Thursday, October 30, 2014

Discount on Lew's online game design classes for Sea Kings backers

With 58 hours to go the Sea Kings kickstarter is $1,000 from its goal.  This offer won't persuade you to back Sea Kings if you who have already backed it, but it may make a difference to others, and I hope you'll pass the word.

As you may know, I am retired from college, teaching video game development and design the last few years.  I've also written a book about game design ("Game Design," McFarland 2012).  In the past year I have created the only non-degree (inexpensive) audiovisual online courses on game design (as opposed to game development) in the world.

I am offering 50% off any one of my courses on Udemy.Com for every backer of Sea Kings who buys at least one copy of the game (sorry $2 folks).  This applies only if the $15,000 goal is reached, of course.  So if you take my book-length  "Learning Game Design: as a job or a hobby" course (normally $59) you save $29.50.  Courses are listed at

Discount coupons available to everyone are at, but you'll see the discount for that big class is to $49.  I don't participate in the kamikaze discounts typically seen at Udemy.

(You can find lots of courses at Udemy that have "game design" in the title; they are actually about programming, as "game design" is used as a synonym for "video game development".)

Note also that Worthington has added a new level:
     Pledge $499 or more

    2 backers Limited (8 left of 10)

    "Sea Kings Celebration at Prezcon 2015" Receive 2 copies of Sea Kings plus all stretch goals reached PLUS one night's hotel lodging at Prezcon 2015 in Charlottesville VA PLUS meet the game designer, Lew Pulsipher, and the Worthington team PLUS attend a dinner and celebration for your contribution in making Sea Kings happen. Lew will autograph the game copies, PLUS play Sea Kings with the designer and the Worthington team. Also receive a third copy of the game mailed to your home at the time it is available for shipping. Free USA shipping on this copy, add $15 for Canada or $25 for international."

A friend saw this and was surprised that I was actually going to play a game.  Maybe we'll alter the rules slightly (the wargame version I'm working on), as I have a record of never having played one of my games exactly as it was published!  (It's done, as far as I'm concerned.)

Finally, I've "published" a new online course, "The Joys of Game Design".  It's (mostly) about game design as a hobby, rather than as a job.

Udemy requires a price of at least $9, or free.  I don't like free because there are so many people who collect freebies without any actual interest or intent to make use of the class.  So I've gone for $9, but I will distribute coupons for $5.  This is a much bigger discount than I usually permit, but it's because I had to price it at $9 to begin with.

Joys, $5:

Lew  (designer of Sea Kings, Britannia, Dragon Rage, and others)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Video screencast: 10 "Need to Knows" about Game Design

Note: I saw someone refer to this as 10 need to knows about tabletop game design.  No, this applies to ALL game design.

Text from the slides is below.  Remember, I say more in the video than is in the slides, so commenting only on the basis of the text makes no sense.

10 “Need to Knows” about Game Design
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
What this is, and isn’t
This is for aspiring designers – pros likely already know
It’s NOT about the business, not about marketing, it’s about designing games, creating gameplay that entertains (or informs)
10 is an arbitrary number – in fact, I’ll be making another screencast for another 10.  I’ve tried to pick the 10 most important here

A List
You are most unlikely to get rich
Ideas are mostly worthless
Especially if money is involved, game design is sometimes unappealing work
Don’t worry about someone “stealing your ideas”
Innovation is Highly overrated
Games are NOT stories
The most important question is, who is your target audience?
The second most important is, what is the player going to DO?
Playtesting is Sovereign!
Your goal is to complete games!

