Making a new game is a very long process that can take anything from a few months to many years. It usually starts with a spark of an idea, that slowly glows in the mind of a designer, getting bigger over time until eventually becoming a flame that burns for many months before finally lighting the fire. However, a new game can also come in a flash of inspiration that rapidly spreads and lights up every synapse and brain cell, forcing itself into life. I want to look at these initial, sometimes laborious, steps of game design to find out how designers feed our appetite for new games.
It feels like a long time ago now, but thinking back to AireCon, which took place last month, still puts a smile on my face. It meant a long car journey for me, travelling over five hours from the South Coast all the way up to Harrogate in deepest Yorkshire. I started early, around 6am, on the Friday, because I was aiming to get there by lunchtime. I wanted to see a few people who were going to be there – one of my wonderful Patreon supporters, a game designer who I got chatting to on Twitter and who was demoing his new game at the event, a more established game designer who I was hoping to arrange an interview with, as well as the board game “celebrities” who had made their way from across the pond. It was going to be busy.
We all love to play board games. We each have our favourite genres, themes and mechanisms, and ultimately our favourite games. Over time our favourites change of course, as new games come out and we get a chance to play them. Yet, when we play a board game, we don’t usually think about how this game came into being in the first place. Chances are we know the designer of the game. In fact, we might have chosen the game because we like other games by the same designer. Yet, very few will have any inkling of the hard work the designer has put into taking a spark of an idea and turning it into a working game. In the film The Games Designers written and directed by Eric Rayl, Mike Selinker phrases it really well: “Board game design is hard, like, I mean, real hard.”
The list of tasks a game designer has open at any one point in time can be very long and it is constantly evolving. Designing a game is a long journey, even for the simplest of games. It can be a battle between what’s good for the game and what the game designer wants the game to be. It comes with a lot of changes, some of them very painful, some of them creating the long-needed breakthrough that breaks an impasse. Elements get added, others get taken out until eventually, the final product bears little resemblance to the notes that were scribbled on a piece of paper when the designer had an initial idea.
We all play games for different reasons, and we all approach them differently. In fact, we may play the same game differently on two different days, just because we’re in a different mood. However, I’m not talking about playing a different strategy or choosing a different character or even just playing with a different player colour. I’m talking about something different altogether.
It was around this time last year that I came back from my first visit to a UK tabletop games exhibition, all elated and happy. I had felt welcome and saw a lot of opportunities for the little venture I had in mind at the time. I spoke to a lot of people, looked at a lot of games, bought more than I probably should have and realized that I wanted to work a lot more in this wonderful industry. Of course, I’m talking about UK Games Expo, and I was back again this year, and it was even better – if that’s possible.
I am very lucky to have a group of friends who live nearby and who all love playing tabletop games. We meet once a week, more or less, round each other’s houses, taking turns to make sure nobody is the host all the time, bring snacks and drinks, so it doesn’t get too expensive for anyone, and play a game or two, depending on how we feel and what we play. These games nights are very important to me, but not everyone is blessed with this opportunity, so I want to talk about what other options there are.
UK Games Expo 2019 is around the corner now. In just over three weeks, 40,000 or so visitors and over 350 exhibitors will descend on the Birmingham NEC to explore the over 24,000 sqm’s worth of exhibition halls, plus the dozen or so of rooms in the nearby NEC Hilton Hotel and probably other venues. From Friday, 31 May to Sunday, 2 June, the family friendly exhibition celebrates all things tabletop games and offers virtually everyone something of interest. I will be there on the Sunday and can’t wait to see what’s on offer.
I joined the tabletop games industry as a blogger only recently (less than a year ago actually) and my journey really started when I visited UK Games Expo in 2018. I had started to work on a little project that I thought might eventually make it onto Kickstarter, and I felt that by attending the event I could do a little research, maybe get some contacts and generally get a better feel for the tabletop games industry and community. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, because the UK Games Expo is an amazing event, and the whole atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming. I would argue that my visit to the expo made up my mind about wanting to do more within this great community – and I knew I had to return for UK Games Expo 2019.
A lot of games now come with an option to play against an artifical oponent – often called an AI, or automa. Don’t worry though, the AI won’t try to take over the world and enslave humanity. Instead an automa is there to offer the option of an additional player. In fact, some games allow you to add multiple automa, if you so wish. Artificial oponents come in many flavours and often provide different levels of difficulty, allowing you to choose how tough you want your new opponent to be.