer rosters to markers.

     

    All stuff I’d agree with – particularly ‘pick one dice size’. Rules which use multiple dice sizes are an instant turn-off for me; we seem to spend the evening saying ‘oops rolled a d8 when I should have rolled a d10. Has anybody seen the d4?’ and so on

    One thing I’d add. After the first game, a new player should really be able to play from the Quick Reference charts. If he can’t, then you should try and simplify the rules until he can.

    Of course, it is always much easier to add rules than take them out, but taking out non-essential stuff and streamlining is what differentiates really good rules, to my mind. It usually takes a long time and lots of blind playtesting (i.e. rules designed not present) to do it.

     

    #8560
    Avatar photoBandit
    Participant

    Pick the right dice: Use whatever dice you like but use just one kind. If at all possible, use all D10 or all D12 or all D6. I’m working on an Aeronef game that uses all D12 so you can “roll” the hours of the clock for directions. All the other mechanics are oriented toward the D12 as a result.

    I very much concur with this and want to stress: the right dice. Don’t just pick a kind you like (that too is important) but also pick dice that suit the need, as ExtraCrispy points out: a D12 matches the hours of a clock. I suppose you could also use a combination of other dice and have a chart or use math to get the output you want, the suitability of using a D12 will make this mechanic convenient and approachable for players.

    Good Charts: Designing a good chart is an art all its own. A good chart makes the game go faster, not slower. The shooting in Johnny Reb III is a lesson in what not to do. Big chart, lots of modifiers, and some of them are only in the rule book, not on the chart itself.

    This is also a strong point with a good example. Good chart design is hard. Having a uniform layout to the charts really helps with both approachability and players building familiarity with the charts. Uniformly laid out charts are pretty uncommon but otherwise players have to learn how to use each chart because they are all unique…

    An additional criticism of Johnny Reb’s charts that we can all learn from (version 3 charts are radically different from version 1 & 2 but they have some shared problems):

    Modify fewer vectors! Don’t change the number of dice and the to-hit number and casualty outcome and the saving throw target number…

    Minimal Modifiers

    Indeed. And you need a focused criteria for them: What is the application of each? What is the impact of each? If you use something only 15% of the time but it radically changes the outcome… OK. If you use something 90% of the time but it never changes the outcome… why is it there?

    One thing I’d add. After the first game, a new player should really be able to play from the Quick Reference charts.

    And I’d say this is far more dependent on how approachable and how clear the charts are than people presume. Providing the formula players should apply within the chart is important even though most players can “figure it out” if they need to, don’t make them figure it out:

    For each unit in contact with the enemy roll 2D6, apply modifiers, compare score with opponent and apply results.

    Cite the rule # or page # for each mechanic on the appropriate chart. If I’m resolving combat but have a question, I go find the rule book, I look for an index, oh it is one of the 75% that don’t have an index, OK, now I look at the table of contents…etc… If the rule # or page # is noted on the chart, I can pickup the rule book and go straight to it.

    I’d also add Internally Consistent. If you call it a “fallback” in one place a “withdrawal” in another place and perhaps other words in other places… how does the player know what is what? Internal consistency of terminology, methods, presentation & layout, etc… all very important.

    #8915
    Avatar photomatakishi
    Participant

    Usually I have an idea for a setting and then spend quite a bit of time deciding what I want the game to do. Once I know where I’m going I set about thinking up ways to get there.

    I work ‘top down’ so that I have to add things rather than take them away which, for me, makes the decision of whether to add something new that I’ve just thought of easier to quantify. I start with a (short) list of features and do my best to implement them in as straight forward way as possible. Obviously this results in a quick play, fast and furious game with bags of flavour (to quote another post)

    All my games are designed for convention play so we’re not talking about big games with a wide scope like a set of WWII rules but rather a game to recreate a particular event or type of event occurring in quite limited circumstances. I wrote a Rorke’s Drift game for instance with no attempt to include the rest of the Zulu conflict, no rules for open field manoeuvering, artillery, weather, OOBs etc.

    I try for multi-player, short duration scenarios (1-2 hours max), no ‘exceptions’ to the rules, continuous player involvement (no downtime), no player eliminations, and, of course, the game must be engaging. I think a game is engaging if the outcome is dependent on player decisions based on what’s presented to them on the table rather than who knows their way around the rules the best so that’s my focus.

