A Shout-Out to The Board Game Design Course by Joe Slack

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If you’re a long-time reader of this site, you likely know that my passion is helping people create their first board game. After all, that’s what the Start to Finish: Publish and Sell Your First Board Game series is all about.

But, of course, you shouldn’t just rely on one guide on one website! You’d be missing a ton of useful information. That’s why I wanted to take a moment to shout out Joe Slack’s website, The Board Game Design Course.

Click here to check out The Board Game Design Course.

There are two things I particularly like about Joe’s approach to teaching game design:

#1

Joe’s reached out to a wide variety of game designers, so you’ll hear a lot of diverse opinions on how to create great games. The sheer variety of sources of advice that he makes available, particularly in the Board Game Design Virtual Summit, means that someone, somewhere will say something that will really resonate with you.

#2

He’s providing learning material in multiple formats, including books, courses, a virtual design summit, and a blog. The blog is updated weekly, just like this one, with posts that go into detail on all kind of important game design information. He also does weekly mailers, too!

The courses, design summit, and books cost money, it’s true, but they’re also thoughtfully crafted and reasonably priced. Like a lot of folks, I’m super skeptical about “online courses.” Still, knowing how much work goes into making them, any thoughtfully made ones under the $300 range are worth considering.

Click here to check out The Board Game Design Course.

Overall, if you’re looking for more board game design advice, Joe’s site is a good place to start!

On that note, this is the first time I’ve made a whole post to shout out another blog. Let me know if there’s anyone else whose work you like in the comments below. I get a lot of traffic from Google these days and would love an opportunity to boost the visibility of other thoughtful creators. I’m especially interested in anyone who shares my mission: to help first time board game designers get started!





5 Ways to Vet Your Board Game Before Launching a Kickstarter

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Everybody wants to be a board game designer these days. We have the beautiful fortune of working in a hot industry that’s always bringing in fresh talent. With fresh talent comes fresh ideas. With fresh ideas comes many more rotten ideas created in the process.

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Nobody wants to launch a Kickstarter campaign only to have it fail. Many board game designers are competent in every aspect of board game design, except for testing the premises of their ideas. And hey, no judgment – I’ve made the same mistake and as a marketing guy, I should darn well know better! So with all this in mind, let’s talk about vetting your board game ideas before going through all the rigamarole of launching a Kickstarter campaign.

Remember the phrase “product-market fit.” If you want to sell something, remember that value is subjective and based upon what your audience desires. If they don’t want what you’re selling, no amount of ads, discounts, pretty pages, or anything else will get your game sold. You have to make sure there is real market demand first. Here are four methods you can use as a proxy for product-market fit within the board game industry.

1. Send a prototype to a play-testing service before launching a Kickstarter.

I think play-testing services, in general, are a good way to spend money. Play-testing is how we perform quality assurance in the board game industry. The standards are exacting and the process is circuitous. That’s why I’ve plugged the GameSmiths on the blog in the past. I think that their services provide tremendous economic value when you think in terms of time saved.

That said, we’re not talking about quality assurance here. We’re talking about product-market fit. As it turns out, even professional play-testers are gamers first and foremost. Often, if they give a game low reviews even though it’s technically well-designed, it’s because they have the sense that something is…off. That undefined “something” is often a canary in the coal mine of bigger problems with marketability.

In board games, poor product-market fit doesn’t often look like slam reviews from reviewers, gamers, or play-testing services. Poor product-market fit looks like faint praise and 6/10 reviews. This industry is powered by people who are in love with board games, and anything that doesn’t quite seem right will often receive no more than a mediocre review. Paid play-testers often provide reviewer-esque feedback before you go to the hassle of completing a game, printing a short run, and sending a game out to reviewers.

2. Go to a Protospiel convention before launching a Kickstarter.

Does paying for a play-testing service seem a bit too clinical? Does the feedback seem a bit stilted and inorganic? Fortunately, there is a way to get real feedback from board games in a natural environment. You can go to local conventions called Protospiels and share your half-finished board games and no one will balk. It’s the culture!

Product-market fit can often be felt long before a game is polished. People feel attracted to a game, even in its rough state, when product-market fit is present. If you take your game to a Protospiel and it’s got typos and a couple of slipshod rules but people still come back for more, then you’ve got product-market fit.

Now here’s the big risk with this approach: it’s easy to see what you want to see. Board game design is super personal. It’s a creative outlet. Designers and even publishers often don’t see the warning signs because, frankly, it hurts to look. It hurts to see that your idea isn’t catching on with your target audience.

With that in mind, let’s talk about more objective ways of measuring interest.

3. Release a print-and-play version of your game before launching a Kickstarter.

A lot of the time, you can often launch a print-and-play (PNP) version of a board game long before you consider a Kickstarter campaign. The internet makes this very easy to do. Granted, the kind of gamers who will willingly try and PNP board game are a very small subset of the larger market, but their insight can nonetheless be valuable.

The real key here is this: does anybody want to try your PNP game? If you promote the PNP on a variety of channels, particularly the appropriate ones, and the number of takers is big, fat goose egg, then something in your pitch isn’t connecting. Similarly, if you have a download page and nobody ever sends you feedback, that’s also spooky. At the PNP stage, even negative feedback is a sign that people are truly engaging with your board game. Uninteresting print-and-plays are usually neither printed nor played.

4. Run ads on Facebook and see how many people sign up for your mailing list before launching a Kickstarter.

There are some elements of your board game that may not best suited for feedback from gamers. Oftentimes, gamers respond to art long before they respond to gameplay. If you ask for detailed feedback, you’ll receive feedback on gameplay but not first impressions. So how do you test first impressions? Use a system entirely based upon them – Facebook ads.

