Tabletop Game Design Tips

I’ve been doing a lot of studying about game design recently (specifically tabletop game design), and I thought I’d share my master list of tips, gleaned mostly from these resources (especially The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses). If you’re making a game, here are some rules of thumb and questions to ask yourself during the design process.

  1. Post-game breakdown – the most memorable games are the ones that allow for post-game storytelling and analysis (“I thought we were dead for sure, but then we…”)
  2. Player roles – players will be more invested in the game if they know who they are playing as in the game narrative (a bean farmer, a knight, a railroad tycoon, etc.)
  3. Story arc – the best games have mechanics that reinforce a story arc for the players, so gameplay changes and turns aren’t always the same.
  4. Tactics and strategy – good games have both interesting tactical (moment-to-moment) choices and strategic (big-picture) choices.
  5. Automate choices – if a choice is always going to be the best one, remove it by making it automatically happen in the gameplay (makes a little more sense for digital games)
  6. Asymmetrical characters – it’s often more interesting if players get different starting roles and skills, while still being balanced overall
  7. Asymmetrical items – if rewards/powerups/loot all have similar value, there’s no excitement of getting a more powerful one. Same thing applies to enemies/punishments
  8. Counterattack planning – if a player suffers a blow from the opponent, it’s more bearable if they can instantly strategize a counterattack
  9. Surprise – games need surprises to be fun (from opponents, cards, dice, etc.)
  10. Risk – are players able to make both low-risk/low-reward and high-risk/high-reward choices?
  11. Co-op – when players work together, do they create synergy (2+2=5) or antergy (2+2=3)?
  12. Types of rewards – praise, points, prolonged play, gateway to cool things, spectacle, self-expression, powers, resources, status, completion
  13. Complexity – emergent complexity (simple rules that create complex gameplay) is often preferable to innate complexity (complicated rules)
  14. Elegance vs character – elegance is great in games, but sometimes you need to add quirkiness to give the game character
  15. Clear goals – is it obvious what the goal of a challenge or puzzle is, just by looking at it?
  16. Parallelism – can players work on alternate challenges if they’re stuck?
  17. Pyramid – is the game leading up to one big, exciting challenge at the top of the “pyramid”?
  18. Primality – what about the game could be made more instinctive to human nature? Gathering items, fighting, exploring, nurturing?
  19. Freedom vs constraint – players shouldn’t be paralyzed by their freedom of choice or too constricted by lack of choice
  20. Helping – people have a natural urge to help – in what ways can this be included even in a competitive game?