    After this I put in place the things that make the setting unique, the things that I want to highlight as important or interesting about the conflict or the aspect of the game play I want to emphasise, sometimes this will be a single aspect. My current game in progress concentrates on small strike teams in a sci fi setting. The mechanics are designed to enable team members to directly influence and support the effectiveness of each other in order to achieve their goal. This was the aspect I wanted to implement so everything else was built around it.

    I’ve avoided nuts and bolts examples here for the sake of brevity and generalisation but I’m happy to elaborate if anyone cares to question.

    #8918
    Avatar photoAnonymous
    Inactive

    <SNIP>
    This is also a strong point with a good example. Good chart design is hard. Having a uniform layout to the charts really helps with both approachability and players building familiarity with the charts. Uniformly laid out charts are pretty uncommon but otherwise players have to learn how to use each chart because they are all unique…
    <snip>

    This is something I came to appreciate with the newer Two Hour War Games rules charts. How many D6 to use in the top left corner, same layout, and so on…

    #8921
    Avatar photoHoward Whitehouse
    Participant

    Usually I have an idea for a setting and then spend quite a bit of time deciding what I want the game to do. Once I know where I’m going I set about thinking up ways to get there —  After this I put in place the things that make the setting unique, the things that I want to highlight as important or interesting about the conflict or the aspect of the game play I want to emphasise, sometimes this will be a single aspect. n.

    That’s very well put. That’s the problem with the  approach where someone takes a set of rules they already know and like, and simply transport it into another era or genre without really thinking about it much. The absolutely worst game I’ve ever played was a  recreation of the Canadian attack at Ortona in WWII using a home-brewed WH40K variant, where there were no rules for suppression but armour saves of ‘6’ for having steel helmets. Also, we had to get across the table in six turns, even though this was impossible even if there had been no pesky Germans.

    I do all my own stunts.

    #8968
    Avatar photoMcLaddie
    Participant

    That’s the problem with the  approach where someone takes a set of rules they already know and like, and simply transport it into another era or genre without really thinking about it much.

    That often is a problem, particularly if that someone doesn’t know what specific mechanics were supposed to represent in the first place, let alone what the designer had in mind as general goals for the original game.

    My approach to design is partly in response to my work, but my first step is to ask

    1. what do I want the players to experience in play.

    2. What game decisions will they have.

    3. What role are they going to play, what kind of challenges will they face visa vie what will be represented, and what are the takeaways in terms of knowledge and skill.  And of course, how that all will be entertaining.  Last consideration in starting are the physical and time constraints.

    The second step is to decide how play will be processed: how time will be monitored, if you will.  The backbone of any game or simulation.  It can be divided by time [e.g. turns of 20 minutes] by activities [cards, pips actions etc.] Events [turns are delineated by things that happen in the game, from a variable length turn based on die rolls, to so many cards being played or night]

    Everything flows from there, including how particular mechanisms and game equipment will be constructed.

    Once the system has been designed you carry out playtesting, revision, simulation testing, revision, wash and repeat until the system does what you want in a user-friendly way. That isn’t the way I designed the board game “Napoleon’s Last Triumph’ as I was still learning, but it is certainly how I do it now for training and educational simulation games.

     

     

     

     

    #10453
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré
    Participant

    I often write rules around a few game mechanics that I want to be the core of the rules. This might be a particular way to resolve combat, or a particular way to do the turn sequence. Of course, I have thought beforehand whether the mechanic is going to model something I really want to include in the game for the given period and scale of the game.

    I consider those mechanics “immutable” and everything else as mutable. I.e. all other rules can be modified, but the core mechanics, which are the heart of the game, should not be touched. Otherwise, we would end up with a different game.

    As an example, in our rules for scifi skirmishes, there are two mechanics which cannot be touched: each figure has a number of action points, and each action in the game does cost one or more action points; and firing resolved by throwing a die vs. distance (in hexes). Most other rules are then designed against those core ideas.

    Tiny Tin Men Blog: http://snv-ttm.blogspot.com/
    Wargaming Mechanics Blog: http://wargaming-mechanics.blogspot.com/

    #10477
    Avatar photomatakishi
    Participant

    This is often the way the process starts for me, thinking of a way to model something, but nothing is immutable if a better game will result from a change.

    Only last week (last month actually, but, you know, rhetorical license!) I ditched the founding principle and original ‘cool’ idea for my latest rules which resulted in a much better final project. The original idea sparked the year long process and didn’t make it to the end, sad but true.

    The game’s good though and the creating process was one of the best yet so it served a purpose.

Viewing 16 posts - 1 through 16 (of 16 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.