Fan Expo Toronto

September 28, 2017

A few weeks ago I took the opportunity to learn more about game design and publishing by attending several different panels on the subject at Fan Expo Toronto. I am really glad I did because not only did I get a lot of great information and advice, I also got to meet a lot of awesome game designers. This more than anything was worth the price of admission for the whole weekend.

The first panel I attended was Publishing Your Own Game. When I first thought about designing Primal Ordnance, I assumed I would go the Kickstarter route. Miniature games seem to do extremely well getting crowdfunded. In my research into Kickstarting a game, which mainly consisted of reading Jamie Stegmaeir’s comprehensive list of blog posts (find them at stonemaiergames). I soon realized that if you want to Kickstart a game, you are essentially starting a game company. This fact was echoed in this panel so I’m definitely more open now to possibly pitching Primal Ordnance to publishers when it is ready. There are definitely positives and negatives with both avenues of publishing. In a nutshell, with Kickstarter, every aspect from design, to publishing, manufacturing, and shipping is all up to you to figure out. You have all the control and you’ll get all the profits of whatever is left after it’s done, but it is a ton of work and you are essentially starting your own company. With a publisher, you get to concentrate on designing the best game you can and leave the rest of the work to the publisher. You lose most if not all control and will probably make less money, but publishers know what they are doing and will most likely make the finished product much better and sell way more copies than you could on your own.

Developing Your Boardgame

The second panel I attended was Developing Your Boardgame. This one was perfect since it’s the point of the process I’m currently in. A few key takeaways from this were:

Follow the fun in your game. Don’t get stuck where you began.

Basically this means to find the core part of your game that is fun, and develop around that. Any part of the design that doesn’t strengthen that core is most likely something that can be omitted.

Curate an emotional experience.

This means to make sure players get to feel different emotions while they play. This is what will draw them in and keep them playing your game for years.

Don’t get stuck on the minutiae of balancing at the beginning.

I am paraphrasing but that was part of an answer to a question I asked about how to balance your design. I was afraid that all the numbers I was coming up with for all the stats in the game were completely random and maybe there was a more strategic way to start. There are ways of using spreadsheets and math to do this, but John Gilmour (designer of Dead of Winter and Wasteland Delivery Express Service) basically said to start with what feels balanced and the tweak it. This made me feel good since that’s pretty much what I am doing. I’m sure once I start playtesting, balancing issues are sure to make themselves obvious.

Pitching Your Project was the third panel I attended. This panel gave a lot of insight into what to do when you approach publishers or the public with your game idea and prototype.

Highlight the hook of your game and let them experience it in 2 minutes.

Put the most exciting part of the game in front of them and let them play it. This is how you will create evangelists for your game.

It’s a good idea to say what other games it might be like.

It’s a good reference point for the type of game you are trying to make

The last panel I attended was Prototyping Your Boardgame. Another great one since I am nearly finished with my prototype. There was some great advice in this one.

Start with less then layer onto it.

This echoes the idea of following the core fun of the game. Everything should support it. The more extra stuff you have in the game, the less you are doing of the best part. For me the core of Primal Ordnance is purchasing the ordnance that you will be customizing your dinosaur with and attacking. I’m trying to make sure all the resource management and card drafting in the game tie directly into helping players customize and attack one another.

Board Game Speed Dating

The final and most important gaming event I attended was Board Game Speed Dating. My wife got a little worried when I told her I was going to this but it’s not what it sounds like. At this event I was able to display my prototype while several industry professionals sat with me one at a time. I had 5 minutes to pitch them the idea and receive their feedback. I was obviously nervous for this since it would be the first time anyone other than my wife and son would be hearing about the game from me in person. What if they hated it? My fears were unfounded though since the feedback was overwhelmingly positive! Daryl Andrews (designer of Sagrada and many other games) was the first designer I met and he was extremely excited about the theme and really enjoyed the attack and defense mechanic I came up with for the game. Basically you are using a targeting map to secretly place attack and defend tokens on and then compare them to see where and how many times you got hit. He hadn’t seen anything like it before so that gave me a big boost of confidence that I’m on the right track. The most useful advice I received was from designer Andrew Valkauskas. He too liked the attack and defend mechanic but he thought there needed to be more strategy to choosing what part of the dinosaur’s body you were going to target. The other piece of advice was for me to think of each stat in the game and make sure they all served an important purpose. Ultimately this related to streamlining the fun of the game. I got home that night and immediately made two important changes that I think improve the gameplay greatly.

I hope some of this advice I learned helps you in your design endeavors. It sure helped me in mine.

I plan on making my next post a description of how the game is played in it’s current form. I am about 50 cards and 4 player mats away from finishing the prototype but I ran out of blank cards (note to self, order way more than you think you need next time) I’m just waiting for an order to arrive so I can finish the cards. I am so excited to share the gameplay with you and to finally start playtesting it myself. Hopefully you’ll hear from me very soon.

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