Confessions of an Amateur Game Designer – Kill your Darlings

There comes a time when I am designing a game that I sit back and look at it. Not with a sense of satisfaction, completion or accomplishment. No, I sit back and stare into its eyes, wondering if I should burn it to the ground. Doubt is always at the back of my mind when putting a game together: is it coming together in the way I wanted, is it eliciting the play I am looking for and, the most important one, am I enjoying working on it?

It was this last feeling that recently led to me taking a long hard look at Blade Story, the game I’ve been documenting through most of this series. The original idea was that each player was a character sitting in a bar, boasting about their exploits down the local dungeon and telling tales of how they came by their magnificent sword.


Now the core of the game is fine, the part about making a sword and using it to defeat monsters to make your sword better etc. This core cycle of the game is interesting enough in and of itself. What I think I’ve lost is that sense of being in the bar telling these tales essentially in flashback. I’ve also never been entirely happy with the low level of interaction that had emerged from the game as I worked on it. I lean towards games with a high level of interactivity in my own collection and somewhere along the lines this design lost that.

I tore it apart, right down to the bones of the game and started to think about how I could get the feel I was looking for. I started to think about how boasting might work, how to show that each person is trying to grab the attention of those around you over the voices of other tales, how I could get that interaction singing. Gambling is the way out I think.

I’m going to take the dungeon cards that people were claiming from a central pool and turning them into a currency that you bet. The winner of the betting will roll the main pool of dice, with everyone still getting to use part of it. What I hope this will give is people getting themselves into tricky situations, pushing the risk/reward element of the game. This will entail the reworking of all the dungeon cards, with different powers to tie into the gambling aspect of the card. This is going to take a while, I dumped the game a couple of months back and still don’t have it back up and running. I am also going to be reworking the probabilities over the cards as I wasn’t entirely happy with the distribution and the way people were buying.

Find the right role

One of the things I like doing, and you may find traction in this as well, is to change my focus when a game reaches a bit of a dead end. To this end I started work on a Roll & Write, they are all the rage don’t you know. Going back to my love of high interaction in games I started to think about how I could translate that into a Roll & write style game and came up with, the currently titled, Archaerollogists. I had also come across a new method of prototyping that I wanted to try out, that of using sharpies and grids put into sleeves.


I really enjoyed getting a game to the table like this. I wrote up quick rules in a drive file, just riffing off some ideas, wrote up some cards and used one of my fold out, dry wipe compatible maps I use for RPGs to draw a board. The concept is that each player is an Archaeology team going into a dig to find the best artifacts. You draw a collaborative map, and can mess with other players, and you also have storage which you draw the artifacts into like Tetris pieces.

I’ve been through a couple of iterations of the game already. The advantage of this prototyping method is that I feel a lot freer to just play with concepts without going back to the computer much. Rules changes go in the Drive file for sure, but everything needed for the game I am physically changing on the components by hand at the moment. I can also make rules notes on the board, wipe them off later as I turn them into rules.

I would really recommend this level of prototyping to bash out ideas. You can rapidly change cards and the board and there is an immediacy between thought and the act of writing that is very different to creating with keyboard and screen. When you do eventually bring your creation to the printed form you can reuse the components for your next excellent creation. Try it, you won’t regret it.


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Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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