Like I mentioned above, this is best suited for testing art. Create a simple landing page with Mailchimp that will gather emails. Then create a simple ad containing some art for your game and a two-sentence pitch. Set the audience to board gamers within the US, UK, Australia, and Canada. Set your budget for $10 total or so. You can always increase this later.

If you find that people are willingly handing over their email addresses for $1 each, that’s a good sign. If each email costs more than $2-3, something is definitely off. It could be your pitch or it could be your art. Either one can pose a big problem for product-market fit.

5. Look for signs of real enthusiasm and ignore vanity metrics.

Even if you follow all the steps above, you can still launch a dud. Play-testing services focus on what makes games fun, but not necessarily what makes them marketable. When Protospiels start back up again after the virus, people will still hold back criticism out of politness sometimes. Print-and-play fans tend to be die-hards, and thus a poor representative of a general audience. Finally, sometimes your game can do well in ads and flop on Kickstarter.

So what’s a Kickstarter creator-to-be to do? How can you tell if people actually care about your game? Here are some of the best signs I can think of:

  1. People ask detailed questions about your game that indicate they read your rules.
  2. You see followers show up on your Kickstarter prelaunch page without any incentive to do so.
  3. People sign up for your mailing list without an incentive.
  4. When you send emails, lots of people open them (think 40% or more).
  5. People take time out of their busy days to watch you live-stream a game.
  6. Social media ads are far cheaper than average.
  7. Players share the game with their friends.

None of these signs are foolproof, but together, they suggest that people really like your game. Social media likes are meaningless. People willing to personally reccomend your game to their friends is priceless.

Final Thoughts

Vetting your core ideas before launching a Kickstarter campaign is vital. It’s difficult emotionally, but thankfully, there are a lot of ways you can do it. You can take any of the above methods or substitute your own. The most important thing here as that you test your ideas and make sure you have good product-market fit. If you nail that, everything else will be a good deal simpler.

How do you vet your ideas before launching a Kickstarter? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you 🙂





Make a Board Game in 28 Days: A Challenge by Brandon the Game Dev

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I want to try something different today. Today, I have a challenge for you as a board game designer. I want to see you make a board game in 28 days.

I know! It’s a big goal. But I believe momentum builds on itself, and sometimes, the most important thing you can do is get started.

That’s why I’ve provided a 28-day game design challenge for you. You can download it as a PDF, or you can save this web page and read the text. Either’s fine with me – I just want to see you start realizing your goals!

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Full Text

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Gloomhaven.

But all journeys start with a single step, and sometimes, you just need to build momentum. This 28-day challenge is intended to give you the structure needed to get into the habit of board game design.

Twenty-eight days may not be enough time to make a sellable board game, but it’s enough time to make something. And something is a lot, lot better than nothing!

When you’re done, share your creations to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #BoardGame28 and tag @PangeaBG – I might just share your work with the world. I can’t wait to see what you create!

Stuck along the way?

Check out my series for advice on specific game design challenges:
Start to Finish: Publish and Sell Your First Board Game

Day 1

Brainstorm game concepts for 30 minutes.

Pick one idea worth pursuing. (You can always switch later!)

Day 2

Decide what basic feeling you want to evoke with your game. (The fear of living in a wasteland? The joy of travel?)

Day 3

Pick a win condition!

(Again, don’t worry – if you need to pivot later, you can!)

Day 4

Choose some obstacles or constraints that players must overcome in order to win.

Day 5

Google “list of board game mechanics.” Pick 2-3 that you like and want to incorporate into your game.

Day 6

Write the first draft of your rules. It doesn’t have to be complicated – even bullet points will do for now.

Day 7

Test your game for the first time. Play alone, as all players.

Write down what works and what doesn’t. (You’ll do this a lot – be patient!)

Day 8

Based on what you learned from your first play-test, outline serious issues that need to be fixed before moving on.

Day 9

Attempt to fix the problems you identified yesterday.

Day 10

Write a 100-150 word story for your game. Even if your game isn’t “thematic”, it helps create a consistent experience!

Day 11

Play test your game again. Write down anything you find that doesn’t reinforce the story you want to tell.

Day 12

Attempt to fix the problems you identified yesterday.

Day 13

Find or make simple art for your game.

Don’t overthink it! Stock photos and stick drawings are fine.

Day 14

Look at your game as a whole, without playing it.

Swap out any art that doesn’t reinforce the feeling you’re trying to evoke.

Day 15

Think about components for your game. Find ones you can use, if possible.

You can borrow from other games or even buy cheap Game Crafter supplies.

Day 16

Play the game with your first draft art and components.

Write down what works and what doesn’t.

Day 17

Attempt to fix issues you identified with art or components yesterday.

Day 18

Try to explain your game to someone.

Do they find it easy to understand? If not, write down what they found confusing.

Day 19

Attempt to reduce the complexity of your game so that it is easier to explain.

That said, only remove complexity that serves no purpose.

Day 20

Share your progress on a board game design social media group or chat server.

Write down any feedback you receive.

Day 21

Implement any of yesterday’s feedback that you find useful into your game.

Day 22

Play-test your game alone again. Write down anything that breaks or doesn’t fit the story. (Or, alternatively, rewrite your story.)

Day 23

Attempt to fix the problems you identified yesterday.

Day 24

Play test your game alone once more (yes, seriously). Write down anything that breaks or doesn’t fit the story.

Day 25

Attempt to fix the problems you identified yesterday.

Game design is very iterative – so repeated play-testing is normal, and, in fact, good

Day 26

Play test your game with a friend. Write down anything that breaks or doesn’t fit the story.

Day 27

Attempt to fix the problems you identified in your latest play-testing session.

Day 28

Send your game to someone else for blind play-testing.

Congrats! You just developed a board game!

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