So you want to make a board game?
Great! You can do it! Board games are big business, and a lot of people who love the hobby want to start designing, developing, publishing, and selling their own games.
Did you ever finish a game and think to yourself “I could make a better game than that!” Did you start working on your idea right away? Or are you still waiting until you are 100% ready before getting started?
Many people want to make games but have no idea where to start. I can relate. This is my first post about board game design and while I have a lot of knowledge to share, game design is a vast topic and I don’t know exactly where to start. I’m wrestling with self-doubt at the idea of putting myself out there. I know will get things wrong from time to time and the internet will happily slam dunk on me every time I do.
I can let my fear keep me from trying. But if working on board game designs for over a decade has taught me anything, it’s that trying and failing is the most effective way for me to learn.
You are going to fail and it will be awesome.
Every failure is an opportunity to change something and make it better, maybe even fantastic. A broken game with substantial problems is always begging for a brilliant solution that elegantly solves multiple issues. And the feeling you get when a failure sparks a magical idea is something that game designers live for. Many great board game mechanisms have been created as solutions to problems. The first step is to be brave enough to do new things even though you know you are likely to fail spectacularly.
Game designers love to bask in the glow of a raging dumpster fire. When a game design is very rough it is fertile ground for exciting new ideas. Even when playing prototypes with a bit more polish, experienced game designers tend to play in unexpected ways. They are less interested in meeting a win condition than in stress testing the systems of the game and refining the ideas the game presents.
You are going to fail and it will not be awesome.
Embracing failure is a big part of learning. And sometimes you learn that you need help from experts. That can be a very hard pill to swallow.
Sometimes, no matter how much you want it, you realize that something you can’t easily fix is holding you back.
You Dirty Rat (pictured above) was supposed to be the very first game published by Jacksmack Games. My first Kickstarter campaign fell very flat.
I did my best to market the game and promote the Kickstarter campaign. But even though I believed I had done enough to succeed, I had made several mistakes when it came to the crowdfunding process. I did not value social media, or community outreach enough, and instead of doing the art myself, I should have invested in a professional.
I canceled the campaign, researched what I did wrong, brainstormed a new marketing strategy, and eventually tried again.
The second campaign launched during Gen Con. We had big signs in the prototype room and ran demos of the game for the entire convention. We also got game designers, reviewers, and publishers to try the game and give us feedback. Most importantly we let people have a hands-on experience with the game while it was live on Kickstarter.
This new strategy worked a lot better. I learned the importance of timing and first impressions and momentum in a Kickstarter campaign. I was also posting on social media about the campaign quite a bit to drive more traffic to it. But, I still wound up canceling this campaign too. But not because it was going badly…
Never give up. Never surrender.
The new strategy was working and statistically we were well on our way to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
But I was presented with a very rare opportunity. One of the publishers that tried the game liked it enough to offer Jake and me a publishing deal. But I would have to cancel the Kickstarter and all my plans for self-publishing the game.
It was a tough decision, but it meant having an experienced team behind the game. The name got changed to Grifters, and I got to work with the publisher and do some art direction for the new Dystopian Universe theme. I might have failed at running a successful Kickstarter, but I found success that I hadn’t been aiming for.