Board game design: Five reasons to co-design

Statler and waldorfGame design can be seen as a solitary endeavour, but it’s no surprise the current top three ranked board games on Board Game Geek were co-designs.

I’ve worked on six co-designs so far, three of which have been picked up by publishers – so what are the key advantages of jumping into bed with a partner in game design crime?

1) Motivation

Much like any creative process, it can be hard to find your design mojo on a regular basis – especially during the inevitable boring bits. It’s even harder when you’re not being paid and in an industry where financial successes are few and far between.

With a co-designer you’ll always have that little voice in your mind reminding you it’s not just you you’re letting down if you don’t pull your finger out – or a slightly louder voice in your inbox asking where the promised Excel spreadsheet update is!

2) Do what you’re good at…

Unless you’re some kind of freak of game design nature, you’re going to have your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you’re the queen of theme or the master of maths, but you’re unlikely to be all things to all games.

Finding a co-designer that compliments your skill set is an obvious reaction if you want to make games at the peak of your potential. Maybe you’ve got a great basic mechanism but can’t get the right scoring balance; or you have a working abstract concept that needs a more exciting framework to sit in. It’s likely two heads will be better than one.

3) … but pool your resources

Working with a co-designer is also a great way to learn. Those things you’re no good at? It may simply be a lack of experience, the need for a guiding hand, or some flaws in your processes. Don’t just pass off the jobs you’re not great at – learn from your partner.

The same goes for further game industry knowledge. From social media to testing groups, getting together with a co-designer means the possible opportunity of tapping twice as many Facebook and Twitter accounts, twice as many potential play-testers and twice as many industry contacts.

4) Quality control

Speaking of play-testers, twice the number of designers means twice the number of people with opinions of the game that you can’t ignore. Being blind to problems with your designs that really need to change can be a massive problem: so who better to fight the other corner than a co-designer?

When you’re together you can discuss your direct experience with each test, but equally invaluable are the times you’re apart – when you can double your test group and get twice as many ideas tried and opinions received. And it’s two brains getting your heads around tester comments that may not be immediately obvious – and two sides arguing is more likely to come to the best outcome, even if some pride is a little hurt along the way.

5) Sharing the worst bits

And finally, no one ever claimed game design was glamorous. We seem to spend as much of our time cutting games out as we do playing them – no fun if you’re designing games with hundreds of cards, or that you keep having to re-sticker. Grabbing two pairs of scissors while having a chat and beer certainly makes the task easier!

And this extends across the board (no pun intended). For example, you have no idea how much smoother publisher meetings go if one of you can chat while the other sets up; or if you can bring several designs to one meeting to help save both you and the publishers valuable calendar time – not to mention that shot in the arm of confidence a bit of moral support can give you, as well as feedback afterwards on pitching technique.

Co-designing games won’t be for everyone, but if you have some ideas that are on-hold because you’re stuck with them, why not cast around for someone to bounce ideas off of and potentially come on board to help you get the game really moving forward again? But for now I best be off – I’ve got some prototyping to be getting on with before I get told off by a particularly demanding co-designer…

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