So yesterday, our own Renaissance Gamer gave us his take on the Kobold Guide to Plots and Campaigns. He mentioned that Kobold Press has a whole set of guidebooks, so today I want to present one of my favourites The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design. It’s a wonderful collection of essays about designing board games, as shocking as that may be. Editor and Lead Author Mike Selinker gathered a veritable pantheon of legendary designers to impart their wisdom upon you, the humble reader.
While “a collection of essays” may sound a bit dull, one must keep in mind that these folk are very good at what they do. Of course at the heart of what they do is entertain people. Each essay is as witty and entertaining as the next. Being full of great information while showing us glimpses of the humour and personality that makes these designer’s games so wonderful.
Part 1: Concepting – “In which we figure out what games to make, who will play those games, and what impressions we will leave them with.”
James Ernest, Richard Garfield, Jeff Tidball, Matt Forbeck, and Mike Selinker give their opinions on the various things that can set a designer up for success or failure. When and where inspiration may strike, when to focus on the rules versus when to focus on the story, and the people you may work with as a game evolves are all discussed in this first set of essays.
Part 2: Design – “In which we determine how our games will function, what they will look like, and whether or not they are any good at all.”
Andrew Looney, Rob Daviau, Lisa Steenson, Mike Selinker, James Ernest, and more James Ernest are what we get in the second section. The design process, designing different types of games, and several opinions on why people play games are all discussed. How do you get new players to start playing games? What to casino-style gambling games have to do with board games? These are all important questions that need to be addressed. I will admit this particular section felt a bit lacking though. Everything that was in there was very good, I just felt it lacked a bit of cohesion. The man is a genius, but James Ernest’s second essay on gambling games seemed especially out of sync, but was nevertheless an important component. One or two more essays may have helped to round this out a bit, but for all I know it could have muddied the water even more.
Part 3: Development – “In which we balance, test, rewrite, rebalance, retest, rewrite, and repeat until our games are the best they can be.”
Dale Yu, Paul Peterson, Dave Howell, Teeuwynn Woodruff, and of course Mike Selinker (it’s his party after all) bring their years of development experience to the table with this series of essays on what to do once you have a working game. How the development process differs from the design process, as well as creating games that are balanced and fun are key issues in this section. They are rounded out by excellent pieces on writing better rules and the ins and outs of playtesting.
Part 4: Presentation – “In which we clean our games up and get them ready to leave the house, with hopes they will return with lots of new friends.”
Steve Jackson, Dale Yu, Richard C. Levy, and Michelle Nephew (what, no Mike?) close out the book with the obvious goal for most creators, selling your game. Dos and a lot of don’ts in creating your prototypes, pitching them, and the whole process through completion is all covered here. With a short Afterword from Mike Selinker (there he is!), we close the cover on an entertaining and informative read. If you are a game designer, you owe it to yourself to give this book a try. I am NOT a game designer, and I learned a ton, so imagine how much someone who DOES do it would benefit.
One thing that may be worth mentioning, the later sections of this book assumes you will be attempting to have your game published by an established company of some sort. In 2011, when this was first released, crowdfunding sites were just in their infancy. Self-publishing a game is much easier in 2018, just a few years later. Does that make this book less relevant? Not at all, if anything it’s MORE relevant. There are lots of information on successful crowdfunding, but a bad game will still be a bad game. Read this book!
Open Design and Kobold Press have a whole series of books on RPG gaming design as well, including the Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design (collecting the previous three volume set), and several more specific design guides.