Game Design

Importance of a Graphic Designer’s Eye in Tabletop Design

I’m back! I’ve been hard at work these past few weeks: I wrote a short story and submitted it to Visions Magazine (wish me luck); I tweak mechanics and balanced my tabletop game a bit more; and I—

Can you stop bragging and get to it already?

I’ve started experimenting with different designs for the various assets of the game. I may expand this topic out to a small series as there’s a lot to consider when weighing how your game looks. What I find is important to understand is that above all, your UI of your game (meaning the iconography, text, and layout of it all) should come first and foremost before your artwork. My high-level design phases and the order in which I tackle them are somewhat like this:

  1. Player interactions (genre, vibe, and allegiance that I want between players)
  2. Mechanics and rules (including the rulebook)
  3. Theme (story that I’d like to tell, emotions that I’d like to stir)
  4. Player UI (assets, icons, formatting, layout—everything that isn’t artwork)
  5. Artwork (the finish touches here, artwork should sell the above 4 phases)

These aren’t necessarily all completed in a consecutive fashion—there’s major overlap as I move on to new phases. Regardless, I think it’s more difficult to be restricted by some theme that you set when you need to fiddle with mechanics. It’s weird to have a set UI when you haven’t settled on the theme and the mechanics aren’t at least 75% solid. (Now, you should have a messy version of your game for playtesting, but the Player UI phase is when you should be making the semi-final decisions.)

But you’re wrong about 90% of your decisions

Wait are you asking me or telling me?

All of these phases can be playtested in their own way. You can perform UI tests with players to see if they understand icons with minimal or no assistance. You can poll to see how exciting the theme of your game is. And, even the artwork can and should be open to playtest criticism. What if a piece of artwork is good, but doesn’t make since with that card or token? What if the art style is just not fun enough for a lot people to get jazzed about your game?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m tweaking some mechanical aspects of my game…I’m also still working on some aspects of the theme of the game. (I’ve more or less settled on a rococo inspired theme with anthropomorphized animal kingdoms.) But that’s not stopping me from revamping my icons.

Here are a few examples of some vote token icons that I’ve been working on:

Screen Shot 2019-05-27 at 2.14.29 PM
Left is the old icon that I’ve been using as a placeholder. Right is a version I’m considering for the game. (Currency in the game is called acorns.) 
Screen Shot 2019-05-27 at 2.14.22 PM
Left is the placeholder, right is a close to final version.

The icons on the left are placeholders that I’ve found on which I’ve just been using for playtests.

The ones on the right I’ve designed myself. The one that I’m designing for Economy needs more contrast between the foreground icon and the background, but I think it’s almost there!

That’s all for now—I’m planning on pairing something to drink with a few games in the not-too-distant future and I have a lot more content on UI design that I’m planning on showing everyone soon.

Until next time!

Game Design

Plan it! Keep Your Game Development on Track

A short one today, sorry!

Don’t apologize, this is the best day of my life

Now that I finally have a build of my tabletop game that can be played from start to finish, I’ve decided to double-down on an Agile-based development cycle. Here’s my development project plan, in a nutshell:

  • Two weeks of play testing and collecting feedback.
  • Two weeks of adjusting game mechanics and UI based on said feedback.

I’m going to try and work in some minor concept sketches for artwork.

Four week cycles?


Divided into two weeks?

That’s right.

Sounds stupid.


Anyway, this is a staple of the Agile method. Put tasks into two week “sprints.” If you can’t do something, move it into the following sprint. It’s a great way to keep yourself on track while not feeling horrible for not getting everything done in a two week period.

You can also break your tasks out into manageable chunks. Nothing fancy:

  • Fix icons
  • Balance character X so they’re less powerful
  • Fix this crisis, it’s too hard for players to beat!

That’s all folks! as a reward for reading this, please enjoy these concept sketches of my characters with little context as to their thematic and mechanical relevance to my game! (I know, I drew the frog general a lot.)


