Menu

The Gamers’ Bookshelf: The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design by Mike Selinker

THE GAMER’S BOOKSHELF: THE KOBOLD GUIDE TO BOARD GAME DESIGN

 

by Mike Selinker

(Kobold Quarterly/Open Design, 138 pages, $19.99 print/$9.99 pdf)

koboldguideIt seems like everyone who has ever played a game thinks to themselves, “Hey, I can make a game too!”. Well maybe you can and maybe you can’t. But it’s always good to draw some insight and inspiration from those who actually have had a hand in that crazy business. Mike Selinker, a frequent contributor to GAMES magazine as well as a successful game designer (whose credits as part of a design team include Betrayal at House on the Hill, Gloria Mundi, Lords of Vegas, Pirates of the Spanish Main and more), has gathered together just those kind of people and has gotten them to share some thoughts on the art and science of games, collecting them in this volume: The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design.

Selinker has divided the volume into four sections: Concepting, Design, Development and Presentation.

In Concepting, James Ernest (a frequent collaborator with Selinker), Richard Garfield (Magic, the Gathering and more), Jeff Tidball, Matt Forbeck and Selinker share philosophical insights and different approaches to capturing the “idea” behind a potential game design. From that group, I found Selinker’s essay to be the most engaging as he added specific instances of game concept implementation that gave a “behind the scenes” character to his piece.

In Design, Andrew Looney (Fluxx, Chrononauts and more), Rob Daviau (Heroscape, Risk: Black Ops), Lisa Steenson (Gut Bustin’ Games), Selinker (again) and two more by James Ernest, offer some obvious but often missed truths about the art of game design with more insightful anecdotes to make their points. It is often surprising to discover the sources of inspiration. (Steenson, for example, cites the work of behaviorist BF Skinner to support her views on game design.) Again, Selinker rises to the occasion with examples of good game mechanics in his piece “Beautiful Things”.

The volume next turns to Development, the process by which an idea and design reach fruition. Many aspects of this critical process are covered. Contributor Dale Yu (Dominion co-developer) gives a fascinating look at how Dominion developed to become the huge hit it is, Paul Petersen (Magic, the Gathering developer) discourses on the tricky pitfalls of collectible card games, Dave Howell (playtester for Magic, the Gathering and Cheapass Games) offers a solid set of developmental guidelines, particularly things to avoid, Selinker contributes his views on the pitfall of rules writing while Teeuwynn Woodruff (creative director of Lone Shark Games) delves into the whys and hows of playtesting,

Finally, there is Presentation, getting your game into the hands of publishers (first) and game players (second). Here contributors include Steve Jackson (Steve Jackson Games) who discusses some actual instances of games that failed the “presentation test”, Dale Yu (who counters Jackson’s essay of “Don’ts” with a useful list of “Do’s), Richard C. Levy (Adverteasing and many more) who, as an acknowledged expert on licensing, offers insights into that phase of the “game game”, and Michele Nephew (head of game production for Atlas Games) who provides an excellent summary of the entire process (“From Proposal to Print”) which is worth the price of admission right there.

The book has a decidedly Euro outlook (most of the contributors are involved in Euro type strategy games in one way or another) but it is not exclusively so (take Levy’s essay on Licensing, for example, that focuses on mass market fare). Still, the book travels on “two roads” as it were.

One road is philosophical discussion as to what makes a game good and how to approach the process of game design. This gives you a peek into the head of some game designers and dissecting the creative process is always fascinating. But the other (and my favorite “road”) reveals personal preferences of the writers and zeroes in on specific techniques and examples. Richard Garfield, for example, takes a swing at those designers who refuse to play anyone else’s game (a sly swipe at Reiner Knizia who reportedly does just that). In particular, those essays from Selinker, Dale Yu, Richard C. Levy and Michele Nephew bring specifics to the board game design game and specifics trump generalities every time. (A minor glitch here and there though. For example, Scott Abbot of Trivial Pursuit fame has only one “T” in his last name.)

Whether you are familiar with the work of Mike Selinker or of any of the other contributors here is really beside the point. All of them can write and all of them are knowledgeable, experienced and successful in various stages of the gaming process, from designing to publishing and the steps in between, which means they know what they’re talking about! The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design is a worthwhile read for those interested in the journey of games from idea to marketplace and a very worthwhile buy for those who have that itch to create and market the next great game. – – – Herb Levy

 


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


Fall 2011 GA Report Articles

 

