10 No-No’s in Game Design

At this year’s Gen Con, I had the privilege of sitting on a couple panels with three giants in game design: Mike Gray (VP of new games acquisition for Hasbro), Reiner Knizia (most prolific board game designer in the world), and Richard Garfield (designer of Magic: The Gathering, among other great games). My friend Rob Stone helpfully took notes during the “10 No-No’s of Game Design.”

A couple hours before the seminar, Mike asked each of us to come up with our own list of 10. During the seminar, we ran through them as fast as we could, with lots of impromptu commentary. From Rob’s notes, we have the list below.

You might notice there are only 33 points coming from four people. Working in parallel, we came up with many of the same points, which reduced the overall number. Then, during the seminar, we came up with some new ones on the fly, which raised the number again. That’s what you get when you toss together four sharp people who each come at games from a different angle.

Note that not all of us agreed with every point either. In fact, we sometimes went exactly against each other, but that ended up being why the seminar worked so well.

10 No-No’s of Game Design – GenCon — August 18, 2007 – Forbeck, Garfield, Knizia, and Gray

  1. No derivatives – be original. Be unique. Something new. Innovative. Know your market. What originality or innovation are they looking for?
  2. No unclear, incomplete, illogical rules. Know who you are writing the rules for.
  3. Don’t offer your design to several publishers at the same time. Build the relationship with the publisher.
  4. Don’t stop having fun.
  5. No sacred cows. If the game is not working be willing to sacrifice the part that isn’t working.
  6. Don’t be paranoid. Play your games with people. Don’t worry about people stealing your game.
  7. Don’t have poor presentation skills. Be professional. Listen. Build a rapport.
  8. Don’t have a bad prototype. Shouldn’t be sloppy, falling apart, rules hard to read, etc.
  9. Games not being age appropriate: 2-4 year old (no reading), 6-10 (2 hours), bluffing games for kids, etc. Family games with 18 pages of rules.
  10. Make your game robust. (You don’t know who is going to play it). It’s important to play with new people otherwise you develop playing conventions. Keep a distance. Make sure your game works for many different people.
  11. Don’t stop at 80%. The last 20% takes the most effort.
  12. Listen to your playtesters. Their feedback is valid. Don’t listen to what they say, listen to what they mean.
  13. No solitaire. [No games in which it seems the players are each playing a solitaire game because they have little or no direct interaction with the other players.]
  14. Get paid on acceptance not publication.
  15. Have catchup features in your game (don’t let one person run away with it).
  16. Don’t hide your game away.
  17. Be on time.
  18. Have no fear. Try new things.
  19. Try not to design a game that is imbalanced for the any of the number of players listed. Make sure you play it with different numbers of players.
  20. Interaction is really important. A game is getting people together. Make players involved even if it’s not their turn.
  21. No vague victory conditions.
  22. Don’t make neverending games.
  23. No poor price value.
  24. No bad packaging or bad cover art. Don’t skimp on presentation.
  25. Make up your mind whether you want to work for free, and how far you want to go.
  26. Don’t use brokers unless you are dealing with a big company like Hasbro.
  27. Trust the publisher, but get an advance on contract signing.
  28. Be flexible.
  29. Game length. Don’t ignore it. It’s very important.
  30. Don’t listen too much to the nice guy. Listen to critical ones.
  31. Don’t get too caught up in the simulation of the game.
  32. Colors are very important to convey things in the game.
  33. Play a lot of different games. Learn what makes the fans like it.