Game Design: Research

It’s a common gripe among the contributors to this blog: we don’t have enough time to pursue our hobbies. This has been especially true in the last few months, as Russ and I juggle graduate school and full-time jobs. As Russ previously mentioned, there is a correlation between how complex life is and what corresponding games get to the table. Two weeks, I ran myself ragged planning lessons and grading papers at work so that I could go off to my four-day Thanksgiving vacation without any work obligations. During the vacation, I spent a lot of time riding in a car to see my in-laws and extended family. This allowed me the time to do a bit of leisure reading, which I used doing some research for a game I’d like to design someday.

I am loathe to disclose any details about this game right now, but I am working with a historical period which has remained virtually untapped for board game ideas. There are all sorts of possibilities about what type of game could come out of this. I’d like to  sporadically update where I am at in the whole process of game design, but also to describe some of the successes and failures that others might find helpful in their own design process. I have found relatively few resources which describe the process (but if you have found some, please post links!).

The first step in the process is, of course, research. I am working on a political/war game, so this was the obvious place to start. I contacted an acquaintance who is a native of the region in which my game will be set, and who has also earned a PhD in a related academic field (history). This correspondence yielded a few book titles which I am slowly working my way through. I am also lucky enough to be working with a time period that has a recognized book which is considered the “definitive history” of the era. That alone is a huge help.

As I work my way through these books, I am highlighting and taking notes in the margins, focusing on key decision points (where things could have easily gone very differently) and personalities. Every few days, I try to gather my thoughts in a notebook, describing possible mechanics, maps, titles, etc. When thinking about a historical game, there is a natural tension between “the events as they happened” and “things that might have been.” After all, a game needs to be true to history in some respects but also fun and balanced! I’m looking carefully at games that have done a good job of this–Twilight Struggle being a good example. Every time I play that game, I can look at the map afterward and say, “Well, that’s not exactly how it played out in the Cold War, but I can see how that might have happened.”

I hope to update every few months on the process, and once I’ve narrowed down the exact theme of the game, reveal exactly what it is I’m working on.


One Response to Game Design: Research

  1. manyhighways says:

    And your brother was kind enough to *give* you the book that is the definitive history of the period!

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