Game Design

My Tabletop Game is Almost Ready for Alpha Tests

What are Alpha tests, you didn’t ask?

I didn’t ask.

Glad you asked! Alpha testing is still that super experimental form of testing where you only slightly expand your project outside of the realm of you. People in your tabletop circles, other game designers, and friends who enjoy playing board games—those are the people that you want in your first round. Have them give you honest feedback and know one thing: they’re still likely trying to coddle you.

My friends are too real to do that, they’d rip the bandaid and cauterize the wound!

Nah, they’re totally biased to try and help you. This means that they’re not giving you the honest feedback that you need to ensure your game’s success. But they still are extremely important to your process. Here’s why: if your friends who play board games are able to work up the courage to tell you that your game is trash, then you know your game is in deep shit. If they tell you that your game is fun but needs work, then that’s something that you can build on.

How do you plan on conducting these tests?

I need to start testing at the 2-player, 3-player, and 4-player levels. I’ve already tested at the 2-player level internally, but I need to expand that out to two other dumb-dumbs so that I can make sure the flow of the game is going well, interactions are top notch, all that great stuff. Here are some guidelines that I’m working on finding out from other humans during my alpha tests:

  • Be aware that my prototype is awful
  • Can you honestly say that this tabletop game is mechanically fun?
  • I’m not looking for thematic ideas or for you to tell me that my game is littered with typos, I’m looking for you to tell me whether you got board of this game halfway through or not
  • Did you feel like the game had a sense of balance?
  • Was this game actually different than anything else you’ve played before?

That’s what I want to know, plain and simple.

What will you do with your results?

A few things, in this specific order:

  1. Figure out whether I’ve wasted a year and a half of my life.
  2. Cry or not cry.
  3. Go for a run.
  4. Think hard about whether I want to keep going down this path or just stick to writing.
  5. Take the feedback to heart and figure out how I can change the game accordingly. —OR—
    Take the feedback to heart and figure out how to burn the game and not set off the smoke detectors.

The moral of the story is this: find a way to burn something. Fire is cleansing.

Game Design

Find Peace With Deviating From Your Creative Project Plans

It’s nice to take a break from the daily grind and take a vacation. Maybe travel to a different city? Eat the local cuisine? Drink the local whisky? That sort of thing. The one thing I despise during a vacation is over-planning.

I’m not talking about essentials like packing and booking an airbnb or hotel—I’m talking about itemizing your day down to the hour or minute. I can’t stand taking a vacation with someone who maps out the whole day with sight-seeing and whatnot. Why can’t we just go get loaded in a foreign locale? Why do we need to go to the colosseum, the forum, then go to five different restaurants that all the tourists say are the place to go? The one thing I despise during a vacation is doing too much touristy shit.

Now you’re probably thinking, “hey Neutrino Burrito, you just phrased two things you don’t like with the insinuation that there’s only one thing that you don’t like. I’m calling the police!”

I’m on the phone with the cops right now, you’re going away for a long time.

What had happened was, I thought of one thing that I disliked and then in the moment remembered another whole thing that I didn’t like. My planned communication of dislikes expanded.

Four paragraphs in and you’re still rambling, can you get to the point?

Just like vacations are best when you leave room to be spontaneous and explore your new environment, your creative endeavor is best when you leave room to explore what’s possible.

Also, having a drink every now and then certainly doesn’t hurt.

Get drunk and slack off—got it! Any other sage advice?

No, but to reaffirm my point with personal experience—

Hard pass. Can you just stick to pairing games with alcohol?

—A year and a half ago, I decided to start developing a tabletop game based around the Roman Republic being turned into the Roman Empire. Some day, I still might make that game. Right now, my game is entirely different. The theme is different, most of the mechanics are different, the win conditions are also different.

