Balticon Panel Recap / Crappy First Prototypes

First, thanks to everyone who came out and attended the panel I was on at Balticon. The guys with me on the panel are geniuses who I always like comparing ideas too, and I’m glad we had a good discussion with an audience that seemed genuinely interested.

Some random points that I remember from the panel:

  • Playtesters are very important. Get people who can be brutal.
  • pic54114_md.jpgConventions are important. Not only do you have access to a wider variety of playtesters who can give you new feedback, it also allows you to network with game publishers.
  • Focus on what makes a game fun, and make sure that people are doing that as much as possible.
  • The one piece of advice 100% shared by all the panel members is that simplicity should be your main goal.
  • Kingmaker is bad.
  • One audience member described his hatred of what he termed “reverse kingmaker” (but not how I’d characterize it) where one player is essentially playing the game for another person. This can be because the rules are too complex or the decisions are too opaque, and so one person has to rely upon another who gets it more.
  • Short games can also fix that problem, in addition to solving the problem of someone losing for long periods of time. It can also minimize kingmaker.
  • “Don’t play with that person” is a fix for players, not for game designers. You should not rely upon your players to fix problems with your design, either.
  • Cooperative games are an interesting challenge since they require a greater level of balance to provide a satisfying game experience. (I’ll have to write a column on them later- and they’re an excellent candidate for my “slacker game design” rule, but they don’t have to be.)
  • When taking the final step of trying to get your game published, it can be useful to find out how much the components in your game will cost. This can also help determine what publishers you should approach with your design.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do more panels like that, I really enjoyed it, and the discussions that came out of it afterwards.

Taking yet another cue from fiction writing for game design, I’ve decided to try an experiment this week. See, I agreed to attend a game design retreat. Only problem is, between finals and whatnot, I don’t have any designs ready to be workshopped. Sure, I’m a pretty darn good guy to have workshopping someone else’s game, but why should I let everyone else have the fun?

So I need some games to bring. Of course, I have a big list of unused ideas, but I’ve been waiting for a magical “Eureka!” to actually make the prototypes with a ruleset I think is genius. Well, it’s not happening, and I have a deadline.

What am I going to do about that? I’m going to do what was recommended with writing, and just make a shitty first draft. I’m going to take the concepts and just put them to paper (and plastic, and wood, etc) to have something to work with. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a good core idea that can be revised into something good, or I’ll stumble into an interesting area of designspace I hadn’t thought of. Otherwise, I can scrap it… but at least the idea is out of my head and I’ll have room for new ones. My playtesters might not appreciate sitting down to a “shitty first draft” of a boardgame, especially when all the other stuff that gets put in front of them is immediate gold (heh, right.) But hey, that’s what good playtesters are for. However, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind being bribed with beer or cash.

I’ll let you all know how it goes, and if this is a workable technique (as it is in fiction.) I may not have a column next week while on the road at the convention. But for now, back to inventing…

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. Im in ur carcassonne, eating ur mans.

  2. ROFLcat!