I would like to apologize for the recent trend in blog posts. This week I realized that I have not been giving many “Lessons Learned”, so much as trying to set your mind straight. Therefore, this week I promise to talk about something which I have experienced and learned to handle better: Inspiration! Again, I am no expert – I do not guarantee that any of these methods will work for you. Also, I am trying to avoid the obvious (ask your friends). Instead, I would like to propose a few methods I have found for inspiring exciting game ideas.
Make a list of particularly unique books or movies you love. Then, consider how they would function as a game. How would you recreate that world or tell that story. How would you implement the primary conflict or even secondary conflicts? A great example of this is Christian Strain’s article, 10 Movies That Should Be Board Games. My absolute favorite idea came from a similar blog post (which I can’t find right now) and involved creating a game based on Blade Runner, with hidden identities. That prospect blew my mind!
Go to Board Game Geek or your favorite vendor – where ever you prefer to pull up big lists of games. Read JUST the synopsis. After each one, give yourself time to speculate on how that game would look and function. I know I hate trying to explain my games in a short description – never seems to paint the right idea. When I read the synopsis for most games, without looking at any game pictures, the concept that pops into my head is hardly ever how the game actually works. Thus, solid confirmation of how hard that sucker is to write and great inspiration. *I DO read more on the actual game before moving forward to make sure I am not ripping it off, though.
You know that “Idea Guy” at work? The one person who always has a suggestion about how things could be done differently or better? Yeah, tell them you make board games. If that alone doesn’t get them going, then actually play a game with them. It has been my experience that you won’t JUST get advice on the one game – they will chase you down to throw new game ideas at you. *A word of caution: this only works with the “I wanna help” kind. Does NOT work (well) with the “I just wanna complain” kind. Stay FAR away from that person.
I discovered this little gem in the last month or so. A new take on a previous project. Mr. Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games has a well received little project called 51st State. In his own words, he has been thoroughly frustrated by players fighting against the rules. In other words, a fair number of actions which new players intuitively want to perform are restricted or prohibited by the game’s rules. So, in a bit of a rage, he broke down all of those barriers, remaking the game into a more streamlined interaction. This remake was then cleaned up, slightly rethemed, and given the name Imperial Settlers. It looks to be a great deal of fun. I went through a slightly different version of this with Top Deck. It’s fairly abstract – very light on overall theme. In an attempt to make it more marketable to “serious gamers” I tried to invent a cohesive theme which allowed the game to tell an overarching story. I actually came up with a world which laid perfectly on top of Top-Deck and was really fun for me to talk about. Ultimately, I decided to keep Top-Deck light on theme, but didn’t want to give up the world I had created. So, I developed Surviving Ouranos to extend that story. Now, it is nothing like the game which spawned it.
Next up for the offering is that same thing which works for writers, painters. . . artists in general. Take a shower, lay down for a nap, or go for a drive / ride / run / hike. Do that relaxing thing which often allows and leads your mind to wander. We often experience this by accident, but it can be used deliberately, too. A cynical take on this would be to take on a task which you are capable of (like illustrating a friend’s game), don’t really want to do (because you feel like being lazy), and which takes up the time you would have spent making your own games. Works for me every time 😉
Finally, my secret weapon: ask the wife. Now, stop laughing so I can explain. When it’s late at night, we’re getting ready for bed, and talking about the day, my wife is a fountain of ideas. I just say, “Hey babe, what game do you think I should make next?” And she just spouts out a steady stream of one-liners! Not all interest me, but I do usually have to keep a notepad on hand to record the cool ideas I want to return to later. It’s been a lot of fun, she gave me a couple of ideas which will become heavier games down the line, and it’s a chance for her to feel involved. I highly recommend it 😀
Well, that’s all I have for now, but what about you? Tried any of these before? Do you have your own tricks?