Hey, Torsten here. Felt I should impart some wisdom about prototyping for this game jam. 🙂

1. Playtest early and often.
First is quite obvious but even seasoned veterans struggle with sometimes, and that is to playtest early and often. It may be incomplete, and lack a lot of things your playtesters will point out straight away, but you are here to experiment with it. There are plenty of people around you to try your prototype.

2. Explore mechanics first, carefully craft narrative later.
Do not focus too much on narration. The mechanics usually sets how a player experiences the game, so theme does not really take it’s cues from the story alone. It’s the combination of the theme, mechanics, limitations and other elements which help inform how the players experience the story.

You can see this in all games, but let’s take a specific boardgame. Ticket to Ride, a popular eurogame, has a narrative that’s unintentionally flawed.

The story goes to say that five old friends meet in a private club to celebrate Phileas Fogg winning a bet by traveling around the world in 80 days. They do this by having their own yearly wager which now has became a $1 million bet to see which of them could travel by rail to the most cities in North America in 7 days. For anyone who has played Ticket to Ride, none of this is familiar in the experience of the boardgame. Claiming routes does not feel like traveling to the players, for example. We encourage exploring mechanics first, and keep this in mind while carefully crafting the narrative if you really want a story.

Incidentally Alan R. Moon, the designer for Ticket to Ride, has written the following advice in relation to designing for and playing as many games as possible for research: “The idea for almost all games comes from other games”, which leads us to the next piece of advice.

3. Ideas are easy, so be ready to experiment.
Everybody has ideas and has the ability to come up with them. There are usually a few proverbs about this. They usually say things like, “your core idea has already been thought up before” or “it’s all been tried already”. This is not meant to discourage you. Generally, these proverbs refer to the inventiveness of people and how ideas are the easy part of a project or work.

In the end, it comes down to innovation and implementation of the idea. Innovation, unfortunately, is nothing anyone knows they produce until after having done so. Implementation on the other hand is something one can control. You focus on implementation by coordinating with others, ideating, communicating, developing, evaluating, iterating, going through the process and making the idea real. We recommend looking at the playcentric design process (Fullerton) to make your game. In it’s simplified form, it is very much like any common (iterative) design process, just applied to play. The diagram below shows how it looks like.

Looking at this diagram, also start feeling out if any of your ideas need compromise or perhaps even if it’s time to let go of ideas if they simply can not work out.

4. Document your work and make clear instructions for your rules.
With a little effort, documentation helps you in the long run. You can later pick up this game you have created in the future and will not be confused as to how it’s supposed to be played. This is especially true if you happen to create not only a rules sheet but also a gameplay video. Below is a basic structure for a rules sheet:

  • Setup
    – What players start out with, how the playing area looks, what materials are needed
  • Objectives
    – Pretty much what every player needs to know to look for, react to and strive for
  • How play progresses
    – This could be a general description or any extra/global game mechanics
  • What happens on each player’s turn
    – Think of what happens before, during and after
  • What makes the game end and/or victory conditions
    – More explanation on what players want to do
  • How scoring works
    – Usually this is key to the game and elaborated in it’s own section
  • Any extra considerations
    – Be sure to include how long your game will take and how many players are needed
  • Also be certain to include as many diagrams as needed to help explain everything!

That’s all for now. If you can find time with me (Torsten) during the course of the jam, I can openly talk more about these things and a lot more. I hope this is helpful and informative to those who would like some insights.