You are most unlikely to get rich
You might hear of independently wealthy game designers
But they’re very rare
Most game designers don’t make a living, just as most novelists, playwrights, painters, sculptors, film-makers, and composers don’t
The tabletop games industry is very small, and there’s not much money there
Video games involve much more money, but there are so many games published that the average designer makes little
The tabletop mass-market is likely beyond your reach, and competition there is FIERCE

Ideas are mostly worthless
“Ideas are like ___holes, everybody’s got one”
What you think is a great idea, almost certainly isn’t
And likely has been thought of a hundred times and more
Ideas don’t sell, GAMES sell - no one will buy your idea
No one will make your game for you – they want to make THEIR games
Most game players think they have ideas for good games
But few ever complete a game design

Especially if money is involved, game design is sometimes unappealing work
It’s not always fun, and it definitely isn’t “playing games”
You’ll play fewer games if you’re a game designer
Playing games is pretty unproductive, isn’t it?
And you may enjoy game playing less
Because you’ll be seeing “the innards”, how the game is structured
The tedium of finding a programming bug, or of gluing together boards or cards, is just that: tedious

Innovation is Highly Overrated
“There is nothing new under the sun” – very little, anyway
Surprise is important in games, and a mechanic the players aren’t familiar with might surprise them
But most mechanics have already been used even if YOU don’t know it
Example: Stratego/L’Attaque
Where “new” comes into play in games is in the combinations of mechanics and settings you use
“The idea is like your finger, we all have them, but the implementation is like your fingerprint, everyone's is unique.”

Don’t worry about someone “stealing your ideas”
It’s a small industry (even video games)
If someone steals something, the word gets around
Game ideas aren’t worth much, and everyone seems to think they have good ones of their own
Parallel development happens often
Yes, there are lots of video game clones (deliberate copies), and that’s really annoying, but there’s usually nothing you can do about it because game ideas cannot be copyrighted
Almost always, cloning occurs after the original game is released

Games are NOT Stories
Games are activities.  Stories (traditional ones, anyway, novels, plays, film) are passive
Typically, when aspiring designers want to design a game, they think of stories instead of games
There are thousands of games that have no story
Yes, there’s always a narrative – an account of what happens – but not a story meant to entertain, with various standard elements
“An experience” is often a goal of RPG and video game designers – but they still do it through the mechanics of a game
If you don’t know what mechanics your game will use, you don’t have a game – maybe you have a story

The most important question is, “who is your target audience?”
Game design is always about constraints
The first set of constraints comes from your intended audience
No game can appeal to everyone – you have to CHOOSE
And then you have to understand that audience
And test your game with that audience

The second most important is,“what is the player going to DO?”

Games are activities
Players of video games have been conditioned to expect to be doing something more or less constantly
Visualize what the player is doing.  Is that enjoyable?  Does it fit with your target audience?
Get rid of anything that doesn’t contribute to what the player is going to enjoyably do in the game

Playtesting is Sovereign!
Game design isn’t like other individual arts such as sculpture, painting, composing
Because game playing is active, while enjoying those other arts is largely passive
You cannot be a good judge of the quality
You have to rely on representative members of your target audience
They play the game, you watch, you get feedback, you modify the game accordingly
The longest chapter in my book “Game Design” is about playtesting
Because it’s “the heart of game design”

Your goal is to complete games
No professional, no publisher, no funding person, is impressed with a partially completed game
You’ve got to prove you can make a complete game, the same way a would-be novelist must prove he/she can complete a novel
Another reason why starting with tabletop games rather than video is more practical, you don’t need programming skills
This is the most common advice I’ve seen for aspiring designers: “You must make complete games!”

All of these are discussed at greater length in one or another of my courses, usually in “Learning Game Design.” And there will be 10 or so more in another screencast.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Really Small Games (Card Version)

I attended a meeting of a NC game designers’ guild for the first time last week.  The organizer, Matt Wolfe, asked about my design Sea Kings, which is currently on Kickstarter run by Worthington Publications ( ).  At some point I said it was, at about 45 minutes, inevitably a filler game; and he responded, that’s not a filler game any more, fillers are 20 minutes!  While it’s true that 45 minutes is sometimes more a serial filler (played several times consecutively), it’s surely not a destination game (you go to a regular game meeting with the intention of playing this particular game).  (See for my definitions.)  So as the meeting went on I got educated about a segment of gaming I wasn’t familiar with, mostly and often entirely abstract card games that sell for $10-$20 and take 10-30 minutes to play.  (Abstract in design and play, but with a manufactured story tacked on after design.  Abstract games without a story are hard to sell.  Look at a game box sometime, you’ll find a lot more about the story, usually, than about how the game actually works.)