Reviewed by Frank Hamrick (Treefrog/Mayfair Games, 2 players, ages 12 to adult, 60-90 minutes; $55) Two hundred and fifty years after Voltaire said it, it became a game! The British and French struggled for control of North America from the early 1700s until the final battle of Quebec in 1760. That final battle ended the long French and Indian War and led to Voltaire's supposed ...
Read More
Reviewed by Andrea "Liga" Ligabue (Lo Scarabeo, 3-5 players, ages 10 to adult, 45 minutes; $59.99) Arcanum, from Lo Scarabeo, is the new game from Andrea Chiavesio and Pierluca Zizzi, released in Essen 2011. I really like Andrea's designs starting from Kingsburg, one of the greatest dice games ever (and featured in the Spring 2008 Gamers Alliance Report), down to last year's release Olympus. This ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Alea/Ravensburger, 2-4 players, ages 9 to adult, about 60 minutes; $34.95) One of the most romantic eras in human history is the Age of Knights and Chivalry. Novels and films abound that are set in that time. Games have also found this time to be a fertile area to explore as knighthood has served as the theme for many of them ...
Read More
Baseball on the Table-top - Part IV Games of the 1980's and 90's by K-ban If the 70’s were the time for table-top baseball game designers to explore, in new and different ways, the confrontation between pitcher and batter (see Part #3 of this series in the Spring 2011 GA Report), the next generation of statistical baseball games to hit the market sought to add ...
Read More
Reviewed by Chris Kovac (Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro, 2 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, 120 minutes; $65) One of the popular games of my childhood back in the 70's was the game Battleship where you and your opponent placed ships on hidden grids and then took turns calling out row and column coordinates to try to find and sink the enemy's hidden ships ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Gamewright Games, 2 teams or players, ages 8 to adult, 15 minutes; $19.99) When you have two successful games, it seems inevitable that someone will think "why not combine them?" The two games in question are the vintage game of Cathedral (whose spin-off Cathedral World was reviewed in the Spring 2004 GA Report) and the relatively recent and very successful FITS ...
Read More
Betty Grable, Legs and Feet Betty Grable had legs - and man, what legs! For those of you who may not recognize the name, the lovely Betty was Queen of the Pin-ups during World War II. Her image in that famous photo (reproduced here) decorated hundreds (thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of soldiers' barracks as well as the fuselages of their fighter planes. If lonely and ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Gigamic distributed by Back Alley Traders, 2 players, ages 8 to adult, 10-20 minutes; $30) Back in 1985, Claude Leroy (for Swiss Games) came up with an idea for a rather clever abstract game and clever it was. Still, despite its originality, the game soon vanished from gaming stores making it hard to find. But Gigamic has solved that problem and returned ...
Read More
Reviewed by Ted Cheatham (Queen Games, 2-5 players, ages 8 to adult, 45-60 minutes; $54.95) Ugh, must go to hunt Mammut. Me big cave man! And that leads us to the premise of the game of Mammut, designed by Kristian Amundsen Ostby. In Mammut, cave people are off to hunt for mammoths and forage. After the big day, there are all kinds of booty that ...
Read More
Reviewed by Pevans (Ystari/Rio Grande Games, 3-5 players, ages 13 to adult, 75+ minutes; $54.95) Ye gods! French publisher Ystari has a fine track record and Olympos is the latest addition to the line (Rio Grande is publishing the English language version). The game’s designer is well known, too: Philippe Keyaerts is the man behind Vinci (and thus Small World) and Evo. As soon as ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Columbia Games, 2-6 players, ages 8 to adult, 30-60 minutes; $24.99) If this game seems familiar, that shouldn't be too surprising as it has had a long history. Slapshot is credited to Tom Dalgliesh and Lance Gutteridge. Dalgliesh may be best known for his wargame designing efforts for Columbia Games collaborating on such games as Hammer of the Scots (Winter 2003 GA ...
Read More
THE GAMER'S BOOKSHELF: THE KOBOLD GUIDE TO BOARD GAME DESIGN by Mike Selinker (Kobold Quarterly/Open Design, 138 pages, $19.99 print/$9.99 pdf) It seems like everyone who has ever played a game thinks to themselves, "Hey, I can make a game too!". Well maybe you can and maybe you can't. But it's always good to draw some insight and inspiration from those who actually have had ...
Read More
Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser (What's Your Game?, 2-4 players, ages 12 to adult, 2 to 3 hours; $65.99) For years, the subject of wine-making was a sorely overlooked theme in the gaming industry. There have been a few games utilizing the theme but, for such a popular and intricate industry, the overlooking of this theme was baffling. This was corrected in a major way ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Gryphon Games, 2 players, ages 10 to adult, 45-60 minutes; $29.99) Several decades ago, in the early 1970s, game designer Phil Orbanes decided to start his own game company. The result was Gamut of Games. Although a relatively short-lived enterprise, the company published many games of note including Cartel and Infinity (both by Orbanes) and two word games - Montage and ...
Read More

If you enjoy games, then Gamers Alliance is right for you!