Monday, September 25, 2017

Casual Q&A post #4

About a month and a half ago I did another installment of my Casual Q&A series. I got a few more questions in the comments on that one, so here they are now.

I welcome more questions, the more I get, the more often I'll do posts like these!

Michael Brown asks:

"How did you submit your first game to a publisher?"

Good question... in my case I feel like I sidestepped the system a little bit with my published designs.

Before TMG started, I did try pitching games a couple of times. After basically winning a contest, I asked a representative of Days of Wonder if I could submit All For One, even though their policy was that they didn't accept outside submissions. He told me to send a 1-sheet description of the game, which I did. In the end they told me that since they do so few games, they don't like to revisit themes, and they already had a game based on The Three Musketeers.

The next real pitch would have been Jay Tummelson at a Protospiel event at Gamestorm in 2007 or something like that. I pitched Wizard's Tower (too abstract), and Terra Prime (didn't interest him). I expected the response on Wizard's Tower, but I was legitimately surprised that Terra Prime didn't excite him AT ALL, because I felt like it was right in line with a lot of the titles Rio Grande put out.

It wasn't MY game, so I didn't want to use up my pitch time on it, but later that weekend Jay did see a few minutes of a game of Homesteaders, and he was very interested. He took the prototype home with him, and handed it off to his 3rd party developers, who told me they "recommended it." However, just about then Dominion happened, so I think Homesteaders got shelved for a few years, until I asked for it back when Michael wanted to launch TMG.

The only other time I really submitted a game was Exhibit, with a European publisher I met with at Essen. They liked the game, and took home a prototype. They were interested in publishing it and even offered a contract. However, some outside, largely unrelated factor came up, and as a result they decided they didn't want to move forward (and I don't blame them). They told me there were no hard feelings, and that I should feel free to submit games to them in the future, but it was a bummer to have that process curtailed.

Zedior asks:
"I feel like we (as in budding designers) get a lot of "get it to the table fast" advice, but I personally have a lot of problem going from the idea stage to a prototype. It's partly about the "ideas can't fail" mindset (which is often addressed), but mostly because an idea for a clever mechanism or two still needs a theme, and a dozen more other small things before it is prototypeable. Could you talk about that part of the design process, for you? How do you go from "I want deck-building to represent learning" to have a version with enough stuff to be playable?"

I agree, getting from idea to prototype is one of the big hurdles for me as well. It can be tough, especially if the game requires a bunch of diverse content.

Sometimes I just (eventually) get myself hyped up and at my computer, and I just start laying out cards or something. Sometimes doing that, the whole presentation will change from my initial idea as I see what it actually looks like.

Other times (and I suspect other designers) create content by making a spreadsheet. I did this with my most recent project (Automatown), mostly because I wanted to try datamerge as a way to cut down on work for myself.

A trick you can use, and I think this was one of Matthew Dunstan's nuggets of wisdom that I posted recently, is to create just 1/4 of what you need, print 4 copies each, and start testing with that.

For Eminent Domain it was kind of easy, I only needed 6 different cards to play. However, the tech deck and planet deck were a little harder. I tend to go for symmetry, so for example I started the planet deck with a planet that provided each role symbol. Each type of planet was supposed to be good at 2 different things, so I made metallic planets that had a Survey symbol (x3), a warfare symbol (x3), Hand Size +1 (x2), and nothing but extra points (x1). Similar format for Advanced and Fertile planets.

I tend to make elements that affect each part of the game. Like in Terra Prime, you mostly find and colonize planets, pick-up and deliver resources, and fight aliens. So there are techs that let you move easier, carry more cargo/colonies, fight aliens better, and reward you for delivering more, as well as one that just lets you do more stuff.