This put me in mind of a game designers’ weekend I attended in Charlottesville, VA about 10 years ago, hosted by Stephen Glenn.  At one point one designer said, “I want to play games all day, but none longer than an hour.”  I thought (and still think) that was an odd point of view; if you’re willing to play all day, why not allow longer games?  Today I suspect the sentiment would be “I want to play games all evening, but none longer than 30 minutes” (which might be a commentary on shortening attention spans and a need for instant gratification).

Why would people limit how long a particular game is going to take, when they’re intent on playing all day, or all evening?  I’m guessing, because it’s not the way I (or my generation, really) do things.  First, you get the ultimate feedback quickly, whether you’ve won or lost.  Second, you can switch from one game to another quickly, and play several different games.  This is more important in modern short-attention-span times, and also fits with the change from gameplay depth to variety as a goal of a good game.  The “Cult of the New” is in ascendance.  Third, it also lets you play games with more people in one game meeting, if there are enough people to play several games at once.  As you change games, you change the composition of your group.  Fourth, you’re not putting your ego on the line when you play so many short games.  If you play a three hour game and don’t do well, the psychological effect is much stronger than if it’s a 30 minute game.  (And you’re not likely to lose six 30 minute games in a row.)

The ideal, to me, is a game flexible enough that it can be played in 10 or 20 minutes, even if the most satisfying version (to me, anyway) is 30 minutes up to an hour.  I have designed several card games exactly like this (point games, not surprisingly), but they all use 110 cards, and 110 is too many for a $10 game, even for a $15 game unless you have a big print run.  The inexpensive games I was shown mostly contained 55 cards or 16 cards (versions of Love Letter), not 110.  (In case anyone reading isn’t aware of it, the most common card printers do 55 cards per sheet, which may be gradually changing to 54.)  AEG has quite a few of these games, which Matt thought were printed in runs of 5,000.

Walking around a recent game club meeting at NC State, with 66 people in attendance, I discovered that the only boardgame being played was one that my group was playtesting (albeit a three and a four player game at the same time).  Two people were playing Carcassonne, one group of five or six was playing an RPG, the rest were playing Magic and several other card games.  (And that’s without anyone playing Cards Against Humanity, a popular pastime at the club.)

Why card games?  A major difference between what card games and board games naturally do is access to information.  Card games naturally hide information, where board games naturally reveal information. If there's little hidden information, people try to figure out an optimal move, resulting sometimes in analysis paralysis (why chess clocks exist, to cut off the AP). People can often successfully play card games intuitively, which is much less "work" than playing logically, as well as quicker. So card games can be played more quickly.  (I discussed the natural characteristics of board and card games at )

In boardgames a player usually has several pieces to worry about, complicating decisions, not a problem in card games.  Moreover, boards were invented to display maneuver and geospatial relationships. Games with those features may be inherently longer than abstract games without those characteristics (and the latter includes most card games, traditional and commercial). You CAN use cards to make a kind of board (I have three games that do this), but it's more the fact that maneuver and geospatial relationships are important that lengthens the game, not how the board is depicted. (By the way, two of those three are deliberate card-game versions of boardgames.)

Board games with one piece per player, avatars, can have a quick setup (Sea Kings among them).  I discuss the trend of using avatars in tabletop games in my video on my YouTube “Game Design” channel, video at, channel at )

Card games are usually easier to carry, often easier to set up, and easier to put away than boardgames. 

Card games are probably less complex than boardgames in general.  This is helped by putting rules on the cards, so there are fewer rules to learn before the game starts. 

As game manufacturers try to reach broader markets to make up for shortfalls in sales of individual games (because there are SO MANY games published now), a trend back toward traditional card game methods, such as trick-taking and set collection, also makes sense.

It's very hard to make a board game very short, especially non-abstracts and games for more than two players. Yeah, Tic-tac-toe is short, but it's solved, always a draw in perfect play.  I discussed short board games (though only two player) in "Really Small Games" (