Game Design

Large Support Network

My dad designed a game when I was pre-teen. I remember riding along in the front seat of his yellow AMC Javelin. We were going to pick up an order of little plastic injection molded ships on the east side of Detroit. My dad drew the playing board out by hand since there were no graphics art software packages in the late ‘70’s.

I remember him driving to Minnesota to pitch to a representative of a game manufacturer. It was the only pitch he made. There wasn’t the support network at that time as there is now. Fortunately, nearly 45 years later, I’ve been able to benefit from much better support at every stage of the board game design process.

First Play-Test

Twenty years later, in the 1990’s, I would make an occasional Friday night trip to a one-story light industrial building adjacent to a seldom used single lane railway, no more than a half a dozen blocks from the downtown core. The common entry door opened into a maze of hallways connecting one small business after another.

A specific sequence of left and right turns led to a seemingly small room containing a disproportionately large table in the middle. Lots of works stations around the perimeter: drafting table, a couple of computers, and some wood & metal working tools. Our task for the evening: to play test my friend’s latest board game design. He always supplied pizza.

Lots have changed in those last 20+ years. We’ve lost touch since I’ve moved out west, but my affinity for board games has increased. I particularly like the resource management ones.

Second Play-test: 20 years later

We had been dating for nearly two months, and decided to visit a local pub: The Bent Mast. I had remembered this particular pub from a series of political organizing meetings over the last year.

“Let’s check out the upstairs, “I said.

Well the room I was familiar with was occupied, not full, but certainly reserved. They were friendly and introduced themselves as a board game design play test group. Fond memories surfaced.

We chatted a bit and the group invited us to join them at their next monthly play tester’s meeting. Second Wednesday next month. I stayed connected with that welcoming group for a year before deciding to start a game of my own.

I was spurred into action in board game design when I saw an IPCC Special report being misrepresented. MY initial game design took the form of lots of scientific research: reading background articles. The peer-reviewed articles that the IPCC report referred to.

It seemed like I was doing more research than game design. Probably seemed that way because I was. Ten months into working entirely in my own silo with no contact or feedback from any other game designers, I searched for some info on crowdfunding a board game.

Board Game Design Community

The advice I found said “start small,” maybe a “starter project.” Simpler mechanics, less materials, less costs, lower crowdfunding goal. That will help build a group of followers for the initial larger board game. Every piece of advice contained the message: “build a passionate group of followers before launching a crowdfunding campaign.”

I spent hours and hours reading one blog after another. Reading Jamey Stegmeier’s generous topics about various aspects of board game design. There isa wealth of knowledge and experience in Stegmeier’s blogs. Through links I found other blogs and resources: books, videos. I found the board game design community to be very supportive of each other.

I now decided to build a simpler board game as my “entry game.” With a brand new lighterr design, and with COVID having halted that Bent Mast group, I reached out to a Vancouver Play test group. Again, I fond the local board game play testing scene to be very welcoming of new people.

The feedback was very helpful. Every couple of weeks I’d have another play test of my board game design with this group:

  • create a central focal point
  • have continuity from one round to the next
  • develop an arc from beginning to end
  • add tension
  • increase the tension
  • vary the tension

Building tension is important in a cooperative game.

During these play tests with the Vancouver group, I heard about Facebook (FB) groups of and by play-testers. I joined once after another. Soon, I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of all of the board game sign and play-test groups on FB. When will FB permit storing groups in folders?

Design Contest

In one FB group I discovered a board game design contest. I didn’t enter due to a heavily lop-sided IP agreement. Nonetheless, I found an extension of the supportive community and more playtesting venues through TTS and Discord.

Playtesting every other Thursday suddenly became playtesting every other Thursday, every Monday, and once a month on Sundays and Wednesdays. Each venue had a different group of people, but with one unifying characteristic: all very friendly, helpful, and supportive.

During this burst of new found community, I found two more people generously offering their expertise. Gabe Barrett and his aptly named Board Game Design Lab Community FB group. Joe Slack and his Discord-based play-testing groups. Both send weekly newsletters that are rich in information and resources for budding board game designers.

Supply Chain

With this much playtesting I was getting closer and closer to taking my board game to the next level. Now it was time to contact manufacturers, graphic designers, fulfillment centers, and pledge managers. I started with manufacturers. (As of this writing, I have not contacted the other three yet)

Some manufacturers had very intuitive and easy procedures to submit requests for quotes. Some companiess were a bit more challenging. Some returned emails right away. A couple I had yet to hear back from. Two I had a continued dialogue with. Both of these manufacturers were very helpful. Again, I’ve found an expanded niche within the support network for new board game designers.


The Thursday Vancouver play-test group has an hour-long design workshop immediately before each play-test session. During our end of December check0in, I mentioned how accountability was important to me. Checking in with someone has a different effect than simply referring to my own list and seeing what items have not been checked off.

A pleasant, but not unexpected, surprise was to find the Vancouver play-test grop started a bi-weekly “Accountability” check-in. I found that to be extremely supportive. It helped propel me to a super productive January and first half of February. I lost momentum when MailPoet wouldn’t authorize a “send from” email address.

I’m now substituting MailerLite (which readily authorized the send-from email address) for MailPoet, and am back on track for keeping interested people up to date.

Is having external accountability helpful to you? Do you have a group of friends or colleague that you regularly check-in with?

Preliminary Game Box Cover

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