From time to time, I see board game creators on social media who have been working on the same design day-in, day-out for years on end. Of them, they seem to fall into two basic camps. The first are people making a board game as a labor of love, who know they’re taking their sweet time on it, and they’re OK with it.
And the second camp? They don’t like what they’re doing, and they just won’t quit.
Depending on your point of view, you may find the second camp admirable. I used to, but now I think there’s a lot of darkness that comes with voluntarily sticking to a project you don’t like. Sometimes, it just makes sense to quit.
Don’t worry, I’ll explain!
Now before I extol the virtues of quitting, I’d like to give hard work and effort its fair share of compliments.
If you don’t consistently work to improve, you won’t make the game you want to make. You have to block off time for your creativity to flow, do the hard work, and take tough feedback to make the best game you can. All of this means trying hard!
I also think that if you’re brand new to board game design, it’s worth pushing a small project all the way through its full lifecycle from start to finish. Don’t try to get it 100% perfect and don’t take forever to do it. Just work your way through the whole process and see what goes into making a board game. That way you get a ton of information in a short period of time, which you can use on your later, better projects.
Saying “you should quit your passion project” is kind of a heresy. In our culture of workaholic hustling, it’s tempting to glorify the pain of an artistic endeavor.
But I don’t think that makes very much sense at all! Creative projects are supposed to be fun, or at least meaningful, even if you end up doing them for money.
Note that when I say “quit”, I don’t mean “quit board game design.” I simply mean “quit working on one specific game.” You shouldn’t quit board game design altogether unless you find it a joyless endeavor. (In which case, you absolutely should. There are plenty of joyless endeavors out there that make much more money!)
Someone once told me that “quantity is often the fastest route to quality.” I thought it was the damnedest piece of advice I’d ever heard. I grew up hearing that you’re supposed to finish what you start and if you want to stand out, you should give extra effort.
Creativity, though, it’s a funny thing! Sometimes great ideas pop up 80% formed while you’re on a long drive or in the shower. Sometimes ideas masquerade as great and get stuck in your head for years, and then completely flop once put on paper. Tough thing is, you’ll never know whether an idea is good until you try to implement it.
If you try forcing an idea that sort of sucks or that you’re not passionate about, it probably won’t work out well. There’s something to be said for an ethic of workmanship, but there’s also something to be said for picking your battles too. Finding the balance is difficult, and I think many creatives lean too much into the former category.
Here’s a goal that stands the test of time better than most: focus on becoming a board game designer. Don’t focus on making a specific board game. The former gives you a chance to pursue an identity you’re proud of. The latter saddles your self-worth to a completion of a project that may or may not need to be completed.
When to Quit
So with all this in mind, here are three golden signs that you can use to decide when you need to abandon a design.
1. You’re physically, emotionally, or mentally exhausted most of the time.
I ripped this point from an article on when to quit your job. Being physically, emotionally, and/or mentally drained is a sign of burnout. I can tell you firsthand that burnout is no joke.
There is no game design in the world worth you feeling like garbage all the time. If a design project is making you feel like life is an endless slog of misery and pain, then abandon the design!
2. You dread working on your design.
Of course, burnout doesn’t just happen all at once. It sneaks up on you and gives you warnings. One of the clearest warnings is that you dread working on your design.
Now look, some parts of game design – like playtesting or accessibility testing – can be tedious. Tedium is OK, but dreading working on your design in general is not OK. If you find yourself dreading your project for more than a couple weeks in a row, then take a week off. Then if you don’t feel recharged, it might be time to switch gears.
3. You don’t care about the basic idea/experience behind your game.
Often game ideas sound better in our heads. When you put an idea down on paper, you should generally feel a little bit of excitement. At a minimum, you should feel some accomplishment.
Yet if you put an idea down on paper or start working on your design, and you find that it does nothing for you, then ask yourself this question. “Do I care about the basic concept of the game?”
If the answer to that is no, then you’re probably better off working on another game idea. If you don’t care about your idea, there’s a good chance that will come through in the final product.
Quitting isn’t a dirty word. Sometimes, it’s a logical step forward in the longer creative journey.
Set your sights on becoming a board game designer, not on simply creating a specific board game. It’s a more durable goal for the future, better for your self-worth, and gives you maneuverability to make the best art you can possibly make!