If you asked me which game I’d rather be making, It’s the one I’m making right now, not the one I started making in the summer of 2017. Since this is the first tabletop game that I’ve ever developed, it took me this long to realize exactly what I wanted. If I had stuck to the plan, I’d still be scratching my head, wondering why my Roman game isn’t enjoyable for me. As I type this, I’m a few weeks away from opening this game up to beta tests. Meaning other human beings are going to mock play test my game.

Wait, you don’t think people are going to ridicule my game, do you?

Of course not! They’re likely going to save that so they can ridicule you, personally.



Game Design

Some of My Tabletop Game Inspirations

When I think back to the summer of 2017 when I started this journey, I sometimes ask myself: why did I decide to start developing a tabletop game?

I always arrive at the same answer: because the game that I want to play doesn’t exist yet.

Some games have come a little close, but not close enough for me to halt production on my game, drown my someone-beat-me-to-the-punch blues in some Lagavulin, then pick myself up off the floor and get to designing the next game that doesn’t hasn’t been made yet.

Wasn’t this supposed to be about your inspirations?

Sorry, I got distracted by hypothetical defeats for a moment…where was I? Ah yes—my inspirations. It’s not enough for one to want to play a game hasn’t yet been created. You have to want to go through the painstaking steps of developing that fun thing in your head until it becomes a fun thing on the table. There are many joys in doing this. The biggest being that other people get to play your game. When other people find what you made to be fascinating and entertaining, you’ve achieved something great.

But before you can complete this great bundle of joy, you’ve got to overcome a lot of hurdles. You’ve also got to stay motivated for years and not lose sight of the prize. Luckily, the tabletop community is filled with people who love to play! It’s also filled with hopeful tabletop game designers, much like myself.

OK, so who else’s silly pie-in-the-sky dreams do you follow?

That’s rude. They’re not just dreams, they’re turning them into a reality! They’re pouring their heart and soul out into their games and giving it their “all” dammit! Shut up! I’m not crying, you’re crying—jerk!

Here are the places where I connect with people’s very real visions and goals for making tabletop games.

Nerdlab Podcast

The Nerdlab podcast (Apple podcast link) is relatively new, like my blog. What it lacks in tenure it makes up for in experience. The host, who I only know as reddit user u/dr_draft, shares their experience with the other aspects of crafting a tabletop game: planning the project.

It’s important to treat your tabletop game as a project to plan, break down, and manage. (I care about it so much that I wrote a previous blog post on this.) u/dr_draft shares this philosophy and provides tips on things like crafting a project charter. It’s worth a listen!

r/tabletopgamedesign and r/boardgames

I know about the afore mentioned podcast because I frequent a fantastic tabletop game design subreddit: r/tabletopgamedesign

This is a fantastic place to provide and ask for feedback, advice, experiences, and potentially connect with others (both hopeful designers and people who’ve seen success with their games) in the industry.

r/boardgames is a fantastic subreddit to share your gameplay experiences and catch reviews.

That’s all well and good but don’t you want to know how the pros do it too?

Of course! There’s only one professional tabletop designer blog that I care to follow, and that’s the Stonemaier Games blog.

Jamey Stagmaier alone has written several inspirational and informational posts on how to design, kickstart, manufacture, and ship a game to customers through fulfillment facilities around the world. He also wrote the book A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide (Amazon link) to discuss how he has been able to successfully raise over $3.2 Million cumulatively with his 8 crowdfunding campaigns. This is the only book that I’ve read which clearly and honestly details the crowdfunding environment and how to potentially harness it.

Is that it? What about that one site…?

I could go into detail about but I think that’s the one resource that a lot of people are familiar with. I also personally think that it’s a beast of a website and needs a massive interface overhaul. That said, I use BoardGameGeek (BGG) frequently for board game reviews…but find it difficult for design advice and feedback. But it was established in the year 2000 and it looks like it’s been stuck there ever since. (Now I’m reminded of that Conan O’Brien skit.)